Raga identification made easy!

Surabhi Post : Raga Classification And Structure (Post0001)


Raga may be broadly defined as a combination of a series of musical notes which has the capacity to bring delight to the mind of the listener. There are hundreds of ragas in Carnatic Music, there exists a core set of fundamental ragas which are called the 'Melakartha' ragas.  In this post, we will try to understand Melakartha ragas in more detail.

Melakartha ragas are better known as the 'Janaka' ragas meaning 'parent' ragas i.e. the ragas from which other ragas are born or derived.  Melakartha ragas contain all the 7 swaras, Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni in their arohanam and avarohanam in the exact ascending and descending pattern. The total number of 'Melakartha' ragas is 72.  To understand how the number 72 is arrived, one needs to take a deeper look at the swaras in an octave.  Of the 7 swaras, Sa and Pa are invariable.  Whatever be the raga, Sa and Pa do not change.  Thats the reason why shruthi box and tambura are tuned to give out the notes Sa, Pa, Sa constantly. However, for Ri, Ga, Da and Ni, there are 3 variations possible, R1, R2, R3; G1, G2, G3… and so on.  For Ma alone, there are only two variants, M1 and M2.   The melakartha ragas are arrived by using various permutation combination of these swaras.  But one must remember that the swara sthanas of R2 = G1, R3 = G2, D2 = N1 and D3 = N2.  So, whenever R2 occurs, only G2 or G3 can occur, similarly when R3 occurs, only G3 can occur.  This is true in the case of Da and Ni also. (The audio demonstration of various Ri, Ga, Ma, Da and Ni variations have been discussed in Surabhi Post 7: Myriad Hues Of Ragas)

Lets now begin the exercise of putting various combinations of swaras and see how we arrive at the Melakartha ragas.  To begin with, lets keep M1 constant and vary the other four swaras, Ri, Ga, Da and Ni. For e.g. S R1 G1 M1 P D1 N1 S and the exact reverse of it forms the arohanam - avarohanam of the first  Melakartha Kanakangi (Check Audio files section below for Raga Kanakangi Audio clip).  Keeping R1, G1 constant, Da and Ni can be varied and it is possible to get 6 ragas totally with the S R1 G1 M1 series (D1 N1, D1 N2, D1 N3, D2 N2, D2 N3 and D3 N3). These six ragas constitute the first Chakra Indu.  Similarly it is possible to make a series with S R1 G2 M1..., S R1 G3 M1..., S R2 G2 M1..., S R2 G3 M1... and S R3 G3 M1.... Thus we would arrive at 6 Chakras and 36 ragas.  All these ragas having a common M1 swara are called the 'Suddha Madhyama' Ragas.   By replacing M1 with M2 in each of the 36 raga, it is possible to get a M2 series of 36 ragas, called the Prati Madhyama Ragas.  Thus we arrive at the total number of 72 Melakarthas. 

To get a detailed account of the melakartha chart, you may visit any one of the following links:




 http://www.ipnatlanta.net/camaga/vidyarthi/Carnatic_Basics/Melakarta_Scheme.htm (the link shows the ragas in a keyboard/harmonium format)

Of the 72 Melakartha ragas, probably only 50% of the ragas are really popular and rendered in any concert platform in an elaborate manner.  Some of the most common Melakarthas include Thodi, Shankarabaranam, Kalyani, Mayamalava Gowlai, Shanmukapriya, Karaharapriya, Keeravani, Harikambodhi, Simhendramadhyamam, Charukesi and so on. The reason for the greater popularity of these ragas is because the swara patterns in these ragas lend scope for extensive aalapana or swara singing.  For the same reason, the number of compositions available in these ragas is also large.

 We will continue this discussion on the classification of ragas in our next post.  Till then, happy reading and listening!

 Musically yours,

A step by step initiation in to Carnatic music theory addressing raga classification, common music terminologies, various swara sthanas, raga lakshanas and more...Do take time to go through our blogs where all concepts are described with appropriate audio demonstrations. (Explanations in English)