We will first see the moods that mayamalavagowla creates and then see how some of the popular compositions reflect (if at all) these moods. I had previously said that this raga is used while teaching the beginning singing exercises. Towards the end of the post, I will try to highlight on why this is so.
I : The basic mood and color that Mayamalavagowla creates:Mayamalavagowla / Bhairav is a raga steeped in bhakti. In hindustani, Bhairavis considered as a morning raga. (In hindustani music, the ragas are sometimes classified according to the time of the day when they are sung/played based on the mood it creates. Though, many people have argued against such a classification, I for one, like it as one can try to analyze if a particular raga generates really a feel to be sung during a particular time of the day).So this raga invokes a sense of bhakti, devotion, piteousness and is apt to be sung in the mornings. In South India, a typical morning in a traditional home begins with the mother getting up early in the morning and after her bath, drawing a kolam outside the doorway, with suprabhatam being played in the background. Typically I have always felt this kind of a scene in my head whenever I play/sing this raga.The point to be noted is that, though this is classified as a morning raga, it is not that if you sing it in the evening it will sound bad. But the mood it generates is like a refreshing dose of morning dew with a scent of rain in the air, beckoning us to get up and see what a glorious day lies ahead of us. 🙂 (woow that paints indeed a nice picture ain’t it?? 😉
In this song, Sri Thyagaraja swamy says he will worship Lord Rama, the personification of righteousness, the prince of Ayodhya with the tulasi. He will garland him with fragrant flowers like champaka, lotus, lily jasmine etc.
The tulasi plant is very sacred in India, particularly to the hindus. This plant is considered holy and also scientifically has some medicinal values. I had described of a picture of an early morning scenario in a previous para. Such a morning ritual is never complete without the worship/watering of the tulasi plant. In traditional homes, the tulasi plant occupies a prime spot of its own in the back-verendah or in front of the house (rarely though).
The import of the song is in the fact that Thyagaraja swamy describes how he would do pooja (worship) to the Lord which is usually done in the mornings and Mayamalavagowla seems a very nice fit to the mood of the song. =). Here is Ilayaraja sir’s version of the song from his album How to name it. Its one of my most favourite and why I love Ilayaraja the best!! But if I start on the Raja I would never stop and that is for another day soon perhaps 🙂
Sri Thyagaraja Swamy has also composed the beautiful mErusamAna krithi in which he prays to Lord Rama to bless him with the opportunity to see the Lord. He goes to describe the Lord in detail, the way Lord Rama is perceived to be. It is a wonderful krithi and invokes a sense of pure bliss soaked in bhakti mingled with pathos. I had learned this krithi from my guru Sri Trivandrum Venkatraman sir. I had never remembered listening to that song before but to tell the truth, I fell in love with mayamalavagowla after learning that krithi 🙂
Other popular kritis in mayamalavagowla in carnatic music are, (I had said this before) dEvadEvakalayAmithe by Sri Swathi Thirunal, nAdAdi guruguhO by Sri Mudduswamy Dikshithar, both sung in praise of the Lord, and both with lyrics rooted in devotion.
In films as said before, this raga has been used extensively. Many of the songs invokes a sense of devotion or piety. But Ilayaraja sir successfully uses this raga to convey love. I still cannot fathom why but they all are amazing to say the least. Maybe that is why he is such a great music director!!
The following is me playing a small raga alaap of Mayamalavagowla. I have played with the pitch set to E. The background drone that is heard in the recording is that of a tanpura about which I will write about in the Indian Music Instrument section soon.
Mayamalavagowla: Why is it taught as the basic raga in carnatic music classes?
From my early days, I have been associated with music and musicians. Of those, I have always been a big fan of Madurai GS Mani sir. I have had many opportunities to discuss little bit of music, little bit of astrology, cinema, poetry, Indian culture and still many other topics. The current info that I want to share here was also one that I learned in one of those discussions.
In carnatic music, raga alaap is something of immense importance and significance. This is because “scale” can never be a raga. The way the swaras are handled only defines a raga. This means that there can be two ragas with same swaras but they are differentiated by the way the swaras are handled. This is commonly referred to as the sruti. In carnatic music, the oscillations associated with a swara defines its character and subsequently the raga too. For example with the the pitch set to E, the Ga2 is G. This swara can be played in different ways for different ragas. I have played here the Ga2 for ragas
Hindolam ( Sa Ga2 Ma1 Da1 Ni2 Sa’….Sa’ Ni2 Da1 Ma1 Ga2 Sa),
Suddha DhanyAsi (Sa Ga2 Ma1 Pa Ni2 Sa’….Sa’ Ni2 Pa Ma1 Ga2 Sa) and
Todi (Sa Ri1 Ga2 Ma1 Pa Da1 Ni2 Sa’….Sa’ Ni2 Da1 Pa Ma1 Ga2 Ri1 Sa)
I have played the Scale as flat swaras and then I have played a very brief sketch of the raga as it is usually played. Then it is followed by the Ga2 as it is used in the raga for all the three ragas above.
So we can see that the characteristics of a raga depend on the way the interval between the swaras are bridged. I would write about this in detail in another post.
Ok coming back, we were talking on why Mayamalavagowla is taught as the basic raga. Mayamalavagowla has the Ga3 which has actually minimum to no oscillation associated with it. The complimentary note for Ga3 is Ni3 (meaning the oscillation associated with Ga3 is similar to Ni3). For singers this is supposed to be difficult to master, these two notes. The raga ShankarAbharanam or KalyAni (the same scale as the former but with Ma2) also have Ga3 and Ni3 they are not complimentary. Also the interval length (measured in terms as distance between the swaras) is quite large and easy to grasp in case of Mayamalavagowla when kids start to learn. With this characteristic associated to the swaras in Mayamalavagowla one can practice full throated singing which is essential in the early stages of learning to mould one’s voice.
So these are the reasons why Mayamalavagowla is taught as basic lessons. The basic lesson structure was defined by the father of carnatic music, Purandara Dasa, a great composer and devotee of Lord Krishna.
Well, with that we come to the end of the first raga Mayamalavagowla (Bhairav in Hindustani music) in our quest to learn about Indian Music. The next raga in the series, I have not decided yet. But then, I will come up with a nice exciting raga and we will continue our journey. 🙂