Thodi – Raga Ruminations

Carnatic vocalist Madurai TN Seshagopalan has a long history of presenting a Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi (RTP) in Thodi at his Mylapore Fine Arts concert during the annual Chennai music festival . A RTP is an advanced musical concept presented by experienced musicians that can feature  complex swara patterns, intricate rhythmic beats,  and of course the deeply enaging lyrics of the pallavi. 

Here is a recording of TNS singing a Tamil viruttham and song in raga Thodi.
I have a vintage recording of Thaaye Yashoda by two giants in the Carnatic music field – Musiri Subramania Iyer and Madurai Mani Iyer.   Thaaye Yashodha is a Tamil composition of Oothakadu Venkatasubba Iyer that describes the interplay between Lord Krishna as a child and his mother Yashodha. Even though Musiri Subramania Iyer and Madurai Mani Iyer had different styles of singing, both made an indelible impact on the listeners when they sang this song. Musiri Iyer’s voice was high-pitched and his music stood out for its simplicity and emotive appeal. Madurai Mani Iyer’s music was full of joie de vivre and his songs were presented at a snappy  pace.
When Mani Iyer sings the phrase “kaalinil silamba konja” in the charanam or latter part of the song, the words are like a caress to my ears. The rendition echoes the meaning of the phrase which describes the anklets adorning the legs of the child Krishna. A family favourite, Mani Iyer had given a concert at my parents’ wedding reception. I grew up hearing his songs on the gramophone and tried not to cringe when my dad and uncles sang with gusto (off-key of course) along with the recording! There was never a dull moment while listening to him!
Click here to listen to Madurai Mani Iyer singing raga Thodi followed by the song Thaye Yashodhai.
For a traditional raga such as Thodi to make a successful crossover to movies says something about the producers. Watch onscreen how actress Shabana Azmi presents the same song Thaye Yashodhai in Carnatic vocalist Sudha Raghunathan’s voice (with a bit of fusion thrown in) in the movie Morning Raga.
For those listeners who like details, here is the scale for the raga – SR1G2M1PD1N2S SN2D1PM1G2R1S
With all its complexities the raga is a benchmark for students of Carnatic music. Every note, except for the two flat notes pa and sa, is suitable for gamaka (oscillation). The phrase GMDN (jeevaswaras or the notes ga, ma, dha and ni which are the essence of the raga) is used in different ways to bring out the subtle nuances of the raga. Almost every composer has dabbled in Thodi. The songs in this raga can be sung in different tempos ranging from the slow Kaddanu variki (Tyagaraja), Shri Krishnam Bhaja manasa (Dikshithar), Ninne nammi (Shyama Shastri) to the medium paced Thaaye Yashodai (Gopalakrishna Bharathi) and the rarely-heard Ramachandraya namasthe (Dikshithar). 

Even today, when a Carnatic musician presents a good Thodi, it’s like passing a litmus test.

4 responses to “Thodi – Raga Ruminations

  1. P. Chandrasekar

    I thought Thaya Yashoda was by Oothukkadu. Please correct me if I am wrong

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  2. P. Chandrasekar

    Dear madam
    is thodi a janya of hanumatodi melam no 8

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    • Thodi and Hanumathodi refer to the same raga – 8th Melakartha. In the Katapayadi system, the first two syllables of the raga name indicate the number – hence the prefix. Similar examples – Shankarabharanam/Dheerashankarabharanam, Kalyani/Mechakalyani

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