Varali – Raga Ruminations

Varali – a melody that reminds one of ‘a bee humming’. It was referred to as Varati in old musical texts such as Sharangdev’s Sangeetha Ratnakara.  A widely held belief was that teaching Varali would give rise to discord between a teacher and their student. Hence, in the past, it was rarely taught and students had to learn by just listening to their teacher and other musicians sing the raga in public. Varali is a vivadi raga, a vakra raga (due to its zig-zag scale), a rarely heard melody in concerts for a long time and evoked mixed reactions in the Carnatic world. However calling it a vivadi raga or a ghana raga or giving it labels like ‘intellectual’ are just technicalities. As I’ve discussed in the DH article Life in Notes, you need to ask yourself the question – what does Varali do for you?

Raga Varali is rich in gamaka and sung in a slow to medium tempo. Carnatic compositions in Varali include Tyagaraja’s philosophical Etijanmamidi to Muthuswamy Dikshithar’s tribute to the goddess, Mamava Meenakshi, Shyama Shastry’s heart-rendering Bangaru Kamakshi and Papanasam Sivan’s fervent call to Muruga, Kavava Kandavava.

Here is a rendition of Mamava Meenakshi from my concert at the BTM Cultural Academy, Bangalore.

A beautiful rendition of Eti Janmamidi by Voleti Venkateshwarulu can be heard below.

Listen to how Madurai Mani Iyer beckons Lord Muruga in his rendition of Kavava Kandavava.

Shyama Shastri’s emotive composition Bangaru Kamakshi sung by K.V.Narayanaswamy tugs at the heartstrings.

As far as I know, there is no Hindustani raga that corresponds to raga Varali.

As the structure of the raga is complex, it is not easy for students to grasp Varali. This could also be one of the reasons why we don’t get to hear the strains of this melody on the silver screen.

For those who want details, Varali is a janya of 39th Mela raga Jhalavarali. The scale reads as follows.


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