Category Archives: Miscellaneous

The relevance of Indian epics

As a child growing up in India, I had the luxury of reading and listening to stories from Indian epics such as Mahabharatha and Ramayana. My mother and other relatives would narrate stories which had me alternating between righteous indignation and deep compassion over the plight of assorted characters in both the epics. As a teen I would often wonder why it was important to read such epics which did not seem to have any relevance in today’s world. Recently I stumbled upon this interpretation of the Mahabharatha on why it is an important read for all of us now.

Source: Anonymous from the Internet

‘Sanjay was finally there at Kurukshetra, the ground where the great war of Mahabharata took place. It was said in the texts that eighty percent of the fighting male population of the civilization was wiped out in the eighteen days of the war. He looked around and wondered if the war really happened if the ground beneath him had soaked all that blood, if the great Pandavas and Krishna stood where he stood.

“You will never know the truth about that !” said an aging soft voice.

Sanjay turned around to find an old man in saffron robes appearing out of a column of dust.

“I know you are here to find out about the Kurukshetra war, but you cannot know about that war till you know what the real war is about.” the old man said enigmatically.

“What do you mean ?”

Sanjay instantly knew that he was in the presence of someone who knew more about the war than any living person he had ever met.
“The Mahabharata is an Epic, a ballad, perhaps a reality but definitely a philosophy.” The old man smiled luring Sanjay into more questions.

“Can you tell me what the philosophy is then ?”Sanjay requested.
Sure. “Here goes,” began the Old man.

“The Pandavas are nothing but your five senses, sight, smell, taste, touch and sound and do you know what the Kauravas are ?”he asked narrowing his eyes.

Sanjay shook his head.

“The Kauravas are the hundred vices that attack your senses every day but you can fight them and do you know how?”

Sanjay shook his head again.
“When Krishna rides your chariot!”
The old man smiled brighter and Sanjay gasped at that gem of insight.

“Krishna is your inner voice, your soul, your guiding light and if you let your life in his hands you have nothing to worry.”

Sanjay was stupefied but came around quickly with another question. “Then why are Dronacharya and Bhishma fighting for the Kauravas, if they are vices?”

The old man nodded, saddened at the question.

“It just means that as you grow up your perception of your elders changes. The elders who you thought were perfect in your growing up years may turn out to be not all that perfect. They have faults. And one day you will have to decide if they are for your good or your bad. Then you may also realize that you may have to fight them for the good. It is the hardest part of growing up and that is why the Geeta is important.”

Sanjay slumped down on the ground, not because he was tired but because he could understand and was struck by the enormity of it all.

“What about Karna?” he whispered.

“Ah!” said the old man. “You have saved the best for last. Karna is the brother to your senses, he is desire, he is a part of you but stands with the vices. He feels wronged and makes excuses for being with the vices as your desire does all the time.

Does your desire not give you excuses to embrace vices?”

Sanjay nodded silently. He looked at the ground, consumed with a million thoughts, trying to put everything together and then when he looked up the old man was gone.

He seemed to have disappeared in the column of dust leaving behind the great philosophy of life.’


Dhanyasi – Raga Ruminations

The strains of raga Dhanyasi reverberates in my living room. I haven’t heard this raga in a long time. The singer is Ramnad Krishnan, one of the greatest Carnatic vocalists in my opinion. Regarded as a “musician’s musician” by many, his manodharma(imagination) was unparalleled when it came to raga alapana.  The Dhanyasi is soul-stirring and I can now understand why other Carnatic connoisseurs feel his music is “soukya sangeetham”.

As I listen to the maestro unravel the richness of the melody, I wonder why raga Dhanyasi is heard infrequently on the concert platform. Is it overshadowed by its parent raga Thodi or another raga Shudha Dhanyasi (an offshoot of raga Karaharapriya)? Listen to raga Dhanyasi sung by Ramnad Krishnan and revel in the nuances of this ancient raga.

The first song that comes to mind for raga Dhanyasi is Tyagaraja’s “Sangeetha gnanamu”. In this song, the composer highlights the importance of bhakthi (devotion) and how one can never attain the right path with just a knowledge of the music. Listen to Neduneri Krishnamurthy sing Sangeetha gnyanamu. The clarity of the lyrics, the sangatis (embellishments) presented in gradual progression and neat presentation of the song in his inimitable style are a treat to the ears.

Papanasam Sivan’s composition, “Balakrishnan Paadamalar” is another emotive piece in this raga. Other songs in raga Dhanyasi include “Nee Chithhamu” (Tyagaraja), “Sri Ranganathaya namasthe” (Dikshithar), “Kalayami Sriramam” (Swati Tirunal) and “Meenalochana Brova”, the slow-paced beautiful composition of Shyama Shastri in Misra Chapu tala praising Goddess Meenakshi of Madurai.

As far as I know, there is no Hindustani equivalent for raga Dhanyasi. I haven’t found any film songs that are based on raga Dhanyasi.

For those who want details, Dhanyasi is a janya raga of Hanumathodi (Mela 8) and the scale reads as follows.


Saveri – Raga Ruminations

I was listening to a vintage recording of a padam in raga Saveri by stalwarts T.Brinda and T.Mukta recently. While the lyrics were evocative the richness in the melody stirred my soul. The advantage of listening to such greats is that one gets a fresh perspective of the raga every time you listen to it. Raga Saveri never fails to leave an impact on my soul whenever I listen to it. I’ve wept at a concert where KV Narayanaswamy sang this raga followed by the Tamil song, Muruga Muruga. For a moment I was embarassed and then I looked around to see that I wasn’t alone – there wasn’t a single dry eye in the audience.

Saveri is a raga that is rich in gamakas. It needs to be rendered slowly with the musician savouring each phrase and leaving a brief pause for the notes to sink in. It is not a melody that can be rushed into with too many fast phrases. It is a gently melody to be presented in an unhurried manner.

Compositions in this raga include Shyama Shastry’s Durusuga and Shankari Shankari, Tyagaraja’s Ramabana and Dikshithar’s Sri Rajagopala.  In Durusuga the composer entreats the Mother Goddess to grant mercy to her devotee. Listen to this composition rendered by the Iyer brothers on the veena here.

The song Shankari Shankuru is very popular in the concert circuit with a classic neraval in the lines “Shyamakrishna Sodhari Shyamalesha Thodhari”.

Tyagaraja’s magnum opus Ramabana describes the power of Rama’s arrows – the composition is unique due to the nature of its theme.

My favourite is Periasamy Thooran’s composition Muruga Muruga Endral – here is a rendition of this song by MS Subbalakshmi.

There is no Hindustani equivalent to raga Saveri.

I’ve not heard this melody on the silver screen yet.

For those who want details, Saveri is a derivative of the 15th Melakarta raga Mayamalavagowla and the notes are as follows.




Varali – Raga Ruminations

Varali – this is one melody that has evoked mixed reactions in the Carnatic world. 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. Raga Varali is rich in gamaka and sung in a slow to medium tempo. The compositions in the raga include Tyagaraja’s philosophical Etijanmamidi to Muthuswamy Dikshithar’s tribute to the goddess Meenakshi at the temple in Madurai, Mamava Meenakshi and Papanasam Sivan’s call to Lord Muruga in Kavava Kandavava.

Here is Bombay Jayashri singing Mamava Meenakshi at the Sydney Opera House, Australia.

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

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.


Harikambodhi – Raga Ruminations

Harikambodhi is a melody that occupies prime real estate in the pantheon of Carnatic ragas. For some reason it is often overlooked as the center piece in a concert in favour of a similar sounding raga. Given the popularity of raga Shankarabharanam or raga Karaharapriya, carnatic music lovers couldn’t be faulted for thinking that Harikambhodhi (which is only a note different than the former) would share the same strong following. Unfortunately it does not enjoy the same regard in concert lists that even its janya (derivative) raga Kambodhi enjoys.The reasons for this step-sisterly treatment on the concert stage are not entirely clear to me. I’d love to hear from you dear reader your thoughts on this.

Fortuntely, Tyagaraja has composed several songs in Harikambodhi ranging from Ebthara Neethana to Dinamani Vamsha and Ramanannu Brovara, as have numerous other composers. 

Here’s a classic rendition of Dinamani Vamsha by Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar.

Raga Harikambodhi corresponds to raag Khamaj in the Hindustani style of music. Khamaj is one melody that is heard in ghazals and bhajans. Here’s a rendition of raag Khamaj by Pandit Ravi Shankar and his daughter Anoushka.

This raga has been heard in many movies across genres and one of the most popular songs based on Harikambodhi was “Dil Hai Chota Sa” from the movie Roja.

My friend Shoba Narayan and I had presented a show “Classical Ragas in Indian Popular Music” recently at the Bangalore International Centre. Harikambodhi was one of the ragas that was heard by the audience. Here is a snippet of the raga that shows the transition from the silver screen to the classical music stage.

For those who want details, Harikambodhi is a Melakartha raga (28th) and the scale is as follows. SR2G3M1PD2N2 SN2D2PM1G3R2

I remain hopeful that Harikambodhi will get its due on the concert stage.