Tag Archives: Carnatic music

Appreciating Indian Classical Music

I will be doing a presentation on appreciating Indian Classical Music in Columbus in July. There will be a short speech (with visual presentation) followed by a Carnatic concert. Do come if you’re in town. You need to register for this event. This is part of a series, Music Appreciation at the Library.



The music of G.N.Balasubramaniam

Brighas, sruti bedham, madhyama kala kritis, new ragas, complex pallavis were characteristic of a G.N.Balasubramaniam concert. Here are several compositions of GNB sung by his disciples Vidwans Trichur Ramachandran and Tanjavur S. Kalyanaraman.

BHAKTHI comes to the Midwest

Remembering M.S. Subbulakshmi

Last year there were many articles about M.S.Subbulakshmi as part of her centenary celebrations.
RK Shriram Kumar, violin virtuoso has accompanied her at many concerts and learned from MS as well. He brings a unique perspective – both personal and professional that few others have had up front and close with MS. Click here to read an article that offers his perspective of remembering MS.

In Praise of Chamudeshwari

Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar was the last Maharaja of the princely state of Mysore. He was a Renaissance man and a connoisseur of music. He composed many songs in praise of goddess Chamundeshwari, the presiding deity of Mysore and the royal family.

Here is a beautiful composition of Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar in raga Hindolam set to Mishra Jhampa tala. The clip is from one of my concerts.


Neraval 101 – Improvisation in Carnatic Music

Neraval is one of the most distinctive features of carnatic music. Neraval is an improvisation around a song segment, usually a line or two, from a composition set in a specific raga (melody) even while staying within the song’s tala (beat). A good neraval demonstrates a mastery of three elements of the music – raga, tala and sahitya (lyrics).

Imagine this scenario – you’re driving your car along some curvy roads. If you ignore the laws of road, you are likely to be in an accident or at the very least get a ticket. At the heart of a neraval performance, is the raga, rendered as a methodical development of the melody’s notes, bound by the rules of presentation.

Now imagine as you drive your car that you are now engaged in a conversation with another person. So even as you drive according to the rules of the road, in order to communicate you have to follow the rules of the language. So too in neraval, while bound by the melody, you have a  second constraint, that of the tala (beat) .

If in your car, you were not merely having a conversation, but having a poetry face-off, then the lyrics or the actual words become critical. So too in neraval, the lyrics or sahitya become the third constraint – which ones you pick, how you separate or where you put the line breaks is just as important, as the melody and the beat.  

In a neraval, the nuances of the raga have to be effectively brought out without distorting the lyrics and maintaining the tala consistently.

Thus a good neraval requires the musician to weave the three elements – raga, tala and sahitya – seamlessly – so rather than constrain, they elevate the rendering.

Let us take three examples of neraval beginning with maestro K.V.Narayanaswamy‘s rendition of Tyagaraja’s composition Intha Sowkya in raga Kapi. As the neraval unfolds, the listeners can feel the maestro savouring the lyrics while bringing out the essential features of the raga. The pace is unhurried. Even the minutest pause between the words draws the listener into a meditative ambience. KVN was often referred to as the ‘king of neraval’.

Madurai Mani Iyer‘s niraval for the Oothakadu Venkata Subbaiyyar‘s song Thaye Yashodha is like a caress. In the words of the neraval “kaalinil silambu kKonja”, the composer describes Lord Krishna as the latter comes out on the street wearing anklets on his feet, bangles on his hands, pearl necklaces around his neck. Then the Lord begins to dance.

Vijay Siva‘s rendition of neraval for the Oothukadu Venkata Subbaiyyar‘s composition Kalyana Rama in raga Hamsanaadam is a dynamic presentation. The words of the neraval “mallikadhu sugandha maya navamaalika athishobhatha kalena” describes the groom Lord Rama wearing a garland of fresh and fragrant jasmine flowers around his well-adorned neck. The song vividly brings to life the wedding of Lord Rama and Sita.

There is no concept of a neraval in Hindustani music. Yet whenever I hear this Tulasidas bhajan Janakinaath Sahay Kare Jab by Pandit D.V.Paluskar it seems to have all the elements of a neraval at different points in the lyrics. In the first line of the bhajan, the composer insists that as long as ‘Janakinaath (Lord Rama) is our saviour, nobody can hurt us’ – the line is sung in so many ways to bring out this emotion. Often bhajan renditions reiterate the fact that neraval is a continuum of raga, sahitya and tala.



Hamsanadam – Raga Ruminations

In the song Bantureethi Kolu Viya Vayya Rama, Tyagaraja says that worshipping Rama liberates one from the six vices of lust, anger, delusion, envy, greed and arrogance. This song in the raga Hamsanadam remains one of the most popular Carnatic compositions till today.

Hamsanadam means the “call of the swan” and is a joyous melody to hear. Besides Bantureethi, some popular songs in this raga are Kalyanarama (Oothakadu Venkatasubba Iyer) and Kripanidhe Kripajaladhe (Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar). The song Kalyanarama describes the swayamvara of Sita – from the prelude to the actual event.

Vocalist Vijay Siva gives a stellar presentation of the song Kalyanarama following raga Hamsanadam.


There is no Hindustani equivalent to this raga.

In movies, this raga has been used by several music producers.  Illayaraja has composed this unusual song Isayil Thodanguthamma for the Tamil movie Hey Raam.

For those who want details, raga Hamsanadam is a derivative of raga Neetimati (Mela 60) and the scale is as follows. SR2M2PN2 SN2PM2R2S

Note – Sometimes, the Shatrusthi Dhaivatham (D3) is heard in this melody – this was the traditional way of singing the raga.