Monthly Archives: January 2015

Nilambari’s Kutcheri: A Primer on Carnatic Music

Carnatic Trinity: Muthuswamy Deekshitar,Thyagaraja & Syama Shastri

This is a post on the structure of a Carnatic music Kutcheri (a traditional musical performance gathering) accompanied by a virtual kutcheri that I have put together.

The kutcheri format as we know it today is said to have started out in the 1920s. That is not to say that it didn’t exist before that.

Traditionally, a kutcheri starts with a varnam. A varnam is a composition which basically tells you the swaras (notes: Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni–> Shadjam, Rishabham, Gandharam, Madhyamam, Panchamam, Dhaivatham, Nishadam) that are present in that particular ragam both in the arohana (ascending scale) as well as avarohana (descending scale). It lays down the rules of how the various swaras can be combined in both the scales. It is split into specific parts and is a rather technical piece which lays out the rules for the development of a particular ragam. Thus the varnam is a composition which a student of carnatic music learns as a primer before going on to explore more elaborate nuances of ragas through kritis.

At this point let’s do a little more study of classical music. Carnatic music is made up of 72 fundamental ragas called the melakarta ragas or the janaka (giving birth) ragas or the parent ragas. All other ragas, and there are literally hundreds of them are derived (janya or given birth to) from these 72 janaka ragas. It just means that there are 7 swaras with  12 semi-tones in one octave. They are both in the ascending and descending scales combined in different ways to form these primary 72 ragas, i.e, these 72 ragas have the entre scale (Sa-Ni with their semi-tones) both in the ascending and descending scales. Hence they are called sampurna (complete) ragas. Janya ragas however are derived from these 72, meaning that they have have swaras left out from the parent. The number of swaras left out from the parent janaka raga can vary.

The list of the swaras and their semi-tones are like this: S, R1, R2=G1, R3=G2, G3, M1, M2, P, D1, D2=N1, D3=N2 and N3. Of these S and P do not have semi-tones.

In conjunction with swara is tala, which refers to the number and type of beats within a cycle. This is similar to the concept of meter and helps track the pace and time in a composition. There are 7 basic talams (Adi, Dhruva, Rupaka, etc), and 108 total talas, due to combinations with other factors known as angas and jathis.

I admit I have a fondness for the 28th Melakarta Raga called Harikambhoji. Many of the songs from the janyas of this raga are a favorite with me.

So, here’s my choice of varnam to start this personal kutcheri. I would love my kutcheri to start with this beautiful varnam called “Mathe Malayadhwaja”. Its not a traditional varnam nor an easy one, but its beautiful and captivating for me. So, here’s Sudha Raghunathan singing “Mathe”, in raga Khamas, janya raga of the 28th melakarta raga Harikhamboji set to Adi talam.

Raga: Khamas

Arohanam: S M1 G3 M1 P D2 N2 S                                                  Avarohanam: S N2 D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

Following this, the kutcheri format prescribes one or two compositions of the trinity in Ghana ragams. We will have only one.

Who are the trinity?

The trinity is a group of three composers who are known as the creators of almost all the compositions that are sung today. They are Muthuswami Dikshitar, Syama Sastri, and Andhra’s own Thyagaraja.

What are Ghana ragams?

First, there are eight Ghana ragams in Carnatic music. They are Nattai, Goula, Bouli, Reetigowla, Malavasri, Arabhi, Varali and Sri. They are so called because they are said to be able to effectively portray masculine emotions like shouryam (ferocity), veeryam (bravery), roudram (anger) and so on.

So with this information, here is my second offering in the kutcheri. This is in Raga Nattai, janya raga of the 36th melakarta ragam Chalanattai and sung once again by the supremely talented Sudha Raghunathan. The song is “Swaminatha paripalaya” set to Adi Talam. The composition is by Muthuswami Dikshitar

Raga: Nattai

Arohanam: S R3 G3 M1 P D3 N3 S                                                   Avarohanam: S N3 P M1 G3 M1 R3 S

After this now we must have a composition in the shuddha madhyamam scale. Let us see what this is. This essentially means that the melakartas are divided into two types, the ragas which have shuddha madhyamam i.e, the first semi-tone of the swara M, M1 and those which have prati madhyamam or M2. So, now we have to select a raga that has shuddha madhyamam from one of the melakarta ragas. Let me choose my favorite melakarta raga Harikhamboji itself. It is after all my favorite one.

Here is the next offering from Maharajapuram Santhanam in Harikhamboji. The song is called “Rama nannu brovara”, a Thyagaraja gem set to rupaka talam.

Raga: Harikhamboji

Arohanam: S R2 G3 M1 P D2 N2 S                                                   Avarohanam: S N2 D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

Moving on to a composition in the prati madhyamam scale, let us see what this means. As I stated earlier, the melakarta ragas are divided into two: the shuddha and the pratimadhyamam scales. In fact, the first 36 ragas in the melakarta are in the shuddha madhyamam scale and the second 36 in the prati madhyamam scale. The most common one is Kalyani, also called the Mechakalyani. This is the composition “Nidhichaala Sukhama” by Thyagaraja rendered by the peerless and timeless M.S. Subbalakshmi in adi talam. Do enjoy.

Raga: Kalyani

Arohanam: S R2 G3 M2 P D2 N3 S                                                   Avarohanam: S N3 D2 P M2 G3 R2 S

I cannot go on to the main composition without having my favorite raga in my kutcheri, can I? So, I will have a Dwijavanthi in my repertoire. This raga is a janya raga of the 28th melakarta raga Harikhamboji. The composition is “Akhilandeshwari” by Muthuswamy Dikshitar sung by the Trichur brothers. The composition is in adi talam.

Raga: Dwijavanthi

Arohanam: S R2 G3 M1 P D2 S                                     Avarohanam: S N2 D2 P M1 G3 M1 R2 G2 R2 S

Now we come to the main piece of the concert where the kutcheri format says that the composition should be a rakti/naya raga.

A rakti  or naya raga is called a feminine ragam. In fact, the entire set of ragams are classified as ghana ragams, rakti/naya ragams and desiya ragams.As we discussed earlier, ghana ragams are said to be masculine ragams. Desiya ragams are those that have been imported into the Carnatic school of music from either Folk music or the Hindustani school. Hence the rakti/naya ragams are those which are said to be feminine. This means that the large majority of ragams are feminine ragams which are said to be capable of portraying feminine emotions like karunam (compassion), sringaram (romance), vatsalyam (parental love) and so on. This is not to say that ghana ragams cannot portray feminine emotions or vice versa. For more on this, please refer to this excellent lecdem by Sri. R Visweshwaran.

This main piece is the one where the vocalist, the violinist and the percussionists all get to display their talents and can sometimes go for an hour. It is called the ragam-tanam-pallavi where the raga is first explored in all its nuances through the alapana (where the swaras comprising the raga are sung in a melodic form to set the mood of the raga). This is then followed by the tanam or the main part of the composition.

Tanam was first developed for the veena but began to be practiced by vocalists too, and it means expanding the raga rhythmically with the use of syllables like ta, nam, tom, aa and so on. In the tanam phase an extremely versatile and accomplished singer can also incorporate a few other ragas than the one s/he originally started out with. Then, in the pallavi section, the singer sings a single line and then explores it in different speeds. Finally, the percussionists are given the time to explore the rhythms in their turn and the whole can take about an hour or more. For more on this very complicated form of singing, please refer here.

Now, I present for your listening pleasure, a superbly crafted Ragam-tanam-pallavi by Sanjay Subramaniam. This comes with a warning however: The piece takes over an hour to listen to but I assure you its well worth the trouble 😉 . The composition is “Sabapathiku veru deivam” in raga Abhogi and rupaka talam. Raga Abhogi is a janya raga of the 22nd melakarta raga Kharharapriya. Gopalakrishna Bharati has composed this song.

Raga: Abhogi

Arohanam: S R2 G2 M1 D2 S                                                                   Avarohanam: S D2 M1 G2 R2 S

Before we end the kutcheri, after such an intense encounter with ragam-tanam-pallavi (RTP), we have to unwind and lighten the knots that we had got into. Its now time for some lighter yet melodious and easier pieces called tukkadas. Let us listen to two of them.

Sit back and enjoy a soothing, gentle and lilting “Hey Govind, hey Gopala” in raga Desakshi and rupaka talam. Suddha Desi is a janya raga of by now you know which melakarta!…yes, it is a janya raga of the 28th melakarta raga Harikhamboji. This divine song is rendered by the sister duo Ranjani-Gayatri and is composed by Surdas.

Raga: Suddha Desi

Arohanam: S R2 M1 P N2 S                                                                Avarohanam:  S N2 D1 P M1 G2 R2 S

Second to last in the kutcheri is another gem from the evergreen and ever remembered M.S Subbalakshmi. This time it is a ragamalika, meaning that the song is composed of multiple ragas. This one “Kurai ondrum illai”, is composed in three ragas Shivaranjani, Kapi and Sindhu Bhairavi. Shivaranjani and Kapi are janya ragas of the 22nd melakarta raga Kharaharapriya and Sindhubhairavi is a janya raga of the 10th melakarta raga Natakapriya. The composer of this song is the famous Indian politician and freedom fighter C.Rajagopalachari.

Ragamalika: Shivaranjani, Kapi and Sindhubhairavi

Raga: Shivaranjani

Arohanam: S R2 M1 P N3 S                                                                Avarohanam:  S N2 D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

Raga: Kapi

Arohanam: S R2 M1 P N3 S                                                         Avarohanam:  S N2 D2 N2 P M1 G2 R2 S

Raga: Sindhubhairavi

Arohanam: S R2 G2 M1 G2 P D1 N2 S                                    Avarohanam:  N2 D1 P M1 G2 R1 S N2 S

Finally, we round off this kutcheri with the standard sign off raga which is Sowrashtram. The signature song is “Pavamana suthudu battu and here it is rendered by K. J Yesudas. Sowrashtram is a janya raga of the 17th melakarta raga Sooryakantam. It is a composition by Thyagaraja set in adi talam.

Raga: Sowrashtram

Arohanam: S R1 G3 M1 P M1 D2 N3 S                             Avarohanam:  S N3 D2 N2 D2 P M1 G3 R1 S

I hope you enjoyed the kutcheri as much as I did putting it together for you!!


  3. Concert Format Sequence – Carnatic Music


[Reprint Post] Swamy Vivekananda & Women’s Empowerment

 The following post is published courtesy of Chandra garu, who kindly gave permission to reprint a version of his article originally posted on August 3, 2013


Swamy Vivekananda was born on the 12th January, 1863. Very soon the world will be celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of the great monk and man who was instrumental in the revival of Hinduism in India, instrumental in the concept of nationalism during colonial rule and introduction of Indian ethos to the West.

On this august occasion it is apt to remember him for his respect towards the fairer sex. It is more so at a time when India is finding itself at the crossroads, when more and more women are occupying pride of place in nation building but sadly, where her modesty is under constant attack.

Swamy Vivekananda believed that the first manifestation of God is the hand that rocks the cradle. In fact in few civilizations we find a cow giving milk, the earth bearing grains, a tree bearing fruit and the mother tending babies being revered equally as manifestation of God , like in the Indian civilization. Swamyji very boldly said those days that in the West woman was treated as wife while in the East she was treated as the mother.

Thus, he tried to draw a distinct line between materialism and spiritualism in the treatment of women. Though unfortunate it is a ‘fait accompli’ that the once revered mother in India is today wailing at the malnutrition of her babies and outrage to her modesty. Allegorically, it is true in case of the healthy Mother Cow that is slaughtered, the rich mother earth that is exploited selfishly and the mother tree that faces near extinction. It’s right time to remember the ‘immortal’ soul and mend our ways.

Swamy Jee was a monk, who renounced material pleasures for spirituality. In early days, it is said, he saw women as an obstacle in his path. But once he realized the highest Truth, he saw in them Mother the Divine. It is a case of seeing objects not with eyes but with soul. “ The soul has neither sex, nor caste nor imperfection”, he averred. Great lesson to be learned here and that which he told the West was that once one realizes soul through meditation, he would see a mother in a woman rather than a wife, but for the duty ordained by God to sustain human race through the Divine union. He further elucidated the point by stating,”Soul has no sex,it is neither male nor female, it is only in the body that sex exists and the man who desires to reach the spirit can not at the same hold sex distinctions.” [The Hindu view being that husband & wife are two halves of one soul]

“The best thermometer to the progress of a nation is its treatment of women.”, he said. It shows the vision of Swamy Vivekananda for a nation to progress. In fact, his words are equally important to the contemporary East as with the West. He refers to the ancient Vedanta Philosophy and quotes from the Books how women were now being treated in the present age. He lamented why women were treated like that. Woman suffered for aeons and that gave her infinite patience and perseverance.” What great words to say! How many of we, men, that feel we are running the family, have a sense of the invisible income she is accruing through her sacrifice for children through physical toil?  Great words from a saint that renounced all sensory pleasures nor was exposed to vagaries of family life.

He lamented why women are treated as aliens when the same conscious Self is present in all, as per Vedanta. “Unless you uplift women, men can never rise in the eyes of the Divine” he stated. He aggrandizes women stating that irrespective of caste they were eulogized by the Vedas. He quotes the example of Gargi, who in the presence of a thousand Rishis boldly challenged Sage Yagnavalkya for a discussion on the Brahman. He laid stress on women’s education in days when women were deprived of the basic privilege. No family or nation that does not respect women ever rises, he averred.

In a veiled attack on the ‘masculinity’ of man being eulogized with reference to the ‘weakness of women’, he asks men whether man can deliver a baby. He says the Universe is one of perfect balance. “If women can not fight, nor can man suffer or endure the vagaries of life”, he said.

In recent times a trend developed in India where the teachings of the Swamy Jee, were sought to be misinterpreted in a way unbecoming of our culture, whereas the West started seeing in him a sage that defined womanhood as Divinity in human form.

Book On Swami Vivekananda, Women, & the West

You can follow  Chandra garu on his blog here and on Twitter here.

Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Andhra Cultural Portal.

Personalities: Yamini Krishnamurti

One of the great artistic luminaries of Andhra Dance is Yamini Krishnamurti.

Skilled in both Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam, she is most famous for her achievements in the latter. Indeed, some have even remarked that “Yamini was not made for Bharatanatyam but that Bharatanatyam was made for Yamini.”

Considered the most famous and accomplished Classical Indian dancer today, her article is the next one in our continuing series on Andhra Personalities.


Born to a Telugu-speaking family in Madanapalli, Chittoor District, Andhra Pradesh, Mungara, Yamini Krishnamurti was raised in Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu. Her grandfather famously named her “Poornatilaka”, which means “beautiful mark on the brow of light”.

She began learning dance at age 5, and had numerous teachers to meet the needs of her long study of Natya and advanced schooling in it.  She was later trained by the eminent Rukmini Devi Arundale (founder of the Kalakshetra dance academy in Chennai).  Her instructors for Kuchipudi were Chinta Krishnamurthi and Pasumarthy Venugopal Krishna Sharma. She later learned Odissi under Pankaj Charan Das, giving her crown not 1, not 2, but 3 jewels of Classical Indian Dance.

In addition to dance, she was also trained in Carnatic vocal and veena, making her a complete musical artiste.

She never married as she is noted to have remarked that “Dance is the only passion in my life”.

Yamini gaaru fleet-footedly performing in her prime


Rare for Bharatanatyam dancers, she was trained in two schools Pandanallur and Kanchipuram (others being Vijayanagaram, Thanjavur, Vazhuvur, and Melattur). The former is more traditional and the latter more liberal.

(The Legendary Mangalampalli, Balamurali Krishna provides vocal accompaniment )

Yamini Krishnamurti completed her first solo performance at the age of 17, in Chennai.

She was Awarded the Padma Sri at the strikingly young age of 28; a testament to her talent.

Yamini gaaru was later granted the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1977.

The great danseuse finally received the Padma Bhushan in 2001. While no dancer has received the Bharat Ratna to date, she is considered the most deserving of such national recognition.

She was named a fellow of the Sangeet Natak Akademi (Akademi Ratna) in 2010.

Over four decades she has trained hundreds of students, the most notable being Ranjani Ramakrishnan and Rama Vaidyanathan.

The legendary dancer was anointed “Asthana Narthaki” (Court Dancer) of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams.


The internationally acclaimed Yamini Krishnamurti is one of the leading modern lights of Classical Dance.

Known across continents for her stage-presence, statuesque stance, moon-like face, and above all, peerlessly expressive eyes, she is no doubt a Natya Ratna.

While her legacy spans the globe, she continues to supervise the training of students in India. She founded and leads the Yamini School of Dance in Delhi, and presently runs the Nritya Kaustubha Institute there. Her autobiography is called “A Passion for Dance”.

Above all, she should be celebrated for dedicating her life to the classical arts while tirelessly encouraging the younger generation to learn and appreciate them.

“I teach dance to a lot of kids…and they are happiest when they dance. I think dance is a human experience. The human body needs this kind of expression. I think every child should know something about dance and movement. It gives greater confidence and self-awareness.”

So great is her commitment to bringing the beauty of dance to youth that she even teaches natya to children with disabilities. Indeed, she herself has stressed the importance of requiring the instructor to teach properly so that the student remains inspired (a lesson that applies not only to dance and the arts, but to other classical fields such as language, philosophy, history, etc).

You have to be careful to find a teacher who knows dance and how to teach it…You have to learn properly. Then, you will never lose interest.


Rare among dancers today, she is a considered a “complete artist”, meaning she has studied ” sangeetam (music), sahitya (literature) and shastras (scriptural texts)”. Indeed, this accomplishment highlights the importance of reviving the Classical Indic Education for the benefit of not only our leaders and thinkers, but our business elite and artistes as well.

This is one of the many reasons why Yamini Krishnamurti gaaru remains one of our great Andhra Personalities. She is undoubtedly an Andhra Ratna and is truly deserving of being the first Bharat Ratna for Natya.

Movie on Yamini Krishnamurti