Posts Tagged ‘carnatic music’

September 13, 2019

You are provided with approximate translations of Carnatic raga names. Can you figure out the actual name of the raga from these descriptions? Some translations sound good, some are a bit funny and a few really hilarious!!

You just have to start thinking in all possible languages, Sanskrit, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu etc. Also think inside, outside, beyond and around the box to get the right answers :

To get you started, see few example questions and their answers below:

Question – Ornaments of Shiva
Answer – Shankarabaranam

Question – Melody of Swan?
Answer – Hamsanadam!

Question 1: Emperor’s court
Question 2: Stone nail
Question 3: Goddess of Art
Question 4: Country
Question 5: A favourite beverage
Question 6: Fully rolled
Question 7: Heroine
Question 8: Downpour of nectar
Question 9: Coloured beads
Question 10: Wedding spring
Question 11: Flame of moon
Question 12: Dear to Rama
Question 13: Pleasing to the ears
Question 14: Serpent notes
Question 15: One with a beautiful hair
Question 16: A carnatic fan’s delight
Question 17: Many roots
Question 18: Pure wealth seek alms
Question 19: Strange yet so melodious
Question 20: As beautiful as the full moon
Question 21: Hill Hanuman
Question 22: One with a decorated nose
Question 23: Melody and name in action
Question 24: Lion with Lord of Devas in between
Question 25: Olympic Silver with 3.14 Sun


1. Desh. 2.Kalyani. 3. Saraswati. 4. Desh. 5. Kaapi. 6. Surutti. 7. Nayaki. 8. Amritavarshini. 9. Manirangu. 10. Kalyana Vasantham. 11. Chandrajyothi. 12. Ramapriya. 13. Karnaranjani (no one said they were common ragams!) 14. Nagaswaravali. 15. Sukeshini. 16. Rasikapriya. 17. Bahudhaari. 18. Suddha Dhanyasi. 19.:1. Desh. 2.Kalyani. 3. Saraswati. 4. Desh. 5. Kaapi. 6. Surutti. 7. Nayaki. 8. Amritavarshini. 9. Manirangu. 10. Kalyana Vasantham. 11. Chandrajyothi. 12. Ramapriya. 13. Karnaranjani (no one said they were common ragams!) 14. Nagaswaravali. 15. Sukeshini. 16. Rasikapriya. 17. Bahudhaari. 18. Suddha Dhanyasi. 19. Sunada Vinodini. 20. Poornachandrika. 21. The clue is wrong, it should be “Mountain breeze” and the answer is Malaya Marutham. 22. Nasikabhooshani. 23. Naadanaamakriya. 24. Simhendra Madhyamam. 25. Sindhu Bhairavi.

L Shankar, and his double violin

October 2, 2014

L. Shankar

is one of a family of musicians, of which

L. Subramaniam

is the best-known.

However, I was privileged to listen, when I was young to a 78 rpm record (yes, called “vinyl” these days) of an album of his, called “Who’s To Know”, where he played on his own invention, the double violion

The Wiki entry says, “During the 1980s, Shankar recorded periodically as a leader, doing both jazz-based material and Indian classical music. His 1980 release of the album Who’s To Know on ECM introduced the unique sound of his own invention, the ten-string, stereophonic double violin. This instrument, designed by Shankar and built by noted guitar maker Ken Parker, covers the entire orchestral range, including double bass, cello, viola and violin. He has recently developed a newer version of his instrument which is much lighter than the original.”

Here’s a video that shows him playing this wondrous invention of his:

However, this seems to be more of virtuoso playing, with a lot of riffs and gymnastics. It does not bring out the extraordinary range of the instrument, its honeyed tones, or the skill of the mastery of the player, with melody being the go-by for the mathematical swara-prasthArA.

Here’s an interview of him on Sun TV (quite recent, 17th Feb 2014.)

He talks about himself and his experience. A hackneyed interview format, but still, very informative.

My favourites are the album, “Who’s To Know”, from which you can hear an excerpt


(rAgam: hEmavathi.)

And this piece where the rAgA AbhEri is taken up for a rAgam thAnam pallavi (er, it’s nearly one hour long!)

However, the second piece is finished rather abruptly at the rAga AlApanA stage.

The visuals, too, were very interesting for me to see, being clips from all over India.

Such wonderful creativity…I salute this great musician.

Thyagarja Aradhana (thyAgarAja ArAdhA)…a music festival to venerate a saint

January 21, 2014

Today, 200114, is, according to the Hindu calendar, Bahula Panchami, and this is the day that


attained samAdhi on the banks of the river Kaveri, at Thiruvayaru, iean Tamil Nadu.

Over the years that I have learnt, and been interested in, Carnatic music, this has turned into a major, televised event called the

Thyagaraja Aradhana

I just finished watching it on DD Podhigai, it used to be televised on the Doordarshan TV, the official “Government” channel which was the only channel we had in the beginning of TV! Before that, in Kolkata, I would hear it transmitted over the radio.

Here’s the first of the “pancharatna” (“five gems”…the five special compositio ns by the saint that are the highlight of the musical worship), sung in 1986; you can see stalwarts like Maharajapuram Santhanam, and that towering musician, Semmangudi Sreenivasa Iyer.

FB album by M D Ramaswami, with a very interesting narrative

Here’s all the “gems” being sung last year, from DD Podhigai (I must say, the shrill singing by ladies, who are trying to sing one octave over the pitch, which is set to suit men’s voices, is quite awful):

Though Thyagaraja was a saint, and his samadhi (and the singing) are supposed to be open to one and all, social prejudices prevailed for a long time. Gender discrimination, particularly, was quite bad, persisting until 1940. For the story of how

Bangalore Rathnamma

laid the foundation stone to the temple to the saint, only to be denied access (women were not allowed in those days),

click here

Carnatic music has also been the traditional bastion of the Brahmin community, with the very interesting exception that nAgaswaram, thavil and mridangam players hail from the Pillai community…Brahmins are a very “exclusive” caste and did not, earlier, even allow other castes into their homes…so this co-existence is intriguing.

My parents conducted the Aradhana in Kolkata, under the auspices of the Carnatic Sangeeta Sammelan, for many years. Apart from this, Rasika Ranjana Sabha (or RR Sabha as it was called) also conducted an event.

The event is also celebrated by the south Indian diaspora, in the US, at

Cleveland, Ohio

It has also developed into a major event–both a music and dance festival– for the south Indian diaspora, but it is not held at the actual time of the saint’s attaining nirvana; this year, it is from March 28 to April 7. Interesting, this year, to have a Thyagaraja festival dedicated to the memory of another of the trinity of Carnatic music, Maharaja Swathi Tirunal!

There has, of course, been a lot of politics surrounding the festival, and I just try to look past the human element to the divinity that still ensures that many people gather each year on the sandy banks of the Kaveri, and offer geetanjali (musical reverence) to this saint.

The irony, however, never fails to strike me…Thyagaraja was a man who was poor all his life, renounced the world and became a sanyAsi a few days before his death, and reached out to the masses through the simplicity of his songs…and today, he is a gold-plated statue,decked with garlands and jewellery, accessible only to those with “VIP” tickets…he is saluted by the rich and the powerful..and the poor, common people to whom he reached out can attend the concerts that happen over the days of the festival..but not many do. It’s still a bastion of the Brahmin caste/community, and a very “Hindu” event…old divisions continue to live on.

Indian Percussion Instruments

October 21, 2013

I met

Laren Loveless

a very dynamic musician and percussionist, at the Bonfire event organized by the St.Louis Beacon. I decided to send him a video featuring Indian percussion instruments.

Featured are some of the percussion instruments of classical south Indian, and one of classical north Indian music.

It starts with

the Tabla

the north Indian drum-set. Then, we come to the south Indian classical instruments, played in concert regularly. (Click on the name of each instrument for the Wiki entry on it)

the Kanjira

the Morsing

the Konnakol

or oral rendition of the rhythm patterns, called “bol” in north Indian music and “jathi” in south Indian music.

the Mridangam

the Ghatam

the Thavil

I’m sorry, the recording is not of very high quality, but I chose it because one north Indian and all the south Indian percussion instruments (which are used today on concert platforms) are featured.

We have a complex (and highly rule-bound and structured) patterns of rhythms, which are called “taala”

The north and south Indian systems of classical music are quite different, but share a lot of features, too.

All our instruments are tuned to a particular pitch before being played, except, perhaps, the morsing.

Western drums (we are especially fond of the bongos!) are extensively used in our movie and light music. One of our very talented contemporary music drummers is

Sivamani .

The genius of Lalgudi Jayaraman

August 14, 2013

Lalgudi Jayaraman was truly a musical genius, one of the top-class violinists I’ve known… and a very creative musician. He was a close family friend was a long time, and I was privileged to hear him practising when he came and stayed with us, and often saw the process of his creating some of his thillanas.

I’m choosing one very tiny fraction of his creativity here, where he makes the “sAhityam” of Subramanya Bharati’s poem about Krishna’s mischievious deeds come alive with his mastery over his instrument.

I’ve included the translation, to help you appreciate how he elicits the meaning of the words…

The lyrics are transliterated


But I want to take it a little at a time. The song, “ThIrAtdha viLayAttu piLLai”, starts at 13’43”.

theeraadha vilaiyaattup pillai – kannan
theruvilae pengalukkoayaadha thollai

Kannan (Krishna) is an unceasingly playful boy. He is an unremitting nuisance to the girls on the street.


thinnap pazham kondu varuvaan – paadhi
thinginra poadhilae thattip parippaan

He’ll give (me) fruit to eat…and as it is half-eaten, he’ll snatch it.

(Listen to Lalgudi playing this can *hear* the fruit being snatched, lightly, the first time, and sharply, the second.

15’23”, 15’33”)

ennappan ennaiyaan enraal – adhanai
echchir paduththik kadiththuk koduppaan

When I beg him, he bites it with his mouth, making it “ecchal”,and then give it back. Here, Bharatiyar’s words themselves give the effect of biting off, and Lalgudi follows the words (“sAhitya bANi”


azhagulla malar kondu vandhae – ennai
azha ahach cheydhapin kannai moodik kol
kuzhalilae soottuvaen enbaan – ennaik
kurudaakki malarinai thoazhikku vaippaan

He’ll get me a beautiful flower, and after
teasing me to tears, he’ll say, close your eyes,
I’ll set it in your hair…he’ll
make me blind, and set the flower in my friend’s hair instead


pinnalaip pinninrizhuppaan – thalai

(Listen to this part. You can hear the in-and-out “plaiting” of the hair!

17’32”, 17’38”, 17’48”)

pinnae thirumbumun naer senru maraivaan
vannap puduch chaelai thanilae – puzhudi
vaarich chorindhae varuththik kulaippaan

Before I can turn my head back, he’ll vanish
He’ll cover my new, colourful saree
With dust and trouble me to death


pullaanguzhal kondu varuvaan – amudhu

He’ll bring his flute…
(now…hear Lalgudi’s violin become a flute!
18’32”, 18’46”, 18’56”)

pongith thadhumbu nal geedham padaippaan

He’ll create music that overflows with nectar

kallaal mayanguvadhu poalae – adhainaik

(As if we are drunk on liquor…listen to the slightly tipsy effect:

19’26”, 19’30”)

kanmoodi vaaythirandhae kaettiruppoam

We’ll listen to it with closed eyes and open mouths


This is from one of the LP records produced by HMV; there was also “nAjIvAdhAra” in Bilahari on that record, and the Thilang thillana.

Accompanying him on the violin in this rendition is his sister Srimathi Brahmanandam, who is, in my opinion, an even more talented violinist than he was, but whose talent was overshadowed in those days of male chauvinism…Gopala Iyer’s son was favoured over his daughter. (I saw it happen, I am not reporting hearsay.)

When melody is lost…

July 25, 2013

Sanjay Subramaniam is one of the Carnatic vocalists I normally like to listen to, very much.

Why “normally”?

Because of the video above. This, to my mind, is a prime example of what can happen when melody and “nidAnam” depart from our music. The song is “unnaiyallAl vErE gathi illai ammA” in the rAgam kalyANi.

Up to past 9 minutes , everything is smooth sailing, the melodious notes flow well, and the mood of the phrase that he has taken up for neraval, the “title” line, which means, “I have no saviour other than you, Mother” is enunciated.

But then, at 10.00, melody and the sweetness is sacrificed for rhythm and “adukku”, and the whole mood of the song, to me at least, is lost.

This is why I listen much more to north Indian music, these days, in preference to Carnatic music. This rattling of the rhythm and need for speed leaves a contemplative mood far behind, and is jarring to my ears.

The burden of this song is beseeching; “I have been acting long enough on the stage of this world, grant me a boon, and let me stop!” Surely, these lyrics set a mood very different from the cacaphonic crash of jathi and tALam, and should not be treated thus.

This is not aimed at one artiste; most singers seem to forget about bhakti, or the majesty that comes with a particular song, and indulge in calisthenics that spoil that mood.And…it’s not just now; I’ve seen such butchering happening amongst singers of the 60’s, 70’s.. since I started listening to Carnatic music, in fact. Sanskrit, Telugu and other language lyrics broken into meaningless phrases…(eg. “kAma krOdhudu”, in “manasu nilpa shaktilEka” by Thyagaraja, truncated to “kAma krO” for kalpanAswaram!)

North Indian music also does have speed and virtuoso displays, but the melody does not seem sacrificed to speed and gymnastics.

Taalam (thALam) in Carnatic music…

October 7, 2011

Having grown up learning Carnatic music, it never struck me how complicated our way of keeping the beat on our fingers and palm is, to an outsider.

This song from the Tamizh/Telugu movie, “Missyamma”, has the famous film star,


“putting” Adi Taalam, the most basic of the Talams (Adi means “beginning”…this four-by-four-equals sixteen talam is the first one to be taught to beginners.)

Yes, that’s the way all Carnatic vocal musicians keep the talam, whether singing privately or in concert, even today.


is the Wiki about Taala. If one goes through it (worth the read!)…. one realizes that though there is a very complex system of Taalam in Carnatic music, the Suladi Sapta Tāla is the widely accepted one, with seven types of Taalam, and even in that, by default,

Dhruva tala is chaturasra jati dhruva tala
Matya tala is chaturasra jati matya tala
Rupaka tala is chaturasra jati rupaka tala
Jhampa tala is misra jati Jhampa tala.[1]
Triputa tala is thisra jati triputa tala
Ata tala is kanda jati ata tala
Eka tala is chaturasra jati eka tala

Marking the Taalam on the thigh with the palm and fingers, to any taalam, has the following “angam” or parts:

Anudhrutam : This is a single beat, notated ‘U’. An anudhrutam stroke consists of a downward clap of the open hand with the palm facing down.
Dhrutam: This is a pattern of 2 beats. This is notated ‘O’ and consists of a downward clap with the palm facing down followed by a second downward clap with the palm facing up.
Laghu: is a pattern with a variable number of beats, 3, 4, 5, 7 or 9, depending on the jati chosen. It is notated ‘l’ and consists of a downward clap with the palm facing down followed by counting the fingers from little finger to thumb in order and back again after reaching the thumb depending on the jati chosen

Each laghu can have different jaathis:

Chaturasra 4
Thisra 3
Khanda 5
Misra 7
Sankeerna 9

So, Aadi Taalam, which is, technically, Chaturasara jaati Triputa Taalam, would be notated as I-4 O O.

In each taalam, the nadai (or gati, that is, speed) might be different…corresponding to the jaathi. That is, between each count, the interval might be 3, 4, 5, 7 or 9.

A combination of these obviously gives rise to a huge variety of taalam….but in common practice, only Aadi Taalam, “default” Roopaka taalam ( U O) , Mishra Chaapu (I-3 O O) and Khanda Chaapu (usually kept only with beats of two/three) are used. I am reasonbly proficient in many varieites of taalam 🙂

The point of this post? What one grows up with is so familiar, and so easy, it is difficult to imagine that it might be quite complicated to someone else! I was trying to explain to someone all about it just now, and I don’t know if I have quite succeeded…so I am putting it down here, and will be sending the link to her to further clarify things!

Janmashtami, 210811

August 21, 2011

There seems to be a little confusion as to which day JanmAshtami (the eight day of the lunar calendar, which, in this month, marks the birthday of Krishna) falls. Yesterday at my friend’s home, I was told it was yesterday. Today, when I visited my friends Hema and Ganu, she had just lit the lamp and made the little “foot marks” of the baby Krishna:

puja hema 210811

So I offered geetAnjali…I sat and sang “sri krishNam bhaja mAnasa sathatham” in Todi, a majestic kriti, and then “maNi nUpura dhAri” by OotthukkAdu in nIlAmbari…and she lit the karpoora Arathi:

karpooram hema 210811

Outside her front door,her maid had (excuse the homonym!) made a lovely kOlam:

hema 210811

At my friend Nandini’ place, I was told that Iyers should celebrate it tomorrow, and Iyengars would celebrate it day after tomorrow!

How can ashtami last over FOUR days?

I was on my own today, I didn’t bother about it as I am not too keen on rituals and also do these pujas for KM’s sake….but it was lovely to sing and think of a baby Krishna being born to deliver the world of an evil person…perhaps today’s Krishna could deliver us of the evils of venality and corruption?

Happy Janmasthami, or Gokulashtami, or Krishna Jayanthi, or whatever you want to call it!


September 29, 2007

I snapped these earthen pots waiting to be sold in the Indira Nagar area…the pots keep the water cool because the surface is moist and the evaporation brings down the temperature. A mud pot with a mud lid, with perhaps a ladle to dip into the water, and a glass nearby, is a welcome sight on a hot day!

pots in indira nagar 290907

And pots similar to these are also a still-often used percussion instrument in Carnatic music; traditionally, players would play the “ghatam” as it is called, bare-chested, modulating the sound the ghatam makes by adjusting its mouth against their abdomens. The highlight of a “thani Avarthanam” (percussion interlude) would be the ghatam artiste throwing up the ghatam and catching it…”ghati” is the Sankskrit word for “mud pot”. Alangudi Ramachandran and Vikku Vinayakaraman are well-known exponents of the ghatam.

Lyrics of Love…

June 24, 2007

Today was a day filled with music..a superb performance of north Indian classical music by Arti Anklekar in the morning, and old Hindi film hits in the evening…and it made me muse on love in lyrics.

themadman drew my attention to skthewimp‘s post about the lyrics of Carnatic music being generally always a description of the attributes of gods and goddesses, and I do agree that sometimes I can’t relate to the fulsome flattery of the gods! Why must Carnatic music lyrics ALWAYS be spiritual…why can we not sing of the celebration of love in its many forms, in human terms, not divine?

Some of the poetry of the lyrics sung both in the morning and the evening were so very beautiful, haunting, amusing or whimsical…Arti sang one “bandish” which went, He told me he would come, but he hasn’t; the clouds have formed, the air is cool, and my heart beats…here I am, all dressed up and waiting…simple words that rhymed and resonated…and of course, in the evening, the songs were all of the love between man and woman, teasing, sad, tentative or sweet…

Poetry is a collection of words which touches the heart as well as the brain; and when it is allied to great music, it has the power to move to great happiness, or tears sometimes.

Before falling in love, a young man sings:

“lAkhOn hai nigAh mein
zindagi ki rAh mein
sanam haseen jawAn..
AnkhOn mein sharAb hai!
hOtOn mein gulAb hai!
–lEkin vOh bAth kahAn?”

(There are lakhs (of girls) I see
on the path of life
Lovely, laughing and young;
Their eyes are intoxicating,
Their lips are rosy..
But–where’s that special ‘something’?)

And a sad lover whose inamorata sits before him with another man that she must marry, sings:

dil kE jharOkEy mein tujhkO bitthAkar
yAdOn kO tEri main dulhan banAkar
rakhoongA main dil kE pAs..
muth hO mEri jAn udAs..

(I will seat you in the window of my heart
Make the memories of you my bride,
And keep you near me…
Dont feel sad,Oh my life.)

and here are a couple of teasing songs:

kOi bathA thEy dil hai jahAn
kyun hOthA hai dard vahAn?

theer chalAkey yeh thO na poochO
dil hai kahAn, aur dard kahAn!

The woman sings,

Will someone tell me, why does it ache where my heart is?

And the man replies,

Don’t first pierce (me) with the arrow, and then ask where the heart is and where the ache is!

And a man teases his beloved:

Ap yoon hee agar hamsE milthEy rahEy
dEkhiyEy Ek din pyAr hO jAyega!

(If you keep meeting (me) like this,
One day you will fall in love!)

And I love this description:

“khuli latOn ki chAon mein
khilA khilA sA roop hai
ghatA sEy jaisi cchan rahee
subah subah ki dhoop hai”

(in the midst of the shadow of your tresses let loose
your face is flowering
like the early morning sun
filtering through the clouds)

Oh the delight of lyrics of love…whatever mood they depict!

Ah, can’t wind up without a few photographs…

Here’s some unknown flower ( I refuse to get into too many flower and butterfly id’s; id’ing birds is bad enough!) drenched in the rain at Nandi Hills…

un id flower in the rain

And you want to see someone on the ladder to success? Here he is, a tailor bird (this was the iron ladder on a water tank):

Tailor bird on ladder

And here’s the closeup of the little fellow giving his typical single-note cheeping/whistling call…

Tailor bird on ladder

Off I go to look at my friends’ list now..