A publication of the Batish Institute of Indian Music and Fine Arts

The 72 Melakartas of Carnatic Music - Part 1

by S. D. Batish


Carnatic music facinates me. Ever since I was introduced to this vast reservoir of musical knowledge, I have become an ardent believer and a convert.

About 15 years ago, my son Ashwin brought to me some books from our local library system. We were actually doing research for available books on the North Indian music system. He presented a series of written works on Carnatic music. I didn't look too much into these at that time. My mind was on the 7 volumes of Raga Chalans, a derivative work of the Ragopedia I had written earlier. There were about 800 ragas I had been slowly composing Chalans for. Also, I was spending some time daily, in our studios, trying to finish a project to record the 110 Lakshan Geets I had composed for my work titled "Rasik Raga Lakshan Manjari." But for years I had been a part of the North Indian music scene - as a singer, music director, and a composer - and had been exposed only lightly to Carnatic music.

It was only by chance one day, my eyes went to Prof. Sambamoorthy's collection. I was looking for information on a South Indian Raga that had gained popularity in the North and I started checking out some of the Carnatic ragas mentioned in his books. To my utter amazement the ragas had an electric appeal upon me. The note combination were a bit strange yet, they drew me in. I picked up my Dilruba and started playing upon the notes of a raga.

I was hooked. My other research was almost done and I found this new frontier very appealing. So it is that this started for me an adventure with this vast reservoir of Carnatic ragas. I became enamoured with the 72 Melakarta scheme.

I am a believer that this is perhaps the most comprehensive scheme of parent modes. They are simple to understand if you follow their logic. But here is how I understood them. So stay with me on this one and you'll remember them for the rest of your life!

The Melakarthas are divided into 12 Chakras (cycles) and each chakra has 6 Melas thus giving you a total of 72 (12 X 6 = 72)

The first 36 and the last 36 are essentially the same. They are seperated by the fourth note Madhyam (called Ma). In the first 36 use, Shudha Ma, and in the next, use Tivar Madhyam a.k.a. Prati Madhyam (called Mi) (Sharp 4th).

Sa and Pa, the 1st and the 5th notes, are fixed. We call them achal. The rest of the notes are as follows

For the 2nd, called Rishabha, there are three variations

Sung as		a.k.a.		Western Equivalent	North Indian
Ra R1 (Shudha) D Flat Re Komal
Ri R2 D Natural Re Shudha
Ru R3 D Sharp Ga Komal

For the 3rd, Gandhaar, there are 3 variations

Sung as a.k.a. Western Equivalent North Indian
Ga G1 (Shudha) E Double Flat Re Shudha
Gi G2 E Flat Ga Komal
Gu G3 E Natural Ga Shudha

For the 4th, Madhyam, there are two variations (as mentioned above)

Sung as a.k.a. Western Equivalent North Indian
Ma M1 (Shudha) F Natural Ma Shudha
Mi M2 (Tivar) F Sharp Ma Tivar

For the 6th, Dhaivata, there are 3 variations

Sung as a.k.a. Western Equivalent North Indian
Dha D1 (Dhudha) A Flat Dha Komal
Dhi D2 A Natural Dha Shudha
Dhu D3 (Ati Tivar) A Sharp Ni Komal

For the 7th, Nishadha, there are 3 variations

Sung as a.k.a. Western Equivalent North Indian
Na N1 (Shudha) B double flat Dha Shudha
Ni N2 (Tivar) B flat Ni Komal
Nu N3 (Ati Tivar) B Natural Ni Shudha

Now, a possible scale from this set of 16 notes is simply a matter of taking the constants Sa and Pa and selecting one note form each of the other note groups to make up the seven notes required for a parent mode.

For example here is a possible scale combination

S R1 G3 M1 P D1 N3

The name of this Melakarta is Mayamalavagaula. In North India, this scale is called Bhairava.

Here is another

S R1 G1 M1 P D1 N1 S

This is called Kanakaangi Mela #1

I will cover the rest very soon. But first, you might have noticed that some of the notes are duplicates. They are actually the same frequency but just called by a different name. In the list given above

Ri or R2 is the same note as Ga or G1
Ru or R3 is the same note as Gi or G2
Dhi or D2 is the same note as Na or N1 and
Dhu or D3 is the same note as Ni or N2

If you take these four out from the 16 notes listed, we are left with the standard 12 notes in an octave.

The Western system is very convenient in notating Carnatic music because it recognizes double flats and double sharps. North Indian music system does not recognise them, so it is hard to notate the Carnatic ragas in North Indian Solfegio. But for the sake of conformity and understanding, I have included the North Indian a.k.a. the "Hindustani" notation.

Before I present the notation, lets look at the mathematics of how these Melas can be computed.

The first three notes of the lower tetrachord of an octave are

Shadaja  	fixed
Rishabha  	Ra, Ri, Ru (three variations)
Gandhaar  	Ga Gi Gu (three variatons)

Let's compute all the variations of this set

1. Sa Ra Ga 2. Sa Ra Gi 3. Sa Ra Gu 4. Sa Ri Ga (Ri and Ga are duplicate notes) 5. Sa Ri Gi 6. Sa Ri Gu 7. Sa Ru Ga (This progression does not make sense 1, flat 3rd, 2nd) 8. Sa Ru Gi (Ru and Gi are duplicate notes) 9. Sa Ru Gu

Now let's do the same for first three notes of the upper tetrachord. These are

Panchama Fixed Dhaivata Dha, Dhi, Dhu (three variations) Nishadha Na, Ni, Nu (three variations)

Now let's compute all the variation of this set

1. Pa Dha Na 2. Pa Dha Ni 3. Pa Dha Nu 4. Pa Dhi Na (Dhi and Na are duplicate notes) 5. Pa Dhi Ni 6. Pa Dhi Nu 7. Pa Dhu Na (this progression does not make sense 5, flat 7, 6) 8. Pa Dhu Ni (Dhu and Ni are duplicate notes) 9. Pa Dhu Nu

Now, go back to an earlier section where I explained about duplicate notes. from the nine possible combinations in each tetrachord we have 4 duplicates and 2 variations that do not make scalar sense. I have marked them. These six are eliminated giving us six unique combinations per tetrachord.

To get the total possible scale combinations afforded by combining the two tetrachord halves you simply multiply the first six with the second giving you 6 X 6 = 36 combinations.

To complete this matrix you have to add the missing note Madhyam. We have two of these Ma Shudha and Ma Tivar (Prati Madhyam). This gives you a set of 36 scales with Shudha Madhyam and another set with Prati Madhyam for a grand total of 36 + 36 = 72 Melakartas.

"This looks good on paper" you say! well Now let me list these scales in a more familiar medium to many of you. South Indian musicians use a very clever scheme of naming these Melas. I will cover that latter. For the time being just try to digest the matrix I've explained above. The notations and the midi files should make life much simpler.

Continued in the next RagaNet Issue

Issues:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9


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