Kanakangi is the first melakartha raagam. It is also called as Kanakaambari (what a wonderful name!). While man’s aesthetic sense gave birth to raagas like Mohanam, Sudha Saveri etc, his increasing scientific knowledge about the structure of music over a period of many centuries gave birth to raagas such as Kanakangi. In the days of yore, when man began exploring the music world, there was no Kanakangi. All he knew were those tunes or raagas that were immediately appealing to his mind. No wonder, simple pentatonic raagas like Mohanam made their genesis during that early period of man’s irresistable pursuit for melody. Later, as is usual, science took over the aesthetic sense. The dominance of MOOD, which often served the purpose of being the mighty commander of raaga creation, was pulled down by the even mightier science. That the central theorm governing the whole of music was only simple mathematics became evident. The tip of the iceberg eventually lead to the unearthing of the whole of the rest! String instruments like the veenai and gottu vadyam etc., helped the ‘music thirsty’ thathas of yesteryears apply some good logic and figure out the progenitor raagas of the already existing raagas and narrow it down to the 72 melakartha system. It became a relatively simple task like filling in the unknown elements in the periodic table once you knew the general structure of the atom in various elments! The first melakartha became christened as Kanakangi.
There are not many keerthanais in Kanakangi. There is a Thyagaraja keerthanai on lord Ganesha (who seems to have decided to rock the whole hindu community by resurrecting from his idolhood to drink vitamin D fortified milk!) in Kanakangi. Thats all. I know of no other Kanakangi keerthanais. There are few short pieces like the one in M.Subulakshmi’s cassette in all the melakartha raagas. If you want to listen to pure Kanakangi in cinema go to KB’s Sindhu Bhairavi movie. Ilayaraja scored a marvellous Kanakangi in that movie. The situation is: Sivakumar (called as JKB in that movie) is a famous vocal musician. His wife Sulakshana is a carnatic music ag-gnani. Hence, to quench his music thirst at home too, Sivakumar falls in love with Suhasini, who is a great gnani in carnatic music! This dual love creates problems in his public performance. He tries to forget Suhasini, but not able to do so. He is haunted by her thoughts all the time. In that situation he sings a song mOgam ennum theeyil en manam vendhu vendhu urugum. It is this song that gave the first and last Kanakangi to Thamizh cinema music.
Kanakangi is a difficult raagam to handle properly. The reason is that it has got vivadhi swarams at two levels. Sa Ri1 Ga1 and Pa Da1 Ni1. The transition from one note to its immediate adjacent note is discernable by human ear. But when you get such transitions consecutively like in Sa Ri1 Ga1 and Pa Da1 Ni1, it becomes jarring to the mind! Often, to score background music to eerie situations, cine-musicians press immediately adjacent keys in the harmonium in a row, say, Sa Ri1 Ga1 Ga2 Ga3 Ma1; or if the music director doesn’t have any knowledge about musical grammer or a taste for melody, he may even press all the above said keys together to startle the audience by his unpleasant music, than by the situation per se! So, that’s the only use for raagas like Kanakangi in cinema! But, Ilayaraja made a fantastic song out of this raaga. The tonal quality of that song appropriately suits that situation. He has handled that raaga in a very intelligent way. Nowhere in that song does he travels the entire octave. Because if you travel like that, it will be very jarring and unmelodious. He has divided the raaga into bits, delivering sancharas around Sa Ri Ga first, and then going over to Pa Da Ni later, carefully avoiding the sancharas of both the vivadhi levels in the same stretch! Only at the very end, while he goes to the climactic thara sthayi panchamam, he travels from madhyama sthayi panchamam in a single stretch, covering all the notes in between. K.J.Yesudoss has sung that in a wonderful manner. Nobody else could have sung that song as he did, because it needs lot of ‘akara’ practice. One should be a carnatic musician himself and be well versed with such vivadhi sancharas to do justice to the raagam.
Kanakangi is one example that proves the old saying ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. The concept of a raagam and mood is only in the mind of the beholder! Because, look what happens to Kanakangi, when you change the reference shruthi from Sa-Pa-Sa to Ri-Da-Ri. This jarring, inharmonious vivadhi raaga becomes Panthuvarali, a superb meloncholy! The same vivadhi swaras exist in Panthuvarali too, but because of the change in reference shruthi the quality of the mood changes! Similarly, if you knock off the Ri and Da in Kanakangi, you get Sudha Saveri, a superb melody! These are all wonders in our perceptual system, the beholder’s mind!
Ilayaraja has got many songs in Sudha Saveri, a very melodious, ‘desiya’ raagam (Sa Ri2 Ma1 Pa Da2 Sa). His first Sudha Saveri probably came in Bharithiraja’s Kizhake Pogum Rail. kOvil maNi Osai thannai has been sung by Jayachandran and Janaki. His other Sudha Saveri are maanaada kodi in Mudhal Vasantham, kaadhal mayakkam (AVMin Pudhumai Penn), raadhaa raadhaa (Meendum Kokila), maNamagaLE maNamagaLE (Thevar Magan). In maNamagaLE, he has given a sad quality to Sudha Saveri. The shanai interlude evokes a gloomy mood. Ilayaraja’s latest Sudha Saveri came in Prathap Pothan’s recent movie (Aathma). That song has been sung by T.N.Seshagopalan. The song is innaruL tharum annapooraNi. Even this song has wonderful shanai interlude. T.N.Seshagopalan has done a good job in this song (his first song with Ilayaraja). However, the best of TNS’s voice has not been brought out. Perhaps just ordinary cinema vocalists would have been enough for this song! I am sure Ilayaraja has got a lot more numbers in Sudha Saveri. Only thing is my senescent mememory seems to be failing!
Rasikapriya is the last melakartha raagam. Hence, Sa Ri3 Ga3 Ma2 Pa Da3 Ni3 Sa. I don’t know of any keerthanai in Rasikapriya. Ilayaraja has tried this raaga in his early days. It seems like a daring venture at that time. The first and last Rasikapriya in cinema came in Kovil Pura. The three songs in that movie became very famous even before the movie was released. The movie starred ‘Oru Thalai Raagam’ Shanker as the hero and Saritha as the heroine. But, alas! Despite the wonderful songs, the movie was a big flop. The Rasikapriya song was sangeethamE en jeevanE. I vaguely remember the tune of that song. It has been sung by Janaki. It starts like Pa Da Ni Sa; Sa Ri Sa Ni Sa and so on. The tune in the charanam is fantastic. Unlike the first melakartha, the last melakartha sounds melodious to me. Ilayaraja himself had told in one of his early interviews that he expected national award for this song. But, he did not get it.
Lakshminarayanan Srirangam Ramakrishnan,
Internal Medicine Department,
Austin, Tx 78701.