rAgas with 3 and 4 notes

Date: 11 Oct 1994 21:59:50 GMT
Message-ID: <37f1sm$pkv@spool.cs.wisc.edu>
References: <ns36-041094144508@>
Subject: ragas with 3/4 notes [was Re: revathi and hemavathi]

In article <37bm0v$6pe@zip.eecs.umich.edu> vchandra@dip.eecs.umich.edu (V. Chandramouli) writes:

Now, a related question is: why must we have at least 5 notes for a valid raagam? As many of you might be aware, Balamurali has come up with his own raagam that has only 4 notes (I am forgetting the name). Could someone post the notes and the name of this raagam ? Can't we have a raagam which has the above 4 notes ?

ps: If 5 notes were a "must", how did Balamurali get away with it ? Could it be argued thus: We know a raaga is more than just the notes in the aarohnam-av.. Since Balamurali came up with the scale AND showed how to create a meaningful composition in it, the new scale can be legitimately called a raagam.

bAlamuraLekRShNa has composed kRthes in 3 rAgas that have only 4 notes, and kRthes in 2 rAgas with only 3 notes. The names (and the janaka mAELa rAgas), scales and representative compositions in these rAgas are:

rAga       mAELa   ArOhaNa         avarOhaNa       kRthe
sarvaSrE    01     s m1 p s+       s+ p m1 s       umA-sutham
OngkArE     37     s m2 p s+       s+ p m2 s       ---
lavanggE    01     s r1 m1 d1 s+   s+ d1 m1 r1 s   OngkArA-kAreNE
mahathE     28     s g3 p n2 s+    s+ n2 p g3 s    mahanEya maDhuramUrthAE
sumuKam     69     s r3 m2 n3 s+   s+ n3 m2 r3 s   mahanEya namasulevAE

According to bAlamuraLe, lavanggE is based on Vedic chants, and mahathE is based on its close cousins kalAvathE (or valajE).

The statement that rAgas must have a minimum of 5 notes is not true. That which pleases is a rAga. The above kRthes clearly demonstrate the superb flexibility of the concept of rAga in the hands of a skilled performer and an accomplished musician like bAlamuraLe. The 5-note principle is useful in the sense that it is difficult to compose in and perform rAgas with fewer notes, but not impossible or improper.

It is no longer relevant or fashionable to argue about the validity of 4-note rAgas (3-note ragas are apparently too much for many people to accept as yet). The famous song adhesaya rAgam, Anandha rAgam in the film apUrva rAganggaL is based on the raga mahathE. Many concert performers use mahathE as a light rAga in the latter half of their concerts, so it is getting mainstream. mahathE is also the oldest of the 3/4-note rAgas created by bAlamuraLe, the others are substantially more recent and will presumably become popular over time.

Recordings of all the above rAgas (except OngkArE) are available. bAlamuraLe also sang the lavanggE kRthe as part of his concert at the Nehru Anniversary celebrations in New Delhi in 1988. He has regularly performed mahathE, lavanggE, sumuKam and sarvaSrE in live concerts over the past few years. Listen to a recording and decide for yourselves (after all, music appreciation is a personal thing).

Finally, the above rAgas are not the only ones with 3 and 4 notes. lakShaNas for many other rAgas with fewer than 5 notes (either in the ArOhaNa or avarOhaNa) are known. There are also one or two rAga lakShaNas with 4 notes both ways, but they are rare, in fact, rare enough that we probably will never hear them in our lifetimes.

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