Book Of The Month - The Mela Raga Malika

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The mela raga malika of Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan

Published in1989, the Mela Ragamalika of Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan is one among the many valuable publications of the Music Academy, Madras. This is however out of print now but there is a solitary copy available in our renovated and re-organised library.

This book was edited by T.S. Parthasarathy and contains an introduction by him to the Maratha Rulers of Tanjavur around the time of the evolution of the 72 mela concept. He also gives a brief note about Venkatamakhi and his Chaturdandi Prakasika and Govindacharya and his Sangrahachudamani. He goes on to talk about the 'Bahattara Melakarta' by Lavani Venkata Rao and about how Mahavaidyanatha Sivan was invited to set the tune to the text that was in praise of Sakharam Saheb, son-in-law of Sivaji II. Subsequently, Mahavaidyanatha Iyer composed a Mela ragamalika on the same lines in Sanskrit in praise of Pranatartihara of Tiruvaiyaru.

The book contains the text of the Melaragamalika in Devanagari and in Tamil. There is a detailed introduction to the ragamalika by V.S.V. Gurumurthy Sastrigal, who was a great Sanskrit scholar and retired as the head of the department of Vedanta in the Sanskrit College at Trivandrum. TSP mentions that the original idea was to have a word to word meaning so that musicians could relate to the meaning of the song. But when Gurumurti Sastrigal went through the text , he felt that it had great literary beauty and merited a full fledged commentary. 'Sivapriya' in Tamil, is his commentary on the work and is very insightful and detailed. Apart from giving the meaning of the verse, he goes on to give literary allusions.

The ragamalika is structured in a very simple manner. Each of the 72 ragas is rendered in two lines. The raga name is encapsulated within these two lines sometimes in an explicit manner or sometimes very subtly in the lines of Muthuswami Dikshitar. This is followed first by an avarta of svara in the same raga and the sahitya is repeated. After this there is a svara passage in half an avarta of the raga just rendered and the next half in the ensuing raga. This is to ensure a transition to the next raga. It is believed that Ramaswami Sivan, elder brother of Mahavaidyanatha Sivan was the architect of this svara passage.

Many questions have been raised as to whether all 72 melas have the status of ragas or whether many of them just remain as scales. That apart, the ragamalika gives a clear picture of each mela in a very concise manner. The svara patterns are very inspiring and will certainly be a lesson for those who want to innovate in kalpana swara singing.

The 72 ragas are arranged in 12 chakras, six in suddha madhyama and six in pratimadhyama. Each chakra also has a suitable name - Indu for the first as there is one moon, netra for the second as there are two eyes, Agni for the third chakra and Veda for the fourth and so on.

The sahitya contains several Puranic references. There is reference to Brahmas search for the ends of the Sivalinga in the raga Dhavalambari, In Navaneetam there is reference to churning of the ocean and Siva swallowing poison. It is interesting to see the way the raga name is split in the sahitya - Cāru ké Śivalingamanārcya or Sarasām gītim kīrtim .

There is reference to characters in Tamil literature as well. Nakkiran is mentioned in Kiravani and Karaikkal Amaiyyar in Ragavardhani who is referred to as Punitavati. Being a musician he refers to tanam as pranavasvarupa in the raga Tanarupi.

This book also contains the text of the Bahattara Melakarta in Marathi, a brief note on Tanjavur Lavani Venkata Rao by B. M. Sundaram and the notation as rendered by Sangita Kalanidhi M.S. Subbalakshmi.

This book is a compendium and a must read for rasikas and musicians.

Dr. Sumathi Krishnan