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Melody In Carnatic Music -Part 3

Kiranavali, the granddaughter of the late legendary Gotuvadyam Narayana Iyengar, was born on 2nd Jan. 1973. Her father, N Narasimhan, is a musician of great merit, and has nurtured the musical talents of Kiranavali and her illustrious brothers, Chitravina N Ravikiran and K N Shashikiran. When hardly three years old, Kiranavali was able to identify more than 200 RÓgas and the 175 TÓlas, besides answering numerous technical questions pertaining to Carnatic music. If Indian Express called her "astounding in her precocity" (14 June 1975), the music critic of The Hindu wrote, "More fantastic is the manner in which Kiranavali, the three-year old sister of Ravikiran and Shashikiran is able to tell the RÓga even at the commencement of its outline."

Kiranavali's performing career began at the age of eleven. Both her solo recitals and the duets with her brother, Shashikiran, won the hearts of the knowledgeable and laymen alike. In her quest for excellence, Kiranavali pursued advanced vocal music training under the late Sangita Kalanidhi T Brinda, the highest authority on the works of many a great composer. Under her guidance, Kiranavali has matured into a sensitive musician with a deep commitment to highly refined musical values. At the young age of twenty-eight, she brings a degree of maturity and involvement to Carnatic music that is commensurate with her professional experience of over two decades.

Kiranavali also plays the Chitravina, true to her family tradition. She has performed solo, and has also accompanied Ravikiran. Her concerts have been featured by many leading organisations like the Madras Music Academy, Krishna Gana Sabha, Narada Gana Sabha and Shanmukhananda Fine Arts (Mumbai). The first artiste to be graded high for both Vocal and the Chitravina by AIR and Doordarshan, her music is regularly featured in broadcasts. To access her earlier articles click here.

In my previous article, I gave you the basic outline of the 72 Melakarta scheme. We shall now go into further details.

So far we saw the various possible combinations of notes in a full or sampoorna scale (a scale that has all the 7 basic notes). We also know that the 72 Melakartas are first divided into 2 halves of 36 ragas each, based on the Ma.

The next step is equally simple. The entire 72 Melakartas are further subdivided into twelve parts of six ragas each (12 X 6 = 72). These 12 parts are called Chakras, and we also have interesting nomenclature for them, which enable us to find out the exact Chakra number even from its name. The Chakras are given in the table below with the reason for naming them so. I have given them only to show the thought and wisdom that has gone into every little detail. It is not particularly relevant to our discussion on the Melakarta scheme.

Table 1 - The 12 Chakras


Moon - The earth has one moon


Eyes - We have two of them


Fire - There are three fires maintained in the Vedic ritual


The original scriptures of Hindu religion, which are 4 in number


Arrow - Kama or cupid is believed to have 5 arrows


Seasons - Of six types namely, Vasanta, Greeshma, Varsha, Sharad, Sisira and Hemanta


Sages - We have the famous sapta or seven rishis


A group of deva-s or celestial beings, 8 in number


Mythological reference to the nine cycles of the universe, each presided over by one Brahma


Direction - 10 in all, including above and below


The set of 11 deva-s headed by Lord Siva


The group of 12 deva-s headed by Lord Vishnu

Coming back to the musical aspects, we now have to see how the rest of the notes are determined for each mela.

  • Well, we already talked of the Poorvanga (first 4 notes, Sa, Ri, Ga & Ma) and the Uttaranga (Pa, Da & Ni). Each of the six melas in any Chakra will have the same set of notes in the Poorvanga. As Sa is constant and Ma is predetermined, we only have to worry about Ri and Ga. These also change in the same order that we saw earlier (Refer Table 2). In other words, all the melas of the first Chakra will have Ri1 and Ga1, the second Chakra will have Ri1 and Ga2 and so on.

Table 2

Possible Ri-Ga combinations - Changes with every Chakra

Ri1 - Ga1

Ri1 - Ga2

Ri1 - Ga3

Ri2 - Ga2

Ri2 - Ga3

Ri3 - Ga3

Table 3

Possible Da-Ni combinations - Changes with every mela within the Chakra







  • Coming to the Uttaranga, it is once again simple. Since Pa is constant, only Da and Ni have to be determined. The Uttaranga changes for every mela within the Chakra. Since there are 6 melas in each Chakra and only six possible combinations of Da and Ni, this can easily be fitted. That is, the first mela in any Chakra will have the first combinations of Da and Ni, the second will have Da1-Ni2 and so on. (Refer Table 3)
  • The same procedure is repeated for the next set of 36 melas, wherein only the Ma1 will change to Ma2. Here again, the 7th Chakra (Rishi) will correspond to the 1st Chakra (Indu), and all the melas therein will have the same set of notes as those of Indu Chakra except Ma. Similarly, the 8th Chakra (Vasu) will correspond to the 2nd Chakra (Netra), the 9th (Brahma) to the 3rd (Agni) and so on.

This can be illustrated easily with a couple of examples. For example, take mela number 31. It is the first mela in the 6th Chakra. Therefore it will have Ma1, the 6th combination of Ri-Ga (which is determined by the Chakra number) and the first combination of Da-Ni (which is determined by what mela it is within the Chakra). So the notes will be Sa-Ri3-Ga3-Ma1-Pa-Da1-Ni1 and back in the reverse order.

Now, let us take the example of mela 52. Since it is after the 36th mela, we know that it will have Prati Madhyama or Ma2. It is the 4th mela in the 9th Chakra. Therefore the notes would be Sa-Ri1-Ga3-Ma2-Pa-Da2-Ni2 (3rd Ri-Ga combination as the 9th Chakra corresponds to the 3rd Chakra, and 4th Da-Ni combination).

In my next article, I shall give you the names of the 72 melakartas with their scales. In the meantime, if you have any doubts, please feel free to write your comments.

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