Malayamārutham - A Breeze from the Hills

The Raga Series Jul 17, 2022

(Read Poorvikalyani - Therapeutic, the previous article in The Raga Series)

A class of janya rāgas in Carnatic music includes those rāgas that are asampūrna (all seven notes not present together) and short of just one note. These symmetrical rāgas with only six notes in their ascending and descending scales are termed shādava-shādava rāgas. These can also be thought of as the result of dropping just one note from their sampūrna parent rāgas or melakartas, although that may not necessarily be the way they were discovered. There are numerous legendary rāgas that belong to this class - Lalithā (drop the note P from Māyāmālavagowla), Shrīranjani (drop the note P from Kharaharapriyā), Dēvamanōhari (drop the note G2 from Kharaharapriya), Hamsānandi (drop the note P from Gamanāshrama) - the list is endless. However, the spotlight of this article is the rāga obtained by omitting the M1 from Chakravākam.

The result is the riveting yet rarely handled Malayamārutham.

Before moving onto my tirade of obsessions, have a glimpse at its ascending and descending note-frameworks:

Ārōhanam: S R1 G3 P D2 N2 S

Avarōhanam: S N2 D2 P G3 R1 S

Scale of Chakravākam, the 16th mēlakarta raga
Malayamārutham - Ārōhanam and Avarōhanam

Malayamārutham (literally, ‘a breeze from the hills’) is one of the rāgas that I like to call playground rāgas. The playground is where there are no rules: you slide down a slide, but nobody can stop you from climbing back up on the slide (this is something I have always done, I am sure even you have); you usually sit on a swing but then again, if you are a daredevil of sorts, you could even stand up on it and swing away and nobody can question you. At the end of the day, the playground is where we can unleash our spirit of exploration and question boundaries set upon us.

Much akin to this, although Malayamārutham inherits its feature set of typical gamakas from its parent Chakravākam, musicians occasionally choose to violate it and render some notes sans gamakas. Moreover, this rāga is not completely dependent on its gamakas for its ranjakatva or musical appeal. These are gamakas normally sung in similar rāgas. The R1 of Malayamārutham is pleasing when teasingly oscillated back and forth between S and R1;  the N2 of Malayamārutham is usually sung as a spectrum between its D2 and S - all of these are commonly done in ‘larger’, similar rāgas, and is nothing exclusive to Malayamārutham.

Composers like Muthuswāmi Dīkshitar spent more time solidifying existing foundations than in creative exploration. Although they heavily challenged Carnatic music right up to its frontiers, they did not expand them as much as their contemporary Tyāgarāja, who on the other hand, treaded the road not taken. Tyāgarājā’s 700 odd compositions span an awe-inspiring 212 rāgas; 121 of these rāgas just have one composition. Tyāgarāja was also the first to compose in 66 of these rāgas. Tyāgarāja discovered countless of these rāgas, some of them so popular today that you would refuse to believe that they are in fact ‘rare’ as per Carnatic music standards. Now, you may think merely dropping a note from a parent rāga and giving the result a name is not too laborious a task. However, that is not how a rāga is born. Dropping notes just gives rise to permutations. However, a rāga is born when a faithful observer delves deeper into the permutation and unearths a realm of bhāva, explorational scope and possibilities for further creative thought processes.

Malayamārutham is one of Tyāgarāja’s brainchildren, the so-called vinta or exquisite rāgas, which according to folklore, may not exactly be Tyāgarājā's conceptualisations. As per these stories, sage Nārada once visited Tyāgarājā’s residence in the disguise of a hungry mendicant. Known to have been a benevolent man, the generous Tyāgarāja fed him to his heart’s content. Delighted by his virtuousness, Nārada secretly left behind the manuscripts of a musical treatise called Swarārnava for Tyāgarāja, later revealing in Tyāgarāja’s dream the place where he hid them. These manuscripts are said to have contained the scales and lakshana (metadata, if I may) of about 83 rāgas called vinta rāgas. The Swarārnava is said to have disappeared at around the same time as Tyāgarāja’s death.

The vinta rāgas were thus very dear to Tyāgarāja. In his kriti Muccata Brahmādulaku set to the palatial rāga Madhyamāvati, Tyāgarāja talks about these vinta rāgas:

bhAgavatulu hari nAma kIrtanamu
bAguga su-svaramulatO vintarAgamulan(A)lApamu sEyu
vaibhOgamulanu jUci nAga bhUshaNuDu karuNA nidhiyai
vEgamu sakala su-jana rakshaNamuna jAga-rUkuDai kOrkelan(o)sagu
tyAgarAju tAn(a)nucunu vaccu (muccaTa)

Tyāgarāja loved temple processions where the utsava mūrti or the festive idol of a temple is taken on a chariot around the temple in a grand procession. In this kriti, Tyāgarāja describes the scene at the temple procession at the Panchanadīshwara temple at his birthplace Thiruvaiyāru. The presiding deity of the temple is Shrī Tyāgarāja, after whom the composer himself was named. Here, Tyāgarāja writes, “O damsels! Come and behold him who is propitiated by musicians merely singing alapanas in vinta rāgas (he means to say one does not even have to sing songs in vinta rāgas, alapanas are enough to bring the gods down to Earth); he arrives in his chariot, ecstatically announcing ‘I am Tyāgarāja!’, a marvel that even Brahma and others do not have the fortune of witnessing in the heavens!” thus extolling the allure of his vinta rāgas.

On that note, let us look at some compositions in Malayamārutham. Numerous composers, after Tyāgarāja’s laying of Malayamārutham’s foundation stone, have built few but mightily impressive compositions in it.

At the peak of the mountain of Malayamārutham compositions sits Tyāgarājā’s Manasa Etulo set to rūpaka tāla, a cycle of 3 beats. In this composition, Tyāgarāja chides his own mind, not unlike what he has done in countless compositions. The lyrics are so stunning, I am tempted to go into a word-by-word analysis of the entire composition; but in a nutshell, the monologue would loosely translate to “Oh mind! I exhort you repeatedly to practise some humility, but you have the audacity to ignore my advice! I have urged you countless times to chant benevolent Rama’s names; yet you wander the Earth aimlessly and fall prey to the vices of uncouth, unprogressive men! I have recommended so many ideas to you to redeem yourself of your wrongdoings and yet you refuse to listen to me; Tyāgarāja cannot tolerate this!” Here, the rāga is beautifully employed to depict a myriad of emotions - anger, frustration, even compassion.

Manasā Etulōrtunē - Tyāgarāja

Unfortunately, Dīkshitar and Shyāma Shāstri have not composed in this rāga. Both these composers had a very unique process of musical thought, and their interpretation of ragas was usually interesting. The two of them have given life and scope to numerous rāgas immensely popular today; so could have been the case with Malayamārutham, had they explored this rāga.

Post-trinity composers, however, were heavily influenced by Tyāgarājā’s rāgas. Maharāja Swāti Tirunal had the good fortune of the company of many esteemed musicians who were all disciples of the trinity of Carnatic music composers. This exposure to the classical arts from his childhood moulded Swāti Tirunal into a phenomenal composer himself. In the rāga Malayamārutham, the kriti Padmanābha Pālitēbha is believed to be a product of Swāti Tirunal’s exquisite penmanship.

Papanasam Sivan struck gold with every word he composed in his lifetime and his Karpaga Manōharā is no exception. This is a magnificent composition in the tāla Khanda Chāpu on the presiding deity Kapālīshwara of Mylapore. In my opinion, a song of such calibre deserves more and hence I have attempted to compose and render a chittaswaram, a swara passage to segue back to the pallavi after the charanam; you can listen to it below.

Karpaga Manōharā - Charanam and Chittaswaram

Few other compositions in Malayamārutham include Dhanyudevvadō by Patnam Subramania Iyer, Smarane Onde Sāladē by Purandaradāsa, Chandiran Oliyil by Mahākavi Bhārathiyār, Anumane Sāmikindha by Arunāchala Kavi, and Navaratna Vilāsa by Kalyani Varadarajan. There is also a pada varnam I have never heard of called Malaya Māruthamuchē which intelligently bears the rāga name in the opening words. The composer of this piece is V.V. Naidu.

There are surprisingly many film songs in Malayamārutham. Ilaiyaraaja’s Kanmani Nee Vara opens with the raga Valaji (which is just Malayamārutham without its R1) and segues swiftly into Malayamārutham. The choice of the rāga is so apt and perfectly highlights the lustful mood of the lyrics. Ragasiyamaai from the super-hit movie Dum Dum Dum starring Madhavan and Jyothika is a wonderful Malayamārutham with hints of its parent rāga Chakravākam at times.

Malayamārutham without its N2 is a little rāga called Rasikaranjani. Amudhe Thamizhe from the movie Koyil Puraa is a fabulous song in this rāga. Opening with the two singers taking turns singing swaras in Rasikaranjani, the song has its mood set right from the beginning.


Check out the video below. In the swara segment at the start, notice how the note R is oscillated between the S and the R, as we saw in the beginning of this article.

However, the best known Rasikaranjani in film music is the iconic masterpiece Neela Kuyile Unnodu Naan from the movie Magudi. I need not say any words about this at all for the song itself begins with the male protagonist singing a folksy tune to himself. Listening to this, the female protagonist sits beside him and says, “You may think you have sung just an ordinary folk tune; little do you know that there is an entire rāga lakshana in it!” and begins to teach him swaras in Rasikaranjani. Following suit is this precious prelude:


That's Malayamārutham for you! On that note, check out our specially curated playlists to enjoy some beautiful Malayamārutham. Happy listening!

Check out the YouTube playlist on the raga here!

The Raga Series intends to elucidate on the Raga-Rasa relationship to make your listening experience more enjoyable. The author does not guarantee that the recommended songs are composed only based on the raga. The series is based on the author’s views and is purely subjective. Music tracks are shared for your quick reference and their rights belong to their respective owners.


Tharunkumar Dhanasekaran

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