Melakarta ….

Melakarta is a collection of fundamental ragas (musical scales) in Carnatic music (South Indian classical music). Melakarta ragas are parent ragas (hence known as janaka ragas) from which other ragas may be generated. Amelakarta raga is sometimes referred as melakarta or sampurna as well.

In Hindustani music the thaat is equivalent of Melakarta. There are 10 thaatsin Hindustani music, though the commonly accepted melakarta scheme has 72 ragas.

Rules for Melakarta

Ragas must contain the following characteristics to be considered Melakarta.

  • They are sampurna ragas – they contain all seven swaras (notes) of the octave in both ascending and descending scale
  • They are krama sampurna ragas – that is the sequence is strictly ascending and descending in the scales, without any jumps or zig-zag notes
  • The upper shadjam is included in the raga scale  (ragas like Punnagavarali and Chenchurutti are not melakarta as they end with nishadham)
  • The ascending and descending scales must have the same notes
The mela system of ragas was first propounded by Raamamaatya in his work Svaramelakalanidhi c. 1550. He is considered the father of mela system of ragas. Later Venkatamakhin expounded in the 17th century in his work Caturdandi Prakaasikaaa new mela system known today as melakarta. He had made some bold and controversial claims and defined somewhat arbitrarily 6 swaras from the known 12 semitones, at that time, to arrive at 72 melakarta ragas. The controversial parts relate to double counting of R2 (and similar swaras) and his exclusive selection of madyamas for which there is no specific reasoning. However, today the 72 melakarta ragas have gained significant following, though to this day this system is being criticized. Venkatamakhin was known to be extremely critical of Raamamaatya.
Determining the Melakarta 

A hundred years after Venkatamakhin’s time the Katapayadi sankhya rule came to be applied to the nomenclature of themelakarta ragas. The sankhya associates Sanskrit consonants with digits. The digits corresponding to the first two syllables of the name of a raga, when reversed, give the index of the raga. Thus the scale of a melakarta raga can be easily derived from its name.

For example, Harikambhoji raga starts with syllables Ha and ri, which have numbers 8 and 2 associated with them. Reversing them we get 28. Hence Harikambhoji is the 28th Melakarta raga.

Melakarta Scale 

Each melakarta raga has a different scale. This scheme envisages the lower Sa (Keezh Shadjamam), upper Sa (Mael Shadjamam) and Pa (Panchamam) as fixed swaras, with the Ma (Madhyamam) having two variants and the remaining swaras Ri (Rishabam), Ga (Gandhaaram), Dha (Dhaivatham) and Ni (Nishaadham) as having three variants each. This leads to 72 seven-note combinations (scales) referred to as the Melakarta ragas as follows.

There are twelve semitones of the octave S, R1, R2=G1, R3=G2, G3, M1, M2, P, D1, D2=N1, D3=N2, N3 (see swaras in Carnatic music for explanation of these notations). A melakarta raga must necessarily have S and P, one of the M’s, one each of the R’s and G’s, and one each of the D’s and N’s. Also, R must necessarily precede G and D must precede N (krama sampoorna raga). This gives 2 × 6 × 6 = 72 ragas. Finding melakarta ragas is a mathematical process. By following a simple set of rules we can find the corresponding raga and the scale associated with it.

A raga which has a subset of swaras from a Melakarta raga is said to be a janya (means born or derived from) of thatMelakarta raga. Every raga is the janya of a melakarta raga. Janya ragas whose notes are found in more than onemelakarta raga are assigned (or associated) parent Melakarta based on subjective notions of similarity. This is obvious for ragas that have less than seven notes. For such ragas it can be associated with a Melakarta which has any of the different swaras in that position. For example, Hindolam has Rishabam and Panchamam missing. Hence, it could be considered a janya of Todi (also known as Hanumatodi) which has shuddha rishabam or with Natabhairavi which has a chathusruthi rishabam. It is popularly associated with Natabhairavi.


The 72 melakarta ragas are split into 12 groups called chakras, each containing 6 ragas. The ragas within the chakra differ only in the dhaivatham and nishadham notes (D and N), as illustrated below. The name of each of the 12 chakras suggest their ordinal number as well.

  • Indu stands for the moon, of which we have only one – hence it is the first chakra.
  • Netra means eyes, of which we have two – hence it is the second.
  • Agni is the third chakra as it denotes the three divyagnis (fire, lightning and Sun).
  • Veda denoting four Vedas is the name of the fourth chakra.
  • Bana comes fifth as it stands for the five banas of Manmatha.
  • Rutu is the sixth chakra standing for the 6 seasons of Hindu calendar.
  • Rishi, meaning sage, is the seventh chakra representing the seven sages.
  • Vasu stands for the eight vasus of Hinduism.
  • Brahma comes next of which there are 9.
  • The 10 directions, including akash (sky) and patal (nether region), is represented by the tenth chakraDisi.
  • Eleventh chakra is Rudra of which there are eleven.
  • Twelfth comes Aditya of which there are twelve.
(Thanks Vicki)

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