“Kalyani is the 65th Melakarta raga“, equivalent to the “raganga raga Kalyan 1“. In the older Venkatamakhi scheme, it was called “Santha Kalyani“. In the more modern scheme of Govinda, it is called “Mecha Kalyani“. It is a sampoorna raga and has a symmetrical arohana and avarohana using the chatusruti rishabham (r2), antara gandharam (g3), prati madhyamam (m2), chatusruti dhaivatam (d2) and kakali nishadam (n3)2. As Prof. Sambamoorthy notes, the raga “can be sung at all times, but the effect is decidedly better when sung in the evening…On account of the presence of tivra svaras in this raga, it is very useful for being sung at the commencement of concerts. The requisite musical atmosphere is soon created.”3 (In Tamil, one would say kaLai kattum.)
All the swaras in the raga are raga chhaya swaras (important notes), and each of them can be adorned with gamakas. Alapanas typically start with the panchama or gandhara and commence with phrases like “p m g r s r or g m p m g r s r“. One also hears alapanas that commence with the upper shadja. According to Subbarama Dikshitar, the rishabha and the gandhara are jiva swaras4. However, judging by most compositions (including varnams) and other improvisational renditions, the nishada is a very prominent note too, and is often used as a nyasa swara. Thus, in practice, uttaranga sancharas dominate alapana/neraval.
Singing the raga, by omitting the shadja and/or panchama, gives Kalyani a special flavor. This can be heard in almost every recording featured. Janta (pair) swara combinations like r r g g m m d d n n and datu swara prayogas (phrases wherein intermediate notes are skipped deliberately) like n g” r” n d n r” n d m and g n d m g r are prominent. For example, the charanam of the varnam vanajakshi in ata talam (recording below) features janta swara patterns. The third chittai swara features datu swara patterns. Phrases like n d m g r and g” r” n d m g r which involve orikkai, a variety of gamaka wherein there is a momentary flick to a higher or lower tone at the end of the principal note (e.g., the former phrase is really (s”)n (n)d (p)m (m)g (g)r ), also add a special flavor to the raga. Some characteristic phrases of Kalyani are:
r g r n_, d_ n_ d_ g r s n_ d_
n_ r g r s, g m p (m)g- r s
r n_ g r, p m g r s r
Typically, the rishaba is used as a nyasa swara in avarohi sancharas, as seen above. This should be contrasted with the treatement of the gandhara as a nyasa swara.
r g, s r g, n r g, g m pm g, g m p (m)g
p m g m p, p m n(d) p, p n d p, g n d p,
g n d m g r g m p, s” n d n p
At times the dhaivata is stressed as in p s” (n) d – p m g, g n d – p.
p (n)d n, p (n)d (s”)n, p (n)d (r”)n, n g” r” n.
The approach to the tara stayi shadja is usually through phrases such as p d n s”, m p d n s”, (s”)n d s”, g m d n s”, n s” g” r” s”, s” n r” s, s” n g” r” s”. The gandhara is often oscillated to g® or (m)g. The common phrase (pm)g – (m)(g)r illustrates the different tonal variations of the gandhara. The same is true of the nishada which assumes different shades depending on its proximity to the dhaivat (e.g., p (d) n, p (n)d n) or to the tara stayi shadja (e.g., (s”)n, (r”)n). These can be discerned in the recordings featured below.
Kalyani is a major raga and is capable of being used in practically any kind of composition5. From the common gitam taught to beginners of Carnatic music – kamalajatala, to complicated kritis, ragam-tanam-pallavis, padams and javalis, Kalyani occupies a special place in modern Carnatic music. In a recent exhaustive compilation, Lakshman Ragde6 estimates at least 700 compositions (including various musical forms) set to the raga Kalyani. This status of Kalyani is proof of the tremendous evolution of Carnatic music during the 18th and 19th centuries. Venkatamakhi in his Caturdandi Prakasika (ca. 1620 CE) dismissed it as “Turuska” (Turkish) and considered it unsuitable for three of four musical forms that he described in his treatise – gita, thaya and prabandha. He did not specify if it was suitable for alapa7. Another scale similarly described as turuska corresponds to the raga Todi. In his doctoral dissertation, Prof. Viswanathan notes that “neither raga seems to have particularly well known in South India before the seventeenth century, which fact seems to support the likelihood of Middle-Eastern origins“.
From the above, it appears that the Kalyani scale has its origins in the North. The contours of the raga Kalyani were shaped by composers like “Kshetragna (1600-1680)9, who composed over 20 padas in this raga. Remarkably, these were composed within half a century of Venkatamakhi’s description, and these compositions show how borrowed scales can be adapted into an evolving musical system.