Different Facets of Mukhari Raga

As many carnatic music lovers would know, the Raga Mukhari is associated SOKA RASA or sorrow. It’s in fact common among South Indian parents to plead with cranky children not to start off in Mukhari! But is this impression about the Raga true? Not completely. The same Raga in the hands of a creative composer can completely change its nature of  emotional expression. Let us see how.

At the outset I will give an example of a well-known old Tamil song from the film NANDANAR.  Listen to this link for the song composed by Gopalakrishnabharathi in the film.(please note that when you click on the youtube link you will see an ad – either you click on ‘skip’ or wait for the ad to be over to listen to the song).

I’m sure you will agree that the song clearly portrays a sense of Anger, which is appropriate to the particular context of the song in the film. I have taken this example to show how a composer can completely change the emotion expressed by creative handling of a piece. In this song, the change is brought about by simply singing in fast tempo. Technically savvy people would also notice that the change in emotion in this song is further enhanced by setting the “tessitura” of the song between the upper half of the middle octave and the lower half of the upper octave, that is, by maintaining a narrow range in octave. (Tessitura is a technical term which denotes the most predominant range used in a song. I think the term is Italian in origin).

Let us now turn to some examples of  compositions of the saint Thyagaraja. The saint brilliantly brought out different Rasas (or emotions) in different compositions in the same Raga by deft handling of swaras (notes) and shifting emphasis to certain phrases. Here are a couple of examples:

Listen to this link for the song ‘Sangita Sastra Gnanamu’ rendered by the artist Sowmya. It’s a great composition in terms of its aesthetic beauty. Don’t you think that the feeling of pathos, which is typical of Mukhari is greatly diluted? I would think so. How is it done? By choosing the note Rishabha as the Graha swara and giving prominence to certain phrases. Tempo of the song also matters. (Graha swara is the note with which a piece starts;  This song starts with the notes RMPND…).

The song Sarasiruhanana starts with the note Panchama as the Graha swara and has a different flavour altogether generating relatively more of the feeling of sympathy. Finally, the song Muripemu rendered by MS in this link is perhaps a typical Mukhari song expressing sorrow as the predominant emotion.


PS: Prof P.Sambahamurthy, in his rare publication on Great composers, has dealt with several subtle aspects of compositions of Thyagaraja. The book is a great read for carnatic music lovers. Some of the examples in this post are taken from this book.

Published in: on June 14, 2014 at 9:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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