We will first see the moods that mayamalavagowla creates and then see how some of the popular compositions reflect (if at all) these moods.

I : The basic mood and color that Mayamalavagowla creates:

Mayamalavagowla / Bhairav is a raga steeped in bhakti. In Hindustani music, Bhairav is considered as a morning raga.
So this raga invokes a sense of bhakti, devotion, piteousness and is apt to be sung in the mornings. In South India, a typical morning in a traditional home begins with the mother getting up early in the morning and after her bath, drawing a kolam outside the doorway, with suprabhatam being played in the background. Typically I have always felt this kind of a scene in my head whenever I play/sing this raga.

The point to be noted is that, though this is classified as a morning raga, it is not that if you sing it in the evening it will sound bad. But the mood it generates is like a refreshing dose of morning dew with a scent of rain in the air, beckoning us to get up and see what a glorious day lies ahead of us

II : The songs that have been set in this raga:

Now we will take up few songs and see if the lyrics match the mood of the raga.

First song is Tulasi dhalamulace, a song by Saint Thyagaraja swamy set to roopaka (or rupaka) tala (3/6 beat cycle). This is a video-mp3 of the song sung by Sangita Kalanidhi Sri Nednuri Krishnamurthy.

In this song, Sri Thyagaraja swamy says he will worship Lord Rama, the personification of righteousness, the prince of Ayodhya with the tulasi. He will garland him with fragrant flowers like champaka, lotus, lily jasmine etc.

The tulasi plant is very sacred in India, particularly to the Hindus. This plant is considered holy and also scientifically has some medicinal values. I had described of a picture of an early morning scenario in a previous para. Such a morning ritual is never complete without the worship/watering of the tulasi plant. In traditional homes, the tulasi plant occupies a prime spot of its own in the back-verendah or in front of the house.

The import of the song is in the fact that Thyagaraja swamy describes how he would do pooja (worship) to the Lord which is usually done in the mornings and Mayamalavagowla seems a very nice fit to the mood of the song.

In films as said before, this raga has been used extensively. Many of the songs invoke a sense of devotion or piety.

Mayamalavagowla: Why is it taught as the basic raga in carnatic music classes?

In carnatic music, raga alaap is of immense importance and significance. This is because “scale” can never be a raga. The way the swaras are handled only defines a raga. This means that there can be two ragas with same swaras but they are differentiated by the way the swaras are handled. This is commonly referred to as the sruti. In carnatic music, the oscillations associated with a swara, defines its character and subsequently the raga too. For example with the pitch set to E, the Ga2 is G. This swara can be played in different ways for different ragas. We’ve portrayed here the Ga2 for ragas :

Hindolam ( Sa Ga2 Ma1 Da1 Ni2 Sa’….Sa’ Ni2 Da1 Ma1 Ga2 Sa),
Suddha DhanyAsi (Sa Ga2 Ma1 Pa Ni2 Sa’….Sa’ Ni2 Pa Ma1 Ga2 Sa) and
Todi (Sa Ri1 Ga2 Ma1 Pa Da1 Ni2 Sa’….Sa’ Ni2 Da1 Pa Ma1 Ga2 Ri1 Sa)

Mayamalavagowla  has the Ga3 which has actually minimum, to no oscillation associated with it. The complimentary note for Ga3 is Ni3 (meaning the oscillation associated with Ga3 is similar to Ni3). For singers, this is supposed to be difficult to master. The raga ShankarAbharanam or KalyAni (the same scale as the former but with Ma2) also have Ga3 and Ni3 they are not complimentary. Also the interval length (measured in terms as distance between the swaras) is quite large and easy to grasp in case of Mayamalavagowla, when kids start to learn. With this characteristic associated to the swaras in Mayamalavagowla,  one can practice full throated singing which is essential in the early stages of learning to mould one’s voice.

So these are the reasons why Mayamalavagowla is taught as basic lessons. The basic lesson structure was defined by the father of carnatic music, Purandara Dasa, a great composer and devotee of Lord Krishna.