carnatic ragas in western music

By Spardha Learnings | 

Music has no language; it can be felt all over the world in differences of language and culture, in this article we are going to cover a Carnatic raga and how to play them in western music

There are two kinds of ragas in Carnatic music, that is Janaka ragas (which has all seven notes in the ascending and descending) and Janya ragas (which doesn’t have all the seven notes either in ascending or descending)

First we will start with a Janaka raga called Kalyani, the most graceful raga, is the 65th of the 72th melakartha raga system, which lies in the 11th chakra named Rudra. It is the queen of the raga family. As per kadapayadi scheme, the raga is named as “Mecha Kalyani”, the raga has another name “Santha Kalyani” which can be seen as raga mudra in Dikshitar Kritis. Raga Kalyani is an all-time raga but sounds bright and pleasant in the evening. It is very usual for it to be sung at the commencement of concerts, the requisite musical atmosphere is soon created.

Kalyani meaning “auspicious” is a major versatile and one of the “grand” (Ghana) ragas. The famous five grand ragas of our music are:

  • Shankarabharanam
  • Thodi
  • Kalyani
  • Kambhoji and 
  • Bhairavi.

This raga which renders a pleasing effect and is suitable for singing at all times and encapsulates emotions or rasas namely  

  • Bhakthi 
  • Shringara
  • Vatsalya 

This raga is handled as a main raga in concert with elaborate alapana, and manodharma svaras.

It is believed that Kalyani dispels the darkness of fear. It gives motherly comfort and increases confidence. 


This is a murchanakara ragam. The swaras ri, ga, pa, da and ni, when set as Sa becomes the following ragas by graha bhedam:

  • Ri- Harikambhoji
  • Ga- Natabhairavi
  • Pa- Shankarabharanam
  • Da-Kharaharapriya
  • Ni-Todi

The raga Kalyani has all 7 same notes in the ascending and descending notes (which is called arohana and avarohana). The notes are as follows

  • S (shadjam) –
  • R2 (chatsruthi rishabham) –
  • G3 (antara gandharam) –
  • M2 (prathi madhyamam) –
  • P (panchamam) –
  • D2 (chatsruthi dhaivatham) –
  • N3 (kakali nishadham) –
  • S (shadjam).

It is equivalent to the raga Shankarabharanam, only with the different madhyamam. In Hindustani it is referred as “yaman” thaat. 

Janya ragas:

Kalyani is a parent (Janaka) raga, for a huge number of Janya ragas. There are more then 120 janya ragas for Kalyani, but the most popular ones are:

  1. Saranga
  2. Mohana kalyani
  3. Yamuna kalyani
  4. Hamir kalyani
  5. Vanadanadharani
  6. Saranga tarangini
  7. Sudha kalyani
  8. Bhoop kalyani, etc

Mohana kalyani is a pleasing raga obtained by fusing together mohanam and kalyani. There is also a hamsa kalyani which is obtained by the fusion of hamsadhwani and kalyani.

Compositions :

The number of songs in Carnatic music based on Kalyani raga are many. The trinity gave some priceless compositions in Kalyani. Tyagaraja’s famous kriti “Nidhi Chala Sukhamana”, stands out as a masterpiece.  Muthuswamy Dikishitar also gave some gems in Kalyani including Kamalamba navavarnam, which acts as a shield, protecting one from the ill effects of planetary movement. Syama sastry’s “Talli ninnu nera” and “ Himadrisute” are concert favorites. Almost every composer has composed in Kalyani and almost every form with Carnatic music be it a geetam, varnam, javali, padam, etc. has a Kalyani in it. Almost all musicians have chosen this raga for its infinite potential that challenges their manodharma to the fullest. Lakshman ragde estimates that at least 700 compositions (including various musical forms) are set to the raga Kalyani.  

In Movies:

In the Indian context kalyani has provided inspiration to multitudes of composers, both classical and film. Undoubtedly it can be said that it was Illayaraja, who exploited the versatility of kalyani to the maximum. On one end of the spectrum we can hear the more traditional sounding kalyani’s from him like “Amma endrlaikaadha” sung by Yesudas using his potential of his resonant voice and “janani janani” , which is soaked in bhakti bhava. A short and charming kalyani was “Yamunai aatrile”. One the best is “katril varum geetamae” based on kalyani. He has a huge number of good songs to his credits based on kalyani. 

In western music it is C-D-E-F#-G-A-B-C, which is equivalent to Lydian mode. The Lydian mode is the 4th mode of the major scale, it is very similar to the Ionian mode (major scale), but has the fourth note of its scale raised by a semitone (half step).

The formula for the Lydian mode in terms of tone and semitones are T-T-T-S-T-T-S, which in whole and half step is W-W-W-H-W-W-H.

Degrees of Lydian scale:

In Lydian mode, the tonic, dominant, and super tonic triads are all major. The sub dominant is diminished. The triads built on the remaining three degrees are minor

Lydian scale is almost same as the major scale, except it has a raised fourth (by a semitone), which is an augmented fourth. All the other degrees of the scale are major intervals

  • Root
  • Major 2nd
  • Major 3rd
  • Augmented 4th
  • Perfect fifth
  • Major 6th
  • Major 7th

Notes of the Lydian scales in all the keys are as follows

Key  Notes in the Lydian mode

C C – D – E – F# – G – A – B – C

C# C# – D# – E# – F## – G# – A# – B# – C#

Db Db – Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C – Db

D D – E – F# – G# – A – B – C# – D

D# D# -E#- F##- G#- A#- B#- C##- D#

Eb Eb – F – G – A – Bb – C – D – Eb

E E – F# – G# – A# – B – C# – D# – E

F F – G – A – B – C – D – E – F

F# F# – G# – A# – B# – C# – D# – E# – F#

Gb Gb – Ab – Bb – C – Db – Eb – F – Gb

G G – A – B – C# – D – E – F# – G

G# G# – A# – B# – C## – D# – E# – F## – G#

Ab Ab – Bb – C – D – Eb – F – G – Ab

A A-B-C#- D#- E-F#- G#- A

Bb Bb – C – D – E – F – G – A – Bb

B B-C#- D#- E#- F#- G#- A#- B

Music written in Lydian mode

The Lydian mode is used a lot in popular music

  • One of the most recognizable pieces of music that uses the Lydian mode is the theme tune to The Simpsons.
  • Another piece that uses the Lydian mode from the classical repertoire is the third movement from Beethoven’s String Quartet No.15 in A minor. Its written in F Lydian and it sounds quiet heavenly 
  • Many polish folk songs, are in Lydian mode, the first six notes of this mode were sometimes known as the ”polish mode”

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