Music of India – a brief outline – Part Nineteen

12 Jun

Continued from Part Eighteen – Lakshana Granthas– Continued

Part Nineteen (of 22 ) – Lakshana Granthas – Continued

 14. Venkatamakhin – Chatur-dandi-prakashika – Mela and Melakarta

 Note venkat

Venkatamakhin also referred to as Venkateshwara Dikshita and Venkatadhvari was the son of Govinda Dikshita, the author of Sangita Sudha and the minister of the Nayak Kings at Thanjavuru.

Venkatamakhin was said to be a distinguished Mimamsa scholar; and, is credited with Karmāntha Mimamsa, a work on the Mimamsa and Vrittikabharana, a commentary on Kumarila Bhatta’s work. Venkatamakhin is also said to have composed twenty four Ashtapadis on Lord Tyagaraja, the presiding deity at Tiruvarur temple.

Venkatamakhin shows enormous respect towards his father Govinda Dikshita, mother Nagamba and his elder brother Yajnanarayana Dikshita. He mentions that his elder brother Yajnanarayana Dikshita taught him Tarka (Logic), Vyakarana (Grammar) and Mimamsa Shastra, as also Music.  Yajnanarayana Dikshita, who also was in the service of Raghunatha Nayaka, was a renowned scholar of his times. He is said to have written a play Raghunatha-Vilasa and a Champu-kavya Raghunatha Bhupa Vijaya in honor of the King. Apart from that, Yajnanarayana Dikshita is credited with Shitya-Ratnakara a treatise on Sanskrit literature and Grammar.

Neelakantha Dikshita a minister in the Court of Nayak Kings was a disciple of Venkatamakhin. Neelakantha Dikshita was also a well known poet of his times; and is said to have written a Kavya Siva Leelarnava, which describes the Leelas of Lord Sri Meenakshi Sundareswara of Madura.

[The picture at the top of this post  is taken from a painting  made by Sri S Rajam. There is an interesting anecdote connected with it.  When Sri Rajam intended to provide an illustration of Venkatamakhin as an introductory painting for the Apr 2008-March 2009 calendar brought out by L&T, he had no earlier pictures of Venkatamakhin to guide him. His research into the archives of Sri Kanci Mutt led him to an interesting detail showing that Venkatamakhin who was also a skillful vainika wore his long hair in a coil such that it did not touch his body; he coiled it atop his head. Shri S Rajam then pictured Venkatamakhin with coiled locks of hair, rudraksha-mala; and surrounded by musical instruments such as Veena, Tambura etc. as also scrolls of ancient manuscripts, lending the picture an air scholarship and a spiritual aura.]


Venkatamakhin fame rests mainly on his work Chatur-dandi-prakashika, which he wrote (perhaps around the year 1650) under the patronage of the Fourth Nayaka King Vijaya Raghava who succeeded Raghunatha Nayaka and ruled up to 1672. Chatur-dandi-prakashika is a treatise on Music that illumines four forms of song-formats: Gita, Prabandha, Thaya and Aalapa (Gita-prabandha-sthaya-alapa-rupa-chatur –dandi) which seemed to have formed the pattern (or profile) for concert performances during 14-15th centuries. In that context, he makes frequent references to Gopala Nayaka (1205-1315) and to Tanappa-charya whom he calls Parama-guru ( Guru’s Guru) . Both of these were, perhaps, renowned performers of Charurdandi.Along with the text, Venkatamakhin is said to have composed Lakshana-gitas on a large number of Ragas.

The text of the Chatur-dandi-prakashika was said to contain ten Chapters (Prakarana), each dealing with: Veena, Sruti, Svara, Mela, Raga, Alapa, Thaya, Gita, Prabandha and Taala. Among these, portions of Prabandha-prakarana and the entire Taala-prakarana are lost. But, interestingly, it is the Appendix (Anubandha) to the main text that brought focus on Venkatamakhin.

The Veena-prakarana generally follows the concepts and techniques described in Somanatha’s Raga-vibodha and Ramamatya’s Svara-mela-kalanidhi ; and,  discusses about two kinds of fret-arrangements and tuning of the Veena-strings. Venkatamakhin mentions three types of Veena: Shuddha-mela-veena; Madhyama-mela-veena; and, Raghunathendra-mela-veena.

While describing the arrangement of the frets on each of the three types of Veena, Venkatamakhin follows the illustrations provided by Ahobala Pandita.  According to that, arrangement of frets could be done in two ways: One with fixed frets on which all Ragas could be played (Sarva-raga-mela-veena); and the other with frets specially placed to suit playing of a particular Raga (Eka-raga-mela-veena) .

Venkatamakhin informs that during those days, besides the common Shuddha and Madhya-mela Veena described by Ramamatya, there was also a Veena with a higher tuning, i.e. in this tuning the first three strings are ignored and the fourth one tuned to Shadja has frets for three Sthanas. It was named by Govinda Dikshita as Raghunathendra-mela-veena, in honour of the King.

In the Second Chapter dealing with Srutis, Venkatamakhin ,in the traditional manner,  talks about 22 Srutis and their distribution over Seven Svaras. He explains that the 22 Srutis are not placed at equal intervals, but are placed at specific intervals depending upon the  Svara structure in the Raga. For instance, he says, the Shadja and Shuddha Rishabha on the Veena should be divided equally into three parts ; and two frets be introduced and thus three Srutis of `ri’ are seen (Sa – – ri).

The third Chapter on Svaras explains the nature of Shuddha and Vikrita Svaras. He explains the Shuddha Svaras with the illustration of Mukhari Raga having Sa, Ma and Pa having 4 Srutis; Ga and Ni having 2 Srutis; and, Ri and Dha having 3 Srutis.

As regards Vikrita Svaras, Venkatamakhin asserts that in practice there are only five in number and not 7 or 12 as mentioned in the texts of Ramamatya and Sarangadeva.  The five Vikrita Svaras according to him are: Sadharana Gandhara; Antara Gandhara; Varali Madhyama; Kaishiki Nishadha; and, Kakili Nishadha.

Dr. N. Ramanathan explains: the one interesting feature of Venkatamakhin’s descriptions of Shuddha and Vikrita Svaras is that he considers the same Svara to be different if its interval from its previous Svara is altered.

Then, Venkatamakhin goes back to the ancient Gramas – Shadja, Madhyama and Gandhara; as also to the Murchana and the Tana. He also talks about Alamkara, Gamaka and Vadi-Samvadi Svaras. In all these, he refers to the descriptions as given in the older texts. As regards Vadi-Samvadi, he applies the ancient system to his contemporary practices and gives illustrations.

The Fourth Chapter is about his exposition of Mela scheme. He tried forming as many number of Melas as possible by permuting Shuddha and Vikrita Svaras. With this, he comes up with 72 Melas. Venkatamakhin asserts that his scheme of 72 Melas comprehends all the Melas that may have existed in the past and those that might be created in future.  Out of the 72 Melas, Venkatamakhin was able to identify the Ragas of only 19 Melas. Therefore, he could name only 19 Melas; the rest were not assigned any names. These (53) he considered as theoretical possibilities, but (then, at that time) non-functional since no known Ragas could fit in to his scheme of these Melas.

While describing the 19 Melas, he also gives the Svaras and the 22 Srutis in each case. And , while naming the 19 Melas he also indicates each one’s position  (number) in his Grand scheme of 72 Melas. He starts with Mukhari which is his first Mela and also the first among the 72; 2. Samavarali (3); 3.Bhupala (8); 4.Hejjuli (13); 5.Vasanthabhiravi (14); 6. Gaula (15);  7. Bhiravi Raga (20); 8.Ahiri (21); 9.Sri Raga (22); 10. Kambhoji (28); 11. Shankarabharanam (29); 12.Samantha (30); 13. Desaki (35); 14. Naata (36); 15.  Shuddha Varali (39); 16. Pantuvarali (45); 17. Shuddha Ramakriya (51); 18. Simharava Raga (58) – an invention of Venkatamakhin; and, 19. Kalyani (65).

[The numbers mentioned in the brackets indicate the number assigned to the Mela in the overall scheme of 72 Melas.]

Venkatamakhin went by recognizing a Mela Raga if all the seven Svaras occurred in it, either in the Aroha or in the Avaroha. He did not insist that a Mela Raga should be a Sampurna Raga, with all the seven Svaras in both the Aroha and Avaroha. Further, during the time of Venkatamakhin the concept of Mela-karta had not yet evolved. All his discussions are in terms of the Melas.

While talking about his scheme of 72 Melas, Venkatamakhin makes very interesting remarks :

I have no doubt worked out the 72 Melas , but it might be said that this permutation is a waste , since, of these 72, only a few are known and found in practice; my reply is that I have devised a scheme which would comprehend all Ragas of all times and of all countries , Ragas now known and Ragas which might be created in future, Ragas which we do not know  at all and Ragas which are only in text books , Ragas that are Desiya Ragas and the already generally accepted Melas of those  Desi Ragas , such Ragas like Pantuvarali and Kalyani  and their generally accepted Melas – it is to comprehended all these that I have devised this scheme of 72 Melas . Wherefore should one fear that it will be futile?

[Source: Collected writings on Indian Music .Vol 2 .p.264-5 by Dr. V. Raghavan]

Yes, indeed; it was not a futile exercise at all , but a path breaking pioneering work that led to improvements and refinements of the entire theory and scheme of the Melas and their derivatives.

[Venkatamakhin’s Mela scheme was thoroughly revised later. (We shall talk about these in a little while). The concept of Mela-karta (Janaka) from which other ragas may be derived and of Raganga Ragas also came about after Venkatamakhin’s time. Following that, the rest 53 Melas which Venkatamakhin could not name were duly recognized and assigned names. And, finally 72 Mela-karta Ragas were identified and named. Along with coining names, a system of hashing (Ka-ta-pa-yadi) for identifying the Raga-number with the aid of the first two syllables of its name was also introduced.]

In the Fifth Chapter – Raga prakarana – Venkatamakhin recalls the ancient system of identifying a Ragas with ten characteristics (Lakshanas) – Graha, Amsa, Tara, Mandra, Sadava, Audavita, Aplatva, Bahutva, Apa-Nyasa and Nyasa. He again talks of the earlier classification of Ragas as Grama raga, Bhasha Raga etc.  He describes 55 Ragas picked on the basis Graha Svaras (the initial note – Adi-Svara).  He starts with Ragas having Shadja as Graha Svara, then the Ragas with Rishabha as Graha Svara and so on. In case of each Raga, he mentions the Mela to which it belongs  as also their Lakshana and Lakshya.

He gives a classified list (according to Graha, Nyasa etc) of 54 Ragas with their descriptions, their Svara structure and their Mela.

The Sixth Chapter, Alapa-prakarana talks of various stages in developing a Raga Aalapa.

The Seventh Chapter Thaya-prakarana is the briefest with only seven verses. Venkatamakhin describes Thaya (Sthaya) as a melodic phase with rich musical potential that forms the main ingredient in Raga elaboration.  AS Dr. Ramanathan explains : In the Raga-alapana , Thaya is that in which a particular Svara is taken as the stationary point from which phrases are built up encompassing four Svaras in the ascending direction and later in the descending direction and finally conclude on mandra -sa.

The Eighth Chapter Gita-prakarana is about the Gita (the song); and also about the Shuddha Suda and Salaga Suda class of Prabandha. The latter, the Salaga Suda, in particular is treated a Gita. Venkatamakhin describes seven forms of Prabandhas under Salaga Suda: Dhruva, Mattha, Pratimattha, Nisharuka, Attatala, Rasa, and Ekatali

The Ninth Chapter Prabandha–prakarana is the extension of its previous Chapter; but , it is incomplete.  Here, Venkatamakhin describes Prabandha in terms of Six Angas (limbs or elements): Svara, Birudu, Pada, Tena, Paata, and Taala;   and Four Dhatus (sections in a song): Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva and Abogha. Then, he goes into to the classification of Prabandha depending upon the (a) number of Angas and (b) number Dhatus of which they are composed.  He also provides number of illustrations.

The Tenth and the Last Chapter on Taala is lost.

When you look back you find that Chatur-dandi prakashika, basically, recalls the Music practise as they existed during 14th to 17th centuries.  It throws light on the history of those times and clarifies some issues. But, by the time Venkatamakhin wrote this text, many of the subjects he discussed, particularly the Prabandha, were fading away giving place to newer forms of song-formats and improvised ways of rendering the Raga and the song.

Venkatamakhin was criticized for making uncalled for remarks such as: Ramamatya could not even understand what a Sheppard could easily understand; and, that not even Lord Shiva can improve upon his Mela scheme. (He, of course, was proved wrong as his Mela scheme was revised and improved upon). During the early 20th century controversies raged over the Melas of Venkatamakhin. Some critics argued that the Kanakambari -Phenadyuti nomenclatures – the Mela names –  found in the Appendix to Chatur-dandi – prakashika though ascribed to Venkatamakhin are not actually his own .It was also pointed out that Venkatamakhin’s Mela was already marked with Ka-ta-pa-yadi prefixes. And they said, it is not known who invented this ingenious system ; but, it could not be Venkatamakhin. Most of such controversies have now been put to rest.

Chatur-dandi-prakashika is known and recognized today mainly because of the 72 Mela Scheme that he introduced. And, this exercised great influence in reorganizing the Ragas and the Music structure in Karnataka Sangita.  In that regard, Chatur-dandi-prakashika is a very important text.



Mela is a Kannada word that is still in use; and, it signifies ‘group’ or ‘gathering’. There have been many attempts, at various stages in the history of Karnataka Sangita, to organize the then known Ragas by groping them into categories. The earliest known such attempt was by the sage Sri Vidyaranya (1320-1380) who in his Sangita-sara   grouped about 50 Ragas into 15 Melas.

Following Sri Vidyaranya, Ramamatya in the Fourth Chapter – Mela-Prakarana– of his Svara-mela-kalanidhi (1550 AD) introduced the theoretical framework for classifying then known Ragas into 20 Melas, the notes and names of which were taken from the prominent Ragas of that time.  This was an improvement over the system initiated by Sri Vidyaranya.

Ramamatya lists 20 Melas: 1.Mukhari; 2.SriRaga; 3. Malavagaula; 4. Saranganata; 5. Hindola ; 6. Shuddha-ramakriya; 7. Desaki; 8.Kannadagaula; 9. Shuddanti; 10.Ahari; 11.Nada-ramakriya; 12.Shuddhavarjati; 13. Ritigaula; 14. Vasantha-bhairavi; 15.Kedaragaula; 16.Hejujji; 17.Samavarali; 18.Revagupti; 19. Samantha; and 20. Kambhoji.

Ramamatya gives details of Shuddha-Svaras and Vikŗta-Svara-s occurring in each of the Mela, a list of sixty-four Janya Raga-s classified under each Mela, and the Sruti positions of Svaras in the Melas. Mukhari is established as the Shuddha-Svara Saptaka in this treatise

Later scholars, that is after Ramamatya, started computing the maximum number of seven Svara combinations they could derive (melaprasthara) based on the number of Svara positions. Here, each author computed a different number of Melas based on the number of Svarasthanas he had theorised.

For example, during the second half of the 16th century Pundarika Vittala (in his Raga-manjari) introduced Ramamatya’s 19-Mela system in North India. But, he changed the names and scales of several Melas. But, in his Sad-Raga-chandrodaya Pundarika Vittala mentions the possibility of 90 Melas. Another South Indian musicologist who migrated to North was Srikantha who wrote his Rasa-kaumudi at about the same time. In classifying 37 important Ragas, he reduced Ramamatya’s 19 Melas to 11 or in fact to 10 as his scales of Malhara and Saranga were actually the same. His system resembled the contemporary Arabic system of 12 predominant modes (Maqam).

Then, following Ramamatya and Pundarika Vittala, Ahobala Pandita classified 122 Ragas under six Mela categories and three subdivisions: Audava (pentatonic), Shadava (hexa-tonic) and Sampurna (hepta-tonic). Hridayanarayana Deva who followed Ahobala Pandita, arrived at 12 Melas composed of two sets of six Melas depending on the number of Vikrita Svaras. Lochana Kavi also came up with 12 Melas. And, in Samantha’s Raga Vibhodha there are 960 possible Melas. Even though they came up with this computation they found that only a limited number of these were actually used in the form of a Raga.  Therefore, Somanatha felt that 23 Melas would suffice to classify the 67 Ragas then in practice.

Thus, right from 14th century, Musician-scholars have been classifying and re-classifying Ragas into different sets of Melas, each according to his pet theory.

One of the most important texts in that context was Chatur-dandi-prakashika of Venkatamakhin (1650), which brought the Mela system on a rational basis. It classified the Ragas according to the system of 72 basic scales (Mela). The basics of system still prevail, though with modifications.

In 1620, Venkatamakhin also corrected Ramamatya’s system by reducing it to 19 from the original 20 Melas, because he found that the notes of the two Melas were similar.

But, in the Appendix (Anubandha) to his Chatur-dandi-prakashika, Venkatamakhin mentions the possibility of classifying Ragas (Kanakangi to Rasikapriya) built on 12 Svara-Sthanas under a 72 Mela-scheme made into two groups of 36 each (Shuddha Madhyama and Prathi Madhyama). It was, at this time, only a theoretical possibility, since all those 72 Melas were yet unknown. Out of such 72 Melas, Venkatamakhin was able to identify the Ragas of only 19 Melas. The rest (53) he considered as mere theoretical possibilities; and, non-functional since no known Ragas could fit in to his scheme of these Melas.  Therefore, he could name only 19 Melas; the rest (53) were not assigned any names.

It is said that it was Venkatamakhin’s grandson Muddu Venkatamakhin, who gave the nomenclature for the Mela Ragas, (Kanakambari, and Phenadhyuti etc) in his Gitam called Raganga Raga Anukramanika Gitam (found in Sri Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (1904). In Muddu Venkatamakhin’s Ragalakshana a drastic shift takes place in the Mela-concept. He synthetically creates Janya Ragas for the remaining 53 Melas that were earlier considered non-functional. Here for the first time the Raga-description is based purely on its Svara-sthanas. It is also at this stage that the Raga Grammar or its characteristic is described in terms of its   Aroha and Avaroha Svaras.

Some say, it is likely that Muddu Venkatamakhin’s scheme grew in two stages. In the second stage the Katapayadi prefixes were added to suit the Raga-names; or the other way. The Gitas in the Raganga (Mela-kartha) Ragas bear the names with their Katapayadi prefixes.

Shri TM Krishna observes: ‘The Muddu Venkatamakhin tradition, which uses the terms Raganga Raga (equivalent term to Mela-kartha) and Janya Raga, adopts the opinion that the Raganga Raga needs to be Sampurna in either Aroha or Avaroha but non-linear (A-sampurna). It is believed that Muddu Venkatamakhin wrote Lakshanas for the Raganga (Mela) ragas and their Janyas.

Sri Muthusvami Dikshitar gave form to most of these Ragas through his compositions. As regards the A-sampura (not-sampurna) Ragas, Sri Muthusvami Dikshitar chose to change their structure in order to mitigate the ill-effects of direct Vivadi Svaras in their scale.

[Sri Subbarama Dikshitar while writing about the life of Sri Ramaswamy Dikshitar (father of Sri Mutthuswamy Dikshitar) says he learnt Mela system from Venkata Vaidyanatha Dikshitulu who was the maternal-grandson of Venkatamakhin (Vaggeyakara Caritramu, pg.25, SSP English Translation Vol.1). This Venkata Vaidyanatha Dikshitulu is identified by some as Muddu Venkatamakhi.

However, Dr. R. Sathyanarayana differs. According to the dates given by Dr. Sathyanarayana (Rāgalakaam of Śrī Muddu Venkatamakhin; Introduction, pg.9) Muddu Venkatamakhin may have been born around 1650 A.D and Venkata Vaidyanatha was a younger contemporary who taught Ramaswamy Dīkṣhitar at around 1750 A.D.]

Again, during late 17th – early 18th century, Govindacharya the author of Samgraha-chudamani changed the names of some Melas of VenkatamakhinHe expanded on Venkatamakhin’s Mela concept   by introducing the Sampoorna Meladhikara (equivalent term to Melakarta) scheme which has a complete (sampoorna) Saptaka both in the Arohana and the Avaroha structure; and importantly the Svaras are to be in linear order. In this scheme, the Mela-kartas arise out of systematic permutation of the seven Svaras into the twelve Svara-sthanas.  Govindacharya is also said to written lakshana-gitas and lakshana-slokas for 294 Janya RagasAnd, it is believed, he refined the Katyapadi prefixes by linking the Mela Ragas to their first two syllables of their names. This system of 72 Mela is the Karnataka Mela system of the present day.

Govindacharya’s insistence on a Sampurna Arohana–Avarohana profile lent the Mela-karta a sort of elegance. And, seen from another view, the Mela-karta scheme appears as a product of mathematical abstraction. And, naming of the Mela, the ragas, the Svaras (and introduction of Vivadi Svaras) seem rather incidental to its technical process.

Sri Mutthuswamy Dikshitar followed Venkatamahin’s scheme (Kanakambari-Phenadyuti); while, Sri Tyagaraja gave forms to most of the Ragas in the other scheme (Kanakangi-Rantnangi).   The subtle but main difference between the two schemes appears to be the importance given to the linearity and non-linearity of the Svaras in Arohana and Avarohana.

As per Shri TM Krishna: ‘Mela started out as a way to organize existing Ragas but moved to creating scales as Ragas using the Mela structure. Probably for the first time in musical history theory influenced practice. This is probably why many Ragas in performance even today are only Svara structures sans features that give a Raga an organic form’.

The voluminous  Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini by  Sri Subbarama Dikshitar (1839-1906) , the grandson of Sri Mutthuswami Dikshitar , running into about 1700 pages is a source-book on Music of India , tracing the history of Music from Sarangadeva to the 20th century through a series of biographies of noteworthy musicians and music-scholars .It  also provides  exhaustive details on 72 Melas  as also tables of Ragas, Ragangas, Upanga-s, Bhashangas with their Murcchanas, Gamakas, in addition to details of the  Taalas.

 The Mela system also travelled North.  Pandit  Shri Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande (1860-1936), a scholar and a musicologist, in his colossal work ‘Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati’ reorganized the Uttaradi or North Indian Music, mainly,  by adopting the concept of Mela system as expanded by Venkatamakhin (1660) and others  .

Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande Stamp

Bhatkhande also adopted the idea of Lakshana-geetas that Venkatamakhin and other scholars employed to describe the characteristics of a Raga. Bhatkhande arranged all the Ragas of the Uttaradi Sangita into ten basic groups called ‘Thaat’, based on their musical scales.  The Thaat arrangement, which is an important contribution to Indian musical theory, broadly corresponds with the Mela-karta system of Karnataka Sangita.

[ It is said;Pundit Bhatkhande composed a Dhrupad (in Raga Purvi ; set to jhap tala)  in praise of Venkatamakhin and his  Chaturdandi Prakasika.

ab chatura dandi mata venkata sunave ||
dvadasa suran ke khata chakra banave || (ab chatura)
ra ga ra gi ra gu ri gi ri gu ru gu rachave ||
dha na dhi ni dha nu dhi ni dhi nu dhu nu manave || (ab chatura)
dva saptati mela prati madhyama so janita
raganga saba janaka ade kahave ||
aroha avaroha ke bheda ko sadha
bhashanga rupanga chatura upa jave || (ab chatura)

 Pundit Bhatkhande states in this composition that Venkatamakhin authored the work Chaturdandi Prakasika; and, that he modelled 12 chakras with the 12 tonal scale. He then goes on to state that Venkatamakhin  conceived of the different flavours of each of these positions (to constitute 16 swaras); he specifies three varieties of ‘ri’, ‘ga’, ‘dha’ and ‘ni’ and calls them out by name (ra, ri, ru, ga, gi, gu, dha, dhi, dhu, na, ni and nu). Bhatkhande then states that Venkatamakhin also explains the various combinatorial possibilities of ‘ra ga’, ‘ra gi’, ‘ra gu’, ‘ri gi’, ‘dha na’, ‘dha ni’, ‘dha nu’, ‘dhi ni’, ‘dhi nu’, ‘dhu nu’. In the sanchari, he states that Venkatamakhi conceived of the mathematical possibility of 72 families (melas) of ragangas (the janaka) raga-s taking into account the two madhyama possibilities (and the invariant Sa and Pa – not mentioned in the composition). Bhatkhande then states that Venkatamakhi spelled out (with authority and clarity) the murchanas (aroha-s and avaroha-s) of the various bhashanga-s and upanga-s that belonged to each family (raganga). The first and the last phrases of the composition contain the composer’s mudra (chapa) ‘chatura’. Bhatkhande adopted the pseudonym ‘Chatura pandit’ and all his compositions have the mudra ‘chatura’ built into them. This composition thus features two occurrences of the chapa. The dhatu and the matu of the composition blend extremely well and this dhrupad makes a powerful musical tribute to Venkatamakhin.

(Source  acknowledged with thanks :

When you look back the long and interesting history of Raga in Karnataka Sangita stretching from Matanga to the present-day, you find that the system has evolved through several stages. If Matanga defined the Raga and lent it a sense of identity, it was Ramamatya that activated the process of binding the Ragas into structured groups.  This was improved upon by Venkatamahin; and later perfected by Muddu Venkatamahin and Govindacharya. These series of concepts and their refinements have provided Karnataka Sangita a unique and a thorough theoretical foundation.


The 72 Mela-kartas

Emmie Te Nijenhuis in her Indian Music: History and Structure explains the 72 Mela-kartas.

The 72 Mela-kartas are arranged in 12 series (Chakras) each having 6 Ragas. All are having the same tonic (Shuddha Sa) and fifth (Shuddha Pa). All the Mela-kartas in the Chakras from 1 to 6 have a perfect fourth (Shuddha Madhyama; abbreviated as Ma). And, the Mela-kartas in the Chakras numbering 7 to 12 have augmented fourth (Prati Madhyama; abbreviated as Mi). With respect to the other notes in the scale Chakras 7 to 12 duplicate Chakras 1 to 6 respectively.

The name of each of the 12 chakra suggests its ordinal number as well.

  • Indu  stands for the moon, of which we have only one – hence it is the first chakra.
  • Nētra  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).They could be the three gnis viz. Aahavaneeyam, Anvwaaharyam & Gaarhapathyam.
  • Vēda  denoting four Vedas is the name of the fourth chakra.
  • a  comes fifth as it stands for the five bāṇaa of Manmatha.
  • Rutu  is the sixth chakra standing for the 6 seasons of Hindu calendar.
  • Rishi, meaning sage, is the seventh chakrarepresenting the seven sages.
  • Vasu  stands for the eight vasus of Hinduism.
  • Brahma  comes next of which there are 9.
  • Dishi The 10 directions, including akasha (sky) and patala (nether region), are represented by the tenth chakraDisi.
  •  Rudra  Eleventh chakra  is Rudra of which there are eleven.
  • Aditya Twelfth comes Aditya  of which there are twelve.

[Please do read Sri S Rajam’s most wonderful illustrations of the 12 Chakras and their 72 Melakarta-s.]

Each Chakra is determined by the lowest, middle or highest variety of the second (abr, Ra, Ri Ru) and third note (abr. Ga, Gi, Gu).

The six Ragas of each series are individually determined according to the lowest , middle and the highest variety of the sixth (abr. Dha, Dhi, Dhu) and seventh note (abr. Na, Ni, Nu).

In order to make a clear diction between the three varieties of notes –Ga, Dha and Ni, the vowels of these tone syllables are changed, a- indicating the lowest;  –i indicating the middle; and –u indicating the highest variety.

In short, the structure of the first (that is lower) tetrachord (purvanga) of a Raga is determined by its serial (chakra) number, while the structure of the second (the higher) tetrachord (uttaranga) is determined by the number of scale within the particular series (chakra) . Multiplying the serial (chakra) number (after having subtracted 1) by the number 6 and adding the number of the scale within the series, one arrives at the exact Mela (karta) number.


The schemes of 72 Mela and Mela-karta employed a system of deriving the Mela-number by referring to the first two syllables of its name. This helped in easy tracking of a Mela from among the 72. The system of assigning a prefix number to each Mela was adopted from the ancient Katapayadi formula which classifies the letters of the Sanskrit alphabets in a specified manner. It is not known who invented the ingenious Katapayadi formula. But, the system seems to have been in use at least since 7th century.

It is also not clear who introduced the practice of numbering the Melas by means of the Katapayadi prefixes. In the earlier references to Mela system (either by Sri Vidyaranya or Ramamatya or Pundarika Vittala) the prefixes were not mentioned. But, in the Appendix (Anubandha) to the Chatur-dandi-prakashika the Melas were already marked by Katapayadi prefixes.


According to the scheme, the consonants have numerals assigned as per the above table. All stand-alone vowels like a (अ) and  (ऋ) are assigned to zero. In case of a conjunct, consonants attached to a non-vowel will not be valueless. The only consonant standing with a vowel is ya (य). So the corresponding numeral for kya (क्या) will be 1. There is no way of representing Decimal separator in the system.

Under this naming scheme, the number of a Mela-karta (Janaka) Raga is obtained by decoding the first two letters using the Katapaya scheme; and reversing it. For instance; For Divyamani – Di=8; and Va=4, giving 84. And reversing that you get 48, which is its Mela number. Once you get the Mela number you get its notes too

[ For more on that please check :]

Melakarta  File by courtesy of Sri Basavarjtalwar at ]



 Please click on the figure for an enlarged view.


Please do read the scholarly work  A Karnatik Music Primer by Dr. Parthasarathy Sriram at



References and Sources:

I gratefully acknowledge

  1. Caturdandiprakasika of Venkatamakhi by Dr. N.Ramanathan
  2. The Anukramaikā Gīta in the SSP by Sumithra Vasudev
  3. Indian Music: History and Structure by Emmie Te Nijenhuis
  4. The “ka-Ta-pa-ya” scheme
  5. A Brief Overview of the Evolution of Indian Music

6. Collected writings on Indian Music .Vol 2  by Dr. V. Raghavan



Posted by on June 12, 2015 in Music, Sangita


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

9 responses to “Music of India – a brief outline – Part Nineteen

  1. priyoshmontua

    October 16, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    Great resource — thanks for this synopsis!

    • sreenivasaraos

      October 16, 2015 at 5:49 pm

      Dear priyoshmontua , Thank you for the appreciation.
      I am glad you found these useful.
      Please do read the other articles as well.

  2. Cris Forster

    March 9, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    Ramakrishna Sanka,

    On your webpage:

    all the numeric subscripts (R1=Db, R2=D, D3=D#), etc.,
    which I invented to streamline the notation
    Venkatamakhi’s 72 Melakartas, come directly from
    my book: “Musical Mathematics,” published by
    Chronicle Books, 2010, San Francisco, pp. 578-579.


    1. shaDjamam S Doh C

    2. Suddha rishabham R1 C# or Db
    (read as C-sharp or D-flat)

    3. chatuSruti rishabham R2
    Suddha gAndhAram G1 Re D

    4. shaTSruti rishabham R3
    sAdhAraNa gAndhAram G2 D# or Eb

    5. antara gAndhAram G3 Me E

    6. Suddha madhyamam M1 Fa F

    7. prati madhyamam M2 F# or Gb

    8. pancamam P Sol G

    9. Suddha dhaivatam D1 G# or Ab

    10. chatuSruti dhaivatam D2
    Suddha nishaadam N1 La A

    11. shaTSruti dhaivatam D3
    kaiSika nishaadam N2 A# or Bb

    12. kAkali nishaadam N3 Ti B


    These numeric subscripts also appear in the last
    Graphic of Sreenivasarao’s blog “Part Nineteen”:

    Please explain why you did not acknowledge
    “Musical Mathematics” as your scholarly source.

    Thank you.

    Cris Forster, Music Director
    The Chrysalis Foundation

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 9, 2016 at 4:31 pm

      Dear Shri Sanka

      Thank you for the vist

      Yes Sir, I do acknowledge your source ; and have done it too

      I have given a reference to the web-page just below the figure

      And, in the list of sources and References ( at Sl . no .4)

      I have gratefully acknowledged your site

      Kindly check again

      Thank you


    • Cris Forster

      March 14, 2016 at 8:25 pm

      Dear Sreenivasaraos,

      In response to my comment above, why did you
      reply to Shri Sanka?

      My name is Cris Forster, and I am the author of a
      book entitled “Music Mathematics: On the Art and
      Science of Acoustic Instruments,” published by
      Chronicle Books, San Francisco, California, 2010.

      I invented all the numeric subscripts in your
      ‘mandala’ graphic above to accurately simplify the
      notation of Venkatamakhi’s 72 Melakartas. These
      numeric subscripts were taken directly from
      “Musical Mathematics,” pp. 578–579.

      I tried to contact Shri Sanka, but was unable to do
      so because his email address at the above-
      mentioned link (at Sl, no. 4) does not work.

      Cris Forster, Music Director
      The Chrysalis Foundation

      • Cris Forster

        March 14, 2016 at 9:25 pm

        Dear Sreenivasaraos,

        I stand corrected.

        Regarding Venkatamakhi’s 72 Melakartas, I found
        a system of numbers that is equivalent to my
        numeric subscripts in the following text: “A
        Confluence of Art and Music,” by Sangita Kala
        Acarya S. Rajam & Kallidaikurici Veenai S.

        Thank you for your patients.

        Cris Forster, Music Director
        The Chrysalis Foundation

      • sreenivasaraos

        March 15, 2016 at 7:55 am

        Dear Mr. Forester

        You are welcome

        Thank you very much for your very gracious reply


  3. Cris Forster

    March 15, 2016 at 1:12 pm

    Dear Sreenivasaraos

    Regarding the illustration above of Venkatamakhi’s
    72 Melakartas, the following webpage

    cites Basavarajtalwar as the author of this graphic (2009).



  4. sreenivasaraos

    May 11, 2016 at 3:15 pm

    Dear priyoshmontua

    Thanks for the visit and the appreciation



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