Garudadhvani - Page 1

The first page of my article as it appeared in Shanmukha


Note 1:  I am happy to reproduce this article in my blog that appeared in the current issue of Shanmukha – a quarterly journal dedicated to the Arts brought out by Bombay’s Shanmukhananda Sabha.

Note 2: I wish to express my heartfelt thanks to Shanmukha’s editor Smt. Radha Namboodiri for her continued encouragement, insightful feedback and valuable suggestions.

Note 3: In this blog post, I have also added two tracks on Garudadhvani.  One is an absolutely sparkling rendition of Tattvameruga Tarama (Tyagaraja, Rupaka Tala) by my revered Guruji Late Shri T.R.Subramanyam (TRS).  There can be no way to express the way TRS has sung this, with the stellar team of V.V.Subramanian and Guru Karaaikkudi Mani.

Note 4: At the risk of some self-promotion (!), I have also added one of my tracks where I have sung an alapana of Garudadhvani, followed by Tyagaraja’s Anandasaagara (adi tala) with swaras and a corappu.  I have an excellent team of S.Varadarajan on the violin and Shertalai R. Ananthakrishnan on the mridangam.



Everyone knows Mohanam!  This classical pentatonic raga has eternal appeal over the connoisseur and the layman alike, and is a raga which almost anyone with even minimum exposure is likely to identify without any difficulty.  Mohanam is thus a universal raga as the scale is quite prevalent in other forms of music especially in Chinese and other East Asian varieties.

Currently Mohanam is regarded as a janya of the 28th melakarta raga Harikambhoji.  Since the madhyamam and the nishaadham are absent in Mohanam, it can be theoretically regarded also as a janya of Shankarabharanam, Vachaspati and Kalyani.  In fact, Subbarama Dikshitar, in his magnum opus Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini, has classified Mohanam as a janya of Kalyani (Santhakalyani).

Supposing we extend Mohanam by retaining its ArOhaNam, and substitute, instead of the usual avarOhaNam of S D P G R S, the avarOhaNam of Kalyani.  The resulting raga is, not surprisingly, Mohanakalyani!  And Mohanakalyani is one of the ragas whose name has been easily coined as the conjunct of Mohanam and Kalyani – Mohanam is the ArOhaNam and Kalyani is the avarOhaNam.  This is different from ragas that appear to be a conjoint of two raga names – for instance, Saraswatimanohari is NOT a conjoined result of the ragas Saraswati and Manohari.  Nor is Kedaragaula a conjoined result of Kedaram and Gaula.

Coming back to Mohanakalyani, being a derivative of the melakarta raga Kalyani, this is of course a prati-madhyama raga.  If we consider Mohanakalyani’s suddha madhyama counterpart, this raga would have Mohanam as its ArOhaNam and Shankarabharanam as its avarOhaNam.  Hence by the previous logic, we theoretically get the raga Mohana-Shankarabharanam.  Clearly, a bit of a mouthful to pronounce, this ‘’theoretically coined’’ Mohana-Shankarabharanam happens to be a very popular raga that is better known as Bilahari!

So from Mohanam, we have traversed to Mohanakalyani and then to Mohana-Shankarabharanam, which is Bilahari.  What about the ‘’reverse’’ of Bilahari – i.e. the reverse of Mohana-Shankarabharanam?   Exercising the same logic we get, by this process of reversal, the raga Shankarabharana-mohanam.

As the name suggests, Shankarabharana-mohanam has for its ArOhaNam, Shankarabharanam, and Mohanam for the avarOhanam.  Hence the structure is

S R G M P D N S’

S’ D P G R S

This is the raga Garudadhvani.

This can be viewed as:

Mohanam -> Mohanakalyani  -> Mohana-shankarabharanam -> Shankarabharana-mohanam -> which is –  voilà! => Garudadhvani!


Garudadhvani – A mirror image of Bilahari, but only theoretically!

Hence, Garudadhvani can be referred to as the mirror-image of Bilahari.  In practical application however, Garudadhvani has nothing to do with Bilahari whatsoever and they do not even sound remotely similar.  The arrangement of the notes and the intonation of the swaras of Garudadhvani are completely different as we shall see.

Garudadhvani is an example of a sampoorna-oudava raga.  This raga has all the seven notes in order in the ArOhaNa (S R G M P D N) and five notes in the avarOhaNa (S’ D P G R).  Examples of similar sampoorna-oudava ragas are Kiranavali (a janya of the 21st melakarta raga Keeravani) and Saramati (a janya of the 20th melakarta raga Natabhairavi).

Garudadhvani is a raga that acquires extra sheen when it takes more of plain notes and relatively less of gamakas.  This is not to say that gamakas are totally done away with – it’s just that the raga sounds better and less like its parent Shankarabharanam when it is sung with more of plain notes, especially the rishabham, dhaivatam and the nishaadam.


As always, it is Tyagaraja who has given life to this raga in the form of two very beautiful compositions.  The first kriti is the very popular Tattvameruga tarama set to Rupaka tala.  This kriti has been extensively sung many musicians, notably by K.V.Narayanaswamy, T.K.Rangachari and my guru T.R.Subramanyam (TRS).  TRS in his heydays would sing this kriti at a relatively faster pace and sing many rounds of mind-boggling kalpana swaras that would span all the three octaves, even touching the taara sthaayi dhaivatam in the process.  With his clear and ringing voice superbly complemented by easy and facile brigas, TRS’ rendition of Tattvameruga Tarama would be sheer delight to listen to and experience.

Listen to TRS here!

Tyagaraja’s other composition is Anandasaagaramu eedani set to adi tala.  While not as popular as the rupaka tala kriti Tatvameruga tarama, Anandasaagaramu has nevertheless appeared in concerts every now and then.  The meaning of this song is especially interesting for Tyagaraja makes a very emphatic statement.  He avers that a human body, which does not swim the ocean of Supreme Bliss, called the knowledge of music, on which all vEdas are dependent, is nothing but a burden to the earth (dEhamu bhU bhAramu).

We can interpret this in the modern context by saying that people who do not enjoy music, particularly classical music are verily a burden to society!

Tyagaraja’s Raga Selection for Kritis on Music

It’s interesting to note Tyagaraja’s selection of ragas when it comes to making statements about music and musical knowledge.  We have the kriti Ragasudharasa where he exhorts the mind to exult by drinking the nectar of music which bestows all the benefits that accrue through vEdic sacrifices, through practice of yOga, through renunciation and through worldly enjoyments.  We have this song set rather unusually in the raga Andolika.

Another very well-known kriti is Mokshamugalada.  Tyagaraja rhetorically asks by addressing the Omniscient, omnipotent and the omnipresent (Saakshaatkaara) if in this world, whether emancipation is attainable for those who are bereft of the knowledge of music combined with true devotion.  This kriti as everyone knows is set to Saramati – again a raga that was popularized first by Tyagaraja alone.  Only subsequently have composers created compositions in Saramati but clearly heavy-weight Mokshamugalada’s emotive appeal, its sheer melodic charm and the unmistakable import of the lyrics remains unequalled and towers way above other creations.

In the same mode, Tyagaraja appears to have chosen the relatively rare raga Garudadhvani to make this statement of a human being without the ability to swim in the musical ocean of bliss is just a burden to Mother Earth!

As a professional performing musician, I have often wondered just why Tyagaraja chose to set this composition in the raga Garudadhvani.  The only conclusion that I can logically draw is that Tyagaraja himself must have been inspired by the potential of Garudadhvani despite is apparent awkwardness of having the Shankarabharanam-Mohanam structure instead of the ‘’easier’’ and ostensibly more navigable Mohana-Shankarabharanam (i.e. Bilahari).  Though this may sound like a truism, but really the Carnatic music world will be eternally indebted to Tyagaraja for bequeathing to us these wonderful compositions in such offbeat and charming ragas.

My rendition of Anandasagara…

Garudadhvani seems to have been used by composers very sparingly immediately after Tyagaraja’s time.  There is Emineramu of Garbhapuri Vasar in adi tala that Lalgudi Jayaraman used to play.

Muthiah Bhagavathar & Mysore Vasudevacharya!!!

It was left to the two most sparkling composers of the 20th century to input their creations – Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar and Mysore Vasudevacharya.  The latter has bequeathed to us Devi Kamalalaye – a beautiful kriti on Goddess Lakshmi.  This adi tala kriti in Sanskrit has a charming chittaswara-sahitya passage as well, in true Vasudevacharya style.

Muthiah Bhagavathar has created two compositions in this raga.  One is chanda munda shiras chhetri in rupaka tala.  This kriti is part of the Chamundamba Ashtothra krithis.  The ShrI chAmuNDeshvarI aShTottarashatanAmAvaliH are a set of 108 names on Goddess Chamundi and Muthiah Bhagavathar has composed a kriti on each of these 108 names and these make up the set comprising the Chamundamba Ashtothra krithis.  This kriti on Garudadhvani focuses on Chamundamba as the destroyer of the asuras Chanda and munda, one who is formidable, one who shines like a crore of suns, one who is attainable through the navaakshara mantram, one who delights in the Navaratri utsavam, and one who is the wife of Siva and is prayed to by Indra.

The second kriti that Muthiah Bhagavatar composed is Raja Rajeswari Raaja Parameswari set to adi tala.  When I saw the notation of this kriti for the first time I was totally captivated.  This kriti has a swinging gait to it almost akin to a mild gallop.  Rendered with appropriate plain notes with a mixture of minimum gamakas, thus giving a ‘’western music feel’’, this kriti has the potential to attract any listener – both the laity and the connoisseur alike.

And…Lalgudi Jayaraman (naturally)!

Considering Garudadhvani, one *has* to mention maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman’s tana varnam in adi tala.  I am taken back in time to February 1990 when my guru T.R.Subramanyam (TRS) organized a workshop of the violin virtuoso in New Delhi where we were fortunate enough to learn five varnams and five thillanas – all composed by Lalgudi, directly from him.  The Garudadhvani varnam was the first composition that he taught us and even the way he sang the swaras of the first line of the varnam is indelibly etched in memory.

‘’P, G, M, PDP, GRG,,,’’

The PGMP phrase is very characteristic of Garudadhvani and establishes the raga beyond doubt.

Lalgudi’s varnam on Lord Subramanya contains some beautiful passages.  Especially the third ettugada swaram in the charanam is worth mentioning.  This swara passage is made up of combinations of very short ascents and descents throughout, resulting a beautifully happy and swaying effect.

Garudadhvani is a raga that lends itself to swarakalpana with alacrity.  What about raga alapanas?

Ostensibly, raga alapanas would appear to be cumbersome give the distribution of swaras.   However on deep thought and reflection, it can be concluded that raga alapanas *can* be made possible without repetition, keeping the aesthetic appeal of the raga intact.

Hence Garudadhvani is not merely a raga that should be regarded as a ‘’filler-item’’ in concerts.  It is a raga that is worth exploring further.  This is a raga that holds its own and definitely occupies a place of pride in the Carnatic music firmament.



About Mohan Santhanam

Carnatic vocalist, based in Chennai. Disciple of Late Shri T.R.Subramanyam (TRS).
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4 Responses to Garudadhvani!

  1. Anantha says:

    As usual – Excellent write up Mohan!!

  2. such a delight reading your article – after too long a break! Balamurali Sir has composed a thillana in Garudadhwani that is quite crazy and good fun to sing!

    • Thank you as always, Kamini! It’s been a Long Time! And yes, Garudadhwani thilliana sure is rumbustious, but there is an superb underlying order in it as well. I missed mentioning Balamurali sir’s thillana.

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