The name signifies that which is auspicious. It is also a name of the Supreme Goddess and is the second synonym for her in the Lalitha Trishati. Possessing such a name, it is not surprising that kalyANi is an evergreen, ever popular raga.
This is the 65th meLAkarta (the mother ragas which have all seven notes in ascent and descent) and the technical name is mEcakalyANi. In Venkatamaki’s scheme this raga is known as shAnta kalyANi. kalyANi is the earliest pratimadhyama raga known in music history. Among the prati madhyama rAgAs, it is kalyANi alone that is able to stand equal to the mighty shuddha madhyama rAgas such as tODi, kAmbOji, bhairavi and shankarabharaNam in stature. The variety, the depth and the myriad feelings it is capable of portraying have made the raga a perennial favourite of musicians for centuries.
This is a mUrcanakAraka mELa. Its R, G, P, D, N taken as ShaDja result in the ragas harikAmbOji, naTabhairavi, shankarAbharaNam, karaharapriya and tODi respectively. The beauty of kalyANi is that it retains its individual colour even if just three or four svaras are intoned. Phrases devoid of madhyama have a special charm of their own. Similarly phrases that avoid the ShaDja and pancama also possess a special ethereal beauty.
With shankarAbharaNam, the rAga shares a unique relationship, for they differ only in terms of the madhyama, kalyANi being pratimadhyama counterpart of shankarAbharaNam. Yet such is the powerful personality of this rAga that even when the madhyama is avoided in rAga AlApana, it is possible to steer clear of any transgression into shankarAbharaNam. There is a lecture demonstration by Musiri Subramania Iyer, where he has dwelt at length on this aspect of kalyANi.
There are compositions aplenty in this raga which lends itself to whatever emotion a composer chooses to portray. The Trinity has revelled in kalyANi. Tyagaraja’s nidhi cAla sukhamA written in denouncement of riches and royal patronage evokes in our hearts the longing to live a life of utter simplicity and sacrifice. The bard of Tiruvaiyyaru has composed delightful songs such as vAsudEvayani (a big hit when rendered by GN Balasubramaniam) and shivE pAhimAm in kalyANi. Amma rAvamma is another popular kriti of Tyagaraja in this rAga. In total there are nine kritis of Tyagaraja in this rAga. When Patnam Subramania Iyer was requested to compose in this rAga, it is said that he hesitated for long, feeling that Tyagaraja had exhausted all possibilities for creative composition in it. He therefore took more than a year to come up with nija dAsa varada.
Muttuswami Dikshitar’s navAvaraNa masterpiece, kamalAmbAm bhaja rE is a lesson in this raga. His abhayAmbA jagadambA explores new vistas of kalyANi. Shyama Sastri’s works in kalyANi include himAdrisutE pahimAm in Sanskrit and its melodic twin birAna varAlici brOvumu in Telugu. His talli ninnu is also often rendered. ninuvinA gatigAna of Subbaraya Sastri with its delightful chiTTasvara-sAhitya is an evergreen classic. There are several composers who have earned a permanent place in Carnatic Music firmament with just one kalyANi based kriti. An example is Tarangampadi Panchanada Iyer, whose birANa brOva itE, in kalyANi, was made popular by Semmangudi R Srinivasa Iyer. Similarly Semmangudi also presented Swati Tirunal’s pankaja lOcana often. The two varNams, both beginning with vanajAkShi, but one in Adi tALa (Ramanathapuram Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar) and the other in aTa tALa (Pallavi Gopala Iyer) are complete portraits of kalyANi. It is said that Papa KS Venkataramaiah would practice the ATa tALa version on his violin everyday. In his view it offered the best exercise to keep him in prime concert condition.
Ghanam Krishna Iyer’s pArengum pArtAlum has an interesting story behind it. It is said that he had a misunderstanding with his patron Kacchi Kalyanaranga Bhoopathy of Udayarpalayam Zamin. He then moved away and stayed in Kumbhakonam for a while. Unable to bear the separation from his patron, he composed this song, which ostensibly on Lord Sarangapani, the presiding deity at Kumbhakonam, was actually addressed to his own patron. There is a line in the kriti about deities such as Shiva and Vishnu living without any differences of opinion at Kumbhakonam! The creation had the desired effect. There was an affecting reconciliation and Krishna Iyer returned to Udyarpalayam with due honours.
Among the Vanamamalai compositions (popularly attributed to a jeer, but in reality composed by two musicians of Vanamamalai) matimdEhi is a perfect example of a very traditional handling of kalyANi. Subbarama Dikshitar’s kAntimati is a difficult song because of the depth and range of the gamakAs employed. T Brinda and her sister T Mukta used to revel in this song. Their tandem singing in the upper octave would take one’s breath away. Among their family treasures of jAvaLis, intaTi kulukE is a fine piece. The padam iddari sandula, of Kshetragna, is considered to be one among the crown jewels of this parampara. kalyANi was M. Balamuralikrishna’s favourite raga. Each and every AlApana of his in this raga would be different and kalyANi’s myriad facets would be laid bare for rasikas to savour. DKJayaraman’s soulful rendition of Papanasam Sivan’s unnai allAL would bring tears to the eyes of listeners. Certain kritis such as svarnakAlabhairavam of Swarna Venkatesa Dikshitar and lambOdara sOdara of Harikesanallur Muthaiah Bhagavatar have become famous for their melody and also for choice of tALa. Both are in sankIrna jAti Adi tALam. KV Narayanaswamy made svarnakAlabhairavam very popular.
kalyANi is a popular choice among Nagaswaram performers and while he was really famous for his tODi renditions, TN Rajarathinam Pillai listed kalyANi among his five favourite rAgAs. Namagiripettai Krishnan, was synonymous with kalyANi and with vAsudEvayani in particular. In fact, it was through his winning a competition among Nagaswara artistes, in Madras, by his rendition of kalyANi, followed by vAsudEvayani that he began his climb to fame.
It is however in the area of rAgam tAnam pallavi, that the rAga really comes into its own. Almost all musicians have chosen this rAga for its infinite potential that challenges their manOdharma to the fullest. “Un darishanam kiDaikkumO naTarAja dayAnidhE” is an all time favourite, often rendered in the past by GNB and his disciple ML Vasanthakumari. MLV was also to find everlasting fame with her rendition of the film song pAviyinum paDupAvi, based on kalyANi, as a duet with VN Sundaram, for the film Manamagal. MK Tyagaraja Bhagavatar’s soppana vAzhvil and MS Subbulakshmi’s guha saravaNa were both early kalyANi based film hits. In his first film assignment, in Seetha Kalyanam, Papanasam Sivan used the tune of amma rAvamma to create the score for nal vinay tArum.
A compendium of songs, a variety of renditions, a multitude of composers, past and present. kalyAni exhibits the timeless appeal that is characteristic of Carnatic Music. Music it is said emanated from the Supreme and is hence boundless. kalyANi is an embodiment of this.