The raga kAnaDa is one of the easiest to identify in Carnatic music. The gAndhAra (the third note in the ascent) is so characteristic of this raga that singing it alone would be enough. kAnaDa is an extremely popular raga on the concert platform, used often in rAgamAlikas be they songs or just a string of swaras during a rAgam tAnam pallavi rendition.
This is a janya or derived raga of the 22nd mELakarta kharaharapriya. It is a ShADava sampUrNa raga which means it has six notes in the ascent and all seven in the descent. The seven notes are ShaDjam, catushruti riShabham, sAdhAraNa gAndhAram, shuddha madhyamam, pancamam, catushruti dhaivatam and kaishiki niShAdham. The ascent (ArOhaNam) and descent (avarOhaNam) are as follows:
Sa ri ga ma dha ni sa
Sa ni sa dha pa ma ga ma ri sa
As the notes in the descent follow a convoluted pattern, kAnaDa is a vakra raga. An alien note, the kAkali niShAdha is heard in patterns such as sa ni sa dha ni dha and so this also qualifies as a bhAShAnga raga. Particularly beautiful phrases in this raga are sa ni pa, dha ni pa, ma pa ga, sa ri pa ga, ni sa dha and dha ni pa. However as the raga stresses heavily on gamakas or the graces and as it is marked by minute nuances, it is considered difficult to sing elaborately and so is often relegated to a minor position on the concert platform.
Among the earliest composers to handle this raga was Tyagaraja (1767-1847) whose ‘sukhi evvarO’ was a favourite of Madurai Mani Iyer. A song of Tyagaraja’s made popular by Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar is ‘shrI nArada’. Ariyakkudi began many of his concerts with the aTa tALa varnam in this raga created by his guru Ramanathapuram ‘Poochi’ Srinivasa Iyengar ((1867-1919). In fact ‘Poochi’ Iyengar can be more or less credited with creating a definitive structure for this raga with the above varnam and a tillAna in rUpaka tALa. However pride of place in tillAnas must go to Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan (1844-1893)for his famed ‘gaurinAyaka’ set in this raga and the mammoth simhanandana tALa which Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer redered at the Music Academy during its annual conference to the amazement of the audience. The eminent jAvaLi composer Dharmapuri Subbarayar (d 1901) set his famous piece ‘vANipondu’ in this raga and this was a regular item in the concerts of Brinda and Mukta. It was however made well known through a 78 rpm record of Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar.
‘nA ninna dhyAna’ is a kriti of Purandara Dasa (1484-1564) which has been set in this raga and which was made popular by DK Pattammal. Similarly ‘shrIkAnta’ is a kriti of the same composer set in this raga which was often sung by ML Vasanthakumari. However it owes its popularity on the concert platform to Maharajapuram Santhanam who sang it often. A relatively recent composition in this raga is ‘parAmukhamEla’ of GN Balasubramaniam (1910-1965). Other popular songs in this raga include ‘mAmava sadA janani’ of Swati Tirunal (1813-1846) and ‘kAntimati’ of Papanasam Sivan (1890-1973). In recent years, a song through which this raga has become really well known is ‘alai pAyudE’ of Oothukkadu Venkatasubbier. This is largely due to it’s featuring in a film of the same name. The raga has however been popular in films for many years now, being used in hit numbers such as ‘konjum salangai oli’ in Konjum Salangai (1962), ‘mullai malar mElE’ in Uttama Puthiran (1958) and ‘poo mAlai vAngi’ in Sindhu Bhairavi (1985). It also features as one of the ragas in the popular ‘oru nAL pOduma’ from Tiruvilayadal (1965).
Muttuswami Dikshitar (1776-1835) composed songs in a raga called kApi (not the Hindustani kApi of jagadoddhAraNa fame) which is very close to kAnaDa. Writing about kApi in his 1904 classic work ‘Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini’, Dikshitar’s descendant Subbarama Dikshitar defined kApi as a bhAShAnga, sampUrNa raga that could be sung at all times. He gave it the mUrchana (which later came to called ArOhaNam and avarOhaNam) as
Sa ri ga ma pa da ni sa
Ni da pa ma ga ga ri sa
Today, owing to its closeness to kAnaDa, songs set in kApi are sung in kAnaDa itself. Among the songs given by Subbarama Dikshitar in his book is ‘vEnkaTAcalapatE’, a composition of Muttuswami Dikshitar which not only carries the raga mudra but is also set in three languages – Sanskrit, Tamil and Telugu. In later years other songs of Dikshitar in this raga have surfaced, namely ‘vIra hanumatE’, ‘bAlAmbikayAm’ and ‘vishvEshvarO’. Subbarama Dikshitar also lists some rare songs in this raga in his book. These include ‘sEvimpa rA’ of Melattur Veerabhadrayya, ‘nIvu nanu brovavalE’ a song on Goddess Minakshi by Srinivasayya who used the mudra Vijayagopala, ‘rangapatE pAhimAm’ by Margadarshi Seshayyangar, a composer who is said to have inspired the Trinity and also ‘dinamE sudinamu’ by Bhadrachala Ramadasa (1622-1680).
Today, the identity of kApi has more or less been subsumed into kAnaDa and the emergence of the popular Hindustani kApi has only hastened the process. kAnaDa has however grown from strength to strength and retains its identity on the concert platform.