Saturday, August 23, 2008

Melakartha Schemes

In the last post of this series, we had discussed about the basic 7 swaras, their associated frequencies and the variation notes like C#, D# etc. constituting 12 notes in total for an
octave. I have tried to present the western notes and the associated swaras (Indian Classical) in the picture below:

I generated this with the help of just Excel !! Cool, isn't it?

Though not accurate, I have portrayed as if C=Sa and C#=Ri1 etc. For now, let us leave at that. So, each note/swara has a place in the keyboard. That is called "Swarasthaanam".
Please note that there are few swaras that I have marked in blue color. They are called Vivadi Swaras. (It is said that Vivadi swaras were called "Dhosham" - tainted swaras and were avoided for along time and later accepted in the practice. Please refer to: for more details).

One question that popped up in my mind immediately when I did the mapping was: Ri, Ga, Ma, Da, Ni have variations like R1, R2; Ga2, Ga3 etc. However, Sa and Pa do not have, rather
they were fixed. Most of the sources I referred to didn't go further deep into why they were fixed. However, only answer I got was even if you were to have B# or E#, they would sound as C and F respectively. (I can accept it as a theorem, still, would love to get a deep dive answer if someone could!)

So, now that we have 16 swaras (including vivadi swaras), it is pure permutation and combination to come up with tunes! Our ancestors laid some basic rules to form what they called as
"Mela" later known as "Melakartha" raagams.


1) Sa and Pa are MUST.
2) Ma is also MUST and can either take Ma1 or Ma2, but not both.

3) Only the following {Ri,Ga} variations are allowed:






It's simple. They have allowed only ascending notes in terms of its frequency. For eg: Ga2,Ri1 is a BIG NO! 4) Same rule applies to {Da,Ni} combination. So, with this four rules above, you can have: 1 Sa, 6 {Ri, Ga}, 2 {Ma}, 1 Pa, 6 {Da, Ni}

Mathematically, it gives rise to 1 X 6 X 2 X
1 X 6 = 72 !!

That's how there are only 72 Melakartha ragas. They are like the backbone of the Indian classical system. There is much more to Melakartha raga system (including a age old hashing
algorithm that our ancestors had designed) that I will cover in my next post of this series.


Prakash Srinivasan said...

This is a FANTASTIC post, explaining the melakartha concept to a layman! Great MJ. You have further kindled my interest in the Raagas, the ocean of bliss.

முருகேஷ் said...


Very cool. But I have a question. How does two swaras share the same key in the keyboard (ex: Ga2 & Ri3, Ri2 & Ga1)? If I press D# key, what would I hear? Ga2 or Ri3?

Emjay said...


That's why they (the vivadi swaras) were called "Dhosha" swaras (i.e.) tainted swaras. Fundamentally, it is the same frequency.

One of the rule in mela scheme formation is that the same swara is not repeated. (i.e.) S R1 R2 is NOT ALLOWED; however S R1 G1 is allowed, both technically the frequencies of G1 and R2 are same!!

Nagarajan L V said...

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Please keep up the good work.
16th Oct 2008