Transformation of Folk tunes into Ragas of Classical Music
Historically speaking, many Indian folk tunes in folk songs and traditional folk musical forms were enriched and transformed into ragas of classical music at the hands of the great composers. Indian ragas are of two types in Indian classical Music.
As many of the ragas in classical music are sanchara-based, one finds the transformation of traditional Folk tunes into the realm of classical music of India. The usage of melodic phrases in folk melodies finds a place in some of the ancient ragas of
Indian music. The term ‘raga’ has been mentioned by Matanga in his work Bruhadesi though tunes or ‘dhuns’ were in existence before his time. Folk music is the first musical
expression of men and women. This concept has been accepted universally.
Folk music is defined as the music which has developed and exists among the people as an integral part of their daily life. The classification of the other styles of music such
as devotional and classical are made later. These styles have evolved or developed from the music of the people. The Oxford companion of music says that ‘it is very evident that the germ of all music lies in Folk Music.’
The characteristic features of tunes are the following:
phrase there tend to be more consistent note and phrases. It is this constant factor that helps to give the tune its identity. The identity of a tune not only depends on these so-called diagnostic notes and diagnostic intervals, there are also typical melodic tunes and credential formulas. Even the pattern of
distribution of the syllabus against the melodic frame work can characterize a tune. The tune is also identified with the song text.
Tunes are sometimes set with only three or four notes in the folk songs.
The transformation process of a folk tune into a raga of Indian Music is a smooth transition with the expansion of the folk tune by:
The melodic patterns of ragas are repetitive in devotional music compositions and prominence is given to the text like in the folk songs. In the compositions which belong to the realm of classical music the melodic patterns will be more extensive and different for each section, unlike the devotional music compositions wherein the music is repetitive in the sections. Raga is more important in classical music.
Thus the transformation from folk tunes to ragas occur smoothly first in the melodies of devotional music which has a scale with a name for the raga. It is the second stage of
development where many of the characteristic features of folk music figure in the ragas set for the devotional music compositions.
The third and final stage of the transformation takes place as a full-fledged raga form with the specific formulated characteristics.
They are thirteen in number, according to Indian musical treatises, with a specific scale and a name for the raga melody to give them a clear identity. The melodic patterns are expansive, have a wide range for
melodic movement and give scope for Raga Alap for the performer of Indian classical music.
Composers of Indian classical music use the full-fledged raga for their compositions.
Raga can be defined as a melodic entity with a scale and having marked individual
characteristics of graham [beginning note], Amsa [important notes] and nyasa [resting
notes] and shruthi-based ornamentations [gamaka] in the melodic phrases of
kampita and jaru varieties. The name for the melody is given to identify the different scales of the ragas and to bring out the personality or roopa of the Raga. As many ragas of Indian music are sanchara-based, it is possible that many folk tunes have transformed into classical ragas at the hands of the great composers with technical beauties.
A study and analysis of the transformation process of folk melodies have taken place in
the course of time and are handled in the devotional music or bhakthi sangeeth as a raga with a scale. Though the range is limited and the repetitions of the melody found in
folk songs is found in different stanzas, from this second stage of development, melodies become full-fledged ragas with a wide range and an expansive use of the
melodic phrases characteristic of the classical music of India. Raga is a unique melodic entity of Indian Music based on the sancharas or chala to establish their identity though the scale [aroh of avaroh] takes an important role in the raga structure. It may be said that swara-oriented ragas developed recently within the past three hundred years from the seventy-two melakartha scheme introducing new ragas with
permutation and combination of notes in an octave with even three notes Sa-Ma-Pa in the scale and naming the scale Omkari in the 20th century.
Before the concept of ragas, there were many regional tunes or ‘dhuns’ or metukkal for the regional folk songs. The tune is identified with the song text. For example in Tamilnadu, the ‘killilanni mettu’ ‘aananda kallippumattu’ and the ‘kaavadisindhu
mettu’ are the most popular mettukal [tunes]. Tunes are not named like ragas likeKalyani, Thodi etc.
The development of folk tunes to classical raga is smooth transition of the simple melody into complicated raga.
Each musical sound has two fundamental qualities - pitch or frequency and duration.
Both enter into a succession of pitch plus durational values in a melody. For example,
let us take the raga Punagvarali which is by composers of pre-Trinity [Sri Kshetraiya] and the Trinity Saint Tyagaraja, Sri Muthuswamy Dhikshitar and Sri Syama Sasthri and
composers of post-Trinity period in their compositions.
The tune or the ‘mettu’ of an ancient folk songs of Tamilnadu, ‘Velli kizhamai’, runs as
sssss--- smgm rgamr ssrrsn:
Vellikizhamai valliava vidumozhiyele
sssss srga rssr ggrs rssa :
athaimavan po-le velvaru kudamozhu vinaram
This mettu or tune is used with a different melodic movement and played in the folk
instrument called ‘Magudi’ by snake charmers. This instrument has a drone pipe along
with a playing pipe with holes. The tune with different melodic pattern form the earlier
folk song is played with the drone sound along with the melody. The tune sounds highly
pleasing and mystic. The tune came to be known as ‘Magudi’ in folk music.
Folk melody is used in devotional music in ‘Siddar Padalgal’, for example — ‘nadar
mudi melirukum’ and the devotional krithis of Saint Tyagaraja, for example - ‘tava
dasoham’. The Pambhatti Siddhar song in the above mentioned ‘nadar
mudimelirukum’ has a mystic and philosophical meaning.
The notes that figure in this folk tune are Shuddha rishaba, Chatusruthi rishaba,
Sadaranagandarva, Suddha Madyamam Panchama Suddha Daivatha, Kaisiki
nishada, Kakali nishada and shadja. The higher limit is madya dhaivata and the
lower limit is mandrasthaji nishada. In classical music, the raga Punnagavarali is
the name given to this folk tune. The treatment of the folk tune is very different in
classical raga music though the notes are the same.
The scale is framed for the raga as the scale is one of the requirement or characteristics
of a raga. The scale runs as follows. Ni sa ri ga ma pa da with both varieties of rishaba
and both varieties of nishada. It is known as the Bhashanga variety of raga. The madhyama note alone is sung as a plain note and the other notes are sung with gamaka.
The folk tune was popular in yesteryears. Nadaswara Vidwan Thiruvengadu
Subramanya Pillai and flute maestro T.R.Mahalingam used to play the Magudi tune at the end of their classical music concert which used to be the listener’s favorite.
Since it was handled by snake charmers, when the tune was transformed into a classical raga in the hands of the composers of classical music of Carnatic Music like
Shri Kshetrayya, Saint Tyagaraj, Sri Muthuswamy Dhikshitar, Sri Syama Sastri, Swathi Thirunal, Gopalakrishna Bharathi and others, the raga was named ‘Punnagavarali’
reminding listeners of the ‘Naga’ or serpent association.
In the Raga Punnagavarali, the Kakali Nishada was dropped but retained both the rishabas. This derivative sampoorna raga is assigned to the 8th Mela Hanumathodi as its parent scale and considered as Eka Anyaswara bhashanga raga. Since this raga has transformed from the folk melody Magudi, the scale does not touch the octave shatja or tara shadja and remains as ‘Dhaivatha Antya’ raga [Dha of Madhyama sthayi as the high note.]
The lakshana [pattern] of the Raga Punnagavarali according to Venkatamahi is—“Mandra shadja Nishadaaoordva, Dhaivatha Anta Pramanakaha, Syat Punnagavaralisthu,
This raga can be sung at all times. This verse is given in the ‘Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini’, an authoritative music theoretical work by Subbarama Dhikshitar.
In the explanation, Subbarama Dhikshitar says in Sangeetha Sampradaya
Pradarshini that the raga is bhashanga, sampoorna Shadja gradha, Rakthi raga,
Sarvakalika raga but night is more suitable. The ‘Panchasruthi Daivatha’ is used as anya swara.
The transformation process of a tune into a raga is a smooth transition of the melodic format of the tune to devotional music or Bhakthi sangeetham where the melody
structured within the framework of a scale sparingly using the anya swara. The name Punnagavarali ragam is given to the folk tune but the melodic phrases which bring out the Bhava or identity of the tune is retained. The melody is repetition in the devotional
song which is the main characteristic of the folk songs. The third stage or final stage of the transformation of the folk tune is the classical compositions such as the padam andkriti form. In the devotional category, keertanai and Daru forms use the folk melody.
In the classical krithis, Muthuswami Dhikshitar has avoided the repetition of the melody
in the Anu-pallavi and Charanam sections. In the Padam of Kshetrayya, the repetition of the melody in the charanams is followed.
Sri Syama Sastri also followed the repetition of the melody in the charanam. The kampitha and jaru gamakas are used in the classical forms such as krithi and padam and the ornamentations being the roopa or the identity of the raga with its
sancharas or melodic movements.
In the same way, the dhun or the melody of the folk tune changes into a classical raga
in Hindusthani music. The tune Sindhu bhairavi turns into Bhairavi raga which is used in Dhrupad and Khyal. Sindhu Bhairavi, a melody belonging to folk music is used in the Punjabi ‘Heer’, a regional folk song, and also in many bhajans a devotional music form of Meera Bhai, Surdas, Kabir and others.
When the folk tune transforms into a classical raga, the raga remains
sanchara-based raga while the raga which comes out of the scale remains swara-based raga or scales-oriented raga.
Ragas are unique forms of Indian music and their musical entity is based on sancharas or melodic movements. Many folk tunes which have originated from sancharas have turned into ragas.
Ragas can be described as melodic entities with a fixed scale and having marked individual characteristics of graham, Amsa, Nyasa swaras and Shruthi-based ornamentations of Kampitha and Jaru gamakas.
The music cultures of the world which do not have the ‘Model’ concept adhere to scales.
An analysis on the process of transformation from tunes to ragas shows that a smooth development process has taken place in the adaptation of folk melodies first in the realm of devotional music as full-fledged ragas.