Mohanam and Kalyani – My Favourite Ragas

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By Varsha Kumar
When a person who has a certain passion for carnatic music is asked to tell their most favourite raga it proves to be a challenge to answer. There are 72 melakartas which are split into groups of six called chakrams.

So even when further divided into sub divisions it is not easy choosing a single favourite. After much thought I have decided that the two ragas that I probably fell in love with the instance I heard them: Kalyani and Mohanam.

Both ragas are very different from each other but bring about an appeal of their own.


Kalyani is a melakarta raga. It is also called as MechaKalyani which is the 65th melakarta. It is placed in the 65th position according to the Katapayadi system. In this system each syllable (ka, tha, pa, etc) has a definite number assigned to it. So according to that Ma is equal to 5 and Cha is equal to 6. The melakarta number is obtained by reversing the numbers i.e. from 56 to 65. The word Kalyani means she who causes auspicious things. It is also known as the “queen of the raga family” and its name in the Hindustani system is “Yaman”. Kalyani is a sampurna raga which means that it has a complete set of all the seven notes.

Aro: S R2 G3 M2 P D2 N3 S
Ava: S N3 D2 P M2 G3 R2 S

Kalyani’s janya ragas are many in number; some of the well known ones are MohanaKalyani, Saranga and Yamuna Kalyani. Kalyani is one of the major ragas and in turn almost all artists have composed songs in this raga. Some of the famous compositions are:

Vanajakshi by Nagapatnam Veerasami Pillai

Shyama Shastri’s Thalli Ninu Nera and Himadrisute are concert favourites.

Dikshitar’s Kamalamba navavaranam

Nidhi chala sukhama by Tyagaraja

This list goes on endlessly as many artists have composed in this raga. But it takes absolute mastering of the raga to sing it properly as it may sound like the raga Shankarabharam if the madhyamam is not rendered correctly.


Mohanam is the janya raga of the 65th melakarta MechaKalyani which was discussed earlier. Many would put this raga as the janya raga of the 28th Melakarta i.e. Harikambodhi. There is still much debate in the aspects of the parent raga of Mohanam. Its name in the Hindustani system is Bhoop or Bhopali. Mohanam is does not contain both a Madhyamam and a Nishadam in its scale. It an asampurna raga and audava raga (means it has a pentatonic scale). Its main anchor note it the Panchamam (Pa). Its meaning in a loose translation is beautiful. The scale for Mohanam is given as:

Aro: S R2 G3 P D2 S
Ava: S D2 P G3 R2 S

There are many compositions in this raga done by many artists. Some of them are:

Ninnu Kori varanam by Ramanathapuram Shreenivasa Iyengar is one of the basic and first songs that a student who has reached the varanam level learns.

Mohana Rama by Tyagaraja

Narasimha Agache by MuthuSwamy Dikshitar

These are only a few compositions in this raga but there are many more in both carnatic as well as film songs. This raga is very similar to many other ragas. A commonly known one is Hamsadwani. The only different between the two ragas is the presence of Nishadam (N3) instead of Daivatham (D2).

These two ragas, Kalyani and Mohanam are similar in many ways. There are many notes in the scales which are the same such as: R2, G3, P, D2 and S. It is not purely to do with only the notes. The gamakams on the Daivatham is not done in Harikambodhi due to the presence of N2. Hence, there is an argument about the parent raga of Mohanam. The two ragas are very well known in the world of music and provide much scope for artists to experiment with.

The world of carnatic is ever expanding and versatile that no one can ever claim to have complete knowledge in it. It is a very interesting aspect and has a lot of depth. By scratching its surface you can find out quite a lot, but by actually going into its details it is a magical aspect.
As a student you learn raga basics at the varanam level. My starting understanding of Mohanam was actually a sense of confusion. I did not understand how a tune with missing notes would sound. By the time I finished the Pallavi I was overwhelmed by the simplicity and the scope of imagination it offered. I loved it and soon began to look into more songs in the raga. I found it not as simple as I thought. It was beautiful in its limit of five notes.

Kalyani I was less confused. And by such time I never wondered if a raga would sound different or to put it in the vocabulary I personally used at the time; weird. I simply left to the geniuses of the raga and of course the composer itself. I was initially one of those students who would constantly mess up and sing Kalyani with M1. I would slip up in that note most while learning. After listening to a lot of different artist’s performances in this raga I began to grasp the raga much better. I began understanding what my mistake exactly was and what I was supposed to do. I instantly began appreciating and loving the raga. It gave me perspective of just how beautiful the world of carnatic music just is.

For me, the overall experience while working with these two ragas were quiet different from each other. In Mohanam I would always worry about singing the notes which were not in the scale but with some practise and a lot of listening I understood it better. Same situation arises with Kalyani but in this case the Madhyamam.

I am yet to completely grasp the entire concept and scope offered by both these two ragas. I get a step closer every day. I will never understand it completely due to its ever expanding scope. But I hope to become familiar and well versed in at least the surface.
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