Ragas of Rahman's Music, Investigating all the Ragas of Rahm

All about Ragas

#1  Postby dianicdreams » 20 Mar 2009 19:24

Hi guys,

I'm on a personal quest to gather ragas for Rahman's film music... unfortunately I am not so well versed in identifying Ragas. I have been collecting popular ragas in their carnatic versions.... but I would like to get film song examples for all these ragas to help the new generation enjoy and understand the beauty of ragas by being able to relate to them.

So what better way than to show a carnatic piece, then A.R.Rahman's film songs that happen to be based on the same raga? That will be very educational and inspiring for people I think... especially now that Rahman has attracted quite a bit of interest from the west, and they will be keen to find out more about him, I would like to make information about ragas available to the west....

This way, the west will also have a better understanding of the musical history that has given birth to a soul such as Rahman.

I found this website that gave a small sample of ragas that corresponded to different songs Rahman has done:

However, I am hoping someone (or several people), would help me create an extensive list of raga identification for Rahman's music. I plan to make a very educational website using this research. Hope to chat to you soon.

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#2  Postby dianicdreams » 26 Mar 2009 03:51

I recently got a reply to my question from an email I sent out to a carnatic music enthusiast:

"Unlike older Tamil songs and those of Illaiyaraja, most of Rahman's songs are not clearly based on a raga but are mix of several ragams and then blend into another form like rap."

Yes this is true quite often, but I am finding that surprisingly so more songs than I expected of Rahman's music is set to a Ragam. In actual fact, my intention is not to focus on his music alone, but on fusion/film music in general of contemporary standards (from within the last 10 years), which have begun to reverberate with a base that is appreciated by the west... and yet the music directors continue to make songs devoted to carnatic ragas (or at least pay tribute) - even that very tribute can be very helpful in pointing people towards carnatic raga and kindling interest.

For instance, as I recently discovered, Rahman's "Telephone Mani Pol - film: Indian" is in Anandha Bhairavi, "Theendai - film: En Swasa Katre" is in Sri Ragam, "Idhu Sugam - film: Vandicholai Chinarasu" is in Dharmavati, and "Uyire Uyire - film: Bombay" is Hari Kambhoji... and I was surprised to note that that is actually just a drop of how many songs he has done where it at least awakens the listener to an intrinsic ragam - which is the first step in music appreciation... and delving completely into carnatic classical would be a deeper step. Not only that, but several music directors of current repute, despite the urge for modernism, are still exploring ragas.
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#3  Postby vasanthakokilam » 26 Mar 2009 10:02

I have a feeling that in this kind of film music based discussion, the distinction between 'based on the same scale as a raga' and 'based on a raga' is often blurred. I for one can not sense the raga identity in many film songs whether it is by Rahman, Ilayaraja and others but you can find lists on the internet which assigns raga names to a whole lot of songs. I am wondering if these assignments are done by people who have superior swara/note gyanam and they map the swaras identified in film songs to the respective scale of the raga. If so, I woud not feel too bad about my inability to detect ragas in a lot of these songs.

Aside from that, one thing I notice in Rahman's songs is the repeat use of the same beat pattern. It is heavy, sometimes overwhelming, it is sustained and it is attractive. People seem to eat that up even when offered repeatedly across many different songs. Not that I have a problem with that, but just stating an observation.
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#4  Postby karthikbala » 26 Mar 2009 13:07

vasanthakokilam wrote:I for one can not sense the raga identity in many film songs whether it is by Rahman, Ilayaraja and others...

Yes many songs are based on the scale rather than on the raga, although I'd think this is less the case with Ilayaraja. I've noticed that the ease of identification of scales used tends to vary from listener to listener and raga/scale in question. While for professionals, it is par for the course, some family members and frends who have no musical training have surprised me on occasion. Even toddlers can sometimes be amazingly perceptive in this regard. I am told this heightened pattern recognition is a natural phase of cognitive development and not any indication of "prodigy".
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#5  Postby karthikbala » 26 Mar 2009 13:11

dianicdreams wrote:I am hoping someone (or several people), would help me create an extensive list of raga identification for Rahman's music....

Your post is timely.
Charulatha Mani's "Isai Payanam" on Jaya TV will be focusing on ragas used by ARR and Ilayaraja in the episodes for April. Tune into Jaya TV (Tuesdays, 8:20 AM) or visit:

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#6  Postby vijay » 26 Mar 2009 15:19

VK, true - not many present-day melodies can really be said to be based on any raga...such raga analogies are retrofitted based on note to note analysis - even then, fixing the tonic can be a dicey affair, especially in Rahman-like music. Illayaraja/older music was probably more rooted in raga grammar although I can't claim to have listened to too many songs...
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#7  Postby arunk » 26 Mar 2009 18:25

IMO following things make it hard to easily identify with the classical form of a raga in a film song
1. Notes are held plain in many places - i.e. few anuswaras. I think CM uses a lot of it. For example, in the recent rItigowLa song kaNgaL iRanDAl from subramanyapuram (a fantastic piece BTW), you do have gmpmgrs - but it is more flat - whereas in classic ritigowla, the pmgr part is generally not flat.
2. The film songs take the basic skeletal structure and do not necessarily use the "bread and butter" prayogas or use them in the right mix. I think the fact that the melody is set to a rhythm track - may have some influence on this (i.e. other words if the composer starts with a rhythm track with certain chord changes, then the melody sort of have to blend with it - at the precise time points (i.e. 4 measures of this chord, then 4 measures of that chord etc.). A classic CM melody in the raga does not follow this. It has rhythm/laya of course - but that is different
3. The film songs dont adhere to the raga throughout. They will diverge in many places. The goal is not "this song is in this raga, and hence it must follow that raga, else the song is flawed". So you not only find more "anya" swaras - you may find change of ragas by changing tonic etc. I also think sometimes they may use different chords to give a more diverse feel even if the melody sticks to the raga.
4. And also like what vk says, they can also construct melodies from a raga structure, interpreting like a western scale rather than how it is done in CM.

For many film songs one can say it is "loosely" or "very loosely" based on the raga. But there are songs which have a more classical base of course. In general old songs did best. IR's melodies were closer in scale to classical form than ARR - but even there it depends on the song.

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#8  Postby dianicdreams » 26 Mar 2009 18:34

Well, as you may imagine, I'm passionate about this cause - about bringing the root, the very soul, to the new generation by means that will kindle their interest... in my searching around I came accross this book:


Raga Chintamani: A Guide to Carnatic Ragas Through Tamil Film Music.

Listing around 1800 film songs and their respective ragas with a full explanation of each raga. Not sure how well it deals with very contemporary music, but will find out. Yes, I understand that contemporary music has become difficult to discern... but there are still gems within it... and the thing about hidden gems is, they are worth the search.

The very interesting thing here is that the author of this book shares my view that it actually becomes easier and far more familiar to recognise ragas by intimately understanding their film/song counterpart....

"If people can recognize the raga of a cine song, they can also appreciate the classical music in the same raga. If they are able to listen to 10 cine songs in Kalyani, they can easily identify many classifical songs that are set in Kalyani..."

From personal experience, I actually agree with this, and definetely believe that such a method may work for the modern generation.

The Isai Payanam show is brilliant, also, thank you again for pointing me in that direction.

An example of a few very contemporary songs that continue to blow my mind are:

"Malare Mounama" from film Karna. MD: Vidyasagar. Raga: Darbari Kanada.
"Minsara Poove" from film Padayappa. MD: A.R.Rahman. Raga: Vasantha.
"Konja Naal" from film Aasai. MD: Deva. Raga: Anandha Bhairavi.
"Yedho Ninaikiraen" from film Thailanagaram. MD: D.Immam. Raga: Kalyana Vasantham.
Last edited by dianicdreams on 26 Mar 2009 19:28, edited 1 time in total.
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#9  Postby arunk » 26 Mar 2009 19:37

I think appreciating the raga aspect in cine ragas is a great first step towards cm - but I think it really works best only for the right kind of film songs. I mean songs with a "stronger" classical touch would be far better since there the melodic appeal is more due to the classical form raga itself. This is as opposed to songs whose appeal has more to do with orchestration, or a less classical shade of raga. For the latter, when someone listens to the raga in CM form, it has no orchestration, and of course the melody may be "too different" compared to the film song they loved. So its somewhat dicey.

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#10  Postby dianicdreams » 26 Mar 2009 21:00

To relate, when I first began to suspect that some of the songs from film music that I loved most dearly definetely seemed to have ragas to them, or at least strongly scented in a raga... I contacted an aunt of my fiance who was extremely well versed in carnatic music and in identifying ragas. I put together a list of around 50 film songs that I desperately wanted to know the ragas for...

Strange thing happened... because I had put together songs in order of how they sounded to me... (not so much a similarity in melody, but rather a deep familiarity between themselves in terms of MOOD, essence, taste...) and emailed her the list of songs with a table so she could write the names of the ragas. What surprised even me is that unknownst to myself (except perhaps subconsciously), I had grouped the ragas together. The first 5 songs on the list that she heard were all Shuddha Dhanyasi. The next 4 were all Hindolam. The proceeding 6 were Arabhi. The following 3 were Mohanam...

In this way I had the delightful introduction to actual names of the Ragas that I loved! Next I went and procured as many of the carnatic renditions of these ragas.... and I loved them even more so... because I recognised the HEART of the mood, the fluctuation of sound... I sat mesmerised when I heard "Narayana Ninna" from Shuddha Dhanyasi Raga... I had goosebumps when I heard a violin rendition of "Sami Ninne" from Shree Ragam... and "Nagumo" from Abheri Ragam sounded like elixir to me...

Infact, what I experienced more than anything else was the phenomenon of "recognition". This, more than anything, inspired me to want to set up a website where I actually have visual/audio samples for the new generation to be able to have the same wonderful experience that I did in being able to recognise the heart of that which they already love.
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#11  Postby vasanthakokilam » 26 Mar 2009 21:21

dianicdreams, that is a very interesting experience of yours. Good luck with the effort with your web site. It will be interesting if what happened wtih you also happens with others when they classify film songs based on mood ( rasa, bhava etc. ). Members here may not be good test subjects but you need someone who listens to a lot of film music but who is not much into CM.
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#12  Postby dianicdreams » 26 Mar 2009 21:26

True, but I also need someone well versed in Carnatic music so that the raga can be accurately identified. All comes in good time, with God's blessings. :-)
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#13  Postby sramaswamy » 26 Mar 2009 22:40


This may be of use to you. Refer to the post below. The author of the post seems to be the wife of the person who wrote the book you have mentioned - Chintamani .......

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#14  Postby karthikbala » 15 Jun 2009 06:05

The two recent episodes of "Isai Payanam" dealing with AR Rahman's music:


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#15  Postby srikant1987 » 15 Jun 2009 08:48

Ilayaraja's raga-based music tends to be more scalar, where as Rahman's music is more "bread-and-butter" as arunk puts it. However, Rahman's music also includes a lot more chords (bhaji?) which again "reduce" the Indianness, though not the classicalness of the songs. Very rich music. Lot of scope for appreciating better with more scholarship.
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#16  Postby nanditalaks » 23 Jun 2009 23:32

Incase you haven't seen it already, check this out


One of the most comprehensive Raga analysis of Ilayaraja's songs I have ever seen!
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