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Ragas: Melakarta System

From Yoga Siddhi Raga Sagara; Jones Hall for the Performing Arts; June 29, 2019

Melakarta Ragas 


Melakarta is a collection of fundamental musical (ragas) in Carnatic music (South Indian classical music). Melakarta ragas are so-called Janaka ragas (parent ragas) from which other ragas may be produced. 

Ragas must contain the following characteristics to be considered Melakarta. 


• They are sampurna ragas — they contain all seven swaras (notes) of the octave in both ascending and descending scale. 

• They are krama sampurna ragas — that is the sequence is strictly ascending and descending in the scales, without any jumps or zig-zag notes. 

• The upper shadjam is included in the raga scale (ragas like Punnagavarali and Chenchurutti are not melakarta as they end with nishadam). 

• The ascending and descending scales must have the same notes.


The mela system of ragas was first propounded by Raamamaatya in his work Svaramelakalanidhi c. 1550. He is considered the father of mela system of ragas. Later, Venkatamakhin, a gifted musicologist in the 17th century, expounded a new mela system known today as Melakarta in his work Chaturdandi Prakaasikaa. He made some bold and controversial claims and defined somewhat arbitrarily 6 svaras from the known 12 semitones, at that time, to arrive at 72 Melakarta ragas. The controversial parts relate to double counting of R2 (and similar svaras) and his exclusive selection of madyamas for which there is no specific reasoning (also known as asampurna melas as opposed to sampurna ragas). However, today the 72 melakarta ragas use a standardized pattern, unlike Venkatamakhi's pattern, and have gained a significant following. Govindhacharya is credited with the standardization of rules and known for giving different names for standard ragas that have a different structure but the same swaras as those proposed by Venkatamakhi. The scales in this page are those proposed by Govindaacharya. 


A hundred years after Venkatamakhin's time the Katapayadi sankhya rule came to be applied to the nomenclature of the melakarta ragas. The sankhya associates Sanskrit consonants with digits. The digits corresponding to the first two syllables of the name of a raga, when reversed, give the index of the raga. Thus, the scale of a Melakarta raga can be easily derived from its name. 


For example, Harikambhoji raga starts with syllables Ha and ri, which have numbers 8 and 2 associated with them. Reversing them we get 28. Hence Harikambhoji is the 28th Melakarta raga. See Katapayadi sankhya for more details and examples. 


The 72 Melakarta ragas are split into 12 groups called chakras (not to be confused with Yoga chakras), each containing 6 ragas. The ragas within the chakra differ only in the dhaivatam and nishadam notes (D and N), as illustrated below. The name of each of the 12 chakras suggest their ordinal number as well. 


  • Indu stands for the moon, of which we have only one — hence it is the first chakra. 

  • Netra means eyes, of which we have two hence it is the second. 

  • Agni is the third chakra it indicates three kinds of Agni. (Dakshina, Ahavaniyam and gArhapatyam) So, agni indicates third Chakra. 

  • Veda denoting four Vedas is the name of the fourth chakra.

  • Bāṇa comes fifth as it stands for the five arrows of Manmatha.  

  • Rutu is the sixth chakra standing for the 6 seasons of Hindu calendar, which are Vasanta, Greeshma, Varsha, Sharat, Hemanta and Shishira. 

  • Rishi, meaning sage, is the seventh chakra representing the seven sages. 

  • Vasu stands for the eight vasus of Hinduism. 

  • Brahma comes next of which there are 9. 

  • Disi Chakra indicates Ten directions (East, West, North, South, North East, North West, South East, South West, Above and Below). Hence it is tenth Chakra. 

  • Eleventh chakra is Rudra of which there are eleven. 

  • Twelfth comes Aditya of which there are twelve. 


These 12 chakras were also established by Venkatamakhi. Sri Swamiji's great ancestor was Venkatamakhi. 

As per katapayadi Samkhya, the Melakarta ragas can be represented geometrically as a circle of 72 in divisions of 12.

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