Raksha Rao

Musician / Vocalist

Raksha Rao is a Carnatic vocalist who has been learning and performing Carnatic Classical vocal music for the past 15 years. She has given many concerts to large audiences both in India and in the US under the able guidance of her guru Shri Tirumale Srinivas (Chami sir). Raksha has released 4 albums and has lent her voice to several devotional music albums such as "Chants for Children" , "Ide Sumano Vanim", "Anarghya" and many more. Though trained in Carnatic Classical music, she is a keen proponent and ardent lover of Kannada devaranama (or devotional music), and has sung various rare devaranamas, exquisitely set to beautiful ragas by her guru Shri Tirumale Srinivas. She has performed with renowned artists, including the exemplary UK-based violinist Jyotsna Srikanth in the hit TV series "Just Sangeetha". Check out more for clips from her performances. Under the able guidance of her guru, she is now leading a music school Mahati Nada Kendra, with an aim to train and spread Kannada dasa sahitya in Southern California and beyond.

#30DayMarghazhiRagaChallenge - Takka

This raga caught my attention several years back when I heard a rendition of Shri Thyagaraja's Raka Shashivadana by Smt. Sudha Raghunathan. One of the rarest ragas, Raka Shashivadana is the only krithi I have heard till date in the Takka raaga. A janya raaga of the 15th Melakarta Mayamalavagowla, this raaga has uneven notes in the arohana

S R1 S G3 M1 G3 P M1 D1 N3 S
S N3 D1 P M1 G3 R1 S

Artistes explore the unusual nature of this raga through several meandering phrases, and Smt. Sudha Raghunathan has even been known to open concerts with this composition quite many times. Though unusual, the raga seems to have ancient roots, and serves as a pedagogical curiosity in several journals.


#30DayMarghazhiRagaChallenge - Revati

Revati, the raga that has the power to move the soul! For me, Revati defines divinity and quiet strength. Containing the swaras Shadja, Shuddha Rishabha, Shuddha Madhyama, Panchama and Kaishiki Nishadha, it is considered a janya raga of the 2nd Melakarta, Ratnangi. 

S R1 M1 P N2 S

S N2 P M1 R1 S

The rishabha, madhyama and nishadha in Revati add a sense of profoundness to the raaga when sung in combinatory phrases like "RMPNR", "NRS" etc. Landing in these swaras after elaborating during aalapane or neraval is quite prevalent. Be it the Revati in Annamacharaya's Nanati Bratuku, or Swami Dayananda Saraswati's Bho Shambho, the raga can convey a range of thoughts - from contemplative to captivating! 

Starting with Shri Vadiraja's "Gajamukha Vandisuve Karunisi Kaayo", my first krithi taught by my guru Shri Tirumale Srinivas, composed beautifully by him in the Raga Revati. This is from my performance at Shri Raghavendra Swamy Mutt, T. Nagar, Chennai a few years back.

Shri Annamacharya's Nanati Bratuku, rendered by none other than the evergreen MSS. The lyrics are a philosophical observation of the world, noting the futility of man's actions and existence, leading to only one universal truth - salvation. No other raga could have done more justice to this kind of existential and esoteric thought than Revati!

Shri Dayananda Saraswati's "Bho Shambho Shiva Shambho Swayambho" - a poetic, rhythmic and compelling composition, sung here by the talented Trichur brothers

And finally, Shri Lalgudi Jayaraman's thillana in Revati, sung by the brother duo from Toronto

 

#30dayMarghazhiRagaChallenge - Gowrimanohari

If one has heard any faint strains of Guruleka etuvanti anytime, that defines Gowrimanohari! For me, it conjures up images of Unchavritti and Nagara Sankeerthana that was organized at our music school (Samanvaya Kala Kendra, Bangalore). Guruleka etuvanti was one of the "staple" krithis, one that the kids knew, the adults enjoyed and everyone sang with great gusto. This is a sampoorna raga, meaning it has all the seven swaras (and is the 23rd Melakarta raga). 

S R2 G2 M1 P D2 N3 S

S N3 D2 P M1 G2 R2 S

The gamakas in this raga mainly revolve around the chatushruthi rishabha  and sadharana gandhara, especially with the gandhara giving way to beautiful oscillatory phrases. Some unique phrases are "PDNRNDP", "PDNSDP", "MPG,R" etc. Other jeeva swaras of the raga include rishabha and kakali nishadha. The raga is brisk, and is chosen more as a medium, sub-main piece compared to its more popular adjacent melakarta ragas such as Kharaharapriya or Keeravani. Being a melakarta raga, and with its jeeva swaras, it is of course a comprehensive ground for the seasoned musician to meander amongst!

A favorite rendition of Shri Thyagaraja's Guruleka Etuvanti is Smt. Jayanthi Kumaresh's beautiful rendition on the veena

Another great composition by Shri Papanasam Sivan's Gowri Manohararendered by the extremely talented Ranjani-Gayatri duo

Garuda Gamana Vasudeva, another gem by Shri Thyagaraja, played excellently here by the virtuoso Mandolin U. Shrinivas

Another song that I heard recently was Pazhamo Pazham, a lovely rendition here by Smt. Nithyashree Mahadevan


#30DayMarghazhiRagaChallenge - Tilang

Tilang is a raga that instantly evokes devotion, jubilation and a breezy mood all at once. Being borrowed from Hindustani, one doesn't find many compositions (especially from the Musical trinity), nevertheless this raga holds a special place on its own. With the presence of dwi-nishadha - Kakali Nishadha in the aarohana and kaishiki Nishadha in the avarohana, this raga is a delight for singers and instrumentalists. Tilang can be called a janya raga of 28th Melakarta Harikambodhi, and has the following arohana and avarohana

S G3 M1 P N3 S

S N2 P M1 G3 S

Yet again, like Gambheera Nattai or Jog, the phrase "N2 P M1 G3" has a special charm, and naturally gives way to strains of Mishra Tilang.

The most famous Tilang composition that immediately pops up in my mind is Pt.Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin's exhilarating and brilliant - Swara-Kakali in Tilang

Carnatic renditions in Tilang are far and few between, though the raga has been well adopted by film music directors, and quite often finds a place for light classical compositions.

Here is a rendition of the Purandara Dasara krithi - Rama Rama Enniro by Shri T.V. Shankaranarayanan

Another Tamil krithi - Siddhi Vinayakane, aptly rendered by Shreeranjini Santhanagopalan

Another Tamil krithi - Shanti Nilava Vendum, composed by Shri Sethumadhava Rao, sung here by the esteemed Smt. Sudha Raghunathan


#30DayMarghazhiRagaChallenge - Dwijavanti

Dwijavanti - a raga that symbolizes complexity and the innate beauty of swara sequences. To the novice ear, Dwijavanti can appear at times like Sahana or Kapi owing to similar phrases. But, it is in fact quite different and holds its own grounds! Dwijavanti is a janya raga of Harikambhoji, and most credit for this raga is attributed to Shri Muthuswamy Dikshitar who adapted this raga to the Carnatic style of music from Hindustani's Jayjaywanti.

The aarohana and avarohana, are vakra or twisted in nature. The main notes are Shadja, Chatushruthi Rishabha, Antara Gandhara, Shuddha Madhyama, Panchama, Chatushruti Dhaivata. A unique avarohana consists of Kaishiki Nishadha, and Antara Gandhara followed by Sadharana Gandhara. It is to be noted that Sahana does not include the usage of Sadharana Gandhara. Some phrases in Dwijavanti may also include Kakali Nishadha.

S R2 G3 M1 P D2 S

S N2 D2 P M1 G3 M1 R2 G2 R2 S

Two defining compositions of this raga include Shri Muthuswamy Dikshitar's Akhilandeshwari and Chethashri

Here is Smt. Bombay Jayashri's rendition of Akhilandeshwari. Of all the renditions, I like this the best because Smt. Jayashri's demeanor and style exactly matches the rasa of the raga itself - calming, divine, subtle and controlled.

Here is Shri Ramakrishnan Murthy's excellent rendition of Muthuswamy Dikshitar's Chethashri Balakrishnam

Another personal favorite is this RTP by Shri Madurai T.N.Seshagopalan

And finally, my recording for the day - a devaranama by Shri Kanakadasaru - Kashta Pattaru Illa, set to raga Dwijavanti and tremendously composed by my guru Shri Tirumale Shrinivas(Chami sir). I will write about this devaranama in particular in a later blog post, but do take a listen and enjoy!


#30dayMarghazhiRagaChallenge - Thodi

Thodi raga, a ubiquitous tool in every Carnatic musician's toolbox. If you attend a string of concerts in a season, it is almost always a certainty that at least one of the concerts will have Thodi as the main or sub-main piece. 

The 'fullness' of the raga lends itself to the creativity of a musician; swaras can be molded to reflect almost every emotion that a performer hopes to convey. It is definitely one of the "diggajas" of ragas. Thodi is a melakarta raga, denoted by the name Hanumathodi,  comprising of the notes Shadja, Shuddha Rishabha, Sadharana Gandhara, Shuddha Madhyama, Panchama, Shuddha Dhaivata and Kaishiki Nishadha. 

S R1 G2 M1 P D1 N2 S

S N2 D1 P M1 G2 R1 S

The trinity of Carnatic music all have extremely powerful compositions in Thodi which are often chosen by musicians to elaborate upon. The most defining feature of Thodi for me is the space it gives for expressing different bhavas. Be it the shadja-panchama-varja prayoga of "R1G2M1D1N2" (meaning the deficit of Shadja and Panchama notes) or the gamaka in Gandhara or the myriad possibilities for graha-bheda, Thodi simply has it all! 

Starting with my favorite Thyaraga composition - "Chesina Della Marachiti", sung here by the great MLV

Another popular krithi by Shri Thyagaraj - Kaddanu Variki, rendered here by the legendary Mandolin U. Shrinivas

Raju Vedala - another Thyagaraja gem, my favorite rendition of the krithi by Shri Sikkil Gurucharan

 

There are many more Thyagaraja compositions in Thodi that are equally beautiful - dasu Kovalene, dasharathi neenamamu being a few of them

Including a Dikshitar composition - a devi krithi - Dakshayani, rendered beautfiully by Shri K.J.Yesudas

finally a swarajathi - raave himagiri by Shri Shyama Shastri, rendered excellently by MSS

Here is my recording for the day - an aalapana in Thodi (with graha-bheda in Mohanam)

#30DayMarghazhiRagaChallenge - Lalit/Lalitha

Lalitha - though etymologically signifies playfulness, the raga sounds restrained, mystical and sometimes even melancholic. Lalitha is the janya raga of 15th Melakarta Mayamalavagoula and contains the swaras - Shadja, Shuddha Rishabha, Antara Gandhara, Shuddha Madhyama, Shuddha Dhaivata, Kakali Nishadha

S R1 G3 M1 D1 N3 S

S N3 D1 M1 G3 R1 S

Compositions in pure Lalitha that are often sung by leading artistes mostly include Shri Thyagaraja's "Nannu Brova Lalitha", and Shri Muthuswamy Dikshitar's "Hiranmayeem Lakshmim". A similar sounding raga name is "Lalit"a Hindustani raga that is quite popular amongst artistes.

Listen to this beautiful rendition of Nannu Brova by smt. Nithyashree Mahadevan

Another gem - Hiranmayeem Lakshmi, sung here by the incredible Smt, Aruna Sairam

And finally, a devaranama - "Raghavendra Dayatoro" in the raga Lalit. Enjoy!


#30DayMarghazhiRagaChallenge - Reethigowla

Reethigowla - an uplifting and intoxicating melody. Reethigowla is a janya of 22nd Melakarta raga Kharaharapriya, comprising of Shadja, Chatishruthi Rishabha, Sadharana Gandhara, Shuddha Madhyama, Shuddha Dhaivata and Kaishiki Nishadha. 

The aarohana and avarohana are vakra in nature, meaning that the order of swaras is not in sequence, and appear as below

S G2 R2 M1 N1 D2 M1 N2 N2 S

S N2 D2 M1 G2 M1 P M1 G2 R2 S

When listening to Reetigowla, one can instantly recognize the prominence of the phrase "N2 N2 S", and its counterpart - "G2 G2 M", and this is truly a hallmark of the raga. Other phrases that play around in the vicinity of "N D M", "N D M D N- D M" are delicate, often being elaborated upon during aalpane. One of my favorite "plays" to the raga aalpane is to not touch the Panchama and keep fiddling with G, M, D and N, and then introduce the next prominent phrase of "G M P M G R S". Reethigowla can be a complex raga and at the same time induces a sweet melody and is quite popular among movie music composers as well. One song that is popping into my head right now is Kangal Irandhal (from the movie Subramaniapuram), and its Kannada version - Kalli Ivalu (from the movie Prem Adda).

The credit for popularizing Reethigowla goes to Shri Thyagaraja, with exquisite compositions like Nannu Vidachi, sung superbly by the sister duo - Ranjani-Gayatri. The words "Kodanda Rama, Pattabhi Rama, Ramayya Rama" are sure to bring devotion to any listener's heart!

Another Thyagaraja classic is a thought-provoking krithi - "Dwaitamu Sukhama Adwaitamu Sukhama", rendered here by the maestro himself - Shri Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer

Shri Swathi Tirunal's composition "Paripaalayamam" brings out beautiful facets of the raga, rendered here by Trichur brothers

A personal favorite - Janani Ninnuvina composed by Shri Subbaraya Shastri completely encompasses the beauty of the raga, rendered here by Shri Madurai T.N. Seshagopalan

Listen to Shri Papanasan Sivam's composition - Tatvamariya Tarama, sung exquisitely by Shri Sanjay Subramanian 

 

Here is a small rendition of Reethigowla aalapane by me, enjoy reading and listening to yet another gem of a raga!


#30DayMarghazhiRagaChallenge - Bahudari

My first pick for the 30-day challenge is Bahudari. Bahudari - literally means "different ways" and truly strikes a unique and different chord. A janya raga of Harikamboji, it is comprised of the notes Shadja, Antara Gandhara, Shuddha Madhyama, Panchama, Chatushruthi Dhaivata and Kaishiki Nishada. The avarohana does not contain the Dhaivata making this a "Shadava-Audava" raga - 6 notes in the aarohana and 5 in the avarohana. The conspicuous absence of Rishabha brings out a calming melody with phrases like "D-NPMG", "PD-NPMG", "PDNS SNPM" oft being repeated in krithis and alapane alike.

While picking this raga, I realized the intrinsic charm (and a personal soft spot) of ragas where this particular phrase - "NPMG", especially "N2 P M1 G3" is repeated often (cases in point - Vagadheeshwari, Gambheera Nattai, Jog and the likes). The combination brings forth a beautiful melody and is a treat for singers. 

Compositions in Bahudari are somewhat limited, the most famous being "Brova Bharama" composed by Shri Thyagaraja. Watch an illuminating rendition of the krithi by Shri Maharajapuram Santhanam below:

 

Another gem in this raga has to be the Tamil composition of Shri G.N.Balasubramanian, rendered by Shri Trichur V. Ramachandran

Listen to another composition by Shri Achutadasar - "Sadananda Thandavam", rendered to perfection by Kum. Amrutha Venkatesh

And, this list is not complete without a personal favorite - "Bhaja Manasa Vighneshwara", composed by Thulaseevanam and beautifully sung by Smt. Bombay Jayashree

Other compositions in Bahudari include "Sinam Adaiyadhe" and "Mara koti Sundara".

In all, Bahudari is nothing short of a delectable treat for listeners and performers, its notes convey joyousness along with hints of calmness - an unbeatable blend indeed!

To conclude, here is a small rendition of Bahudari by me. I have recorded a small alapana followed by a Kannada devaranama - "Irabeku Haridasa Sanga", written by Shri Purandara Dasaru and exquisitely composed by my guru Shri Tirumale Shrinivas. Enjoy the melody of Bahudari!


Introducing the #30DayMarghazhiRagaChallenge

The pervasiveness of social media is undeniable, and along with this pervasiveness, comes a gamut of trends. One of these innumerable trends that has caught on fervently is the infatuation with "30-day fitness challenges". Having been a victim (and beneficiary) of these challenges, I realized that I could do something similar - but with Carnatic music. Since today happens to be the 18th of December - a day that marks the advent of the month of Dhanur masa or Marghazhi masam, I could find no better day to start my #30DayMarghazhiRagaChallenge.

Marghazhi masa is a month that signifies auspiciousness, and for the musically inclined - a full month filled with the divinity of music. So, starting today I begin my 30-day challenge to write about one raga a day. My goal is to explore as many krithis for this raga as I can during the day, and then write about my findings for the raga. These might not be as comprehensive as some of the other blogs out there, (which do extraordinary justice to the theory behind these ragas) but they are more of a personal attempt to listen and understand every raga in greater depth. Along with the writing, I will also try and record a small song or aalapana of the said raga each day. 

Please feel free to join my quest for learning and share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Antara Raag and Roll music competition

A few days back the social media music platform Aalaap in association with their PR platform Antara announced a unique online competition - "Raag and Roll". It challenged singers to choose a movie song based on a Carnatic raga and shoot a video of themselves singing it.

To add to the excitement, the competition was to be judged by none other than the esteemed Carnatic singer Shri P.Unnikrishnan! The competition was open to all age groups and drew several entries from all over India and outside. 

Today I am very happy to announce that I was declared the winner of the contest!

Finally, the results of Antara's first initiative, Raag & Roll - a Facebook contest that invited participants to shoot a...

Posted by Antara on Saturday, May 9, 2015


Making this more special are the words from Shri Unnikrishnan who wrote about the song - 

Raksha has a very good and clear voice range; her singing was effortless.
— P. Unnikrishnan on Antara's Facebook page

I thank him for his kind words and really appreciate him making time to listen to each and every song while carefully scrutinizing the entries.

Here is my original entry "Nambide Ninna Nada Devateya" song from the movie "Sandhya Raaga" originally sung by the great S.Janaki.

Special thanks to Aalaap and Antara for coming up with this unique initiative and providing a wonderful platform for singers like us to showcase our talents. And a big thank you to all my fellow competitors for making this a competitive and fun challenge!

 

Reliving AKKA 2014

The AKKA 2014 conference held recently at San Jose, CA was an event to remember, three days of living the Kannadiga splendor, relishing food that reminded one of home, hearing words in Kannada all around and witnessing some spectacular programs that touched many a hearts, it was an experience in itself.

The main highlight in AKKA for me was the AKKA Music Idol fondly named as "HaaDu Baa Kogile" . The event that attracted  participants from all over USA had several contestants spanning different age groups starting from 5 years onwards! The adult age group had about 25 contestants, each of whom were exquisitely skilled and molded the event into an immensely competitive one. Judged by eminent musicians from India, the event consisted of 3 rounds for adults - prelims, semi finals and finals. The 3 rounds were held on 3 separate days of AKKA. By the blessings of elders and the judges, I was selected for the final round. It was a great pleasure and a truly blissful experience to stand on a stage and sing to an equally enthusiastic crowd. The stage had all the grandeur and glory to match the resplendence of AKKA. My hearty wishes to all my fellow competitors for their brilliant performances, and more importantly for setting the bar so high for me and for future AKKA Music Idol contests to be held. 

My rendition for the non-film category in the final round - A beautiful song written by N.S. Lakshminarayana Bhatta, "Nee Sigade BaaLondu BaaLe Krishna"

My rendition for the film song category in the final round - "Nadheem Dheem Tana" from the movie Gaalipata, originally rendered mellifluously by the ever melodious Chitra.



 

Please leave your feedback and share your experience of AKKA 2014 on the blog!

Raaga Jigyasa's nascent foray into the blogging world

Hi everyone,

This is my maiden post on this blog, and I hope there will be many more to come. Through this blog, I wish to draw inspiration and knowledge from my fellow musicians and also seek your blessings for my endeavors in the future. The name Jigyasa means "curiosity" in Sanskrit and I felt that this was the most fitting name for this blog, since it is nothing but an attempt to quench the curiosity for musical knowledge!

My guru Shri Tirumale Srinivas is an exceptional teacher and an extremely talented music composer. His creativity in composing music for devaranamas is unfathomable. The way he brings out the essence of the krithi and at the same time, blends his unbelievably unique imagination in the composition is truly a treat for singers and listeners alike. I enjoy singing these devaranamas immensely and have always wanted to share his talent with others.

Recently, I received a microphone as a birthday gift and was extremely enthused to record my guru's devaranama as my first song on the microphone. 

The song is called "Enu Punyava Maadi Naanindu Ninna Kande" in the raaga Vaasanthi. The lyrics are composed by Shri Karigireesha . I have tried my best to do enough justice to this song through my rendition and with the blessing of my guru, am sharing it here for all of you to listen.

The song has been recorded using a Blue Yeti microphone and edited on Garage Band on Mac. Additionally the tabla and manjira track has been taken from iTablaPro. I tried recording my voice on three different tracks(1 for main voice and 2 tracks for the harmony) and integrated the tabla and shruti on two other tracks. Any suggestions or recommendations on the recording equipment or software used is highly appreciated.