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Introduction and Historical Background (Dr. V V Srivatsa): Varali is a Vivadi raga with unique Madhyama and Nishada swaras. It is the only Ghana raga with Prati Madhyama. A raga of considerable antiquity, dating back to beyond 1300 years, it was known earlier as Varati - by which name it is referred to in treatises like Sangeeta Makaranda, Sangeeta Samaya Sara and Sangeeta Ratnakara.

Varali is synonymous with the hum of a bee, indicating thereby the accentuated use (teevra prayoga) of atleast one swara, which feature can be discerned in all ragas with the suffix 'Varali' in their names - Pratapavarali, Punnagavarali, Kuntalavarali, Pantuvarali, Vasantavarali, Shivapantuvarali etc. It is not indicative of a swara sequence like Saveri, Dhanyasi or Mukhari. 

Ramamatya calls the raga as Varali and christens the Madhyama and Nishada swaras as "Chyuta Panchama Madhyama" and "Chyuta Shadja Nishada", duly ascribing pitch levels higher than the conventional Prati Madhyama and Kakali Nishada. Venkatamakhi extols the uniqueness of the Madhyama swara and calls it "Varali Madhyama". He states that Varali is one of the 19 poorva prasiddha melas. Venkatamakhin clarifies that the mela is "Shuddha Varali" and that the popular raga is Varali, conforming more or less to current norms. Adhering to Venkatamakhin's tradition, Subbarama Dikshitar has perhaps, presented the best description of Varali. Govindacharya's view is no different, except that he calls the melakarta as Jhalavarali. Subbarama Dikshitar stresses the importance of the Gandhara janta prayoga in the avarohana.

Tulajaji differs to the extent that he deems Varali to be krama sampoorna (all swaras in serial order) and has demonstrated thus in the Udgraha, Sanchari, Taya and Gita provided by him as illustrations. Somanatha's view is different as he espouses use of Sadarana Gandhara - equating the raga with raga Sivapantuvarali, which is incorrect.

Varali is one of the select 28 ragas in which we have compositions of each Trinitarian. Varali is earmarked for Karuna and Sringara rasas.

Compositions (B Krishnamoorthi): The first reference obviously was to the Pancharatna kriti "Kanakana Ruchira" by Tyagaraja. Citing other kritis by Tyagaraja like "Marakatamani Varna" and "Ne pogada", the speaker opined that the earlier kritis of Tyagaraja were Bhava-oriented while the latter kritis are raga-oriented. The essence of Varali can be seen in these compositions of Tyagaraja. Krishnamoorthy referred to the kriti "Karunajoodavamma" by Syama Sastri and rendered portions thereof. This kriti is held in high esteem by the Mudicondan tradition. He also referred to two compositions of Dikshitar in this raga, "Mamava Meenakshi" and "Seshachala Nayakam". Krishnamoorthi referred to the delectable Varna in Chatushra Ata Tala composed by Ramanathapuram Srinivasa Iyengar and lavishly praised the aesthetic value found in the composition "Kavava" by Papanasam Sivan.

(Interjecting at the conclusion of Krishnamoorthi's presentation, Dr. Srivatsa pointed out that several compositions of Tyagaraja in raga Varali like "Bhava sannuta", "Ee menu galigi", "Pahi parama guna", "Pahi Rama", "Sri Rama Sri Rama Sita Rama", "Sri Rama Sri Rama Srita Jana", "Dharanu nee sari" and "Vandayuvvede" have become obscure due to non-rendition).

Manodharma (T K Govinda Rao): Govinda Rao opined that the formats given in musicological texts were merely academic and that they could not be enforced in renditional contexts. The very fact that a non-conformist Madhyama swara was used in Varali is supportive of this view. Delving on the Gandhara swara, in various formats, Govinda Rao stated that the Gandhara in Varali hovered around the epicentric level of Chatusruti Rishabha. He stated that one could intone Chatusruti Rishabha instead of Shuddha Gandhara and that the audience cannot discern or notice the minute difference. As long as the audience accepted the presentation, there is no need whatsoever, for any renditional regulation or emphasis on lakshana. Renditional nuances can vary from artiste to artiste. Govinda Rao did agree that Madhyama and Nishada in this raga were unique and demonstrated some prayogas.

Allied Ragas (A S Panchapakesha Iyer): Supplementing views expressed by Govinda Rao, Panchapakesha Iyer stated that renditional felicity of an artiste can never be constant and conditioned as it is by the inter-relationship between "shareera" and "shaareera" (physical fitness and vocal excellence). Panchapakesha Iyer opined that Pantuvarali was allied to Varali and demonstrated a few swara prastharas to prove his point. Panchapakesha Iyer said that Sivapantuvarali is also an allied raga, with the difference being in the Gandhara swara. He pointed out aptly that raga Vijayashri, with the famous kriti "Vara Narada", was a proximate and allied raga. (Dr. Srivatasa rendered passages from a kriti in raga Jaganmohana, derivative of the 38th mela, proximate to raga Varali).

Ornamentations / Gamaka Aspects (T Rukmini): T Rukmini virtually devoted her presentation to the demonstrative aspect. She showed, by playing on the violin, the finer nuances of each swara. She demonstrated, albeit indirectly, as to how dissonance was reduced in the "sa-ga-ri-ga-ma" sanchara. Rukmini identified four types of finely variant Gandhara swaras and stated that the relationship with another swara conditioned the Gandhara. The beauty of the Madhyama swara was demonstrated by her. She opined that Dhaivata, in relative terms did not pose complications. The Nishada being unique had a charm of its own. Samvadi passages were also demonstrated.

As regards Gamaka prayogas, she opined that as an accompanist, she was obliged to imbibe renditions by the vocalist and had to virtually repeat vocal phrases. T Rukmini also played a brief passage of Tanam, to show that Varali gave ample scope for the rendition of Tanams.

Vainika Vidya Shankar wanted special mention of Syama Sastri's kriti "Kamakshi". R Vedavalli stated that there is no jinx or ill effect caused by direct teaching of Varali.


Raga Varali is contemporarily known as a Prati Madhyama, Raganga, Sampoorna, Shadja-graha, and Sarvakalika Ghana raga. This is the only Ghana raga with Prati Madhyama. It is an ancient, indigenous raga, conceived primarily with Shuddha swaras, barring Nishada. Known earlier as raga Varati, it dates prior to 6th century AD and has survived for more that a millennium without much distortion.

Narada states in Sangeeta Makaranda:

"Varaati Dravatichaiva tathaa Naagavaraatika Karnaata mishra nati cha tathaa Shuddhavaraatika" (Shlika - 31)

A perusal of this verse will lead to identification of three ragas - Varati, Nagavarati and Shuddhavarati. Nagavarati is identified with Nagavarali. Some scholars opine that Varali is the Prati Madhyama version and its counterpart in the Shuddha Madhyama system is Shuddha Varali. This cannot be easily accepted as the Shuddha Madhayama counterpart was called (much later) as Ganasamavarali, known better to us as Ganamoorti.

Parshwadeva, in Sangeeta Samaya Sara, states:

"Vibhaasha raaga raagasya panchamasya varaatika" 

That Varati is the fifth of precedent Vibhasha ragas. While this establishes the antiquity of Varali, it also gives room to construe that the Vibhasha raga and the melakarta are different, wherefore, Shuddha Varati is the mela raga and Varati is the Vibhasha raga. Bandhyopadyay, the author of "Origin of Music", refers to the ancient raga as Varati, which in course of time got changed into Varali.

Let us pause, at this juncture, to assess the significance of the term 'Varali'. There are Shuddha Madhyama ragas whose names end with Varali - Ganasamavarali, Nagavaravali, Punnagavarali, Kokilavarali, Kuntalavarali, Pratapavarali et al, and also Prati Madhyama ragas like Vasantavarali, Pantuvarali, Sivapantuvarali etc. Structural examination will show hardly any similarity in swara patterns. Varali is not a manadanda like Saveri, Dhanyasi and Mukhari. We have to seek etymological and philological support. The Sanskrit lexicon defines 'Varala' as a male bee. Varali is either a female bee, or the hum, the drone produced by a bee. Dikshitar refers to Devi as 'Varali Veni', one whose locks are as dark as the bee. In another composition, Dikshitar states "Sanandanadi muni varali vandita" - meaning Sanandana and other saints are bees hovering around a lotus called Seshachala Nayaka. Dikshitar's usage confirms the lexiconic interpretation. If you ponder about the bee's hum, it is jarring at start and audio pleasant thereafter. As musical analogy, we can say that if there be one (or more) accentuated usage at start and aesthetic satisfaction thereafter, it is akin to a bee's hum. So, if there is a raga with an accentuated usage of one (or more) swara and attenuated usage thereafter, teevra-prayoga of a swara, it is a Varali. This is a common facet amongst all ragas called Varalis.

Nevertheless, plain Varali is called Varali by Ramamatya, Somanatha and Venkatamakhin, of the medieval times. Ramamatya's prescription helps us to identify raga Varali. He says that for Varali, Shadja is the Amsa, Graha and Nyasa swara and that the raga comprises of the swaras Shuddha Rishabha, Shuddha Gandhara, Shuddha Dhaivata, Chyuta Panchama Madhyama and Chyuta Shadja Nishada. Thus, Ramamatya points out the hyper-pitch levels of Madhyama and Nishada Swaras. This conforms reasonably with the contemporary version of Varali. However, Ramamatya calls the mela "Shuddha Varali". Somanatha’s views on Varali are tangential as he speaks of the use of the Sadarana Gandhara and of the raga being a morning raga. This conforms more to raga Sivapantuvarali. His views have to be discounted. Venkatamakhin, in Chaturdandi Prakasika, deals extensively with Varali and declares it to be one of the ancient, "Poorva-Prasiddha" ragas. However, Venkatamakhin calls the mela Shuddha Varali, concurring with Ramamatya. To him, Varali is an Upanga raga, as we know today. It is Venkatamakhin, who first uses the term "Varali Madhyama" to signify the uniqueness of the Madhyama swara. However, his observations to the effect that the Madhyama swara of Varali is used in raga Shuddha Ramakriya is incorrect, as it would scale down the level to Pratyantara Madhyama. A musicologist wrote, "Venkatamakhin is the Lakshanakara who decided the status of Varali as the 39th mela". The observation is partially correct, partially incorrect.

Tulaja's views are noteworthy for his defining the Madhyama as "Vikruta Panchama Madhyama". His concept of the raga, veers more towards the mela, as he visualizes the raga as krama-sampoorna, which he adopts in the illustrations provided. Govindacharya speaks of Prati Madhyama and Kakali Nishada and of the other swaras as Shuddha swaras. Subbarama Dikshitar stands by Venkatamakhin's dictum, "Poorna Varali satatam geeyate sagrahaanvitaa". In the Gitam found in the Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarsini, "Samgramapumajari", Subbarama Dikshitar calls the mela Dhalivarali.

Varali is one of the select ragas in which we have compositions by every member of the Trinity of Carnatic music. We have fourteen compositions of Tyagaraja, three by Muthuswami Dikshitar and two by Syama Sastri. Obviously, the most famous Tyagaraja kriti is the Pancharatna kriti "Kanakana Ruchira"; "Nepogada" and "Marakata Mani" are rendered adequately; "Noremi Sri Rama", "Karuna Elagante" and "Eti Jenma", rarely. Other compositions are virtually unheard.

Of Dikshitar's compositions "Mamava Meenakshi" and "Seshachala Nayakam" are popular, while "Lambodaraaya" is rare. "Lambodaraaya" is classified in the select Ganesha Ghana Panchaka kriti group. Syama Sastri's "Kamakshi" is highly emotive. We have "Vanajaksha", a Chatushra Ata tala Tana Varnam by Ramanathapuram Srinivasa Iyengar.. There is one more Varnam of Vina Kuppayyar, 'Tamarasakshi'.

Venkatamakhin states that the sringara rasa is one of the derivatives of rasanubhava of Varali. Tyagaraja was impressed by this aspect, as proved by his depiction of Rama's beauty in "Kanakana Ruchira" and "Marakatamani". Varali is an Ubhaya rasanubhava raga, evoking karuna rasa too - as can be perceived from Tyagaraja's "Eti Jenma". Mention must be made of Papanasam Sivan's "Kavava", a lofty composition, both in raga and bhava. "Aadiya padame" by Muthutandavar (?) is another delectable composition.

The sa-ga-ri-ga-ma prayoga, it is said, is to soften the Vivadi aspect. Govindacharya cites Kokila Panchama and Bhoopala Panchama as derivatives of Varali mela. Reference to some texts like "Palaiaazhi" (Tamil), "Raga Kosha" (Kannada) and "Raga Pravaha" (Telugu) show some more allied ragas. Nadamuni Pandita cites names of 45 janya ragas of Varali mela, most of which are not in vogue.

In the recent past, there has been a sustained campaign against rendition of Vivadi ragas on the premise that their rendition reduces longevity. Govindacharya writes,  "Vaayu beejaaksharavati jana jeevana karini Naamna Jhalavaraalyu na chatvaarimsho adhikaarakaha". If Varali is "jeevana-kaarini", how can it reduce longevity? Who is right? Myths, stories and apocryphal opinions surround Varali. No one knows the real reason for Varali not being directly taught to a disciple. How can a Ghana raga be inauspicious? Is this tradition based on facts, or on fiction? It is heartening to note that teachers, nowadays, are breaking the unwanted taboo. Varali is one of the prime Prati Madhyama ragas very much in vogue in concert platforms.


  • The Saptasthanam festival of Tiruvaiyyar was in progress and the procession, at midnight, was passing through Tillaisthanam. Musical-groups, "ghoshtis", were following the procession. One group was led by the brothers Anai and Ayya; the next group was led by none less than Tyagaraja himself. The crowd with the Tyagaraja "ghoshti" was thinning out and joined the "ghoshti" of Anai and Ayya. Tyagaraja sent one disciple to find out who never returned back. A second disciple followed suit, in the same manner. Finally, Tyagaraja himself moved to the precedent ghosti led by Anai and Ayya. He was wonderstruck by their rendition of a raga and forgot himself. At last, Anai and Ayya welcomed Tyagaraja to their "ghoshti" with honour. The lovely raga rendered by Anai and Ayya, which captivated Tyagaraja, was Varali.
  • Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar the tunesmith for the Tiruppavai verses adopted the Ghana ragas of the first group for the first five verses of the Tiruppavai. Accordingly, the verse "Aazhimayai kanna" was set to Varali and popularized by beautiful renditions by Ariyakudi himself. If Varali is inauspicious how can the passage "Vaazha Ulaginil peididai" (Pour rain to sustain life) be rendered in that raga? Varali is by no standards inauspicious. 
  • Varali was rendered often by Ariyakudi, in his concerts. He was a specialist in rapid-fire, racy-paced swara patterns in this raga, which generally proved difficult for the accompanying violinist. Ariyakudi was a short, lean, person. In contrast, Mysore T Chowdiah was a tall and hefty person. Prior to commencement of a concert, Chowdiah, in a sudden spurt of regard and affection, physically lifted Ariyakudi up and refused to let him down. He agreed to let Ariyakudi down only when the latter promised not to render Varali in that concert!
  • There is a version of "Nepogadagunte" in raga Sivapantuvarali too. After research, the consensus view is that the correct raga for this song is Varali. Many Tyagaraja kritis have suffered mutilations and aberrations and have even migrated to alien ragas. One case of diction aberration is the kriti "Marakatamani" in raga Varali. The original Pallavi sahitya "Marakatamani nibha" has now become "Marakatamani Varna". Many musicians render the charana passage as "Varabhakta suvarna vahana". This is a big mistake. "Suvarna" means gold or good-coloured. Surely Tyagaraja did not mean that rich temples had Vahanas of gold and that other temples had Vahanas well painted. The correct word is "Suparna Vahana" - a Vahana with beautiful wings, meaning Garuda.
  • Staunch linguistic chauvinists professed the view that of the Trinity, only Tyagaraja visited Tirupati. They stated that Dikshitar sang all songs dedicated to Venkatesha, at Pulivalam, the mini-Tirupati near Tiruvarur. There is considerable proof to show that Dikshitar had visited Kalashasti, Solinghur and Tiruttani. If so, how could he have skipped Tirupati? His father was an ardent devotee of Tirupati. When this issue came to the fore, proof was produced from two Dikshitar kritis, "Sankha Chakra" (Poornachandrika) and "Seshachala Nayakam" (Varali) in an irrefutable and convincing manner, that these two compositions were indeed about the Lord of Tirupati. The impact of the Varali kriti's content was such that it facilitated a change of heart amongst fanatics. They accepted that Dikshitar did visit Tirupati, and also a donation for inscription of these two kritis in a marble slab. You can find these kritis inscribed on the eastern wall of the Tyagaraja temple at Tirupati, facing the seven hills. 
  • A devotee in a crowd in front of the Chitsabha, in the Chidambaram temple, was rendering the composition "Aadiya Padam" in Varali. As he was concluding his rendition, there was momentary turmoil and everyone present felt that they saw the lifted foot, "Aadiyapaadam", of the Nataraja idol move! They were wonderstruck and attributed the event to the rendition of the Varali kriti! The date, 15th June 1941. (It was confirmed later that there was a mild tremor at that time).
  • Subbarama Dikshitar is perhaps a musicological-isolationist who strongly supported janta swara sequences in raga Varali to the extent that he advocated the double use of Gandhara in the Avarohana. This aspect can be seen to some extent in the Pancharathna kriti. However, there is one composition in Varali where the sahitya for the swara sequence "ga-ga, ma-ma, dha-dha, ni-ni" is "Khaga, mruga, deva, muni". This song is also remarkable in that, the swara-sahitya passage has several words with lla such as Yugala, Karaala, Vakula, Marala, Gala, Varali.
  • Mysore Doreswamy Iyengar was a great exponent of raga Varali. His Tana-playing and flageolet notes always infused a mood of satisfaction in listeners.


Performer Item
Ramnad Krishnan Vanajaksha
T Brinda Marakatamanivarna
Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar Agrepasyami teja
T Balasaraswati Kavava
Kutralakuravanji (Kalakshetra) Kaikkarumbena
Choodamani Pradhanam Apada
Ghoshti Ganam Kanakana
Kannamma Kavava
Madurai Mani Iyer Kavava
Madurai Mani Iyer Azhimazhai
Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer Kanakanaruchira
Maithili Nageswaran Tayajakiro
Manchala Jagannatha Rao Intaproddaya
Mysore Doreswamy Iyengar Mamava meenakshi
Sandhavandanam Srinivasa Rao Muddubandide Nivumati
T Sankaran Karuna yelagante
Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer Yochanajesi
Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer Kanakanaruchira
Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer Kavava
Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer Marakatamani varna
M S Subbulakshmi Mamava meenakshi
Tanjavur Sankara Iyer Mamava Meenakshi
T M Tyagarajan Karunaipuri
T M Tyagarajan's disciples Kavava
Vina Dhanammal Bani students Valapudasa
Akhilandeswari Tamarasakshi
Anuradha Mohan Tamarasakshi
B Balasubramaniam Eti jenma
K N Shashikiran Valapudasa
R Venugopal Neevantideiva
T Viswanathan Kavava
K V Narayanaswamy Seshachala nayakam
K V Narayanaswamy Kavava
P S Narayanaswamy Karuna elagante
D K Pattammal Kamateswarar
D K Pattammal Nanmugan
D K Pattammal Adiyapadame
Rajeswari Padmanabhan Kavava
M D Ramanathan Mamava meenakshi
N Ramani Mamava meenakshi
Ramnad Krishnan Eti jenma
Ramnad Krishnan Valapudasa

List compiled by R Vidya, R Nithya and Zeenat Queenie

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