viLari and tODi rAga (was Re: Q: Tamil literature)

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Tue Sep 16 20:50:55 UTC 1997

On Tue, 16 Sep 1997, Jean-Luc Chevillard wrote:

> S.Ramanathan says (Music in Cilappatikaaram, p. 21) that the notes
> of viLarippaalai are (sa, ri-1, ga-1, ma-1, ma-2, dha-1, ni-1)
> (This is deduced from a Zodiac explaination). He concludes
> that: "It skips the pancama but takes both varieties
> of madhyama. There is no corresponding
> raaga in South Indian music."
> However, later (on page 42),  he associates tODi
> with the paN "cevvazhiyaazh" and the paalai "cevvazhi".
> So, some mystery remains.

The following points should clear up the mystery, as far as the musical
aspects go. I do not know the textual evidence first hand.

1. S. Ramanathan draws a distinction (very much based on the textual
evidence, I think) between a paalai and a paN. Roughly, a paalai is more
akin to a scale (meLa, in more modern terms), while a paN is a more
a full-fledged melody (rAga).

2. viLarippAlai comes from the technique of repeated kural tiripu (graha
bheda, or modal shift of tonic), in the course of which one gets a scale
which omits the fifth, and has the two fourths in succession. Ramanathan
is correct in saying that there is no corresponding rAga in south Indian
music. He does not equate viLarippAlai with the Carnatic toDi rAga.

3. He does equate cevvazhippaN with toDi. Is cevvazhippaN related to
viLarippAlai in the texts? The two certainly have some similarities. The
only difference between them is that cevvazhi has one uzhai (fourth) and
one iLi (fifth), whereas viLarippAlai has two uzhais (both the perfect and
the augmented fourths) and no iLi. All the other notes are the same. This
might account for both of them being connected to neytal and with
mourning. However, the two are by no means identical, in a musical sense.
Note that cevvazhi does not have two uzhais (madhyamas). It has the normal
structure of a heptatonic scale, and it takes the minor variety of each

4. Where Ramanathan talks of cevvazhi, he does not get it from the
technique of shifting the tonic. Rather, this comes from a circular
technique called vaTTappAlai, in which pairs of notes are related to each
other in terms of a kural-iLi relationship, i.e. consonance. If we take
iLi to be a perfect fifth, and assign numerical ratio values, it would be
3/2. I'm pretty certain this ratio is implied in the texts, so that
assigning numerical ratios is not too far off the mark.

Anyway, the technicalities aside, what is interesting is that the
vaTTappAlai does not give a scale like the viLarippAlai, with two fourths
and no fifth. Instead, it gives the neytaliyAzh, which is a scale without
a kural (shaDja, in more familiar terms). It has the augmented uzhai
(fourth) and the iLi (fifth). However, it has both the minor and major
second (tuttam/Rshabha), and all other notes are of the major variety.
Ramanathan says that this is called a tiRanil paN, i.e. an impracticable
melody. The cevvazhippaN is therefore derived from the neytaliyAzh, by
redefining all the relationships with respect to the minor second, not
according to the vaTTappAlai technique. This reconstituted paN then has
the normal structure, with one variety of each note, from kural to tAram.
The scale now corresponds to the scale of toDi of contemporary Carnatic
music. Note that if we simply redefine the neytaliyAzh notes with respect
to the minor second, and not according to the vaTTappAlai, we would get
viLarippAlai again. It is only in this rather convoluted theoretical sense
that viLarippAlai and neytaliyAzh (the mother, so to speak, of cevvazhi)
are related. However, once cevvazhi is reconstituted, according to the
rules of vaTTappAlai, the scales of cevvazhi and viLarippAlai are
remarkably similar, as mentioned in 3 above.

5. There is sufficient evidence to identify pAlaiyAzh with the modern
scale of harikAmbhoji. If we keep deriving scales by shifting the tonic,
starting from pAlaiyAzh, we get six other scales. Roughly the same seven
scales can be obtained from bharata's shaDja grAma too (provided we assign
the same numeric ratio values to the two descriptions), and they also
correspond to the various Greek modes. One of these scales will correspond
exactly to the scale of modern toDi. This scale is not the viLarippAlai,
although I don't recollect its name right now. The viLarippAlai clearly
has two uzhais (fourths) and it has no iLi (fifth).

In the current Carnatic terminology, the seven scales mentioned above
would include hanumattoDi, naTabhairavi, kharaharapriyA, harikAmbhoji,
dhIraSankarAbharaNam and mechakalyANI. The seventh scale would correspond
to the viLarippAlai, and is not found in contemporary practice.


ps. There are more detailed descriptions as well as a comparison with
bharata's descriptions, and definite numeric ratios, at my website. The
URL is

This was written in a rush of youthful enthusiasm (not that I'm very much
older/wiser now!), when I was very much taken up with the theory of 22
Srutis/mAttirais in an octave. So there might be stuff in there which
reads too much into or maybe misinterprets the textual evidence. Also, all
my information about the Tamil references comes from S. Ramanathan, and I
haven't read the later publications which clarify things more. I would be
grateful if one of you can point specific problems with them, other than
the obvious fact that the older writers very probably did not think in
terms of numeric ratios at all.

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