Archive for September, 2008


September 24, 2008



akara mudhala ezhutthellAm – Adhi

Baghavan mudhatrE ulagu


ezhutthellAm Akara mudhala : All letters, (all written knowledge), have their start in alphabet A.

ulagu Adhi Baghavan mudhatrE : (In the same way), God is the origin, prime-mover of this world


This is the first couplet of the first chapter of Thirukkural, a centuries old masterpiece composed by the sage poet Thiruvalluvar. He is dated earlier than 8th century AD, earliest being 2nd century BC. This work details the rules of quality living in 133 chapters, each consisting of ten couplets as above. The work is divided into three parts as,

arratthu pAl     – Path of dharma (or righteousness)

porut pAl         – Path of prosperity

kAmatthu pAl – Path of love


The first chapter is an invocation for the whole work. But the work still remains totally secular in approach. Even in this invocation the poet has not referred to a God of any religion. The poet himself is claimed variously to be a Hindu, a Jain or a Buddhist.


In this series of write-ups, it is proposed to discuss some of the kurals (couplets), not necessarily in any order.


Let us now go straight to the 9th kural: (Next Page)


Thirukkural – 9



koLil poriyil guNamilavE – eNguNatthAn

thALai vanangA thalai


koLil poriyil guNamilavE : Non-functional sensory organs do not serve their purpose and hence useless.

eNguNathhAn – God (with eight attributes)

thALai vanangA thalai – the head that does not bow to God’s feet (is also as useless as above)


Here God is referred as eNguNathhan, of eight attributes. This being the 9th kural it is possible that the poet refers to the God, whom he has already described in his earlier eight couplets. Let us see them:


  1. mudhatrE ulagu                      – Prime mover of this world
  2. vAlarivan                                – Abode of pure and full knowledge
  3. malar misai EkinAn                 – Residing in our heart (of lotus)
  4. vEnduthal vEndAmai IlAn    – devoid of likes and dislikes
  5. iruvinaiyum sErA iraivan        – The leader devoid of the duality of ignorance
  6. aindhu avitthAn                      – Who has vanquished all the five senses
  7. Thanakku uvamai IllAthAn    – Peerless, incomparable
  8. aravAzhi andhaNan                – riding the sea of virtue and dharma


The sage poet Thiruvalluvar has described the God, only as a personification of the above eight attributes in this invocation chapter.


Sightless eye, soundless ears, nose lacking smell, mouth lacking taste and body lacking sense of touch are useless. Same way the head (i.e., the mind and the knowledge it has acquired through the above sensory organs) will be of no avail unless it bows modestly to God.


Another kuraL next time.




Soma Cubes

September 18, 2008

I read about these Soma Cube puzzles way back in 1966. I could not get those puzzle pieces. I wanted to get them done on my own but it never happened. I remembered them recently and saw the details of the puzzle on the net at Atleast I solved the basic one, by visualising the pieces in my mind. I have attached the details of the puzzle for others to see and enjoy.


Hope people like it

L V Nagarajan

18th Sept 2008


Swaras, Swarasthanas and Sruthis

September 15, 2008

When I started my musical expedition, I was told there are seven notes in any music- Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni or Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti. Remember the song from Sound of Music – “if you know the notes to sing you, you can sing `most anything”. In India we call them as saptha-swaras. We hear that this is the basis of any music in the world. One day I took out my mother’s old harmonium and was trying to play these notes on them. I played the white keys Sa to Sa, one octave of eight notes and was very pleased with it.


Hey, But what are these five black keys sitting between those whites?


“They are additional notes in an octave.”


You mean, there are 12 notes instead of seven? But what are they called? I have never heard any other swaras except the ones mentioned above.


“These additional five notes are the variations of the five swaras, Ri, Ga, Ma, Da and N.   … Yes, Sa and Pa are constants without variations.”


You mean there are 12 swaras instead of 7.


“No. There are only seven swaras, but we have 12 sruthis.”


Then may I call them, S,R1,R2,G1,G2,M1,M2,P,D1,D2,N1 and N2.


“Yes you may”.


Oh, it means one can make 32 basic scales, calculated as: 1x2x2x2x1x2x2=32.


“Yes, 32 `pure’ scales, as some people may call it”


What do you mean? How do you get any more scales and why are they impure?


“There are: a R3 in the same place as G1, a G0 in the same place as R2, a D3 in the same place as N1 and a N0 in the same place as D2. These are considered ‘impure’ with vivadi dosha as they take the place of another note.”


Then why have them?


“Because there are already melodies existing in scales using these notes, even before the grammar on music was compiled”


Okay. Going back to basic scales, now we get 2x3x3x ….., no, no, something wrong! …..We get 1x(6)x2x1x(6) = 72. Now, I see! So these are called the ‘72-Melakarthas’ or basic scales. Right?


“Very good. You are quite sharp to get it right”.


I hope, at least now we can codify all our ancient ragas within these 72 scales.


“Yes and No. We will discuss this later.”


Now we have 12 sruthis, 16 swarasthanas and 7 swaras. Are these same for all music including western music?


“In Western music, they call these 12 sruthis as semitones. The groups of 7 notes taken from these twelve semitones are called scales. One major change took place in about 17th century. Perhaps in an attempt to standardize the frequencies of these 12 tones, they made them go in a geometric progression from a base frequency of 240 Hz to 480 Hz. (like from lower Sa to upper Sa).  This division of the octave into twelve ‘tones’ which have equal ratio between adjacent keys (the ratio equalling to 12th root of 2 = 1.059) is peculiar to Western music. This geometric arrangement of frequencies of the 12 notes in an octave is called an ‘Equally tempered’ arrangement. Most western musical instruments were tuned to such an arrangement, including the harmonium your mother had.”


Oh my God. May be that is why harmonium is not accepted as a karnatic classical instrument. In such a tuning how do they ensure consonance between notes?


“Luckily music world still has another way of tuning these notes, generally called `Just Tempered’ where such consonances you have mentioned are taken care of. But that is not the only reason why harmonium is not accepted in carnatic music platform. Harmonium or any fixed key instruments like keyboards cannot produce anything other than these 12 tones.   


Hey, Hey, Wait. First it was seven notes (Saptha swaras). Then we settled for 12 sruthis. Now why and where are these sruthis other than these 12?  I am confused.


“Many carnatic musicians and musicologists stress that a large number of our ancient ragas cannot be produced with only these 12 sruthis”


Any examples?.


“I have heard them say that ragas Saveri, Gowla and Mayamalavagowla theoretically use the same suddha rishaba, but in actual usage they are different. Same they say about madhyama of Raga Varali.”


Uhm…! Now where are we heading to?


“If we strictly go by consonance ratios of 3/2(Pa), 4/3(Ma) or 5/4(Ga) alone we can get infinite frequency intervals within an octave (one sthayi). But human ear in general cannot distinguish between two frequencies with an interval ratio less than 81/80. This ratio 81/80 is known as pramana sruthi (Systonic Comma). Avoiding such intervals and satisfying the consonance ratios as above we are able to derive 22 sruthis in an octave. Musicologists quote ancient texts of Silappadikaram, a tamil epic by Ilango Adigal and Natya Sastra by Sage Bharata in Sanskrit (both dated between 2nd century BC and 2nd Century AD) and concludes that our ancient musical tradition had in fact 22 sruthis as basis. There are some slight disagreements on the actual values of these 22 sruthis but in general they are accepted. Even Hindustani musicians have agreed to this 22-sruthi concept.”


Ooof…! I think this is enough for the day


“Well, I also think so. Let me just give you a table showing one acceptable set of 22-sruthis. You may study it when you have time”


Okay. , bye and thanks.


“Bye, bye”



Derivation of 22 Sruthis

(By consonance ratios)

One possible way of deriving the 22 Sruthis used in carnatic music is shown as below.                                                                                                                                                      

Cycle of 5th or Panchama cycle (x 3/2)



























































Cycle of 4th or Madhyama cycle (x 4/3)























































































The selected sruthi values are shown highlighted. We may arrange them in an ascending order as


 1, 256/243, 16/15, 10/9, 9/8, 32/27, 6/5, 5/4, 81/64, 4/3, 27/20, 45/32 :

: 64/45, 40/27, 3/2, 128/81, 8/5, 5/3. 27/16, 16/9, 9/5, 15/8, 243/128, 2                                  

It may be seen there are actually 24 sruthi values (including 1 and 2, the ends of an octave, Sa to Sa). The 12th sruthi is repeated as 45/32 and 64/45. They are away from each other by less than a pramana sruthi of 81/80. Hence only one of these two will be considered. Hence we get 23 sruthis, i.e 22-intervals in an octave.


It is possible Sri. Venkatamakhi considered the following 12 notes for the Melakartha scheme (or did he use the Equi-Tempered notes of western music?):

1, 16/15, 9/8, 6/5, 5/4, 4/3, 40/27, 3/2, 8/5, 27/16, 9/5, 15/8, 2 

– – – – – – – – -/oooooo/- – – – – – – – –




Radio-Active Wastes

September 14, 2008

This was a poem published in Thendral (Oct, 2006), a Tamil Magazine published from SFO, Bay Area. The poem itself was written in 1993. Koodankulam Nuclear power station is in an advanced stage of construction. Indian is about to go ahead with major expansion in Nuclear power after the recent agreement with US is implemented. Let us hope, some solution will be found for the disposal of radio-active wastes


Iyarkkaiyin Navarasam – The 9-Moods of the Nature

September 11, 2008

Iyarkkaiyin Navarasam – The 9-Moods of the Nature

A Poem published in Thendral, a tamil magazine published from Bay Area, SFO.

Lustre and Gloom – Mahakavi Subramania Bharathi

September 11, 2008


Lustre and Gloom

A Poem by Mahakavi Subramania Bharathi

Translated from Tamil by L V Nagarajan


Vast blue skies bask in sun light

Cast on the mountains the same sun light

Coasts and the seas, and over the streams

Feast of light on the grounds and trees

Taste of light make forests bright

Misty river banks devour sun light

Just in the minds of human kind

Listless darkness why do we find?


Without bounds the surge of light,

Wave after wave the flow of lustre,

Ocean formed of light and glow,

Gale of brilliance endless and pure,

Stands, surrounds this world around.

In this brilliance whole and perfect,

Minds drowned in silly gloom –

A void of darkness why do we find?


At about 01:30 hours on 12th September 1921, Bharathi attained eternity.

This is my humble homage to him.