Ultimate Guide to Carnatic/South Indian Melakarta Ragas/Scales

Learn the 72 Melakarta Ragas of Carnatic/South Indian music easily with a simple trick.

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In order to understand any of this, you will need to know your intervals. Other than that, you need no prior knowledge of ragas or Indian music to play these scales.

To briefly explain, South Indian/Carnatic music has what are called Melakarta Ragas, or parent ragas, which their nearly infinite number of child ragas are born from. These are 72 scales grouped conveniently into 12 groups of 6 called Chakras (and you'll understand why shortly). This evening, I took the time to write down the intervals to each scale. All the sources I could find on the subject only had these scales in a sort of Indian syllable-based tab system, so this will be easier on us Western folk.

Before I list the scales, I will make the process of learning these ragas as simple as possible for you. The first five intervals of each Chakra are fixed, meaning they do not change. The fifth itself is always perfect, never changing. It is only the sixth and seventh intervals that change from raga to raga in a chakra. This means that you only need to learn the unchanging intervals of a Chakra and then apply this formula in order to make learning 72 scales as easy as learning 12 and a special trick/pattern.

The formula is as follows: In the first three ragas in a chakra, the sixth is flat/minor. In the first raga, the seventh is diminished. In the second, it is minor/flat. In the third, it becomes major. The pattern here is that the seventh is moving right a semitone with each scale. In the fourth raga, the sixth is changed to major from minor, the seventh itself minor. For the fifth, the seventh is made major, and then for the last and final raga in a chakra, the sixth is sharpened/augmented.

To make this a bit easier to understand, imagine that the sixth and seventh scale degrees are taking a trip to the right (this is stupid, but bear with me!). It takes three ragas for the seventh to transition from diminished to major, only to realize the sixth was left behind. So, he goes back in the fourth raga and makes the journey again, but this time from minor, because now the sixth is following him. Once he is major in the fifth raga, the sixth continues following along by sharpening/augmenting in the sixth and final raga.

If this sounds confusing, it isn't. Having that in your mind, I guarantee you'll understand what I meant as you learn a raga or two. You are just learning twelve scales and six variations for each. 12 is a lot less than 72, yeah?

Without wasting anymore of your time, I present to you the list of Melakarta ragas:

Indu Chakra

1. Kanakangi

1, b2, bb3, 4, 5, b6, bb7

2. Ratnangi

1, b2, bb3, 4, 5, b6, b7

3. Ganamoorti

1, b2, bb3, 4, 5, b6, 7

4. Vanaspati

1, b2, bb3, 4, 5, 6, b7

5. Manavati

1, b2, bb3, 4, 5, 6, 7

6. Tanaroopi

1, b2, bb3, 4, 5, #6, 7

Netra Chakra

7. Senavati

1, b2, b3, 4, 5, b6, bb7

8. Hanumatodi/Todi (Phrygian)

1, b2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7

9. Dhenuka

1, b2, b3, 4, 5, b6, 7

10. Natakapriya

1, b2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7

11. Kokilapriya

1, b2, b3, 4, 5, 6, 7

12. Roopavati

1, b2, b3, 4, 5, #6, 7

Agni Chakra

13. Gayakapriya

1, b2, 3, 4, 5, b6, bb7

14. Vakulabharanam

1, b2, 3, 4, 5, b6, b7

15. Mayamalavagowla

1, b2, 3, 4, 5, b6, 7

16. Chakravakam

1, b2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7

17. Sooryakantam

1, b2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

18. Hatakambari

1, b2, 3, 4, 5, #6, 7

Veda Chakra

19. Jhankaradhwani

1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, bb7

20. Natabhairavi

1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7

21. Keeravani

1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, 7

22. Kharaharapriya

1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7

23. Gourimanohari (Melodic Minor)

1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, 7

24. Varunapriya

1, 2, b3, 4, 5, #6, 7

Bana Chakra

25. Mararanjani

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, b6, bb7

26. Charukeshi ("Hindu scale")

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, b6, b7

27. Sarasangi

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, b6, 7

28. Harikambhoji

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7

29. Shankarabharanam/Dheerashankarabharanam (Major/Ionian)

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

30. Naganandini

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, #6, 7

Ritu Chakra

31. Yagapriya

1, #2, 3, 4, 5, b6, bb7

32. Ragavardini

1, #2, 3, 4, 5, b6, b7

33. Gangeyabhooshani

1, #2, 3, 4, 5, b6, 7

34. Vagadheeshwari

1, #2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7

35. Shoolini

1, #2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

36. Chalanata

1, #2, 3, 4, 5, #6, 7

Rishi Chakra

37. Salagam

1, b2, bb3, #4, 5, b6, bb7

38. Jalamavam

1, b2, bb3, #4, 5, b6, b7

39. Jhalavarali

1, b2, bb3, #4, 5, b6, 7

40. Navaneetam

1, b2, bb3, #4, 5, 6, b7

41. Pavani

1, b2, bb3, #4, 5, 6, 7

42. Raghupriya

1, b2, bb3, #4, 5, #6, 7

Vasu Chakra

43. Gavambhodi

1, b2, b3, #4, 5, b6, bb7

44. Bhavapriya

1, b2, b3, #4, 5, b6, b7

45. Shubhapantuvarali

1, b2, b3, #4, 5, b6, 7

46. Shadvidamargini

1, b2, b3, #4, 5, 6, b7

47. Suvamangi

1, b2, b3, #4, 5, 6, 7

48. Divyamani

1, b2, b3, #4, 5, #6, 7

Brahma Chakra

49. Dhavalambari

1, b2, 3, #4, 5, b6, bb7

50. Namanarayani

1, b2, 3, #4, 5, b6, b7

51. Kamavardini

1, b2, 3, #4, 5, b6, 7

52. Ramapriya

1, b2, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7

53. Gamanashrama

1, b2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7

54. Vishwambari

1, b2, 3, #4, 5, #6, 7

Disi Chakra

55. Shamalangi

1, 2, b3, #4, 5, b6, bb7

56. Shanmukhapriya

1, 2, b3, #4, 5, b6, b7

57. Simhendramadhyamam

1, 2, b3, #4, 5, b6, 7

58. Hemavati

1, 2, b3, #4, 5, 6, b7

59. Dharmavati

1, 2, b3, #4, 5, 6, 7

60. Neetimati

1, 2, b3, #4, 5, #6, 7

Rudra Chakra

61. Kantamani

1, 2, 3, #4, 5, b6, bb7

62. Rishabhapriya

1, 2, 3, #4, 5, b6, b7

63. Latangi

1, 2, 3, #4, 5, b6, 7

64. Vachaspati

1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7

65. Mechakalyani/Kalyani (Lydian)

1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7

66. Chitrambari

1, 2, 3, #4, 5, #6, 7

Aditya Chakra

67. Sucharita

1, #2, 3, #4, 5, b6, bb7

68. Jyotiswaroopini

1, #2, 3, #4, 5, b6, b7

69. Dhatuvardani

1, #2, 3, #4, 5, b6, 7

70. Nasikabhooshani

1, #2, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7

71. Kosalam

1, #2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7

72. Rasikapriya

1, #2, 3, #4, 5, #6, 7

30 comments sorted by best / new / date

    ok I just learned 72 scales. Now what? I prefer learning 2 scales and a way to apply them than 72 random scales.
    Well, application of these scales (in an authentic sense) requires a knowledge of Eastern music. When you say, "apply them [scales]" I assume you mean a way to apply one of these scales around a chord progression? In Eastern music, there is no such thing as a chord progression - in fact, that's one of the ways that you can tell whether or not an Eastern musician is influenced by Western music. Authentic (instrumental) Indian music is usually based on one of these raga scales to depict a certain mood; every musician in the ensemble improvises on the given scale of the song (there is also no central melody or form - it's all just a big improv). So, one way of applying these scales (in a way that is similar to the performance practices of Indian music) is to just jam with a couple friends on one of these scales (everybody playing their own improvised take on the scale). If you want to build a chord progression from these scales to solo over or write a melody in that scale (thus making something that sounds more like Western music), all that you need to do is build chords from triads (triad meaning three notes) from the notes in the scale and then play the scale over whatever combination of triads sounds good to you. I think there is at least one lesson on this website about building chords from scales, so if that's what you want to do with these scales, look up that lesson and then start composing. You've got 72 to choose from.
    I know what you mean man. But those 72 sound to me extremly random. I believe that some of those are used more than others and have a more unique sound. I also believe that all of those scales could be 'connected' in a way (making licks using two or three at the same time. You gave some important info that should be given by the aurthor of the article. All I want to say is that I consider scales only the heavy sounding ones, those who have a unique feel to them, and most of those 72 scales sound just random too me. I want to see 3 or 4 unique sounding scales and how to apply them, meaning not only making a chord progression, but also naming the target notes that make the scale stand out. Sorry if that confused you, english is not my native language.
    Sometimes I'd rather explore and play around with the notes of any raga in my own personal way to discover how it can sound musical. Retracing and researching the historical / conventional context of usage of a raga (or any other scale) takes time and sometimes it is more practical to trust your ear and use your imagination a bit before going in-depth and varying your approach.
    The way the scale patterns progress throughout a chakra is what's the most interesting imo. It can be applied to lots of things. You could go all modal jazzy on it and have each musician in a band solo through the next raga for an evolving improvised piece. It's kind of like the Indian version of modulation; in Western classical pre XXth century music there is a tendency to change key centers without necessarily changing scale patterns whilst altering as little notes as possible(eg Amin to Dmin, the B becomes a Bb and everything else remains the same) whilst in Indian music you conserve the root whilst also slightly altering the intervals. This is why they have so many scales compared to Western music. It might be a consequence (or a cause) of their use of lots of instruments with a fixed pitch or drone (like the tabla or the sitar). You can use the same principle to build up (or down) progressions. Start with a minor pentatonic, then make the third major and the fith augmented, then add a flat second, add a fourth and make the augmented fith a major sixth, and you get an interesting progression.
    Question! When you say bb here, I'm going to assume you just mean double flat, as understood in Western music. My question is, if this were played on a microtonal instrument like a sitar, would it be slightly different? In microtonal music, there really aren't any enharmonics. For example, C# is slightly flatter than Db. Either way, I'm definitely going to bookmark this page, so I can study it and figure out how to make use of all this info. The formula you explained was really helpful.
    I wondered something along those lines as well. To my knowledge, using 12-tone equal temperment is rare or absent from traditional Indian music- I don't think it's as simple to play on western instruments as this article is making it out to be, but I'm open to an explanation of this.
    I did some reading on the topic. It seems that Melakarta Ragas (as opposed to some other types) are comparable and compatible with Western notes. Perhaps the temperament is not exactly the same, but the steps are. Meaning, there are 12 tones in total, just like in our chromatic scale. In Carnatic music, the names of the notes in a raga (Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni, and back to Sa again) are relative to whatever note is chosen as Sa (the "root"). So if you are playing in the key of D, then D is Sa, E is Ri, and so on. There are modified names for sharp and flat versions of each note. Search for "Swara" on Wikipedia to learn about the names. It'll make you feel cultured. All in all, this article is a great way to adapt Indian sounding scales into Western music, but in order to truly play Carnatic (South Indian) music, there's a lot more to learn in terms of composition and rhythm. The best thing to do for now is to pick a raga or two, and practice playing them while using Carnatic ornaments, like doing small, quick slides from one note to the next, and microtonal bends.
    I am bothered by the fact that the picture depicts a sitar player when they sitar was not traditionally used in Carnatic music.
    very interesting! thank you for posting! i will definitely look into some of these and the unique harmony they could create... just curious as to where you learned this though. was there a particular book that you bought or something, or perhaps you had an instructor, or maybe even visited india yourself?
    20. Natabhairavi 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7 Wow what an exotic sound!
    It kind of is. At least if you're going to school for music. Alot of my professors like to pretend that natural minor doesn't exist. Harmonic minor is the ONLY minor. ...I do not agree with those professors. I will play the Natabhairavi Raga all day!!!!
    I can't help but agree with your professors - well, sort of. Natural minor (the aeolian mode of the diatonic *major* scale) doesn't sound THAT minor to my ears any more. I think it's probably because it doesn't have any minor 3rd steps (3 semitones) and doesn't feature the minor 2nd. For example: The Phrygian mode is [1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7], and it sounds more completely minor to my ears; although, it's arguably harmonically less favourable due to the minor 2nd. The Harmonic minor scale is [1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7], and it features a minor 3rd step, giving it that exotic-minor sound. But in any case, you're right. Most people define whether a scale is major or minor depending on its 3rd scale degree.
    I can see where you're coming from, and i respect your opinion. And although i personally prefer natural minor, i still use major V's in my writing. I see what you mean about phrygian, and while i do like its sound, like you said it can be less favorable and i often have trouble writing with it. To me the flaws of music theory are the times when we try to define everything, and make it all black and white. We all have different tastes, and what sounds good to me may not sound so good to the next guy. I'm definitely not bashing the study of music theory, I'm actually a bit of a theory nerd myself. But i also think we're all entitled to our own "theories" about how music works and what sounds good
    Oh, of course. In the end it's what sounds best or most interesting to yourself. That's how people should write music. I think theory just helps to open a few doors for people.
    Well, yeah - there's only so many ways that you can arrange seven notes without repeating yourself (or using diminished fifths, diminished fourths, double-flatted sixths etc.). Plus, the Greeks and the Hindus traded a ton of stuff (including belief systems), so its only natural that the Aeolian mode would show up in these ragas. These ragas were compiled in the 17th century - they could have been invented at the same time (or earlier) than the minor scale, so at the time that it was invented, I'll bet it was very exotic.
    A very useful explanation for the formula of said scales man. It has also been explained to me by friends schooled in classical Indian music that many scales in Hindustani and Carnatic music are also DEFINED by the ascending and descending order of the notes, as well as the "Gamakkas" or pattern of vibrato applied to a note in a said scale...
    Oh no, please don't ruin the music of another country by breaking it down and having people dumb down. We have the modes to **** with, lets not take the beautiful ideas behind head scales and rip the soul out of them
    I also just noticed that there's a pattern from one chakra to the next.
    I still dont know why they are called Chakra...
    'Chakra' (or proper spelling 'cakra') means 'wheel' in Sanskrit. In South India, this term is used to organise the different ragas in groups. In North Indian music, the term 'that' is used, and the classification is different.
    A note about the spelling - the word is indeed pronounced chakra (just as it looks it should be pronounced - chuh-kra).
    OK, this stuff is great. But, I have been really confused by statements like, "the note order and the specific ways of moving between certain notes is critical to the essence of a raga..." but, I can never find out what the specific order is when all that is listed are the tones, the intervals. I understand about ornamentation and meends and stuff like that, but where can find the holy grail of WHAT THE SPECIFIC NOTE SEQUENCES are? And what the specific movement patterns are. Where is this to be learned from? I cannot find anything.