In Carnatic Classical Music, there are so-called light Ragas and heavy Ragas. At one level, the classification is right. The former don’t require much effort on the part of the singer or the instrumentalist and the latter more so. But, that distinction misses a crucial point. It is more appropriate to call them ‘banana’ ragas and ‘jackfruit’ ragas respectively.
I owe this analogy to Shri. So.So. Meenakshi Sundaram Aiyaa who is a renowned Tamil scholar living in Madurai. He used that distinction to suggest that some of the 3000+ verses of ‘Thirumanthiram’ by Thirumoolar could be called banana verses and some jackfruit verses. The former are a lot easier to understand. The latter have deep philosophical meaning. Interpretations can vary.
Some ragas – Ritigowla, Ananda Bhairavi, Sahana, Sindhu Bhairavi, Hamir Kalyani, Darbari Kanada and even Dwijavanti (a favourite raga of Shri. Muthuswami Dikshitar) could be considered ‘banana’ ragas. Their beauty is on the surface. It does not take much effort to savour them, just as it is with eating a banana. Just peel one layer and swallow. Satisfaction is at hand. All that the artist has to do is not to spoil them. In the case of such ragas, he or she is just a postman, delivering the raga and its beauty to the listener. The artist does not really have to try too hard to embellish it. Their intrinsic beauty is bubbling on the surface. It is enough if the artist does not spoil it. The workload in that sense is ‘light’ and hence the nomer, ‘light’ raga.
With the so-called heavy ragas – Todi, Kalyani, Kharaharapriya, Sankarabharanam – they are technical and intricate. They are like jackfruit. The artist has to help the rasika by peeling off the thick external layer before the rasika can savour the delight. The artist is not a postman here. He or she is actually a cook. The raw material is there. But, one needs to be an expert cook to create the everlasting taste, the bliss and the delight, etc.
That is the difference between the light Ragas and the heavy Ragas.