There are 72 Melakartha or parent ragas in Carnatic music and they are arranged according to a definite plan. This scheme is mathematically and logically accurate and is based on the universally recognized twelve semitones.

The work Chaturdandi Prakasika by Venkatamakhi around 1660 A.D was primarily responsible in shaping the destiny of Karnatic music in its theoretical structure. Venkatamakhi is the architect of the 72 mela scheme and has immortalized it in his work. Though the scientific concept of mela has been implied by Venkatamakhi, it was Govindacharya who later defined it as a regular concept. The melakartha assumes a real scientific meaning during Govindacharya's time.Thus, the contribution of Govindacharya to the subject of mela and mela nomenclature is inestimable. His work Sangrahachudamani defined the status of the melakartha. Govindacharya invested the melakartha concept with a melodic content as understood at present. He has adopted the Katapayadi formula and Buta Sankhya in the 72 melakartha scheme.

While Venkatamakhi formulated the scheme of 72 melas, it was Govindacharya who was the first to give the codified list of the names of the 72 melas in his Sangrahachudamani.

First of all, let us see what qualifies a raga to be called a melakartha raga

Thus, based on these characteristic, the 72 melakartha ragas have been evolved. The 72 ragas starting from Kanakangi and ending with Rasikapriya are grouped under twelve chakras and each chakra comprises within it six mela ragas. The whole scheme is divided into two halves. The first half including Chakra 1-6 and melas 1-36 takes the Sudha madhyama and the second half consisting of Chakra 7-12 and melas 37-72 take the Prati madhyama as the constant note apart from shadja and panchama. The note ma is thus the bisecting line in the melakartha scheme.

Having seen that the notes sa and pa are present in all the 72 melakarthas and also that the sudha madhyama occurs in melas 1-36 and pratimadhyama in melas 37-72, it remains for us to see how the other swaras are arranged i.e ri, ga, dha and ni.

Within a chakra, the purvanga notes i.e ri and ga remain constant and the change occurs only in the dha and ni.

In every chakra, the following pattern in arrangement of swaras is seen

The ri-ga variety occurs in the same order in the dha-ni varieties but only change from chakra to chakra and not from mela to mela.


Thus, in the formation of Melakartha scheme, all possible combinations of notes have been included. This scheme is a complete and exhaustive one and the entire edifice of Karnatic music stands deeply rooted on this strong foundation.

- Dr.Radha Bhaskar