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Students of Carnatic classical music are taught Mayamalavagowla (melakarta 15), aka the double harmonic major / gypsy major scale, as the default. The introductory exercises for voice and ear training are all in this scale. The scale is as follows:

  • Carnatic notation: SR1G3M1PD1N3S', or ShaDaj, shuddha rishabh, antara gandhaar, shuddha madhyam, pancham, shuddha dhaivat, kaakali nishaad, Shadaj
  • Hindustani notation: SrGmPdNS', or Sha.Daj, komal riShabh, shuddh ga.ndhaar, shuddh madhyam, pa.ncham, komal dhaivat, shuddh nishaad, Sha.Daj (Bhairav Thaat)
  • Western intervals: tonic, minor second, major third, perfect fourth, perfect fifth, minor sixth, major seventh, octave.

If asked to sing just a scale (with no further qualification), Western and North Indian singers would sing a major scale / Bilawal ThaaT. But Carnatic singers would respond with Mayamalavagowla.

When and why did this scale become the default for Carnatic music, as opposed to say Kanakangi (SR1G1M1PD1N1, melakarta 1) or Shankarabharanam (SR2G3M1PD2N3, melakarta 29)? It is somewhat difficult to hit the intervals right because it's a series of half-steps and steps-and-a-half with just one whole tone, the one between the perfect fourth and fifth. Is the thinking that navigating such different intervals builds skill? Or is it chosen on the basis that the second, third, sixth, and seventh are just a half-step away from the tonic and the pure ratios of the fourth, fifth, and octave? Do the standard treatises (such as Venkatamakhin's chaturadaNDiprakaashikaa) opine on the choice of Mayamalavagowla as the default scale?

This was one of the questions asked here, but the answers there focus on a different aspect of that compound question.

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Coming to history,

mAyAmALavagauLa (hereafter abbreviated as MMG) was first proposed by Shri Purandaradasar who had laid the basic foundations for teaching Carnatic music by forming Sarali, Jantai, Dattu varisais, alankarams in sapta thaalams, and so on.

Why MMG was chosen?

The huge gaps between the Suddha Rishaba and Antara Gandhara, Suddha Dhaivata and Kakali Nishada are the main factors. We can visualise the gaps like this:

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These gaps are useful as they train the learner's ear as well as brain to accept ALL these gaps and register them as all the other ragas have the same gaps (albeit in various combinations).

The gaps found in Vivadi melams are those to which learners are not accustomed and thus this partly explains why Vivadi melams are difficult.

Many treatises such as Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini, the ChaturadaNdiprakaasikaa (as you mentioned) have rules in place.

However as time progresses, learners are encouraged to try the basic exercises in other ragams as well. I am doing a practice of Shankarabharanam varnam (sAmi ninnE) in all 72 melakarthas for instance.


EDIT to clarify comments:

  1. What does vivadi mela have to do with the answer—MMG is not a vivadi mela?

Vivaadi means, in Samskritam, inimical. They employ a high range of chromatic notes as well as notes positioned at very high gaps. Actually there are only 2 varieties of each swara i.e., S, R1, R2, G1, G2, M1, M2, P, D1, D2, N1, N2 => makes it 12 swaras. But some more varieties are added by taking an additional swara - R3 whose note is same as G1 and now a raagaa formed by such notes OVERLAPPING with those notes is called Vivadi. The point of me bringing vivaadi was to tell about their difficulty and how MMG being versatile in the gaps between the notes is very much suited.

  1. And when you say "as time progresses", do you mean as an individual student learns more, or simply that nowadays, people practice in all melas?

The meaning implies, as the student learns more. The student is restricted to MMG until he / she starts learning geethams when sahitya and more ragams are introduced.

  1. Could you provide some info about where Purandaradasa established MMG as the basic mela for exercises?

From a wikipedia article,

All the basic swara exercises (Sarala, Janti, Daatu, etc.) are set to the Mayamalavagowla raga. These are learnt by beginners in Carnatic music. It is commonly used in the basics, credited to Purandara Dasa's work in his time, when he did much work towards standardizing the teaching of Carnatic music into a fully graded system. Lambodara lakumikara by Purandaradasa is generally used for this raga. The first mini-songs (geetam) that are taught after the completion of basic exercises are set to Malahari, a janya of Mayamalavagowla.

From this website:

Karnataka Sangeeta Pitamaha Sri Purandara dasa found that MāyāmāLavagowLa which has a scale where the swara sthānas (relative position of notes) has symmetry and are easier to learn. The basic foundation of Carnatic music with saraLe, JanTi, alankaras are taught in this rāga. This rāga has stood the test of time for over 5 centuries and has been the starting rāga for all music students."

However this is in the 15th century and is purely an oral tradition.

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