In the ‘Bōdhana’ system, the time-tested practice of beginning lessons with svara exercises is kept intact. The difference here is only with regard to the approach. Traditionally, Carnatic Music education commences with svara exercises - svarāvalī, jaṇṭa varisai, dāṭu varisai, sapta tāla alaṅkāra-s in rāga Māyāmāḷavagauḷa, a system believed to have been formulated by ‘Saṅgīta Pitāmaha’ Purandara Dāsa.
While starting music lessons with Māyāmāḷavagauḷa, a student of vocal music with an innate sense of pitch may not have any difficulty in singing the adjacent notes - ṣaḍja & ṛṣabha or pañcama & dhaivata for instance, in their exact positions. But an average student may not find it so easy to grasp these svarasthāna-s, as the intervals in-between the pairs of svara-s are very small. In my experience, I have observed the students singing ṛṣabhaalmost in the position of ṣaḍja, and dhaivata almost in the position of pañcama. If correction is not effected at the start, the defects may get more pronounced as the student moves on to higher levels.
Following these svara exercises in Māyāmāḷavagauḷa, a few gītam-s and a couple of jatisvaram-s/svarajati-s are taught in different rāga-s before proceeding to the varṇam stage. Even printed books on the subject give similar material, with little or no variation. All this is covered probably in a year’s time, or even a shorter duration in some cases. Many students somehow manage to sing the material, but do not assimilate properly, the svarasthāna-s or the melodic structure of each rāga. The ground preparation a student gets by the above mode of learning is not adequate for a clear understanding of varṇam-s or kṛti-s. It is here that the link seems weak. There is a need for a thoughtful revision and addition of material for the sake of solid stabilization of basics. Some dedicated teachers have devised and applied their own training methods and material. The ‘Bōdhana’ training system that I have envisaged is an attempt towards this end.
In the ‘Bōdhana’ method, a learner gets introduced to music with svara-s of rāga Mōhanam, a rāga with five notes. The choice of rāga Mōhanam is primarily due to the presence of clear and wide intervals between the notes of the scale. Apart from ṣaḍja and pañcama, the other three notes taken namely ṛṣabha, gāndhāra and dhaivata are all of a sharp i.e. tīvra variety which makes the rāga bright and appealing. A beginner is seen to find these tīvra svara-s much easier than kōmala svara-s. The first requirement of musical training, i.e. ‘opening of the voice’ is made easier by practice of such sharp notes which facilitate loud and bold singing. Particularly in the case of a student of vocal music, the choice of Mōhanam as the introductory rāga is convenient as one has to concentrate on fewer notes. All the seven svara-s of the saptaka need not be introduced right at the outset.
Comprehending the plain pitch positions of notes is a primary requirement for a learner. Hence the selection of Mōhanam with it's sharp notes becomes logical. Rāga-s like Mōhanam, retain their melodic flavour even when sung with plain notes. Therefore rendition without gamaka-s does not affect the svarūpa of this rāga much. Moreover, if svara-s with gamaka-s are introduced right at the outset, it may lead to lack of stability of svarasthāna-s.
Dealing with the svara-s of a single rāga for a considerable duration helps in perfectly setting those particular svarathāna-s in the voice of the students. Once a student acquires a good grip over the svarasthāna-s of Mōhanam, other pentatonic scales are gradually introduced with a view to familiarize the students with all the 12 svarasthāna-s of the gamut. Thereafter, ṣāḍava and sampūrṇa rāga -s are taken up.