A raga which is not so popular, nor having much compositions, Gowda malhar is still a very pleasing raga; also there are more than one composition by same composer and both are heard sung. This raga is a creation of the legendary composer and musicologist, Gayakashikhamani Dr. Harikeshanallur Muthaiah Bhagavathar, and is listed among the 20 new ragas created by him. The two major krithis also belong to him. Gowda malhar is an oudava shadava janyam of mela (29) Dheera Sankarabharanam, losing G3 and N3 in arohanam and Panchamam in avarohanam; the structure can be written as: S R2 M1 P D2 S // S N3 D2 M1 G3 R2 S Ragapravaham by D.Pattammal also gives the same specification; in addition she is giving three more, under the same mela (29) as: S R M P D S // S N D M G R S S R M P D S // S N D P M G R S - (same as Arabhi) S R G M M G M P D N S // S N D P M G R S S R M P D S // S N D M M G R S
While Arabhi also admits of phrases devoid of P, the difference between Gowda malhar and Arabhi is much bigger than it looks. For one, the G3 in Gowda malhar can be sung plain and can stand on its own legs (actually all the notes can be sung plain, but usually N3 is always coupled to S). This makes it a lighter, laid back and more playful raga with a distinct, unmistakable identity that cannot be confused with Arabhi in practice. But the lack of P in other ways straight jackets the arohanam - avarohanam to some extent, and so if you cross the P, one has to go the DMPD route to come back up, and the PDM route to get back down. This DMPD and the PDM therefore become the most important, instantly identifying phrases for this raga. Being a simple scale also favours the janta gamaka, so janTa phrases like RRMMPPDD and SNDDMMPD, and aahatam / prathyaahatam phrases like SR-RM-MP-PD-DS and SN-ND-DM-MG-GR-RSS. DRS is another noted phrase, probably that one occasion where you can jump across the scale. And pretty much any repetitive combination of swaras can work for a leisurely chug of the Gowda malhar express through the woods. But these patterns also make it more challenging to land on the dot during kalpanaswaras.
It has to be specially mentioned that it was the great Sri. Madurai Mani Iyer, who popularized the Muthaiah Bhagavathar composition, “SArasamukhi”, like many of the other compositions and ragas created by his Guru. Still, while the history talks about the great MMI, we should not forget about the other great legend to explore it - GNB! In his heydays, he had sung it elaborately in alapana as well - in fact it's the stuff of legend. An incident occurred in 1940’s in the Travancore Maharaja’s palace is recorded as : "....In the early 1940’s GNB was invited to sing at the Palace of the Maharaja of Travancore. Gayakashikhamani Harikeshanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar was the Principal of the Swath
i Thirunal College of Music at that time. When GNB sang one of the Krithis of Sri. Muthiah Bhagavathar viz. ‘Sarasamukhi’ in the rare Raga Gowdamalhar, Muthiah Bhagavathar was lost in wonder and delight by the Raga Alalpana of GNB. He rushed to the stage and embraced GNB and said “I bless you with all my mind and heart. May your fame spread more and more! Though I have composed the Krithi, I never knew or believed that such possibilities existed within the rare Raga Gowdamalhar. I have been singing with one of the 4 tamburas specially made for me and named as ‘Rama’, ‘Lakshmana’, ‘Bharata’ and ‘Satrugna’. I am presenting my Tambura ‘Bharata’ to you as your devotion to music is similar to the devotion of Bharata to Rama...."
There is a Hindusthani raga, with similar name which is janya of
Kafi (Kharaharapriya) and differs from the Carnatic raga.
Compositions: Chinta deercci - Tiruvettiyoor Thyagayya Jayadevi jaganmathe - Dr. Muttiah Bhagavathar SArasamukhi sakalabhagya - Dr. Muttiah Bhaagavatar Un thiruvadiye adainden - Ashok Madhav
Out of the above, the Muthaiah Bhagavathar krithi, “SArasamukhi sakala bhagyade” is the most popular; this is among the Chamundamba Ashtothara Shatha krithis. The meaning: “O Goddess Chamundeshwari, O lotus-faced one, O giver of all fortunes O sister of Vishnu, the father of Manmatha, O destroyer of Mahishasura O one with a smiling face, O one whose heart is melting, O one permanently with Shiva, who has golden locks of matted hair, O merciful one, O beautiful one who delights rasikas, protect me, O Rajeshwari”.