The hamsa / hansa and hamsaa / hansaa, commonly heard names for male and female swans in India, have found mention in Indian mythology and spirituality. They are described as messengers, as a symbol of the individual spirit, and as a vehicle for Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge. While there is a profusion of such imagery in poetic texts, it is curious that the bird finds little mention in Hindustani compositions compared to other birds like the peacock, koel and papiha.
Notably, however, there are names of some ragas that carry reference to the bird. Of these, the more popularly heard is Hamsadhvani / Hansadhvani (literally, the sound of the hamsa / hansa), an import from the Carnatic or South Indian art music tradition. It is an audav raga. It is a janya raga of the Melakartha raga, Sankarabharanam (29th) but according to Hamsadhvani's prayoga or the way it is sung it is said to be the janya of Kalyani (65th).
Hamsadhwani raga is bright and auspicious, one that is most suited for commencing a Carnatic concert. That probably explains why kritis in Lord Ganesha abound in this raga. This raga is well-loved and easily identified due to its distinctive charm that gets better when sung in Madhyamakala (medium-fast tempo). Hamsadhwani is a pentatonic scale ( audava raga) and the notes it houses include Shadja, Chatusruti Rishabha, Antara Gandhara, Pancama and Kakali Nishada.
It was created by the Carnatic composer Ramaswami Dikshitar (1735–1817), father of Muthuswami Dikshitar (one of the musical trinity of Carnatic music), and brought into Hindustani music by Aman Ali Khan of the Bhendibazaar gharana. It has become popular due to Amir Khan. Nonetheless, it is a raga many musicians use in Hindustani music using Hindustani methods of rendering a raga.
Popular kritis in Hamsadhwani include ‘Vatapi Ganapatim’ and ‘Parvati Patim’ of Dikshitar, ‘Sri Raghukula’ and ‘Raghunayaka’ of Tyagaraja. ‘Vinayaka’ of Veeva Kuppier and ‘Vara Vallabha’ of G.N. Balasubramaniam have colourful sangatis that enthuse one and all. ‘Karunai Seivaai’ of Papanasam Sivan and ‘Gam Ganapathe’ of Muthiah Bhagavatar deserve mention.
Ilaiyaraaja’s liking for this raga is evident from the way he has handled ‘Sri Ranga Ranga’ from Mahanadhi. The last lines in the charanams culminate with a phrase that goes like ‘R,R N,P NN P,GPP', and such swara patterns are very sound and highly creative.