Athana is an age-old raga, and a typical Carnatic raga, in that it is phrase-based rather than on the scale. The arohana-avarohana are more or less indicative than prescriptive. Athana also uses the kaishiki nishadha, but it has almost as much prominence as the kakali nishadha, leading to an unending debate as to whether Athana should be classified under Dheera Shankarabharnam (29) or Harikamboji (28). Athana has distinctive sancharas such as pa-ri-sa and janta prayogas as in pa-dha-dha-ni-ni-sa. A relatively recent addition is the gaa-ma-ri-sa phrase in the tara sthayi (upper octave), probably a corruption of the ri-ma-ri-sa, where the first ri is not a plain note but descends from the ma. Athana is not often taken up for elaboration though it offers reasonable scope. Depending on the sancharas, it lends itself to presenting veera and bhibhatsa rasas. In lighter genres, Athana is also used in situations involving sarcasm and teasing.
Some of the most popular compositions in Athana are Tyagaraja's Ela Nee Daya Raadu, Anupama Gunaambudhi and Ilalo Pranataarthihara, and Muthuswami Dikshitar's Navagraha kriti, Brihaspatey Tara Patey. Another composition that is well known is Sri Mahaganapatim Bhajeham of Jayachamaraja Wodeyar.