In this third episode of our podcast, we continue with the remaining part of Abhyaasaganam – Swarajatis and Varnams.
Swarajatis are a longer and sophisticated version of geethams. They include a pallavi, sometimes an anupallavi, and charanam(s). Beginning with Rara venu gopapala in ragam Bilahari, students learn 4-5 swarajatis including Shyama Shastri’s classic piece Kamakshi in ragam Bhairavi. I recommend that students listen to the rendition of the Kamakshi swarajathi sung by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer.
After swarajatis students move on to Varnam. The varnam lesson is a turning point in the student’s education. Varnams are musical compositions with simple lyrics and swara patterns. A varnam consists of a pallavi, anupallavi, chittayi swaram, charanam and muktayi swaras. The benefit of learning varnam includes voice culture and traversing all the three octaves with ease as well as a sound knowledge of the rhythm. The varnam is sung in two speeds and is the opener in a classical concert.
There are two kinds of varnams – taana varnams which are the varnams sung by musicians in a concert and pada varnams which are the varnams sung for dance performances. Taana varnams are in both Adi and Ata talams. As I had mentioned in the earlier podcast, the primer Ganamrutha Varna Maliga brought out by A.S.Panchapakesa Iyer includes all the traditional varnams. I also believe that Viribhoni, the ata tala varnam in ragam Bhairavi is a litmus test for students. When students sing this varnam in two speeds, they begin to understand the nuances as well the depth of the raga.
Here is a rendition of Viribhoni by MS Subbalakshmi.