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.
In the second episode of our podcast we take you back to the basics of Carnatic music where we talk about the primary exercises – Sarali and Janta varisaigal, Dhaatu swaras, Alankaras and Geetams. Why are these exercises so crucial?
Sarali varisaigal are sequential swara patterns sung in Ragam Mayamalavagowla. They help students get a good grip of shruthi or pitch, talam or rhythm and a good foundation of the different notes. Janta varisaigal are patterns of two notes while the Dhaatu swaras are zigzag patterns that give students greater control over the notes. Later when students attempt kalpana swaras using their imagination, these initial exercises come in handy. So even if you’re grumbling and moaning while your teacher is relentless in making you practise these exercises, you’ll certainly thank her later! Students of Hindustani music learn these swara patterns in raag Bilawal, which corresponds to raga Shakarabaranam in the Carnatic scale.
Beginning with sarali varisaigal, students learn to sing 14 different patterns in three different speeds. Once they master sarali, they move on to the janta. My teacher often asked me to practise singing the same sarali and janta varisagal in different ragas (sampoorna ragas which had all seven notes) to break the monotony! Practising the dhaatu varisaigal, whether as a vocal or an instrumental exercise, helps students get a firm grip on the placing of the notes at any point. The melstayi and mantra stayi patterns exercises the vocal chords in higher and lower octaves.
Alankaras, the next stage in abhyasagaanam introduces students to the tala scheme of Carnatic music. There are 7 different tala families in the system, each tala having 5 varieties, thereby allowing 35 possible talas in the system. The three kinds of beats in a tala are anudhritam (one beat), dhrutham (two beats) and laghu (3/4/5/7/9 beats).
Geetams and Swarajathis are the next stepping stones on the path of learning Carnatic music. Geethams are basic songs with simple swara patterns and lyrics. I remember the day I Iearnt my first geetam, Shri Gananadha in ragam Malahari. Finally after several weeks of hearing me sing swaras, swaras and more swaras my teacher got tired of seeing my mournful face in class. When he began teaching the song – one which had lyrics I felt I had stepped into the big league-:)There was a renewed surge of energy in my music classes as I waded my way through the geethams, each captivating me with a magic of its own. As you listen to the podcast, please remember to comment on the blog (the good, the bad and the ugly). Happy listening!
In case you missed our first podcast on Gamakas, you can catch it here
Ashok Subramaniam, an immensely talented composer, singer and musicologist and more importantly a good friend and I have been planning for some time now to get a podcast going. Ashok and I felt that there is a need for de-mystifying Carnatic music – we encounter a whole lot of enthusiastic listeners, who would love to know more about Carnatic music. On the other hand, we find most writing on Carnatic music written for “experts” in often a rather inaccessible manner. This podcast is an attempt to bridge the two. You can be certain we will cover a wide variety of things Carnatic, given our own interests. Your active participation through feedback, comments or even brickbats would help make this a whole lot more fun for us and you as listeners. So drop us a note, comment on the blog, you know the drill.
The fact that Ashok is based in San Jose and I am in Bangalore and our insane schedules (not to mention my difficulty with this audio editing stuff) did not help matters. Nevertheless, we finally got down to it and in this post I present the first episode of our podcast – Gamakas.
Gamaka as the classical definition goes is grace – however calling it grace does not explain much. In ordinary terms gamakas are oscillatory patterns traveling from one note to another in successive repetitive pattern within a confined space. This episode explores when to use gamakas or not, with short demonstrations of appropriate gamakas.