Creative aspects in Carnatic Music – Thematic Presentation

14 Jul

I attended this session at the indiranagar Sangeetha Sabha, part of their Africa meets Asia – Music Conference.  Though I am not the expert to write about them, I am capturing some of the discussion that I could note down.  You may point out any ‘fundamental errors’ in this. Apologise for this LONG post.

Chair : Sri R K Srikantan
Co-Chair : Sr R S Ramakanth
Raga Alapana : Smt Gayathri Venkataraghavan
Neraval : K Gayathri

Swara Kalpana : Smt Gayathri Venkataraghavan

Tanam & Pallavi : Dr. T S Satyavathi

Violin Support : Nalina mohan

Mrudangam : H S Sudheendra

1. Raga Alapana
Originally, Bangalore S Shankar was supposed to have presented this topic. Due to his inability to participate, Smt Gayathri Venkataraghavan had accepted to do this part as well. She has done a fantastic job. She started her session by quoting 13th Century writer Sarangadeva, who described raga as ‘devata’ siting each raga has its own personality and divinity. She said, raga alapana is the first demonstration of ‘manodharma sangeetha’.

For singing the raga alapana , the artist should have the strong foundation of the raga. They should know ..

a) grasp of Raga – Notes and scale

b) Lakshana – The grammer of Raga ( eg: shankarabharanam – the ‘g’ has no oscillation.. )

c) nyasaswara – the anchor swara to take off, landing and stretch.

d) ranchaka(?) prayoga and rakti prayoga – which adds colour

She also discussed the use of syllables to the swara ( euphonic syllables) which gives soul. She also said that the artist keep the krithi in mind while singing the alapana. Sangathi’s put in alapana is keeping the mood of the krithi in mind.

 Types of alapana 

a) sangraha alapana – a short sketch , just enough to give the structure of the raga ( eg : hamsadhwani )
b) sampoorna alapana – exhaustive, systematic way of alapana , followed by the krithi.

c) alapana for Ragam Tanam Pallavi – Details, elaborative and is different from the alapana for a krithi.

She demonstrated the difference of singing alapana for the krithi and for Ragam Tanam Pallavi. While singing for RTP there is no mood of the composition in mind. It is a show of expertise. Here you will add symmetric singing, dhatu prayoga, vadi-samvadi etc. Also, while singing alapana for RTP there is certain rhythm in place which corresponds to the rhythm of pallavi. She then explained this singing ‘thODi’ alapana for ‘kaddanu vAriki’ and for a RTP and demonstrated the subtle difference.

d) alapana of rare ragas – very basic and swara based alapana

e) alapana for ‘bhava’ ragas – singing alapana for ‘bhava’ laden ragas , the flavour and the colour of raga will have to be kept in mind. She mentioned , nattakurinji , dhanyAsi and sahAna and sang few phrases of nattakurinji and sahana.

f) sanchari raga – Not very clear to me, but she used ‘surutti’ for example.

Stages of an alapana
1. akshiptika – introduction of raga. She explained the alapana with the adhara shadja going till manthra sthayi / tara sthayi. She demonstrated this by singing alapana of bhairavi for ‘amba kAmAkshi’ where it starts in lower octaves and for sari evvaramma where it starts at higher octave.
2. Raga vardhini – artist develop the raga leisurely repeated by violin and back to the vocalist. Usually deployted during the alapana of RTP

3. sthai sancharas – take from one swara and raga alaborated either arohana or avarohana. Deployts “durita phrases”.

Preparation : The importance of preparation is essential for alapana singing. You have to be trained under a ‘guru’, learn many krithis in the same raga , practice diligently, practive to traverse in octaves and have breath control.


2. Neraval by K Gayathri
K Gayathri started her presentation with the definition of neraval by Sri Sambavamurthy. Neraval is part of manodharma sangeetham is derived from the word ‘nirav’ meaning spread out.
There are two traditions of the origin of neraval, performance tradition and scholarship tradition

a) Performance : Both Sanskrit tradition and Tamil Traditions. Vedic patterns can be related to the present day neraval. In Tamil, tiru viruttams can be related to neraval singing.

b) Scholastic : She quoted the 10th century poet Parshwadeva who talks about 16 types of Alapti. The word ‘sAkshara Alapti’ or alapana done with words was used to describe the neraval.

Structure of neraval
While choosing the line for neraval, it is important to select the right phrase for elaboration fro pallavi , anupallavi or charanam, There is a ‘nuclear point; in every krithi and that can be used for neraval. eg : karuNAra sEvinci’ from entha ninne – mukhAri . You will have to stick to the sahitya syllables and the melody aspects has to be maintained.

Stages of Neraval

There are 3 stages of neraval ; vilamba kala , sama kala , madhyama kala. She said, Musiri school ( which she is a part of) is famous for sama kala neraval. Madhyama kala or durutakala neraval ,at times , are dominated be mathematical jathis.
She demonstrated these with thODi neraval “tAmbUra chEluni guNamula cheluvanta ( from koluva mare gatha ?).

She also explained the difference between ‘sangati’ and ‘neraval’. Sangati is pre-set and is built in the original composition , where are neraval is extempore. Sangati is sung usually in 2 kala and neraval is sung in 3 kala. Each sangati is repeated twice but neraval is done only once ( I’m not sure).

Types of Neraval
a) layAngam – Usually sung with the krithis within the limit of tAlam.
b) shudhAngam – usually sung with viruttam or sloka , and is free of tAla.
Difference between neraval and Pallavi
In pallavi, each word has a matra ( time frame) within the Tala. It has more freedom with the words are spread. She explained this with the line “dEvAdi dEvanai tillai natarajanai” and ” badari vanamUla nAyikA sahita” from AkshayalingavibhO.
She said neraval singing is suited for the vocalists, than instrumentalists, as the sAhitya is very important in neraval singing. For instrumentalists, it sounds more linke swara singing ( for krithis) or raga alapana ( for viruttams).

She was running out of time and received 2-3 time buzz from co-chair R.S.Ramakant, and had to stop the ‘tiru viruttam’ she was singing ( kunita puruvam.. in bhairavi)


3. Swara kalpana
Art of rhythmic improvisation and elaboration using swaras of a raga. It is notes of a raga, bhava laden , pattern based and laya workmanship involved. Control of rhythm and swara knowledge is very important here. Swara kalpana has no language barrier and is the nerve centre of a concert.


We starts preparing very early by ‘sarali and jantai’ singing, datu , melsthai varisai , varnams and chittaswarams. She sang the Kalyani varnam as example.
a) sarva lagu patterns eg : Tulasidala ( Mala malava gaula )
b) different eduppu eg : meena lochana brova ( dhanyasi)

c) jeeva swaras

d) nyasa swaras eg : mayamalavagaula and kalyani

e) tisra/chatusra combination

f) ottu swaras eg : charanAlayamulu of HMB

g) rAgamAlika swaras in pallavi

h) atItha and anAghata phrases ( not sure of these)

i) makutam

She said, presentation of swara kalpana should be graceful. Makutaswaras to conclude the kalpana swara singing. There has to be ‘porutham’ in swaram and sahityam. She quoted the krithi nAradamuni. Sarvalagu makutam, mukthaippue , koraippu&korvai has to be taken care while presenting the swara kalpana. It is essential that the artist read the mood of the concert and the krithi before launching into swara kalpana.
a) sama kala swara
b) mel kalam

c) mukthaippu / makuta swaram

d) koraippu/ korvai.

She concluded that singing swara kalpana lifts the spirit of the audience as well as the artists, before sri R S Ramakanth alerted “Its time up”.

Tanam and Pallavi
Dr T S Satyavathi started her session with explaning the word tAnam ( tanyatE iti tAna:) . ‘Tan’ meaning to sprite, to grow.
The word tAnam is derived from, ‘t’ – representing Shiva, ‘a’ – representing Brahm , ‘n’ – representing Vishnu and ‘m’ – anuswara, culmination of three energy. Tanam is masculin and has to be sung from the naval. Deep breath has to be taken , and is like practicing yOga. Tanam is not another form of alapana , and it has a lilting effect to the artist and listener.
Types of tAnam
a) Sudha tAnam – here the notes of the raga arranged themselves into 4s, 5s, or 6s ( m,g,m,p …m,g,m,p,d etc)
b) koota tanam – all other variety of tanam . Here we skip notes, add notes, stretch notes. ‘m’- kara is used prominently in koota tanam,

To my delight, she gave examples with Sriragam. She says the swaras in the ‘pancharatna krithis’ of Thyagaraja, are compised in tanakrama. She explained this by singing the tanam in sriragam and then singing the p,p,m,g,r p,p,m,g,r phrase from ‘endarO mahAnubhavulu’ to substantiate the point. She gave many such examples from stotrams of Sri Shankaracharya ( mudhakara..?) from the common prayer slokams ( vina venkatEsham ) and “sumukham sukrutham” etc.

She said there is ‘deepti ( excitement) and ‘shanti’ ( pease) in tanam singing. It is best suited for Veena and should be sung in lower or middle octaves. She said tanam is also called as “madhyama kala vikas”.

She explained various types of Koota Tanam ,both musically and through physical gesture (!).. They are:

Gaja tAna – elephant

KukkuDa tAna – Hen/cock

mayUra tAna – Peacock

mANDUka tAna – Frog

ghanTa tAna – Bell

hariNa tAna – Deer

shankha tAna

Unfortunately, these can not be explained here in words as these were demonstrated by her.

By this time, she had overshot the allotted time of 15 mins and to do basic justice, she needed another 15 mins. Hence, the session closed at Tanam without taking up Pallavi. The organisers announced later that the Pallavi part of this session would be done on Tuesday and the time will be announced later.

Sri R K Srikantan, concluded the seminar with his words of experience and wisdom. He praised all the participants and congratulated those presented. He said, work of art is, first and last a human experience. It is to create a mood coloured by emotion. Music can never reveal its secret – by imaginative beauty and creativity we can only reveal it to an extend. He says, musical experience to a person is spontaneous.


Posted by on July 14, 2008 in General


3 responses to “Creative aspects in Carnatic Music – Thematic Presentation

  1. gowtham

    March 23, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Very very nice….. the xplanation is very good. It shows how vast and deep is Carnatic music.. Please put similar blogs… and thanks a lott…

  2. veluri nityanandam

    January 21, 2009 at 11:06 am

    very well presented. it gives a cursary peep into the various aspects of carntic music. such explanations are required for people like who do not have the opportunity to learn carnatic music but would like to listen and enjoy the music. we would like to know a few points-in a broad sence-so that we can appreciate the concert.
    thanks a lot .

  3. Rajalakshmi

    January 19, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Very informative for an aspiring musician like me. Please continue to provide more topics on music. Thank you,



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