Skumar 2008-09-22 03:48:21
Structure of a Carnatic Performance: rAgam-tAnam-pallavI (RTP)
(and other musical forms) (Carnatic Music Fundamentals II)
Last time we talked about the basic concepts and
building blocks for the kritI. To recapitulate,
kritI rendition is based on the following
With these building blocks, and a few new ones,
we can try to understand a very important construct
in Carnatic music called rAgam-tAnam-pallavI.
The first new idea that we need to understand here
is the tAnam. The “tA-nam” is an onomatopoetic
name that derives from the sound of the vINA.
The vINA is the instrument to which the
tAnam form is perfectly suited. In fact, on
the vINA, the tAnam is a stand-alone piece.
(Note that in Carnatic music, the vINA refers
to the sarasvatI vINA, not the rudra vINA
used in Hindustani music.) When the tAnam is
rendered vocally, the words “nom”, “danom”
“anomta”,”Anomta”, etc., are chanted in place
of vINA sounds.
The tAnam, like the AlApana, is a free-form
improvisation of the notes of a rAga, but in a
rhythmic pulsating fashion. The default form
of the tAnam has, generally, no tALam or rhythmic
cycle associated with it, although sometimes the
tAnam is played with mridangam accompaniment.
A Hindustani equivalent of the tAnam would be
the nom-tom AlAp, known better in instrumental
Hindustani music as the joD.
The Carnatic word for speed is kAla. The tAnam
is performed is medium speed, that is, in
madhyama kAla. (the corresponding terms for
slow and fast are, like in Hindustani music,
viLambita kAla and durita kAla.) The tAnam almost
always starts in the madhya sthAyI. This is because
it either follows an AlApana, which concludes with
the tonic/base sA, or it is performed by itself, in
which case it starts at the base sA by default.
One of the important differences between Carnatic
and Hindustani musics is that in Hindustani music,
speed can be varied during the performance of a
single item, as when a musician is trying to go to
a climax, whereas in Carnatic music the basic speed
must be fixed. One is allowed to go at twice the basic
speed or at four times the speed, but the base speed
cannot be changed arbitrarily during a given piece.
Thus. one can sing:
nom tom tom tom …
nom dom da nom da nom dom danom …
This is used, along with the ascending pitches in
the rAga, to create tension and release in the
tAnam. As in the AlApana, the tAnam also comes back
to the base sA in the end.
In vINA performances, a piece that is often
performed is the rAgamAlika tAnam, esp., a
ghanarAgamAlika tAnam. The rAgamAlika is a device
common to both Hindustani and Carnatic musics;
it literally means “garland of rAgas” and is
a quick succession of one rAga after another.
The ghanarAgamAlika tAnam is a tAnam in the
five rAgas in which tyAgarAja
composed his five great masterpieces, the
“panca ratnas” or “five jewels”: said rAgas
being nATTai, gauLa, ArabhI, varALI, and shRIrAga.
Another common practice in vINA concerts is to
play an AlApana and a tAnam in a rAga, and
then follow it with a kritI in the same rAga.
A rAgam-tAnam-pallavI is a musical form
consisting of a rAga AlApana (“rAgam”),
a tAnam in the same rAga, and a detailed
pallavI elaboration. To understand this
further, therefore, we need to understand what
pallavI elaboration means.
A pallavi is just a refrain of one or two
lines, as in a kritI. There is an important
difference, though. In a kritI, the pallavI
only partly reflects the entire form, the
“svarUpa,” of the rAga. (The rest is left
to the anupallavI and the caraNam). In a
pallavI elaboration, the pallavI must be
constructed such that it reflects the complete
svarUpa of the rAga. This is not as difficult
as it seems, for pallavIs are usually relatively
drawn out, so that within all the syllables
embedded within, one can tune them to
phrases such that the whole accurately
portrays the svarUpa of the rAga.
The word, “pallavI,”
is made of three parts:
la: layam, and
padam refers to song/music
layam refers to rhythm. This is an important
distinction when comparing North and South Indian
music. The word “laya” in HCM refers only to
speed; the word for rhythm in HCM is “tAla.”
But in CCM, “laya” connotes the entire art
and science of rhythm, a position that is held
in HCM by the word “tAla”; tAla in HCM refers
both to the rhythmic cycle in which a composition
is played, as well as to the science and art of
vinyAsam refers to variations, including the
elongation, shortening, splitting up or the
joining of textual matter
All three of these aspects must be explored in a
A pre-composed pallavI may have its sangatis.
These must be sung along with the pallavI.
After this, the elaboration begins
with a neraval (see part I of Carnatic Music
Fundamentals) of the pallavI, followed
by a set of musical exercises all designed to
showcase the technical brilliance of the musician:
anulOma and viloma anuloma:
in anulOma, the pallavI is sung at twice the speed
and then (perhaps) at four times the speed, all the
time making sure that the tALa is preserved. This
can lead to complicated rhythmic challenges if the
tALa is complex. The viloma anuloma is the reverse
process: keep the tALam constant and sing the pallavI
at half the speed and (perhaps) at quarter the
pratiloma and viloma pratiloma:
In pratiloma, the pallavI is sung at its regular
speed, but the tALa is sped up by a factor of
two or four. Similarly, in viloma pratiloma, the
pallavI is sung at its regular speed, but the tALa
is counted at half or a quarter of the speed.
A way to understand anuloma and pratiloma is to
take a pallavI in Adi tALam (8 beat cycle)
A B C D E F G H |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 |
In anuloma, the pallavI is performed at twice the speed and
keeping the tALa constant as:
A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H |
or at 4 times the speed as:
A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H A B C D E F G H |
In viloma anuloma, the pallavI is performed at half the speed as:
A B C D |
E F G H |
(i.e. one full pallavI rendition takes two rhythmic cycles)
The sketch of the viloma anuloma at quarter the speed is left
as an exercise to the reader.
In pratiloma, the speed of the pallavI is the same, but the tALa
count changes as:
A B C D E F G H |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 |
and a viloma pratiloma would be
A B C D E F G H |
1 2 3 4 |
A B C D E F G H |
5 6 7 8 |
Now, in Carnatic music, the vocalist counts out the beats as he
is singing, and so the audience can see that he is counting the
beats twice as fast while singing the pallavI at normal speed.
In an instrumental rendition, this is obviously not possible, for
there is no free hand. However, one can do an instrumental
pratiloma if one instructs the mridanga vidvAn to play the tALa
twice as fast.
(most concert artists these days don’t perform pallavis to this
level of sophistication … the most that artists do these days
is one level of anuloma and one of viloma anuloma, i.e., something
like singing it twice as fast and singing it half as fast …
really a diluted effort. I had the privilege of attending a
concert at the Music Academy in 1994 when the great pallavI
vidvAn, Chingelput Ranganathan (a disciple of the Alathur Brothers)
demonstrated pallavI in its entirety for an hour and a half.)
Once this is done, the performer will go to the next phase, i.e.,
kalpanAsvaram. This is just like in regular kritIs (see part I).
One thing I forgot to mention in part I about kalpanAsvarams is
that there is an order to how kalpanAsvarams are sung. The
usual order is to sing simple svara patterns, about half an
Avartana (a rhythmic cycle) long, then about one Avartana long,
then 2 Avartanas long, then multiple Avartanas. So there is
a gradual increase in complexity of svara patterns in
This is usually followed by a rAgamAlika, a “garland of ragas,”
in which the pallavI is sung in different rAgas and kalpanAsvarams
for all those rAgas are performed in brief.
The performance is concluded by a fast kalpanAsvaram in the main
rAga and ending in the pallavI with a flourish. The exercise of
pallavi singing can be made very complex, by using complicated
tALas and tALa patterns.
Often times, after the kalpanAsvaram, the RTP may not end, but go
to a percussion solo, in which the percussion instrument (s) will
elaborate on the tALa using complex rhythmic patterns. During this
period, the main performer will not perform, but will count out the tALam
with her hands while the percussionists go at it. This portion of
the performance is called a “taniAvartanam.” The taniAvartanam may
also be performed, instead of after an RTP, at the end of an elaborately
presented kritI. (You are advised not to be alarmed if the
percussionist throws his instrument high in the air and catches
it with a thud that passes for music).
Other musical forms:
The opening piece of a concert is usually a varNam. A varNam
is similar to a kritI in that it consists of a pallavI, an anupallavI,
a caraNam, and several cittasvarams following the caraNam. After the
cittasvaram, one has the option of singing/playing kalpanAsvarams of
one’s own making. A good beginner as well as a seasoned veteran may sing
the same varNam (which is usually viewed as only an appetizer), but
the difference between the two will be seen in the quality of the
kalpanAsvarams. The beginner usually will have no kalpanasvarams,
whereas the veteran will have beautiful and highly imaginative
tillAnA is a term for a specific kind of dance composition.
Although technically called the same thing, a tillAnA for a dance
performance will be VERY different from a tillAnA for a classical music
concert. The tillAnA for classical music will, however, have dance
influences. Thus, the pallavI and anupallavI for a tillAnA will only
consist of syllables and phrases used in dance performances, such as “diri,”
“tom,” “dana,” “tana,” etc. There is a caraNam with words, however,
that is sung a few times, in which the composer’s pen-name (“mudra”)
A viruttam is a shloka or a set of shlokas that is set to music in
free form (no rhythm). The performer has free rein to elaborate on these
shlokas within the framework of the raga. Often viruttams are set to
rAgamAlika. In any case, the viruttam ends with the beginning of a kritI
that is set in the rAga of the viruttam, or, in the case of a rAgamAlika,
the last rAga of the rAgamAlika. These are very attractive
pieces and can really highlight the bhAva of the singer’s voice.
A tukDA is not a musical form at all, but a term denoting compositions
that have wide appeal and are not performed elaborately, in the sense of a
kritI or an RTP. There are many such compositions, and you will very likely
notice in a concert that someone comes up to the dais and leaves a little
chit of paper with the performer. That is usually a request for a tukDA.
Popular tukDas are “venkaTAcala nilayam” in sindhubhairavI, “enna tavam ceidanai
yashodA” in kApI, “krishNA nI bEganE bArO” in yaman kalyANI, and
“vishvEshvar darshan karo calo man tum kAshI” in sindhubhairavI. Tukdas
are performed at the end of a concert, after all the major musical forms,
including the taniAvartanam, have been rendered. “bhajans” fall under
this same category.
So long, and happy listening,