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Karnatic Kaccheri

This series of write-ups will focus on the different aspects of Kaccheri presentation  so that rasikas can understand and enjoy it better.

In the previous issue, we discussed about kriti and its types and saw the innumerable patterns and varieties encompassed by it. Again, the kriti occupies a major share of the concert time but several other forms are also presented along with it to lend an element of variety. The first among them to be taken for study is the varnam which when featured occurs as the first piece of a concert.


Varna in Sanskrit means colour and it very aptly defines this form as it brings out the swarupa of a raga in all its colours and dimensions. Among the two types of varnas ie Tana varna and Pada varna, it is the former that is usually featured in karnatic concerts. Here, the sahithya is of negligible importance and is only used as a vehicle for raga delineation. For example, in the caranam of the varnam `viriboni' (Ata Tala), the words are ciru navvu momuna which means (of the face with the slight smile). This has nothing significant to contribute in terms of lyrical value. Again, the sahityha is pulled apart to expand and fit into the tala cycle thus -


            MM dpdm pg M| P;   ; ; mp nn  dpmg mndp |

                        ciru  nau . . .u.u   | vu   -  mo -    o-o -  o - o - |

                        mgrg mpdm   | pm D   P   mp || sndp mgrg

                        o - o  - o - o - | --.  muna   a-  || a - a - a - a -


            Thus in the process, the meaning of the words and the emotional content get sidelined. On the contrary we see that in a kirti, the words are selected with care and the melody brings out the meaning and the mood of the lyric effectively.


            The varnam form stands out distinctly for its ability to show the contour of a raga, its typical gamakas, the pauses, its gait and gamut. In it, we can sense the texture of each note and see the various shapes it assumes in combination with other svaras. In this context, the viriboni varna is said to be a master piece as it brings out the different gamaka types in Bhairavi within a single piece.


            The varnam has two sections (i) purvanga (ii) Uttaranga.


            1.The purvanga or first section consists of the pallavi, anupallavi and mukthayi svaras.      

              2.  The uttaranga or latter section consists of the ettugada pallavi and the svara passages succeeding it The ettugada svara passages progressively increase in length and complexity. The first svara is usually of one avarta and is characterised by a profusion of dirgha svaras. The length of each subsequent svara passage is either the same as the preceding one or longer. The last svara passage is the longest.


            What is, the purpose of singing a varnam at the beginning of a concert? It is said that varnams help in creating the appropriate musical atmosphere for a concert as they effectively coordinate the individual performers on stage, and help them warm up. Being a familiar piece with a fixed notation, it creates immediate rapport with the audience.


            As regards the position of a varnam in a concert, it is stable in the sense that whenever it is featured, it occurs as the first piece only. This is true immaterial of what raga it is composed in. Thus, whether it is in heavy ragas like Todi, Bhairavi, Kamboji or light ragas like Behag, Hamirkalyani, Valaj or Nalinakanthi, they occur as the first pieces. As for the incorporation of manodharma aspects, we see that elaborate alapana or niraval is not done to varnams. Very rarely kalpana svaras are sung to the ettugada pallavi. Some artists incorporate sangatis to the pallavi line or carana so as to make the form more ornamental.


            As mentioned earlier, the major chunk of concerts is occupied by the kriti and other forms like javali, padam, ashtapadi, tarangam, tiruppugazh, tevaram ragamalika, dasar padas etc. usually feature as `tukkada' pieces in the post-tani avartanam part.


            Padam and javali - These are important forms featured in dance performances but they  are

also  presented in the concert genre. One of the outstanding features of Indian culture is the development of the concept of Sringara and bhakthi to a high degree. Many songs are seen to be composed on these two themes as they provide a fund of information for composers to draw inspiration from. As for Padams, the theme is usually inspired by Nayaka Nayaki bhava or in praise of a deity. In the past, the praise of royal patrons was also a common theme. The lyrics are mostly in Tamil or Telugu. The Tamil Padam is often on Lord Suramanya and Telugu Padams have Krishna as their theme. In form, the Padam is  like the kriti with the sections pallavi, anupallavi and charana. The music is slow and dignified and flows in a natural manner. The raga bhava blossoms excellently in Padams and a fine balance is maintained between the words and music.


            Emotive content of Padams as stated earlier is the sringara rasa which is known as Rasa raja. Moods like anger, expectancy, aggressiveness, jealousy get pictured in a powerful manner in Padams. For example, a nayika who is very conscious of her own beauty and charm gets highly jealous when the person she loves goes after someone else and taunts him by saying `Is she more beautiful than I?' as in the Begada padam `Enakkagilum aval ati sundaramaagaivarkkiralo?'


            In the Padam `Kasiki Poyyene' (Mukhari), feelings of anger and frustration are portrayed where the nayika accuses the other Nayika of compelling their nayaka to go to Benaras out of disgust. The feeling of hatred and disgust is also portrayed in aligite bhagyamaye where the nayika is disgusted with the nayaka's behaviour but is also aware how helpless she is.


            Among the composers of Telugu Padams, Kshetrayya is the greatest and has a unique place among musical luminaries. His padams have a striking and captivating effect. Kshetrayya has used only rakthi ragas in his compositions. The Javali is similar to the Padam as it too deals with sringara rasa  but the difference lies in the fact that while Padam deals with divine love, javalis are more erotic in nature.


            Javalis are in colloquial language and belong to the sphere of lights classical music. It is only its catchy tune that has lent it a place in dance and music concerts. Several composers in 19th and 20th century have contributed to the Javali repertoire. The padam and javali owe their special status to the family members of Veena Dhanammal (specially T.Brinda, Balasaraswathi and T.Viswanathan) of the Tanjore tradition who are noted for their exquisite rendition.


            It may be observed that on the performing end, only a few schools sing the javali and padams in concerts and hence they are a rare presentation. These forms are given more preference in the dance genre as the sahithya gives ample scope for bhava and expression. Another beautiful musical form is the ragamaliha but that too is not seen to be a frequent presentation. In fact, artists prefer to take up good lyrical passages and present them as a virutham in ragamalika.  This seems to evoke good response from the audience specially when the passage is in a known language like Tamil and the words are suitable emphasized to bring out the inner message. Ragamalika actually means a garland of ragas and is a very enjoyable musical form as the change from one raga to another is interesting to hear.  Ragamalika are also seen in forms like varnam.  Navaragamalika varnam and also the Ghanaragamalika varna.  A Ragamalika usually has a pallavi, anupallavi and several charanas.  All the sections are in different ragas and the raga mudhra(raga names) are dexterously interwoven into the text without affecting its meaning.  Example—the Chaturdasa Ragamalika of Dikshitar which has the following text-

1            Sriragam                                Sri Viswanatham bhajeham

2.           Arabhi                                   Sruthajana sansarabhithyapaham

3             Gouri                                    Sri Visalakshi gourisham

4             Nata      ...                            Chithraviswanataka  prakasam

5           Goula                                     Govindadi vinutha goulangam

6.         Mohana                       -          Guruguha Sammohanakaringam ...

7.         Sama                           -          Sadasivam Samaganavirultham ...

8.         Lalitha                         -           Sanmathram    lalitha kundaya viditham ...

9.         Bhairavam                   -           Chidakasha bhairavam purahamam...

10.       Saranga                       -           Chithsabeshwaram sarangadharam ...

11.       Sankarabaranam          -           Sadasrayami sankarabharanam ...

12.       Kamboji                      -           Sathgathidayakamboja charanam

13.       Devakriya                    -           Vadanya devakriyakhelanam

14.       Bhoopalam                  -           Vaidyalinga Bhoopala palanam ...


            This ragamalika is in praise of Lord Viswanatha who is bedecked with a garland of 14 ragas representing the 14 worlds. Here , we see that the names of the 14 ragas in which the raga malika has been composed are beautifully woven into the text.


            Another monumental ragamalika is the Melakartha Malika Chakra in 72 melaragas by Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer. A very popular ragamalika sung in concerts in Arabhimanam in Tamil in 16 ragas by Tarangambadi Panchanadayyar. There are also special cases where a composition though originally in a single raga has been changed to a ragamalika later. A classic example is Bhavayami Raghuraman of Swathi Tirunal which though originally in Saveri was later made a ragamalika by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. There is also a Ragamalika Tillana of Swathi Toorinal `Nadira Tillana' set in the ragas Kalyani, Nilambari, Saranga and Kapi and a Svarajati `Sarasabhavadrta' of the same composer in the ragas Kalyani, Begada, Atana, Surati and Todi.


            In the next issue, we shall discuss the other musical forms of the concert genre.


- Dr.Radha Bhaskar


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