A raga may be understood as a melodic scale (or mode) created by the permutation and combination of notes, rendered in a specific sequence in both ascent and descent. In other words, it is not only the notes that give the raga its identity but also their sequence. Apart from these two aspects, a ragas identity and beauty are also dependent on characteristic ornamentation and intonation. A raga has an innate capacity to create different moods, independent of lyrics.
Tala may be understood as an organized form of expressing rhythm by means of beats, finger counts or waves of the hand. There are three commonly used parts of a tala: anudhrtam – a beat, dhrtam – a beat and a wave of the hand, and laghu – a beat followed by finger counts. Each tala has a well-defined combination of these parts, which not only gives it its unique identity but also makes the Indian tala system highly organised and colourful.
A raga is a medium to display the expressive and creative abilities of an artiste. Each raga has its own boundaries and characteristics that give it a typical mood, structure and colour. For instance, ragas like Kadanakutoohalam and Vasanta bring about a cheerful atmosphere, while those like Varali and Ahiri are known to evoke pathos. In terms of scope, Todi and Kalyani can be elaborated endlessly, whereas sublime ragas like Nayaki and Devagandhari need just a few seconds to create a sense of fulfilment in the listener.
Every raga has an individuality derived through its particular pattern of ascending and descending notes and, more importantly, the manner in which they are rendered. Individual characteristics of a Carnatic raga depend more on the ornamental relationships of notes and phrases than on the interrelationship of notes based on principles of consonance, assonance and the like (as against systems like Western or Hindustani classical).
Let us consider a simple fact. While there are hundreds of music systems in the world revolving around melody and rhythm, only a few enjoy international acclaim. Why? It may sound commonplace, but is nevertheless true that for anything to be successful, people should perceive it to be worth investing their time and money in. Specifically, for a music system to be successful, the foremost criterion is public acceptability. The degree of success may be defined as the rate of acceptability and could be measured by the formula:
Carnatic music is rich in compositions. In fact, the compositional aspect of Carnatic music is unparalleled for its sheer variety in ragas, talas, languages and styles, a repertoire built by great musicians, saints, philosophers, poets and historians of different periods. To top it, the lyrical content is emotional, spiritual, philosophical, romantic or descriptive, but (in most instances) with an underlying current of devotion to the almighty. Melodically and structurally, there are nearly fifty varieties of musical forms, though all of them do not find a place in concerts.
CHARACTERISTICS OF A COMPOSITION
i. There is usually a very short melodic pause before commencement of each section (for example, between pallavi and anupallavi).
ii. At the end of each section, the pallavi is repeated. However, varnams that conclude with the charanam are exceptions to this rule.
Varnam : There are three types of varnams – tana varnam, pada varnam and chowka varnam. The first is used most frequently in music concerts. This is not only an advanced study piece but a fine concert-opener too. The first phase consists of a pallavi, anupallavi and solfa passages, while a charanam and three to five more rounds of solfa notes form the second phase. The speed of rendition is medium (sometimes the first phase may be presented in two or more speeds). Classical varnams have been composed in weighty and evocative ragas,usually expressing romantic sentiments. Chowka varnams are composed in much slower speeds and are sometimes rendered even in the middle part of a concert. Pada varnams have lyrics in the solfa passages, which make them ideal for dance recitals as well.
What should one expect in a typical concert? How does one go about enjoying oneself? What does the musician do in a concert? How does he (or she) cater to the varied tastes of the audience and portray the numerous aspects of Carnatic music? This chapter endeavours to take the reader to the actual scene of action, and answer some of the above questions.
Voice: Of the innumerable instruments developed by man, very few can match the human voice. Carnatic music gives pride of place to vocal music, and melody instruments try to approximate vocal standards.