Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Melody and Prosody

July 30, 2017

Melody and Prosody are two terms in English language associated with Music and Lyrics respectively. Melody is actually a kind of music created by successive sequencing of musical notes (as compared to Harmony, which is musical effect created by a combination of simultaneously sounded notes like in an orchestra). Melody depends on predefined scale of 7 (or less) notes. I presume Melody is a term that might have evolved from the Sanskrit word MELA. Mela represents a scale of 7 notes but still Mela is much more than just a scale. It also means Sruthi (or basic notes), also ‘vibrations’ both physical and metaphorical and also a general musical atmosphere.

On the other hand Prosody is about the meter, rhythm and intonations of a verse or a poem. Rhythm and meter, although closely related, should be distinguished. Meter is the definitive pattern established for a verse, while rhythm is the actual sound that results from a line of poetry. I presume the term Prosody could have evolved from the Sanskrit word ‘prasa’ which roughly means alliteration in a verse or poetry. Sanskrit and Tamil grammars of so-called prosody describe many types of poetical features such as: prasa, chanda, tala (rhythm) and various other poetical ornamentations. When talking about music, we talk of Melakattu and Talakattu. In Hindi they talk Tal-Mel for a pleasant relationship between any two entities. When we welcome special guests we do it with Mela-talam (மேளதாளம்).

Prasa generally in use are of three types – Dwitiya Akshara Prasa, Prathama Akshara Prasa and Anthima Akshara Prasa.  Verses and poetry in Sanskrit, Tamil and in fact in most of the Indian languages use these prasas. In this post I wish to show how these prasas enhance the musical value, of any poetry, or a musical composition by itself. Let us take the following four lines of beautiful poetry by Mahakavi Subramania Bharathi:

சுட்டும் விழிச் சுடர்தான் கண்ணம்மா

சூரிய  சந்திர ரோ

வட்டக்   கரிய விழி  கண்ணம்மா

வானக் கருமை கொல்லோ

பட்டுக்  கரு நீல  புடவை

பதித்த நல் வயிரம்

நட்ட நடு நிசியில் தெரியும்

நட்சத் திரங்க ளடி


Suttum, Vatta, Pattu and Natta appearing as the first words of each line alliterate using Dwitiya Akshara Prasa; (i.e.) their second syllable ‘tt’ repeat in each line. This is also known as Edhukai (எதுகை) in Tamil.  In addition, the second part of each line rhymes as below:

(Suttum, Soorya) – (Vatta, Vaana) – (Pattu, Padhittha) – (Natta, Natsha) : the first letters of the pair of words alliterate. This is known as Prathama Akshara Prasa or Monai  (மோனை) in Tamil.

Now coming to ‘Chanda’ (சந்தம் in Tamil), it is how the intonations are arranged in a rhythmic sense. In the above poetry, the chanda that is followed is somewhat as below:

Ta-ka Ta-ka di-mi-ta-m ta-ka-di-mi

Ta-ki-ta ta-ki-ta ta-a-m (ta-Ki-Ta)


It is interesting to note that the last tala-syllable, Ta-Ki-Ta  is in brackets to indicate it is silent. Why is it needed? Now we come to the third aspect of our prosody, Tala. The poem is set to Adi talam (tisra nadai), of 8 Ta-ki-ta’s; last ta-ki-ta being silent enabling easy return to the beginning of rhythm cycle. The poet maintains same prasa, chanda and tala in the later stanzas also.


Now we need to add Melody to this beautiful Prosody. You may listen to Vidwan (late) Maharajapuram Santhanam’s immortal rendering of this poem set to melodious music, as below:


If you want to listen to other stanzas click on the following link


  • L V Nagarajan / 08 Jul 17




July 25, 2017

(Nada Upasana)

There is no better way to invoke the blessings of Almighty than to do Nadopasana (i.e.) invocation to divine Nadabrahma.

It is difficult to describe Nada in one word. It is Sound, but really more than just the sound. It is Vibrations, but more than just vibrations, physical or metaphorical.

It is the first form of energy, released by the union of Shiva and Shakti, to start the entire Creation. It all started with a Big-Bang.

From Hindu scriptures we learn, the seed of this energy (Nada Bindu) is dormant in Shiva, and is enhanced by the active Energy of Shakti. ‘Kala’ are the ways by which this Nada is expressed. This is why we pray to lord Subramanya, as ‘Nada Bindu Kalaadhi Namo Namo’. In its divine from, it is invoked as Nada Brahmam, and practiced by sages as Nada Yoga.

In Indian Carnatic Music, there are many kritis (compsitions) by Saint Thyagaraja, grouped as Nadopasana Kritis, which describes Nada Upasana (i.e., invoking Nada as Nada Brahma). Saint Thyagaraja practices it himself and extols those who have practiced it. Here are a few typical ones from which we get a very good idea of Nada Brahmam.

“O Mind! By becoming a lover of Nada, attain the eternal Bliss. By total involvement in that music through countless ragas which result by the manipulation of the seven notes of music and which fulfills all the righteous desires, attain such a Bliss. Know that it is by this expression and experience of Nada that the trinity -Indra, Ganesha and Subrahmanya and other personages had done upasana. Myself, Thyagaraja is also aware of this”. (Nadaloludai – Raga Kalyana Vasantham)

“O Mind! Praise the divinely beautiful forms of the seven musical notes, which originate, glow and then pass through in the navel, heart, vocal chords, tongue and nose of the human body. (These seven notes) shine in the four Vedas and in the sublime Gayathri Mantra as its essence. (These seven notes) sparkle in the hearts of, the celestial beings, the worthy Bhusuras and in myself, Thyagaraja”. (Sobhillu Saptha Swara – Raga Jaganmohini)

“Hari, i.e., God Vishnu, is immensely pleased with the garland made of a hundred melodious ragas. Let us adore and adorn (him with this garland) and be bestowed with abundant fortune. The garland of ragas is embellished with the essence of vedas, the six sastras, the epics and the Agamas (science of architecture). It is said that the sages and seers are blessed with eternal Bliss by such adoration of God. These are the songs that the most fervent devotees sing and immerse in. The garland of ragas would bestow salvation to me, Thyagaraja also. (Ragaratnamalikache – Raga Ritigaula)

 There many more such krithis such as: Sangita-jnanamu; Nada tanum anisam; Gitarthamu; Nadopasanace; Mokshamugalada and Svara-raga-sudha etc.

Let us also, with our limited capability and in all humbleness practice this Nadopasana.

– Nagarajan L V : 19/5/2017


The Story of Karnatik Music

December 11, 2016

A Southern Music – The Karnatik Story – T M Krishna

Harper Collins Publications India (2013)

The above book consists of 27 essays on music written by Sri T M Krishna, a musician of great repute. These essays are put into three parts, namely, The Experience, The Context and The History. I will attempt to give a few important points from the first part of the book with my comments wherever appropriate. My comments are always in italics. Rest is all the views of TMK, as understood by me. His specific statements are given in quotes.

Essay-1: Music – A Narrative (The Overture)

Here TMK describes Art Music (as he calls Karnatik music concerts of this century) and its aesthetics. He declares: “In order to experience music beyond personal confines, the receiver also (not just the artist) needs to be serious seeker of art and be aware of the art itself ”.

‘Conventions’ are accepted norms and (whereas) ‘Traditions’ are the ideas passed down and TMK adds “In Karnatik music, the word sampradaya means both …” – “ These Conventions (sampradaya) are often at loggerheads with Tradition (sampradaya), but reconciliation is not what we seek” – “It is interesting we do not see any conflict”.

I remember in a talk by Guru Balasubramanian of Mumbai, he was referring to an expert committee discussion in Music academy chaired by the great Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar. They were discussing raga Balahamsa and the use of note dhaivata in the raga. The committee decided the modality and passed a resolution. When somebody asked Ariyakudi whether he will sing raga Balahamsa in his evening concert, and in the way decided in the committee, his answer was,  yes, he will sing the raga, but as taught to him by his guru. His tradition overrules any convention.   

Essay -2: Intent of Music (Going to the Source)

TMK quotes Dr. Harold Powers, Ethno-musicologist of Princeton University / USA: “The classification of Folk and Classical are purely social. As a musical form is appreciated by the higher sections of the society, the aesthetics is reconstructed and the music transforms into classical”. TMK sites transformation of Sadir into Bharatanatyam as a case of this ‘transformed existence’. TMK adds: “The perceived prerequisite that a classical form should have written grammar is not, strictly speaking, appropriate ….. Grammar and systems can be written, or (it can be) oral.”

TMK talks about Namasankirtana and Bhajan. He gives due importance to the traditions of Sridhara Ayyaval, Bodhendra Swamigal and Marudanallur Satguru swamigal.But what about Thevaram and Thirumurai traditions? (Diva Prabandams might have been recited only as a beautiful prosody of tamil poetry).  Way back in 1950s, I happen to accompany my grandmother on a pilgrimage of about 10 Shiva temples in and around Needamangalam, Tanjavur Dt of Tamilnadu. As my uncle was a police officer in the area, we were accompanied all along by an Oduvar who sang appropriate Thevarams in each and every shrine. Later days, when I visited Tiruchendur temple, I heard soulful renderings of Thirumurai (to the accompaniment of Violin, or is it Sarangi) during Golden Car procession. Again, a few years back when I visited Mylai Kapali Temple on a leisurely forenoon, I was fortunate to see a devotee (perhaps from a oduvar community) singing thevarams and pathikams at every major and minor shrines in the temple and I made sure I accompanied him to all the shrines. Singing of these Tamil verses was found very common among Saiva community all over Tamil Nadu. TMK could have visited a few Oduvars, Sivachariars and Aadinams to collect more information on this tradition, which would have fully complemented his excellent narration of different musical traditions of the South.

TMK proceeds to define the role of Karnatik (Art) Music in the context of different types of music heard, appreciated and followed by South Indians. As per him Karnatik (Art) Music is based on the following musical aspects – ‘Raga, Tala, Composition and improvisation’. It is not meant to carry any social message or religious intent. If at all there are any such, they are incidental. Even when these musical events were conducted in courts, palaces and temples, TMK believes, they had intents far more than religious, social or political. Just like any Composition (lyrics), even Raga, Tala and Improvisation have emotions, experienced by both performer and the audience.  “The result is an aesthetic experience without external intent. A Karnatik musician has a responsibility towards this experience. Art music is about giving the idea of emotions, a representation in music”, – using melody and rhythm, not just by lyrics.

True to the title of this essay, TMK has put forth his strong views on intent of different forms of music in general, and the Art Music in particular. He consistently calls Karnatik music as practiced in concert platforms, as Karnatik Art Music. The same compositions meant for Art Music may find use in Namasankirtanas, Bhajans and Harikathas and compositions meant for these forms may be presented in concerts. As per TMK, the presentations should respect the respective intents of the art form. A few Ragas may find place in light music and movies also, but they will never be Karnatik Art music. A few artists may present several of the above art forms, hopefully in different events, but they should maintain the integrity of each of the art form. Thanks to TMK for expressing clarity on this issue.

Essay – 3: Imagination, Creativity, Improvisation

Look at the sequence of words TMK has chosen for the title of this essay. Imagination with some additional inputs results in Creativity; Creativity with some more inputs leads to Improvisation.

Can everyone imagine? – Yes, TMK asserts, ‘each in a different and even unique way’. “While Imagination is an activity that remains in the world of mind, Creativity leads to a tangible creation in the temporal world” as per T M Krishna, which is really true. For Imagination to result in Creation, TMK says, one needs two more essential ingredients: they are Understanding and Skill. With only imagination and understanding you may try to create a painting. But, of course, it requires painting skill to reflect truly your understanding and imagination. Improvisation is a subsequent extension of Creation, but occurs mostly extempore. “Karnatik Art musician explores melodic and rhythmic possibilities without any conscious thought – it is unrehearsed and extempore, but behind it lies a vast hinterland of preparation that cannot be discounted”.

Is everything new is creative? – No, says TMK, Creativity is more than being new and different, and even more than display of ability and skill. Then, how can ‘doing the same thing’ be creative? – Yes it can be asserts TMK, if the repetition occurs through the same process of imagination, creation and improvisation. Every time it evokes a different emotional experience. TMK cites the example of making vases by an art molder – as a craft it may be repetitive, but every vase is unique in some way born out of his imagination and creativity. (Compare the same thing with machine molded vases). In essence, we may infer from what TMK says, same ragas and compositions in Art music, give immense scope for imagination, creativity and improvisation (even when repeated).

Finally he comes to the sensitive topic of Creative Freedom. “To be Creative is understood to mean . . .  to break conditions with no restrictions whatsoever. With creative freedom (in art) … comes a great deal of responsibilities to keeping the aesthetics of the artistic form in place. … Negation is neither negative nor rebellious. True negation is sensitive. …. The strength of negation is the result of understanding of that which we want to negate. Therefore sensitivity towards that which exists or existed is imperative – is impersonal, dispassionate and brutally honest.” These are true words of wisdom. (though I feel Perumal Murugan did not display this sensitivity in his Mathoru Bhagan. However that does not justify curtailing his creative freedom so brutally)        

In this connection I wish to add my comment concerning ‘Puthu Kavithai’ or modern poetry – it was a craze in 1980s in Tamil literary scene. It was both New and Negation and hence claiming to be creative. Many of this Modern Poems lacked imagination, creativity, understanding or skill and still claiming to be Creations only because it is New and a Negation of ‘what is existing or existed’. As the basic nature of Poetic Art form was also negated, only true creations lived and rest was trashed.

This chapter really gave in a nutshell what we generally enjoy in a Karnatik Art music concert.

Essay – 4: The Fundamentals

In this chapter, TMK attempts to familiarize uninitiated listeners to some of the fundamental aspects of Karnatik Art music. One may enjoy this art music without any knowledge of these fundamentals – however, this basic knowledge will help one to acquire a taste to appreciate this music, which does not ‘relate easily to what is superficially considered beautiful’ and pleasing. Hence, with this intent, TMK embarks on explaining basic concepts of Karnatik Art Music in the following order:

  • Srutis, Swaras, Swarasthanas,
  • tonic or basic sruthi Sa, Tambura, sthayis and musical range,
  • melodic ornamentation through Gamakas,
  • concept of Raga and Laya or the speed of rendering (Chowka, Madhyama, Dhurita or Fast, Medium slow speeds),
  • Tala or the beats, Description of various Talas as used, Gati-Nadai-Kalai of the Tala, etcetera.

If a musician could demonstrate all these ideas in person, it would really help a new listener. This could be a part of any ‘Karnatik Music Appreciation’ course. I wonder what TMK thinks about such courses, in general.

I have only a few comments on this chapter.

  1. ‘Five swaras (ri, ga, ma, da, ni) have multiple (two or three) pitch positions within an octave’. As per TMK the history of these pitch positions is over 1500 years old. It has evolved from the earlier history of 22 sruthis and their murchanas (or modal shifts), as used in ancient Ragas. The naming of these multiple pitch positions, as shuddha, Chatushruti and Shathsruti indicates such a process of evolution. TMK discusses briefly about this in a later chapter.
  2. Kalai of a Tala is described here well. But Gati and Nadai are mentioned only briefly. However in later chapter TML dwells on them in detail. Many feels both Gati and Nadai are same. As a listener, I have learnt from others, a subtle difference: Gati is the speed of rendering (Chatusram, Tisram etc) with Tala remaining the same – Nadai is altering the tala to tisram and chatushram and rendering accordingly. I may be wrong here. I will discuss this again when TMK takes up this in a later chapter.
  3. Chapu Talas are named as such, because of successively decreasing counts of beats, 4-3, 3-2, 5-4 etc. As per Professor Sambamoorthy it has come from the Tamil word Chaippu, i.e., slant or slanting.

Essay – 5: The Tune in the Word (A note on compositions)

“One of the definitions of composer is a person who writes music.  . . . . . . Does this mean that Karnatik music composers wrote – and writes – music? At least until the mid of 19th century, the process of composing seems to have been an intellectual work, passed on orally. It was recorded by students who learnt directly from the composer …. either during the learning process, or many years later. . . . .  The writing is primarily a record. ……  Modern (20th century) Indian classical music has developed a unique culture-centric notation system. . . . .Over the years many Karnatik musicians have very innovatively used symbols to try and represent Karnatik music in written form.”

“The method of notating essentially provides music with the compositional frame work – musicians reinterpret the music with their own sensibilities.” Unfortunately sometimes, “irresponsible interpretations have led to the compositions completely losing the composer’s intent”.

“In Karnatik music we have a beautiful word vaggeyakara to refer to composer . . . . who composes both vak(words) and geya(vocal music). . . . .Unless he is proficient in both (music and text) he cannot be a vaggeyakara.” TMK wonders about the terms given to sangeetha and sahithya (Music and text) as Dhatu and Matu.

Is it ‘life and body’? I have seen people say it as a plant and earth. The ‘plant’ is rooted to the ‘earth’ and ‘earth’ supplies nutrients to the ‘plant’. When a composer takes care of both dhatu and matu at the time of ‘delivering’ the composition and at the time nurturing it to a fully developed ‘baby’, the composition attains a distinct quality. As stated by TMK, there have been instances when text is supplied by a poet and subsequently, the music is provided by a musician (or vice-versa).

Some time they also happen in quick succession and thus leading again to ‘quality’ composition. Some poets compose poems set to a particular raga, but the musical form gets lost. In such cases as the matu is already available in a form amenable to music, it is easily re-tuned in the same raga and laya or any other suitable ones. We may quote songs and poems by Mahakavi Subhramanya Bharati as examples for this. In this connection, I have a question. I hear that the first ever recorded sahitya with music in whole world are the Thevarams in Tamil. Each and every verse has their musical form also indicated as ‘panns’. These ‘panns’ are recognized as the precursor for some of the ragas in the later day karnatik music. We have also heard there were musicians travelling together with these poets and music was composed almost simultaneously. We hear stories of Yazh Panars and Paninis. TMK may reflect on these aspects of ancient music in his future essays for the benefit of music students and listeners.

“In Karnatik music a raga is accepted as a raga, only when there is at least one composition in it. The Musician may have explored a new melodic idea, . . . . but a new raga comes into its own only when it is embedded in a composition. . . . The raga is then built up constantly by the contribution of other composers and the creativity of musicians.” Here we see the dhatu requiring matu to take root and grow like a plant on the earth. “The Tala (with its intrinsic laya, timing and its various angas) gives dhatu and matu a defined space within which to build musical and textual structures”, shall we say like a fencing and basin for the plant on the earth. Though Tala helps laya, the speed, laya is the one that keeps the aesthetics of the language and syllables of the text, as per TMK.

TMK talks briefly about sahithya and its relation to poetic prosody. He talks of alliteration in poetry such as Edhugai, Monai and Iyaibu. In Sanskrit poetry they are known as prasa; prathamakshara prasa, dvithiyakshara prasa and anthimakshara prasa, respectively. This technique helps in four ways: Easy recitation, ease of comprehension, ease of memorization, ease of later day musicalisation both in terms of melody and rhythm. This also suited the earlier day oral tradition of learning. I remember my Tamil Teacher, Thiru Gurunathan (Father of Ku. Gnanasambandan) reciting in the class some Tamil poems in a melodic meter. In Sanskrit prosody, there are also constructions called yathis, which are used a lot in Dikshatar’s compositions.

Esaay – 6: Creativity Unbound: Manodharma (The Art of Improvisation)

In manodharma sangita, or improvisational music, raga is the principle vehicle, says TMK. He clearly says what we feel as listeners: “Every alapana (of a Raga) begins with a phrase that clearly establishes the ragas identity. There cannot be any ambiguity in this. Therefore, phrases that are common to two ragas should not be rendered in the opening”. He maintains this idea elsewhere also: “In this commonality of cognition between the musician and the listener exists the raga’s identity.” After clearly establishing the raga identity, TMK describes further creative procedure of raga alapana thus: “First creativity is swara based or phrase based. The second creativity is born out of (different ways of) connecting two known phrases. The third creativity is based on using one swara as reference anchor. . . . . . Each raga contains certain swaras that can be used in this manner. – – – – Phrases are directed towards these svaras so that they conclude there”.

In some music traditions, there is a process known as centonization where music is produced by permutations and combinations of several established melodic phrases. Though this may appear to be same as the procedure of raga alapana as described above, alapana of experienced and senior musicians do display much deeper improvisation far beyond just centonization.

TMK classifies ragas into five varieties – Natural phrase based aesthetic ragas (rakthi ragas?), theory based synthetic linear ragas (so called, melakarthas?), synthetic linear ragas with less than seven svaras (shadava, audava ragas), synthetic non-linear ragas (vakra ragas) and ragas adopted from other music traditions. However I am not able to think of any synthetic vakra ragas, anyone to help me? Perhaps some natural rakthi ragas, because of their nonlinearity, was fitted into synthetic stream by calling them vakra ragas.

TMK further asserts: “The synthetic ragas do not have too many phrases that govern their identity. – – – The lack of clear raga features beyond their established scale allows the musician to develop the raga almost on any svara. —- This has led musicians to subconsciously use (the same) scalar alapana of even phrase-based ragas – – – leading to loss of aesthetics and identity of some ragas. This is one of the major problems we face in karnatik music today. – – We might unwittingly destroy many beautiful melodic phrases in the older ragas”. Very much true!

After Raga, TMK takes up Niraval as the next creative effort by Karnatik Musician in a concert. He says “The improvisational technique, Niraval, is unique and valuable,  … it uses, one creative imagination, that of vaggeyakara, to kindle another one, that of musician. – – –  Once the line is chosen for niraval, the exact structure of the line within the tala matrix become most important. — — — (we believe) there is certain limited flexibility here and that the syllables can be moved within a permissible range, for the sake of raga and melody.”

Unfortunately, niraval is the most ignored forms of improvisation in karnatik music today, feels TMK. “It is only used as a stepping stone to singing kalpanasvara. – – – To be able to internalize the melodic, rhythmic and lyrical aspects of a line and use the same to create different variations is extremely challenging.”. When he takes up the level of creativity in kalpanasvara, he avers “In mel-kala kalpanasvara, the creativity veers towards svara permutations and combinations within the raga rather than the phrase based approach used in sama-kala kalpanasvara. He feels mel-kala kalpanasvara distorts the raga identity “as musicians are driven by the excitement mel-kala can create.” He also discusses presentation of tanam and viruttham formats as paths of creativity for karnatik musicians.

Esaay -7 : The Rendering Unfolds.

In this essay, TMK describes the Karnatic vocal concert and the roles of, vocalist as the main artist, violin as a melodic accompanist, and mridangam and other tala vadya players as rhythmic supports. “As the primary performer the vocalist decides the compositions to be presented, ragas for alapana, the lines for niraval, the kalpanasvara and the exact positioning of rhythmic interplay, tani avartana. Whether these arrangements are decided in advance or in situ, depends on the vocalist.” “As vocalist defines the direction of the concert, every svara she sings influences the other musicians on the stage.” If “the vocalist can provide the space needed by other musicians to express themselves” the accompanist may also be able to inspire the vocalist.

“As a melodic accompanist, the violinist major contribution is to support and enhance the melodic experience. – – – The violinist follows the vocalist as she renders raga alapana and tana.- – –  Then the violinist renders her own versions of the alapana and tana. – – – When a composition is rendered, the violinist hugs the coast of vocalist’s rendering”. During niraval and kalpanasvara also violinist provides her version of every phrase of niraval and kalpanaswara. This ‘following’ of vocalist “can never be taught, is a technique every violinist acquires through concert experience”. TMK makes this interesting observation about violinist ‘shadowing’ the vocalist while accompanying – “A person’s shadow is sometimes behind or ahead and is sometimes larger or smaller, but is always a reflection of the person”. Very interesting!

Regarding Mridanga accompaniment TMK says the following:

  1. The mridangist should help maintaining the laya of the composition as chosen by vocalist
  2. It helps him to keep proper emphasis as per matu and dhatu, if he knows the composition that is being rendered.
  3. Emotional content of the compositions should be suitably interpreted by Mridangist through tonal and pattern variations
  4. He should take the lead and guide other rhythmic accompaniments both during accompaniment and during the tani avartana.

TMK considers the Tambura artist as an important musician on the stage. By this he implies Tambura artist must be a musician. In addition to providing shruti, he feels “it is far more crucial to the aural experience of Karnatik music.” According to TMK, the musician “drowns himself in the collective resonance of its four strings to discover his music.” However, it is sad to see the frequent absence of Tambura on karnatik stage nowadays, its place being taken over by an electronic version.

Essay – 8: The Concert Unravels (The modern kutchery and its rituals)

In difference to the previous essay, here, TMK takes us through the actual concert format of karnatic art music. “Even before the curtains go up,” tuning of Tambura and subsequent tuning of other instruments such as violin and Mridangam could be heard. He clearly implies that the above (fine) tuning process should be heard by the audience present in the “performance space which reverberates with their collective resonance.”  TMK truly takes us through each of the concert items in that order, beginning with varnam and up to RTP, tani avartanam. Later on he describes end session of the concert, where the compositions presented are popularly known as ‘tukkadas’. i.e. literally, bits. There will be “less manodharma, less melodic experience, less rhythmic abstraction.” Focus will be on lyrics, poetry and patriotic/saintly songs. “Interestingly”, Padas and Javalis are also pushed on to this section. The concert generally ends with a viruttham and a Tillana as “it provides a ‘high’ for the audience as it prepares to leave”. “Over the last century many other compositional types, like bhajans and abhangs, have found way into the karnatik concert”. Often ragas in this section include those prevalent in Hindustani music. Concert usually ends with a mangalam, “invoking the devine”.

As per TMK, karnatik musicians, generally feel it necessary to present more madyama-kala compositions as compared to chauka-kala ones, compositions of different composers, in different languages, in different ragas, in different talas. Instrumental concerts also generally follow the same format as vocalist. TMK ends this essay with “a need to critique certain practices that affect the aesthetics of our music”. That is what he does in the next essay, “A Critique”.

Essay – 9: The Karnatik Concert Today: A Critque

“The kutcheri format usually includes a few kirthanas before the main piece and number of post-RTP compositions (at the end). Therefore a concert of about 2½ hours can have ten to fifteen compositions.  – – – –  We must pause to ask here: are we meant to just reel off  compositions in rapid fire sequence or are we meant also to unveil their inherent beauty? – Compositions that do not inspire a new perspective (to raga and tala) should be considered unfit for Karnatik music – With the number of kirtanas being presented in them, many concerts today resemble Namasankirtana sessions – Indeed, musicians who have not developed their manodharma, all they need to do is to present a spattering of manodharma and a number of other compositions – By allowing the number of kirtanas in a concert to increase, we have abetted in the degeneration of Karnatik music.” “Musicians use a pleasing tukkada section to erase a poor interpretations or a failure to realize pure art”. Very strong words but unfortunately very true.

As per TMK, of the seven forms of karnatik music compositions, namely, Gita, Varna, Svarajati, Kirtana, Padam, Javali and Thillana, only kirtanas are primarily presented in a concert. While accepting that most of the kirtanas, especially of the musical trinity, as a sophisticated form in terms of matu and dhatu combining in perfect balance, he wonders whether this is an essential requirement for karnatik music. “Many varnas are far more complete art pieces than the kirtanas  ….. (They) can be presented in any section of the concert . . . . . should be presented with alapana, niraval and kalpanasvara”. The same is true with the padams. He feels, possibly the erotic content of pada’s lyrics makes the puritan uncomfortable especially repeating the lines many times during niraval. Specific order of presentation should not be insisted up on, he demands, as the concert should allow for such changes as above, “to give every concert a unique flavor in its compositional content, yet retaining the integrity”.

I have heard Sri Semmangudi in 1980s, after presenting the Bhairavi Ata Tala varnam in full, embarking on kalpanasvaras. I have heard TMK himself presenting navaraga malika varnam as a main piece in a concert with alapana of all nine ragas and kalpana svaras for all the nine parts of the varnam, including Chitta svarams and mukhtayi svarams. As a bonus, Shri Kariakudi Mani offered himself to present a thani after this piece. It was a really a great artful experience.

TMK raises several other questions as below:

Why should raga alapana by vocalist be shadowed by violinist, when violinist is presenting the raga all by himself? “In some cases of extremely insensitive violinists, the whole phrase rendered by the vocalist is changed or ignored and the violinist plays something altogether different”.

Why should there be two alapanas of the same raga once by the vocalist, shadowed by violinist and another by the violinist all alone?

TMK says “after rendering an alapana, I have often felt that I had finished all I could present of the raga on the day, making the presentation of a composition after the alapana, redundant for me”. Why can’t alapana stand by itself as a singular piece of presentation sans a kirtana to follow?

Can we allow the overuse of mathematical structures in kalpanasvara hijacking the aesthetic beauty of the raga?

Talking about percussion support, TMK feels, the percussion style has of late changed from ‘following the aesthetics of composition and manodharma of the vocalist’ to ‘enhancing artist’s (his own) dexterity and mathematical patterns   and, importantly, his own presence’. “The dominance of the mridanga in a kutchery has changed the laya of the selected compositions”  leading to “additional sangatis on the basis of percussion patterns rather than matu and dhatu”. “The dominance of mathematical calculations in kalpanasvara is a direct influence of percussioninsts”. About Tani Avartana, he says, “it does not reflect the kirtana of the chosen line. Even if it does, it is only for the first few moments. Soon tani avartana relates to the tala and nothing more”.

TMK always makes specific exceptions (not by name) of many sensitive artists (main, accompanists and percussionist) who are alive to these aesthetic aspects of karnatik music and follow them in their presentations.

Essay – 10: Voicing the Note (gift of Voice, its training and use)

In this essay, TMK more or less defines a ‘karnatik’ voice.  “Training the voice is as much about flexibility and ease, as it is being able to produce the aesthetics that drive karnatik music, which contains manifestation of the svara, raga, syllables and the demands of tala and laya”. He further asserts “The voice when directed towards karnatik music must be driven towards Karnatik sound.” He makes an interesting observation – “Sahitya as a part of music is a completely different entity from sahitya as only poetry … sahitya (is) conceived as being a part, of musical expression …of inseparable creation of matu and datu”.

As a vocalist, he feels “Vocalization in music involves the diaphragm, chest, lungs, shoulders, spine, head and neck. Actually the whole body sings, not just the voice”. One cannot help remembering the Thygaraja Kriti ‘Sobhillu Sapta svara’, where he says the nada as the supreme sound emanates from Nabhi and then through hrut, kanda, rasna. An interesting point made by Violin vidvan Sri Lalgudi, even for instrumentalist the path of supreme sound is same and however, the instrument is their vocal chords.

TMK tacitly agrees that many karnatik vocalists do use false voice, though the demand is for a “vocal texture that is closer to heavy”. “There is definitely a shade of false voice when karntik musicians sing at the higher octaves, but much less than what is heard from, for instance, singers of film music. This is purely a demand of the (respective) idioms and their aesthetics”.  “The aesthetic experience of karnatik music is ‘heavy’ ”, as compared to what they call light music.

I remember, AIR Vijayavada used to call pure karnatik art music as ‘Ghatra sangitam’.        

Essay – 11: A matter of style: (Individuality in music)

Style, “a phrase often used to describe or explain ‘bani’.” (To me, I think the closest phrase for Bani is ‘Gharana’ of Hindustani Music – it is basically a musical family.) When student gets serious about his musical training, especially when he starts his advanced training, she gets attached to a particular guru and imbibes her guru’s style in every aspect music (sometimes even in non musical aspects such as mannerisms and gesticulations – TMK says such non musical aspects is not to be confused with the ‘bani’ of guru’s music). At this stage of advanced training, “it is essential for the student not to look beyond her guru”. As per TMK at this stage, when she is acquiring the keen sense of musical aesthetics from her guru, this focus “is necessary so that the mind can develop ability to receive” external stimuli (meaning- influence of traditions of other doyens of karnatik music) based on this foundation provided by the Guru. At this point her response to other stimuli will be very mature one, imbibing only those changes compatible with her guru’s bani. This will help her at the time of her own individual presentation and performance. He ends the essay with a punch line, “bani is not a destination but a musical state”.

Essay – 12 : Studying the Song (Musicians and Musicologist)

In this essay, TMK takes up the issues of musical intellect and musicology. He talks about the popular misconception that an intellectual musician can only appeal to the intellect of the audience and not as much to the musical aesthetics and emotion. The perceived complexity and intricacy of the ‘intellectual’ music should always be layered with emotion, as per TMK. Otherwise, it is not music, even when presented with in-depth knowledge and with technical accuracy. However he does not minimize the importance of knowledge and insists on the necessity for the musician to develop their intellect, as one may not get all this from guru.

On the other side of the page, TMK feels, the musicologist generally go by textual tradition, as compared to oral tradition followed by musicians. “They keep tallying one tradition with the other; any discrepancy is dismissed by them as an error”. He further says “the biggest problem with musicologists is that they study Karnatik music as science … there cannot be a greater fallacy …. If the expression of a musician’s creativity means that the scientific framework of karnatik music have to be bent, so be it”. Musicologists insist and impose on musicians and composers their “notions born out of scientific classification, rather than natural melodic evolution”. TMK gives two examples how this has flawed the aesthetics of our ragas – “Musicologists has influenced the perception of so many older ragas, like Yadukula Kambhoji, by placing them into the melakarta system. Similarly, synthetic ragas like Dharmavati have been accepted though they do not contain the aesthetic features of a raga”. I am sure this will make us rethink about melakarta system. “The musicologist who approaches Karnatik music from an art music perspective is rare to find”

TMK ends this last essay of the first part of his book by saying “Ultimately both the musician and musicologist must seek the same: an understanding of the aesthetics of music. In this search, the musician must be willing to give up personal notions and conditioning and look beyond his practice. The musicologist needs to seriously reorient their views of music and approach musical tradition as an art.”

Thus we come to the end of first part of the book by Sri T M Krishna. It is difficult to summarize 272 pages of his views into about 8 pages. Hence those who like this presentation should consider going through the whole book. In case you wish to critically comment on the views expressed in this write-up, you should definitely read through the book in original, to understand such views in proper context. It is even possible that my understanding is somewhat inadequate. I am publishing this blog just at the start of the Chennai music season so that the readers may enjoy and critically appreciate the art music concerts. I will write about the other two parts of the book in due course.

We rasikas (and in fact, even musicians) should thank Sri T M Krishna for telling the story of karnatik music from the perspective of a concert artist. I feel parts of this book should be prescribed for study for all the serious students of karnatik music.


The Musical Journey of Lalgudi G Jayaraman

September 17, 2016

Comments on Biography of Lalgudi

I just happen to finish reading the book – An Incurable Romantic (The Musical Journey of Lalgudi Jayaraman), by Lakshmi Devnath.  The book itself was published in May 2013, just after the sudden demise of Sri Lalgudi on 22nd April 2013. As a tribute to his memory, I am sharing with my readers and many fans of Lalgudi, a few comments I have on this book, which may add up additional features to his phenomenal life of great achievements in the field of Carnatic Music. Page numbers are given for ready reference.

  • (P-23) Sethupathi Vallal Pandithurai Thevar was a great promoter of classical music. He was also a leading figure in preserving Hindu Culture and was the head of a movement against Sharada act, banning child marriages. In those days, it was considered as interference in religious freedom, and people argued that the same reform could be achieved by persuasion than by an act of government. I remember seeing a copy of an old letter written by my grandfather to Pandithurai Thevar, suggesting a meeting on this issue along with Andipatti (Mattapparai) Zamindar. By the way my grandfather L S Raja Ramanatha Iyer was a Veena Vidwan, a contemporary and a friend of Karaikudi brothers. He was also briefly an elected president of Madurai Jilla Board.
  • (P-24) The episode concerning Lady Loka Sundari and Sir C V Raman is quite funny. Smt Lokasundari was trained in Music by Valadi Radhakrishna Iyer, grandfather of Lalgudi. She sang ‘Rama nee Samanam evaru’, apt for the occasion, when the groom C V Raman came for bride introduction function at Madurai, in early 1900s.
  • (P-29) Muthulakshmi Patti is the grandmother of Lalgudi (Wife of Valadi Radhakrishan Iyer. Her poetry is fantastic. Now we know where from Sri Lalgudi inherited his composing genius. Look at this: Vennai unda vaya, Oliyum Maya, kalvanum Niya, Kanniyar Neya, kadir nigar thooya, un manam kaya, anbellam Poyya – in his Charukesi varnam. Compare this with Patti’s: Ennariya Thozharai Anna Thambi enru, Vennai Thayir Palundu, Unna amudam kondu…
  • (P- 44) Lalgudi’s mother Smt Savithri is from Edayathumangalam, near Lalgudi, same village my patti (Grand Mother) Ammalu nee Akhilandeswari, hailed from. I have heard from Smt Savithri Ammal, that it was her father Sundara Sastrigal who was the official priest who married off my patti.
  • (P-64) Lalgudi’s father, Sri V R Gopala Iyer’s Music School in Lalgudi: The group photograph shows my aunt (Mami) Smt. Dharmambal, who had learnt music from Gopala Iyer in her younger days.
  • (P – 116) Speaking of Lalgudi’s tala expertise and control – Once Lalgudi was accompanying the great MD Ramanathan in a concert in Bharatiya Fine Arts in Mumbai. MD elaborated raga Pantuvarali and after the krithi, started niraval and kalpana swaras. After a long passage of swaras, he started his Kuraippu sequence. Lalgudi was accompanying him beautifully and suddenly he stopped his bowing. MD continued his kuraippu for another cycle of talam and looked at Lalgudi puzzled. Lalgudi shook his head ever so slightly, just enough for MD to realize that the particular kuraippu is not going to end at the required beat of the tala. He gestured to audience his acceptance of mis-beat and proceeded further, cutting short his kuraippu and started an entirely new kuraippu sequence smilingly acknowledging Lalgudi’s follow-up. I am referring to this concert again later in a different interesting context.
  • (P 127) Accompanying Madurai Somu – His accompaniment has always embellished vocal concerts in a very imaginative way. In a concert by Madurai Somu, in Shanmukhananda, Mumbai, he was presenting a viruttham on Goddess Meenakshi. In his rich emotional voice he was describing goddess Meenakshi’s alankaram : ‘Vairam…. Vaiduriam…’. Audience were spell bound: ‘mookutthi.. Odyanam..’. Lalgudi beautifully enhanced the imagery by playing chords in a fast tempo. When Somu dropped into an emotional silence, the chords of Lalgudi continued in a low tone bringing out the emotion among the audience also. There was a rapturous applause for the presentation.
  • (P-159) In the CD attached with the book, track-8, Meenakshi Memudham was simply superb. The violin sings. When he plays on two strings we can hear the words. Initially I thought he sings along. He creates this effect repeatedly in his rendering. The CD itself was too good and deserves to enter into all musical archives.
  • (P-161) Lalgudi most certainly re-invented the raga Kalyana Vasantham and the kriti Nadaloludai. Among other Krithis he embellished was Manavyalakim in Nalina Kanthi. He slowed it down and lifted the Krithi from its light music aspect to main Krithi level.
  • (P-164) Regarding Sahithya bhava in Theerada Vilayattu pillai : In another krithi Nee Irangayenil, variety of ways he plays Sei Uyir Vazhumo; first he will play Vazhumo flat, suggesting ridicule and rebuke, then he will play the same thing with harsh bowing showing anger, then the ‘vazhumo…..’ will be prolonged as though crying for help. He says that is how the sangatis are meant to be presented.
  • (P-171) Regarding playing ragamalika, Lalgudi introduced several novelties, including the one mentioned. When he plays ragamalika with his son: he plays a raga, his son picks up the same raga and then seamlessly changes to another raga and ‘passes the baton’ to Lalgudi: Lalgudi takes over ‘on the go’ and after a few phrases changes over to the next raga. Yes, it was a relay-raga-malika. This trend he practiced in many of his concerts.
  • (P-177) Lalgudi’s Tala gnana was tremendous. Once before a concert in Dubai I happened to visit him in the Hotel room he was staying, on the morning of the day of the concert. When I entered the room I saw Lalgudi reciting some jati’s keeping Adi Tala on the hands. His accompanists, Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam and Tanjavur Nagarajan were also seated in the room. He demonstrated an elaborate korvai of decreasing counts, in about 8 to 10 avartanas. Instantly he reversed the same korvai to increasing counts for the same avartanas, to the amazement of tala vidwans
  • (P-224) Lalgudi Poornachandar episode: What irked Sri Gopala Iyer, apparently, was his lack of respect – in saying that he had obtained legal clearance for appending Lalgudi to his name. He even dropped the name of P V Rajamannar, former Chief Justice of Madras High Court. As a disciple of Lalgudi and Balamurali, he was shaping up extremely well as a violinist, but unfortunately lost his way in between.
  • (P-239) Duet with GJR Krishnan: It was the first ever duet of LGJ and GJR in Mumbai Shanmukhananda (~1974). There was a rotational power-cut in Mumbai due to power shortage. Concert started at 6.05 PM as usual. Sharp at 7PM, power went off and without any facility of UPS, the sound system also went down. Two emergency lamps appeared from either side of the stage. Auditorium was dim and silent, and the pure and melodious sounds of violins continued crystal clear for the next half hour (music-unplugged) and then, the power returned. At the end of the piece, audience applauded the artists for the way they handled the situation and using it to enhance the audience experience.
  • (P-257) It was in 1984. We were having a concert tour of Lalgudi in the Gulf. We were having two concerts in UAE one in Dubai and another in Abudhabi. I was driving Sri Lalgudi to Abudhabi and my wife was also with me. The whole two hours of driving we had a feast of his vocal music along with his anecdotes. He sang the whole Charukesi varnam enjoying his own lyrics and music immensely. We reached the auditorium in Abudhabi just in time. But the accompanists, who were travelling in a different car lost their way a little bit and arrived almost 10 minutes late. But Lalgudi took the stage on time and started warming up. Just then accompanists also arrived at the stage. Lalgudi’s comment cheered up the audience: “Sri Ramabhadran and Sri Vinayakram were always accompanying me faithfully but this time they failed to do so. Surely, they will make up for this on the stage.”
  • (P-265) When his disciple, Sow Akhila was in Dubai, Lalgudi used to stay with her whenever he visits Gulf either for concert or on transit. During one such visit, we were blessed to watch the video of Jaya Jaya Devi ballet along with him and his comments.
  • (P-335) On 9th March 2008, The Music Academy, Madras awarded Sri Lalgudi, the Special Life Time Achievement Award, a one-off award for the first time ever in the ninety years history of the Academy. During the occasion the president of the Academy Sri N Murali said that non-award of Sangita Kalanidhi title to Lalgudi, can be compared to Mahatma Gandhi not getting a Nobel Peace Prize. Sri Murali was proud that they did better than Nobel foundation, by seeking ‘to erase the mistake and the aberration’ and ‘in conferring the Special Life Time Achievement Award’ for Sri Lalgudi. But all said and done, I am still feeling bad to see that Lalgudi’s portrait is not seen anywhere in the lobbies of the Academy, not even among the portraits of Sangita Kalanidhis. Will the Academy take steps to erase this aberration too?
  • The book is a very interesting read for a biography. It has been a very well researched material with all interesting references. Some of the intrigues, conflicts and challenges in the world of Carnatic music have been brought out along with Lalgudi’s mature responses for the same. I felt the book could have included a few more comments from the rasikas including a few Lalgudi fans. Being an ardent fan of Lalgudi, for my own satisfaction, I am adding below a few of my experience and interactions with Lalgudi.
  • V R Gopala Iyer: Lalgudi’s father was really a genius. Here is my own experience with him. In my younger days (1977), I was once visiting Lalgudi Sir along with my wife and 2-year old daughter. As Lalgudi sir had gone out, we were greeted by Sri Gopala Iyer. When we were talking to him, my daughter was playing with the grilled door of their house. She was rattling the bolt of the door. When I asked her to keep quiet, Gopala Iyer remarked: Kuzhandai kaila dhaivatham, Panchamam Vilayadikirathe! (Daivath and Pancham are the playthings in her hands) – When I looked somewhat puzzled, he explained: ‘The child is playing with Da and Pa, Thapa,(i.e.) the bolt ! When he came to know the child’s name as Sriranjani, he again made a remark: Pancham Varjyam ! (In raga Sriranjani, the swara panchamam is absent). Pancham can also mean in Tamil, scarcity or poverty.
  • During a lecdem Lalgudi was asked whether Saint Thyagaraja’s nadopasana composition, ‘Nabhi Hruth Kanda Rasana’ applies to instrumentalist also, he confirmed that even for instrumentalist the Nada emanates from Nabhi, then Hruth and Kanda and then it echoes on the instruments instead of Vocal cords as in the case of vocalist. “Set of vocal cords is their instrument and violin is my vocal cords; Otherwise source of Nada is the same” as per Lalgudi.
  • Once Lalgudi was accompanying the great MD Ramanathan in a concert in Bharatiya Fine Arts in Mumbai. (Referred earlier). It was immediately after MD received the title Padmashri from GOI. Before the concert there was a felicitation for MD where many people spoke of him and his music. MD was all the time nudging Lalgudi to speak, which he was refusing. When it was MD’s turn to reply, he openly acknowledged about his unkind references to awards, when Lalgudi received his Padmashri ahead of MD; it was almost an apology. The concert that followed was really memorable without any slightest sign of discard.
  • When Lalgudi came to Mumbai for a concert in Shanmukhananda he had arrived two days earlier. As he was comparatively free, I invited him to our apartment for coffee. When he was there I took the opportunity of taking his blessings for my wife who was a budding vocalist. He asked her to sing raga Todi. After elaborating the raga, she was about to sing one of the trinity krithis. He asked for a different one and then again a different one. Finally he settled for Thygaraja Krithi, ‘Dachu kovalena’. When she was singing a particular sangati, she was asked to repeat the same sangati several times, as apparently he liked it very much. In the next day’s concert he played this krithi and played the same sangati, looking smilingly at us in the audience.  [My wife says pranams to her (Late) Guru Sangita Kala Acharya, Vidwan S Ramachandra Bhagavatar of Shanmukhananda – on whom Sri Lalgudi also had a high regard].

Today, 17th Sept 2016, is the 86th birth anniversary of Sangita Vidwan, Violin Maestro, Padma Bhushan, Lalgudi Sri G Jayaraman (1930 – 2013). My thanks are due to the author Smt Lakshmi Devnath for making me live through Lalgudi experience all over again. There are a lot more musical incidences to remember him on this day. Luckily his music still lives in the form of his many recordings, many compositions and in many of his disciples including his children, Sri GJR Krishnan and Sow Viji.

Ref: An Incurable Romantic (The Musical Journey of Lalgudi Jayaraman), by Lakshmi Devnath, Harper Collins Publishers India (2013)


February 27, 2016


Fibonacci – Hemachandra Sequence

Some of my readers will m remember, one Krishnagiri Kittappa, the official percussionist of Oho Productions in the great Tamil romantic comedy of 1960s, Kathalikaa Neramillai (No time for romance). He was initially a self-taught mridangam (Drum) player. He wanted to learn to play Tabla also. He went to a Tabla player to learn the same. He was started on his first lesson, of course, in Teen Tal (or Triputa Tal in Carnatic music) of 8 beats.

Na Din Dinnah – Na Din Dinnah

Na Din Dinnah – Na Din Dinnah

Na Din Dinnah – Na Din Dinnah  . . . . . . .

This went on for quite some time. Our man got bored of playing the same rhythm. It is the same 1,1,2 – 1,1,2 all the time for the 8-beat cycle. Why not 1,2,1, – 1,1,2, he thought.

Din Dinnah Din – Na Dhin Dhinna

Din Dinnah Din – Na Dhin Dhinna

Then, why not 2,1,1-1,2,1

Dinnah Din Din – Din Dinnah Din

Good. Now he further thought about how many such combinations of 1 and 2 (Din and Dinnah), he can make in a cycle of 8 beats. Ancient Indians have already thought about this and so, I gave him the answer as 34 different combinations. He was surprised. So many? How did they calculate?

Ancient Indians always depended on recursive technique in solving such problems. They started from 1-beat, then to 2-beats, 3-beats etc.

No. of Beats (n) Syllables – 1 & 2 Combinations Total Combinations Kn
1 Din 1 1
2 Din, Din






3 Din Din Din

Dinnah Din

Din Dinnah







4 Dinnah (+ 2-beats)

Din  (+ 3-beats)





Now they generalized:
(n+1) Beats Dinnah +  (n-1) beats

Din + (n) beats



K(n+1) = K(n-1) + K(n)


K4 = K2 + K3 = 2 + 3 = 5

K5 = K3 + K4 = 3+ 5 = 8

K6 = K4 + K5 = 5 + 8 = 13

K7 = K5 + K6 = 8 + 13 = 21

K8 = K6 + K7 = 13 + 21 = 34
Hence we have 34 combinations of 1-2 in an 8-beat cycle.

Now look at the series K1, K2, ….. Kn:

1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55 ……

This is the famous Fibonacci series ‘invented’ by Fibonacci (alias Leonardo Pisano Bogollo) in 13th Century AD. Ancient Indians knew about this, at least, a thousand years before him. Fibonacci himself acknowledges this fact. Fibonacci also helped spread Hindu- Arabic Numerals (like our present numbers 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9) through Europe in place of Roman Numerals (I, II, III, IV, V, etc). The olden day knowledge route was from India to Alexandria (Egypt) to Europe.

Susantha Goonatilake (Ref-2) writes that the development of the Fibonacci sequence ” is attributed in part to Pingala (200 BC), later being associated with Virahanka (c. 700 AD), Gopāla (c. 1135), and Hemachandra (c. 1150). Parmanand Singh cites Pingala’s cryptic formula misrau cha (“the two are made together”) and cites scholars who interpret it in the context as saying that the cases for ‘n’ beats (Kn+1) is obtained by adding [Short or 1] to Kn cases and [Long or 2] to the Kn−1 cases. He dates Pingala before 450 BC ”.

“However, the clearest exposition of the sequence arises in the work of Virahanka (c. 700 AD), whose own work is lost, but is available in a quotation by Gopala (c. 1135). The sequence is also discussed by Gopala (before 1135 AD) and by the Jain scholar Hemachandra (c. 1150) “. Fibonacci was born only in 1170 AD.

Prof. Manjul Bhargava (R Brandon Fradd Professor of Mathematics, Princeton University, USA) gave a Lec-Dem on Music & Mathematics at the Music Academy, Madras during their annual conference 2015, on 31st December 2015. Being a Tabla player himself, he dealt with the above aspect of rhythm variations in detail. His talk was the inspiration for me to write this blog.


  3. Manjul Bhargava’s Lec-Dem at the Music Acedemy, Madras (2015)

L V Nagarajan


Melakartha Chart (Scales of Carnatic Music)

November 26, 2015

Melakartha Chart – (Scales of Carnatic Music)

L V Nagarajan


Some time back I was listening to a young upcoming Carnatic vocalist in Shanmukhananda Hall in Mumbai. After a few items, he started the alap of an unfamiliar raga. Some of the knowledgeable members of the audience were guessing what raga it could be. Somebody said it is like another rare raga but with prati-madyama. Another one said it is a janya of melakartha75(?!) or so. After a short alap he allowed the violinist to play the raga. Violinist started a little hesitantly. Vocalist leaned towards him and spoke a few words. Violinist nodded and continued more confidently. Then the vocalist proudly announced the rare raga as Gopriya, janya of Rishabapriya scale. Some in the audience were happy but I was not happy. If he had told us the Melakartha number I could have also understood the scale easily; but Rishabapriya? Luckily I happen to know something about Katapayadi Sankhya, a code into which these Melakartha names are encoded. Now let us see:

Ka (adi) nava – Ka, Kka, Ga Gga, Gna, Cha, Ccha Ja, Jja.

Ta (adi) nava – Ta, Tta, Da, dda, Nna, Tha, Ttha, Dha, Ddha.

Pa (adi) pancha – Pa, Ppa, Ba, Bba, Ma

Ya (adi) ashta – Ya, Ra, La, Va, Sya, Sha, Sa, Ha

Ri-Sha-bapriya is the Mela. Ri is second letter in Yaadiashta and Sha is 6th in the same series. Hence It is Mela number 62. (i.e) =10×6 +2, 11th cycle of the Melakartha scheme, 5th Cycle of Prathi-madhyama group and the second raga in the cycle. (i.e.) S R2 G3 M2 P D1 N2 S is the scale. QED.

How nice it could have been if the vocalist told us this number 62 as he did to the violinist.



1. He! I understand all systems of music have seven notes. But, tell me, what is this scale, Mela or Melakartha?

The concept of present day scales in Carnatic Music has been imported from the western music. In the West an octave of eight notes are defined starting from a note of a specific frequency to its resonant note of double the frequency. This octave (set of eight notes) was initially divided into 7 frequency intervals between the notes, denoted as C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. The musical scale of these major notes is known as Major scale. The frequency ratios selected for these intervals is same as Sankarbharanam (scale) of Carnatic music. However, a set of semi tones (or half intervals) were introduced, 2 between C-D-E and 3 between F-G-A-B.  In a piano or harmonium the white keys represent the major notes and the black keys(^) represent semi-tones – (C^D^EF^G^A^BC). The semi tone between C and D is called D-Flat or C-Sharp according the musical context. Same way the other semitones are also treated. For our convenience, we will call them as

C, D1, D2, E1, E2, F1, F2, G, A1, A2, B1, B2, C.

Frequency ratios of these semi-tones follow the rule of consonance and assonance. Many scales were developed using the 7 selected notes from these 12 semitones. Some of our main ragas (scales) like Karaharapriya and Mayamalavagowla matched these semitones.  Somewhere in the 17th century this concept of scale was adopted by theoreticians of carnatic music. They were also influenced by the keyed instruments of western music like piano and harmonium. Hence attempts were made to fit our ancient musical system into the keys of the above instruments. At this point scales were introduced in carnatic music, to group all the notes used in a raga. These attempts lead to the development of our own basic scales, Mela Karthas. Melas or new melodies were born out of these scales and hence the name Melakartha or melody-maker. (However, subsequently, sacrificing some amount of consonance and assonance between notes, Western music adopted 12 equal intervals for these 12 semitones. This system was called ‘equi-tempered’ as opposed to the earlier system called ‘just-tempered’ or ‘just intonations’ which takes care of consonance ratios. Western musical instruments are tuned accordingly.)

2. But how do these 12 semitones make 72 Melakarthas, I often hear about?

At this point it may be better to discuss about what constitutes a present day scale. A full scale constitutes seven notes or saptha swaras (sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, da, ni) in an octave. For convenience let us call these notes in short as S R G M P D N. These are selected from 12 basic nodes, which we may call as Sruthis’s, though they are called semitones in western music. The rules for selecting a basic-scale (a set of seven swaras from these 12 sruthis) can be summarized as below:

Swaras S       R       G      M P       D      N S
Semitones C D1 D2 E1 E2 F1 F2 G A1 A2 B1 B2 C
Sruthis 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 1
(12) Swara-sthanas S R1 R2 G1 G2 M1 M2 P D1 D2 N1 N2 S
(4) Vivadi-Swaras Gr Rg Nd Dn  
(16) Swara-sthanas S R1 R2 R3 M1 M2 P D1 D2 D3 S
G1 G2 G3 N1 N2 N3  

It may be noted above that notes nos. 3 and 4 are used as both Ri and Ga. Similarly notes 10 and 11 are used as both Da and Ni (though such usages are known as Vivadi Prayoga). In carnatic music system, these 16 swara-sthanas are called respectively: Shadjam, Suddha-Chatusruthi-Shatsruthi Rishabams, Suddha-Sadarana-Antara Gandharams, Suddha-Prati Madhyamams, Panchamam, Suddha-Chatusruthi-Shatsruthi Dhaivatams and Suddha-Kaisika-Kakali Nishadams. Here itself we can make out the attempt of reducing the number of sruthis from the original twenty-two to twelve. (Even in Western Music double-sharp and double-flat notes are used in a scale)

Any basic scale has two parts: Poorvanga, the notes upto and including M, (SRGM) and Uttaranga, the notes including P and above (PDNS). For each M (sudda-M1 and prati-M2), there are six types poorvangas based on six different combinations of notes R and G; namely R1-G1, R1-G2, R1-G3, R2-G2, R2-G3 and R3-G3. Similarly there are six types of uttarangas based on six different combinations of notes D and N. Hence we have 72 Melakartas – [(6+6) x 6].

3. Really ingenious! But what is this Katapayadi mumbo-jumbo being mentioned?

The above 72 melakarthas require some identification as most of them are not naturally available scales. They divided these in to twelve groups, each group having a specific R-G-M1 and R-G-M2 combinations with increasing order of R and G. Within each of this group, six scales with increasing order of D and N were included. Thus 36 scales or melakarthas using M1 were numbered 1 to 36. The others with M2 were numbered 37 to 72. Please refer to the chart at the end of this write-up. Each of this 12 groups known as chakras were named as Indu, Netra, ……, Rudra and Aditya. (Indu – one Moon, Netra – 2 eyes, ….., 11 Rudras and 12 Adityas). In the chart below each row represents two chakras. Since many of these scales were not in existence, these, as melakarthas, required some names also. The earlier day musicologists used a code to name these scales in such a way that one can find the number of a melakartha from the name itself. The code is known as Katapayadi Sankhya and is used in many applications of ancient Hindu science and mythology.

The numbers 1 to 9 are coded by using following letters: (Ka Ta Pa Ya)

Ka (adi) nava – 1 to 9 –  Ka, Kka, Ga Gga, Gna, Cha, Ccha Ja, Jja.

Ta (adi) nava – 1 to 9 – Ta, Tta, Da, dda, Nna, Tha, Ttha, Dha, Ddha.

Pa (adi) pancha – 1 to 5 – Pa, Ppa, Ba, Bba, Ma

Ya (adi) ashta – 1 to 8 – Ya, Ra, La, Va, Sya, Sha, Sa, Ha

Other letters are rendered as zero. In the scale Kamavardini, Ka decodes into number 1, and Ma decodes into number 5. Hence the number of the scale decodes into 5 tens plus one, 51. The same way other scales were also given such names. However, some scales are already established as popular and well known ragas from ancient times. Hence these names were modified, such as, DdheeraSankarabharanam (29), HanumaTodi (8), MechaKalyani (65), to fall into the Katapayadi scheme.

4. Looks neat! Why then people prefer melakartha numbers instead of names?

DdheeraSankarabharanam and Sulini are two different scales, the first one being a well known raga. Can you spot how these scales compare? Yes, only when one compares the numbers 29 and 35. we can now say immediately: Sulini uses R3 instead of R2 in Sankarabharanam. And Kosalam (71) is immediately identified as M2 of Sulini, (or R3, M2 of Sankarabharanam). With names these relationships are not immediately evident. Hence, the preference for numbers. Of course there are many who have completely memorized the Melakartha table

5. Is there a way to name these scales in a way to reflect these inter relationships?

To my knowledge, nobody has tried so far. However, I propose, in the following paragraphs, a way of encoding such relationships in the name itself.

Earlier the scale was split into two parts Poorvanga (SRGM) and Uttaranga (PDNS). Let us now split the scale into three parts: SRG, M, PDN. If we consider the variations in these parts, we get SRG(6) x M(2) x PDN(6) = 72 Scales. Let us now name these parts along with their variations:

S R1 G1 – athi M1- Daya P D1 N1- Vathi
S R1 G2 – Sakala P D1 N2 – Nidhi
S R1 G3 – Sarva P D1 N3 – Kari
S R2 G2 – Parama M2 – Kripa P D2 N2 – Varshini
S R2 G3 – Poorna P D2 N3 – Varithi
S R3 G3 – Poojya

P D3 N3 – Sagari

With these code names, Sankarabharanam (29) will be called as Poorna Daya Varithi. And Kalyani (65) will be known as Poorna Kripa Varithi. It is clear from the name that Kalyani scale is same as Sankarabharanam, but with M2. Poojya Daya Varithti is Sankarabharanam with R3, i.e. Shulini (35). Here I take the liberty of using the Melakarta Chart as developed by Dr. Mukund ( This chart is prepared on the same principle as mentioned above. I have superimposed the above code names on this chart, as shown below. We may use this chart to get used to the proposed new names. The melakarthas using Athi, Poojya, Vathi and Sagari codes are the 40 Nos. of Vivadi melas – the outer most squares of the chart.


6. Umm…! I really need time to study and understand this.

Please take your time and do write your comments.


  1. The material discussed in this blog has been extracted from my more detailed write-up on Melakartha scheme done in 2006. However I did not have a blog-spot then, to publicize it. I sent it to a few musicians and musicologists but there was not any response. I was enthused to write this note again, when I recently came across Mukund’s Chart. (
  2. The rasikas of Chennai Music Festival (2015) may use this chart while attending the concerts.
  3. The above suggested codes/names can definitely be improved by musicologists like Dr. Mukund. It is only an idea to be adopted, or improved (or rejected, if found not suitable).
  4. While there are numerous advantages of this Melakartha scheme, there are a few disadvantages also. Though Melakartha formulation helps us to classify, formulate and document our music, it has limitations in formulating such nutpa-sruthis as Madhyama of Varali or Rishaba of Saveri. Possibly this was the reason why Harmonium (or Piano) was not preferred as a part of carnatic music ensemble. More so due to the equi-tempered tuning of Harmonium, where the 12 notes of the octave are tuned with equal frequency intervals. Here-in, even Sa-Pa consonance is sacrificed. We should not allow the Melakartha scheme to restrict our music to just 12 flat notes and 72 basic scales. We may discuss more about this later.  The author of this note is only a normal listener and follower of Indian music and whatever knowledge (or lack of it) displayed here are purely incidental. Let our Music and its traditions live forever.

Talas (or Rhythmic Cycles) in Carnatic Music -3

December 6, 2014

Chapu Tala

L V Nagarajan

Many of my readers may have gone through my earlier posts on this topic. I would request the new readers of this post to go through my earlier posts before starting on this. In the earlier two posts, I dealt with the more popular Talas, namely, Adi Tala (Chatusra Nadai) and the Rupaka Tala. Next most common Tala employed in Carnatic music is the Chapu Tala. This Tala has evolved from South Indian folk music and even the name has Tamil roots from the word Chaippu, meaning slanting or sloping. The two parts (angas) has increasing counts such 2+3, 3+4 or 4+5. Please refer the table below:

 Chapu Tala’s Poorvanga Uttaranga
Kanta Chapu 2 (Tha Ka) 3 (Tha Ki Ta)
Misra Chapu 3 (Tha Ki Ta) 4 (Tha Ka Di Mi)
Sangeerna Chapu 4 (Tha Ka Di Mi) 5 (Tha Ka Tha Ki Ta)

By default, Chapu Tala refers to Misra Chapu and its beats are kept as below:

Misra Chapu – Clap, 2, 3; Clap, 2,  3, 4 – Hence 7 Beats = 7 x 1. We may consider this as a Tisra Laghu + a chatusra Laghu  (i.e.) |3 + |4

Mostly, in practice, for ease of discrimination,

  • The Tha-Ki-Ta of Chapu Talas is counted as a Tisra- Veechu (up-turned palm).
  • And Tha-Ka-Di-Mi is counted as two claps.
  • Thus Misra Chapu is usually kept on the hands as below (T for Turn and C for Clap)
1 2 3 1 2 3 4
Tha Ki Ta Tha Ka Di Mi

Now in the second speed the rhythm will be:

1 2 3 1 2 3 4
ThaKa TaRi KiTa ThaKa DiMi Thaka DiMi

We can mix and match both the speeds in several cycles of this Tala to get a good feel of the rhythm, as below:

1 2 3 1 2 3 4
Tha Ki Ta ThaKa DiMi Thaka DiMi
ThaKa TaRi KiTa Tha Ka Di Mi

Misra Chapu – 2 cycles synchs well with Tisra Triputa – |3 , o, o ; = 7 x 2. You may try two cycles of Chapu Tala as below . Continue the same sollus with beats changed to Tisra Triputa as shown.

T T C C   T T C C
1 2 3 1 2 3 4   1 2 3 1 2 3 4
Tha Ki Ta Tha Ka Di Mi   Tha Ki Ta Tha Ka Di Mi
1   2   3   1     2   3   4  
C   2   3   C     T   C   T  

Because of the unsymmetrical nature of this tala, cross rhythms are somewhat difficult and neither do they sound well. Musicians do involve in cross rhythms in Chapu also, showing their command on the Tala. We may however try Tisra nadai in this Tala. To make it easier to comprehend let us first try tisra nadai in tisra-triputa. Start in slow speed and increase the speed of the Tala to double. Once you get used to the rhythm, you can shift the Tala to Chapu as shown below:

1 2 3 1 2 1 2
C 2 3 C T C T
ThaKiTa ThaKiTa ThaKiTa ThaKiTa ThaKiTa ThaKiTa ThaKiTa
1 2 3 1 2 3 4
T T –            C C

Tala vadya vidwans do involve in these kinds of rhythms very often and it is really a treat to hear them shift rhythm patterns among various nadais such as Tisra, Chatusra, Kanda etc

Misra Chapu – 4 cycles synchs well with Ata Tala  – |5 , |5, o, o ;  = 14 x 2 = 7 x 4

We can try a cross rhythm in Chapu Tala by doing a shift from Ata Tala as below:

C 2 3 4 5
ThaKa DiMi ThaKa ThaRi KiTa
C 2 3 4 5 C T C T
ThaKa DiMi ThaKa ThaRi KiTa ThaKa DiMi ThaRi KiTa


T    T –   C –     C –    T T  –
ThaKa DiMi ThaKa ThaRi KiTa
C     –  C  – T   T –    C –   C –   T T   – C    – C  –
ThaKa DiMi ThaKa ThaRi KiTa ThaKa DiMi ThaRi KiTa


ThaKa DiMi ThaKa ThaRi KiTa
ThaKa DiMi ThaKa ThaRi KiTa ThaKa DiMi ThaRi KiTa


The first group above gives the counts for Ata Tala (C – Clap, T – Turn) and the solkattu matching the ata tala. 2nd group gives 4 rounds of Chapu Tala to synch with the same solkattu. The solkattu can also be recited in second kalam (higher speed), to match just 2 rounds of Chapu talam as shown in the 3rd group above. You may try practicing these patterns to get a good command of chapu talam.

Now let us take up a solkattu along with matching swaras, say in raga Bhairavi, set to 8 cycles of Chapu tala, as blow:

T T –            C C T T C C
1 2 3 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 1 2 3 4
Tha Ka Di Mi Tha Ka Tha Ka Di Mi Tha Ka Tha Ki
n p d n m p – d n s r n d – m g
Ta Tha Ka Tha Ki Ta Tha Ja m Tha Ki Ta Tha Ja
r s r – n s r  – r G  ~ m p d – m P
m Tha Ki Ta Tha Ja m Tha Ki Ta Tha aa m Tha
~ d n s – n R ~ s n d – S ~ ~ n
Ki Ta Tha aa m Tha Ki Ta Tha aa m Tha Ki Ta
d p – P ~ ~ m g r – S ~ ~ r n d

Yes, it is the chitta swara of the famous Viriboni varnam set to Ata Tala, but modified here, set to samam and synching it with Misra Chapu Talam. I tried singing this and found the same very enjoyable. In one of the Carnatic Music Idol competition (2010), judges asked the competitors to sing the whole Bhiravi Ata Tala varnam in Misra Chapu. Many competitors were found equal to the challenge.

We may even sing the above solkattu in Bhairavi raga like jathis. I have heard mridangam tutors sing Vatapi (hamsadwani) as

“Thaam – ThaKiTaThaKa – ThaJam – ThaJam – ThaKaDiMi’

I will end this write-up with my usual submission that I am neither a musician nor a musicologist. I am writing this purely as a good listener of Carnatic Music. I hope to end this series of blogs on Talas in Carnatic music with my next blog on Thani Avarthanam, again only from the listener’s point of view. Hope my readers find these blogs useful.

Meru Prastarah (or Pascal’s Triangle ?!?)

October 21, 2014

Meru Prastarah (or Pascal’s Triangle ?!?)

Let me start with an ancient (1000 CE) Sanskrit text as below:

Anena ekadvyaadilaghukriyasiddhyartham, yaavadabhimatam prathama prastaravat meruprastaram darsayati, uparistadekam chaturasrakoshtam likhitva, tasya adhastat ubhayatordhaniskrantam koshtadwayam likhet, tasyapiadhastatrayam tasyapiadhastatccaturtyamevam yaavadabhimatam sthanamiti meruprastarah tasya prathame koshte ekasamkhyam vyasthapyalakshanamidam pravarttayet, tatra dvikoshtaayaampanktau ubhayo koshtayorekaikamankam dadyaat, tatastritiyaayaam panktau, paryantakoshtayorekaikamankam dadyaat, madhyamakoshtethuparikoshtadvayaankamekikrtya purnam nivesayediti purnasabdarthah, chaturtyampanktavapi, paryantakoshtayorekaikamankam sthapayet, madhyamakoshtayothuparakoshtadvayaankamekikrtya purnam trisamkhya rupam sthapayeth,  uttaraataraapyevameva nyaasah, tatra dwikoshtaayaam pankatauekaakshrasya prastaarah,……. tritiyayaam pankatau, dviakshrasya prastaarah, chaturtyaam pankatau, triakshrasya prastaarah, ….

The above is not in praise of any god of Jain, Budha or Hindu religion. It is not a religious text at all. It is a text describing a method for constructing a mathematical table. Ancient Indian Mathematician Pingala (200 BC) in his Chandahsutra had given the rules for formation of different chandahs (≈ musical meters) for Sanskrit prosody. Another ancient Indian mathematician Halayudha (1000 CE) has given the explanation and commentary on this work by Pingala. Given above is a selected portion of his commentary. For some reasons unknown to me, ancient Sanskrit texts always use composite words very frequently. These words need to be broken into individual words properly to obtain the intended meaning of these words. Here is an attempt to translate the above text into English with proper separation of words.

Anena ekadvyaadi laghu kriya siddhyartham, yaavadabhi matam

(To get every combination of one, two, etc. syllables as required)

Prathama prastaravat meru prastaram darsayati.

(from first row onwards , the meru tabulation will be shown below)

Uparihi tad ekam Chaturasrakoshtam likhitva,

(At the top itself one square cell is drawn)

Tasya adhah tat ubhayato ardhani skrantam

(Below this row let us have a pair, half over lapping)

Koshtadwayam likhet.

(Two cells are drawn)

Tasyapi adhah tat trayam

(Again the row below will have three)

Tasyapi adhah tat chaturtyam,

(Again its next line will have four)

Evam yaavadabhi matam sthanam

(same way, up to the  required stage, cells are constructed)

iti meru prastarah.

(This is called Meru Prastara or Meru-Tabulation)

Tasya prathame koshte eka samkhyam

(Its first stage-cell will hold the number 1)

Vyvasthapya lakshanamidam pravarttayet

(From here on, the following is the way it grows)

Tatra dvikoshtaayaam panktau

(in its twin-cell row)

ubhayo Koshtayoh eka ekam ankam dadyaat

(the pair of cells holds numbers 1,1)

Tatah tritiyaayaam panktau, paryanta Koshtayoh Eka ekam ankam dadyaat

(then in the 3rd row, the extreme cells will hold numbers 1,1)

Madyama koshteth, upari koshtadvayah ankam eki krtya purnam nivesayeth

(middle cell takes the added value of the two cells above)

Iti purnasabdarthah

 (Thus completes the table for 2nd power)

Chaturtyam panktau api, paryanta Koshtayoh eka ekam ankam sthapayet

(then in the 4th row also, the extreme cells will hold numbers 1,1)

Madyama koshtayoth, upara koshtadvayah ankam eki krtya purnam

(middle cells take the added values of the two cells above each)

Trisamkhya rupam sthapayeth

(this completes the 3rd power)

Uttara utaaro api evameva nyaasah,

(next and next stages also follow the same rule)

tatra dwikoshtaayaam pankatau, eka akshrasya prastaarah

(Here the twin-cell row gives one syllable table)

tritiyaam pankatau, dvi akshrasya prastaarah

(the 3rd row gives two syllables table)

chaturtyaam pankatau, tri akshrasya prastaarah

(Thus 4th row gives three syllables table)

And so on.


If we follow the above step by step construction given so clearly by Halayudha (1000 CE), we get the above pyramid or Meru in Sanskrit, (stands for a mountain with a peak). What do we have here? It is the same as Pascal’s Triangle, “discovered” by Blaise Pascal (1623-1662 CE).

This table gives in every nth line the coefficients (a+b)**(n-1). i.e. the second line gives coefficients of (a+b) as 1,1; the second line gives 1,2,1, as coefficients of (a+b)2.; the third line gives 1,3,3,1 as coefficients of (a+b)3 and so on.

However Halayudha gives credit for this table to Pingala (200 BC). He claims to have derived this table from Pingala’s cryptic clue which he translates to a set of rules, as below (with a and b as the two syllables to be combined, in any n-syllable chandah):

  1. First write down all (‘n’ number of)  b’s as the first combination
  2. In the next line, replace the first ‘b’ with an ‘a
  3. At the same line, replace all letters to the left of this new ‘a’ with ‘b
  4. For the next and the subsequent lines repeat the steps 2 & 3.
  5. Continue as above till we arrive at a line with all a’s,

This can be clearly seen as a binomial expansion (a+b)n staring with bn and ending in an. Halayudha later puts these results on a table known as Meru Prasthara. He later gives a step-by-step method as above, for constructing this table without specifically going through the above rules. This Meru Prastarah traveled to China and the Chinese mathematician Yang Hui reported it in the thirteenth century, although his work was unknown in Europe until relatively recent times. The Meru Prastarah traveled to Europe a little later through Arabia, Egypt and Greece and gets “discovered” by Pascal in 17th century CE, 600 years after Halayudha. We are blaming all the time ‘the lack of scientific temper’ among Indians.


  1. Binomial Theorem in Ancient India – By Amulya Kumar Bag, History of Science, Ancient Period Unit II, No.1, Park Street, Calcutta-16 (1966)
  2. Journey Through Genius – The Great Theorems Of Mathematics – by William Dunham – Wiley Science Editions, John Wiley & Sons Inc.(1990)
  3. Probability in Ancient India, by C K Raju.,, 2011.

Connected Topics:

Meru Prastarah

Baudhayana’s Circles

Square Root of Two

Sine of an Angle

LVN/ Oct, 2014

Talas (or Rhythmic Cycles) in Carnatic Music -2

August 19, 2014

Talas (or Rhythmic Cycles) in Carnatic Music -2

L V Nagarajan


Many of my readers may have gone through my earlier post on this topic. I would request the new readers of this post to go through my earlier post before starting on this. Earlier I dealt with the most popular Adi Tala (Chatusra Nadai). When describing this Rhythm, I wrote about the parts of this rhythm as one Laghu and two Drithms. For the benefit of those who are not familiar with these terms, I am explaining them below.

Talas in carnatic music consist of Claps, Counts and Turns. A Laghu consists of ‘a Clap and several Counts’ –  (a Thattu and viral in Tamil). A Drithm consists of ‘a Clap and a Turn’ – (a Thattu and a Veechu). There is a third part known as Anudrithm (or sub-Drithm) which is just a single Clap. A laghu may have counts of 3, 4, 5, 7 and 9, including the initial Clap. They are called Tisra laghu, Chatusra lagu, Kanta/Misra/Sankeerna laghus respectively. Now we can say that Adi Talam consists of one Chatusra Laghu, two Dhrithms, totaling to 8 beats. (i.e) Clap -2 –3 –4, Clap-Turn, Clap-Turn.  This kind of division of tala into several parts (or angas) helps the singer to adhere to the rhythm and timing by keeping the beats on his palm and fingers.

Coming to the present post, after the Adi Talam, the next most common Rhythm used in carnatic music is the Rupaka Talam. This Talam consists of : One Drithm, one Laghu, usually a Chatusra Laghu. (i.e) Clap-Turn, Clap – 2 – 3 – 4 (or 1-2, 1-2-3-4). Hence it has 6 beats in a cycle. Even though this is a classical way of keeping the beats of Rupaka Tala, it is more conveniently kept by a 3-beat double-cycle as Clap-Clap-Turn-Clap-Clap-Turn (or 1,1-2; 1,1-2).  Some may call this as Chapu style rupaka talam.

Now let us see how the classical Rupakam feels by using the standard Rhythm syllables as before.

1Tha Ka – 2Tha Ka | 1Dhi Mi –  2Tha Ka – 3Tha Ka 4Dhi Mi – ||

Or in Chapu style of Rupakam,  (Two Cycles)

1Tha Ka – 1Tha Ka 2Dhi Mi – || 1Tha Ka – 1Tha Ka 2Dhi Mi- ||

(Symbol ‘|’ denotes end of an anga of Tala and symbol ’||’ denotes end of cycle of the Tala)

The above is said to be in Chatusra Nadai in slow speed (i.e.) with 2 Aksahras per beat and hence it has only 12 Aksharas.  In the earlier post we discussed Adi Talam with 8 beats and with 1, or 2, or 4 Aksharas per beat and we called the same as Chatusra Nadai (Chatusra Gati). In this Nadai, Adi Talam has 32 aksharas. We may also have a Tisra Nadai with 3 Aksharas per beat and in this Nadai Adi Talam will have only 24 Aksharas. Two cycles of Rupakam as above will match with one cycle Adi Talam – Tisra Nadai.

Now let us see how the Adi Talam (Tisra Nadai) feels by using the standard Rhythm syllables as before.

1Tha Ki Ta – 2Tha Ki Ta – 3Tha Ki Ta – 4Tha Ki Ta |

1Tha Ki Ta – 2Tha Ki Ta – | 1Tha Ki Ta – 2Tha Ki Ta ||

It may already be obvious for some, that this rhythm pattern compliments the Rupuka Talam. Let us put the Rhythm syllables we used for Rupaka Talam above, in the Adi Talam (Tisra Nadai) and see how it feels.

1Tha Ka – Tha 2Ka Dhi Mi –  3Tha Ka – Tha 4Ka Dhi Mi- |

1Tha Ka – Tha 2Ka Dhi Mi – | 1Tha Ka – Tha 2Ka Dhi Mi- ||


Practice the earlier Tisra pattern and this Chatusra pattern alternately. Wow, it really sounds great!

Now let us see the vice versa. Let us fit the Tisra pattern in Rupaka Talam

1Tha Ki 2Ta – Tha | 1Ki Ta – 2Tha Ki 3Ta – Tha 4Ki Ta ||

Or in Chapu style version (Two cycles)

1Tha Ki 1Ta – Tha 2Ki Ta || – 1Tha Ki 1Ta – Tha 2Ki Ta ||

Practice the earlier Chatusra pattern and this Tisra pattern alternately. Wow, it sounds equally great!

We may also mix and match (4 Tha-Ki-Ta’s) and (3 Tha-Ka-Di-Mi’s) with in a 24-akshara Talas as above. (eg) alternate Tha-Ki-Ta and Tha-Ka-Dhi-Mi’s, say, in Adi-Tisra-Nadai.

1Tha-Ki-Ta  2Tha-Ka-Dhi-3Mi  Tha-Ki-4Ta  Tha-Ka-|

                     1Dhi-Mi Tha-2Ki-Ta  Tha-|1Ka-Dhi-Mi 2Tha-Ki-Ta || 

With some practice you will start enjoying the cross beats.

Again we can take 4-cycles of Chapu style Rupaka Talam and make,

1Tha-Ka-1Dhi-Mi  2Tha-Ki- || 1Ta  Tha-1Ki-Ta  2Tha-Ka- ||

           1Dhi-Mi  1Tha-Ki-2Ta  Tha- || 1Ki-Ta 1Tha-Ka-2Dhi-Mi ||

These are generally known as ‘Kanakku’ (permutations). I have only demonstrated very simple ones and restricted only to a few cycles of Talam. But expert musicians can produce more kanakkus overlapping many Tala cycles, some complicated, some beautiful and some both.

Since Tisra-Adi and Chatusra-Rupakam are in synchronism with enchanting cross beats, composers and musicians use this feature very often in their presentations especially in swara prastharas. The legendary composer, Sri Shyama Sastry, has composed a well known Kriti ‘Himadri Suthe’ in Raga Kalyani, to suit this twin Rhythms. You can here this composition being sung in both the above Talas. His composition ‘Sankari Sankuru’ in Raga Saveri also matches both the rhythms.

There is another Tala in Carnatic music known as Eka-Tala. It just has one Laghu, usually a Chatusra Laghu, with 4-counts (Clap-2-3-4). As you can guess, 3 cycles of this Eka Tala will again match Rupakam as above. Hence I am now presenting one more Kanakku, again a simple one, set to 3 cycles of Eka Talam.

Tha-Ki-Ta-Tham + Tha-Ka-Tha-Ki-Ta–Tham (3 times)

embedded in the talam as below:

1Tha-Ki-2Ta Tham Tha-4Ka-Tha ||

                 –1Ki-Ta 2Tham 3Tha-Ka-4Tha-Ki- ||

                                             1Ta Tham Tha-3Ka-Tha-4Ki-Ta ||

:                                                                         – (1Tham)

This sequence of rhythmic syllables ends with an ‘aruthi’ (Tham) – to denote the end of Kanakku. You can enjoy more cross beats by practicing this sequence in all the three talams above.

Having come this far, I am emboldened to give you a swara prasthara based on the above rhythmic sequence. The second line of Sankari Sankuru pallavi, starts with the word Sambhavi in dhirga swara, D. Those who can sing Saveri can try the following korvai (Swara sequence), say, in Tisra-nadai-Adi Tala, to end with ‘Sambhavi’

1srm 2P         d3pmp4d S |      1pds 2rg R1         mg2rsn||

:                                                                         – (Sambhavi)

You may also try the other talas given above for this swara/rhythm sequence. (Swaras in Capital indicates long, Dhirga, notes of two aksharas and Swaras in bold indicate upper octaves).

Conclusion: I am not an expert either in Rhythm or in Melody. I am a good listener of Carnatic music. With this sheer hearing experience and with some borrowed knowledge, I have tried to help other listeners like me to enjoy the rhythmic aspects of our music. In my first post on this subject, I had tried to introduce the different common rhythmic syllables by using them in Adi Talam. In this second post I have tried to expose the readers to aspects of Nadai or Gathi and also to the rhythmic permutations (Kanakkus), within a group of talaas, Rupakam and its complimentaries. In the next post, I propose to explore other aspects of Rhythmn using another popular Talam, Misra Chapu. These simple ideas may be practiced by young students and serious listeners of Carnatic music. It will help them to appreciate the nuances of Talas in renderings of Kritis, Niravals, Swara prastharas, Tillanas and Tani Avarthanams.

Talas (or Rhythmic Cycles) in Carnatic Music

November 16, 2012

Talas (or Rhythmic Cycles) in Carnatic Music

L V Nagarajan

Tala is a repeated rhythmic pattern of stressed and unstressed beats played on a percussion instrument in Indian music. Any melody or composition is always set to a rhythmic pattern. I have heard people say even while elaborating a raga certain rhythmic pattern must be followed. Many times the Thanam as presented in Carnatic music is referred to as Raga in 2nd and 3rd speeds.

In this write-up my intention is not to present a description of Tala system of carnatic music. These descriptions are amply available in different media. Herein I am attempting to give students and listeners of Carnatic music a nice way of understanding, appreciating and imbibing the tala nuances of our music. Let me warn you, I am not an expert in this field. By my shear hearing experience, I am initiating a different way of Tala-pratice, which can be further improved by the experts in this field.

Let me start this process from the simplest and most popular Adi Tala. As you know this is also known as Chatusra-Triputa Tala, consisting of one Chatusra-Lagu and two Drithms, totaling to 8 beats, as 1-2-3-4,1-2,1-2.

We are again starting with the most popular chatusra-nadai, i.e., 4 Aksharas per beat. Hence we start with Adi Tala with a total of 8×4=32 Aksharas. Now we may recite the following sollu’s together with Adi Tala beats by the hand.

Varisai No.1

1Tha Ka Dhi Mi- 2Tha Ka Dhi Mi- 3Tha Ka Dhi Mi- 4Tha Ka Dhi Mi-

1Tha Ka Dhi Mi- 2Tha Ka Dhi Mi- 1Tha Ka Dhi Mi- 2Tha Ka Dhi Mi- (M)

This will be with middle speed known as Madhyama Kala. We can recite the same sollus in Chowka Kala and Vilamba Kala, i.e., in slow and super slow speeds as below: (It is important to keep the tala beats on hand at the same speed)

1Tha   .   Ka   .  2Dhi   .   Mi   .  – 3Tha   .   Ka   .  4Dhi   .   Mi   . –

1Tha   .   Ka   .  2Dhi   .   Mi   .  – 1Tha   .   Ka   .  2Dhi   .   Mi   . –  (C)

1Tha   .   .   .   2Ka   .   .   .   3Dhi   .   .   .  4Mi   .   .   .  –

1Tha   .   .   .   2Ka   .   .   .   1Dhi   .   .   .  2Mi   .   .   .  –  (V)

In the above Tala-notes, I have followed the notations as below:

‘ – ‘ denotes separation of rhythmic syllables

1 ‘ Super-scripted numbers denote beats of the Tala

‘ . ‘ Dots denote Akshara kala, Karvai or the length of the sollus.

M – denotes Madhyama kala, normal speed

C – denotes Chowka kala, slow speed

V – Denotes Vilamba, super slow speed.

The above basic varisai was quite easy. Now we may make it slightly more complex. There are standard syllables of 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 9 Aksharas as below.

2 – Dwi            – Tham

3 – Tisra           – Tha Ki Ta

4 – Chatusra     – Tha Ka Dhi Mi

5 – Kanda        – Tha Ka Tha Ki Ta

7 – Misra          – Tha Ki Ta Tha Ka Dhi Mi

9 – Sankeerna – Tha Ka Dhi Mi Tha Ka Tha Ki Ta

At first, let us use the above Tisra syllable of three akshras in Adi Tala, chatusra nadai and see how the rhythm sounds:

Varisai No.2

1Tha Ka Dhi Mi- 2Tha Ki Ta- Tha 3Ki Ta- Tha Ki 4Ta- Tha Ki Ta-

1Tha Ka Dhi Mi- 2Tha Ki Ta- Tha 1Ki Ta- Tha Ki 2Ta- Tha Ki Ta- (M)

1Tha . Ka . 2Dhi . Mi – 3Tha . Ki . 4Ta – Tha .

1Ki . Ta . – 2Tha . Ki . 1Ta – Tha . 2Ki . Ta –   (C)

1Tha . . .2Ka . . .3Dhi . . .4Mi . . .- 1Tha . . .2Ki . . .1Ta . . .- 2Tha . . .

1Ki . . .2Ta . . .- 3Tha . . .4Ki . . .1Ta . . .- 2Tha . . .1Ki . . .2Ta . . .- (V)

The first ‘Tha Ka Dhi Mi’ is used as a filler.

It is important to practice these Tala Varisais in all the three speeds. It will help one to get the timing of the sollus correctly. To get the speed right, it may be of help to practice Varisai-1, before each one of the other varisais.

Now let us try and introduce the Tala syllable ‘Tha Ka Tha Ki Ta’ in Adi Tala. This syllable is known as ‘Kanda’. Here we may use the syllables ‘Tha Ka Dhi Mi’ and ‘Tha Ki Ta’, as fillers as shown below.

Varisai No.3   

1Tha Ka Dhi Mi- 2Tha Ki Ta- Tha 3Ka Tha Ki Ta- 4Tha Ka Tha Ki

1Ta- Tha Ka Tha 2Ki Ta- Tha Ka 1Tha Ki Ta- Tha 2Ka Tha Ki Ta- (M)


1Tha . Ka . 2Dhi . Mi . – 3Tha . Ki . 4Ta . – Tha .

1Ka . Tha . 2Ki . Ta . – 1Tha . Ka . 2Tha . Ki .

1Ta . – Tha . 2Ka . Tha . 3Ki . Ta . – 4Tha . Ka .

1Tha . Ki . 2Ta .  – Tha . 1Ka . Tha . 2Ki . Ta . —–(C)

Similarly we can write for Vilamba kala.

We may also do this exercise for the syllable ‘Tha Ki Ta Tha Ka Dhi Mi’ known as Misra by using the syllable Tha Ka Dhi Mi as filler:

Varisai No.4

1Tha Ka Dhi Mi – 2Tha Ki Ta Tha 3Ka Dhi Mi- Tha 4Ki Ta Tha Ka

1Dhi Mi- Tha Ki 2Ta Tha Ka Dhi 1Mi- Tha Ki Ta 2Tha Ka Dhi Mi – (M)


1Tha . Ka . 2Dhi . Mi . – 3Tha . Ki . 4Ta . Tha .

1Ka . Dhi . 2Mi . – Tha . 1Ki . Ta . 2Tha . Ka .

1Dhi . Mi . – 2Tha . Ki . 3Ta .Tha . 4Ka . Dhi .

1Mi . -Tha . 2Ki . Ta . 1Tha . Ka . 2Dhi . Mi . – (C)

As a final one we can mix and match all the standard syllables as below

Varisai No.5

1Tha Ki Ta- Tha 2Ka Tha Ki Ta- 3Tha Ka Dhi Mi 4Tha Ka Tha Ki

1Ta- Tha Ka Dhi 2Mi Tha Ki Ta- 1Tha Ka Tha Ki 2Ta- Tha Ki Ta- (M)


1Tha . Ki . 2Ta . – Tha . 3Ka . Tha . 4Ki . Ta . –

1Tha . Ka . 2Dhi . Mi . 1Tha . Ka 2Tha Ki

1Ta . – Tha . 2Ka . Dhi . 3Mi . Tha . 4Ki . Ta . –

1Tha . Ka . 2Tha . Ki . 1Ta . – Tha . 2Ki . Ta . – (C)

Similarly we can write the varisai for Vilamba speed. You may notice that I have introduced the Sankeerna syllable also in the above varisai. The Misra syllable is used in viloma pattern as – ‘Tha Ka Dhi Mi Tha Ki Ta’ for enhancing the rhythmic value of the varisai.

I have restricted myself to Chatusra Triputa Tala (Adi Tala) – Chatusra Nadai. We may develop such varisais in other Nadais and Talas.

Once these vaisais are practiced by students of carnatic vocal and instruments, it is hoped they will get a good command on Tala in their renderings. It will also be helpful for percussionists. However I feel they may be already practicing more complex rhythmic patterns than these. These varisais may also be practiced by serious listeners of Carnatic music. It will help them to appreciate the nuances of Talas in renderings of Kritis, Niravals, Swara prastharas, Tillanas and Tani Avarthanams.

Before signing off, I am inspired to provide you with a somewhat difficult but beautiful series of rhythmic syllables (known as Korvai). If at all you appreciate this koravai, the credit goes to the master-intellect of Maha-vidwan Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman sir. This is a simplified version of his korvai as interpreted by Dr.N.Ramanathan.

1Tham -Tha Ka 2Tha Ki Ta –  Tha3m – Tha Ka Tha 4Ki Ta – Tham –

1Tha Ka Tha Ki  2Ta – Tham – Tha 1Ka  Tha Ki Ta – 2Tha Ki Ta . –

1Tha Ki Ta . –  2Tha Ki Ta – Tha3m – Tha Ka Tha 4Ki Ta – Tham –

1Tha Ka Tha Ki  2Ta – Tham – Tha 1Ka  Tha Ki Ta – 2Tha Ki Ta . –

1Tha Ki Ta . –  2Tha Ki Ta – Tha3m – Tha Ka Tha 4Ki Ta – Tham –

1Tha Ka Tha Ki  2Ta – Tha Ki Ta 1 . – Tha Ki Ta 2 . – Tha Ki Ta – 1(Tham)

Kindly pardon me, if you find any mistakes in the above write-up. I welcome your comments and contributions.


‘Lalgudi Jayaraman – Technique and Concert Form’ by Dr. N. Ramanathan, SRUTI, Madras, No.74, November 1990 – as quoted in Lalgudi 80 – 2009.