- Carnatic music terminology
Carnatic musicterms are briefly described in this page. Major terms have their own separate article pages, while minor terms are defined / described here.
The order of terms is from basic to related terms, rather than alphabetic.
Swaram" or "Swara" is a single note. Each swaram defines the position of note in relation to the Śruti.
A "rāgam" prescribes a set of rules for building a
melody- very similar to the Western concept of mode. Different combination of swarams and swaram phrases form different rāgams.
"Ārōhanam" of a rāgam is the ascending scale of the rāgam. It describes the rules for singing ascending notes of a rāgam, including the swarams to use and swaram patterns that form the rāgam.
"Avarōhanam" of a rāgam is the descending scale of the rāgam. It describes the rules for singing descending notes of a rāgam.
A "Melakartā rāgam" is one which has all seven swarams, namely, "Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni" ("sampoorna rāgam"). The ārōhanam and avarōhanam of a "melakartā" ragam are strictly ascending and descending scales. It is also known as "janaka rāgam" (parent rāgam), because other rāgams are derived from it.
Janyarāgam" is one which is derived from a "Melakartā" rāgam. It may have (a) a subset of the seven swarams "Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni" ("varjya rāgam"), (b) an external swaram ("anya" swaram) not found in it's parent or (c) "vakra prayōgam" of swarams in Ārōhanam or Avarōhanam (zig-zag sequence of notes, instead of strictly ascending or descending scales).
"Tālam" refers to the rhythm cycle or beat cycle for a particular song.
"Ālāpana" is a preface to a song, which explores the rāgam of the song, without any lyrics. It is a slow improvisation with no "tālam" (rhythm).
Niraval" or "Neraval" is the repeated singing of one or two lines of a song, with improvised exposition in each repetition.
Kalpanaswaram" literally means "imagined swarams". It is the singing of swarams of the rāgam of a song, following the completion of the song. Though many phrases of the swarams may have been practiced, experienced artists may spontaneously play new phrases within the rāgam's rules - hence the term "Kalpana". It is an improvisation of the rāgam, by singing the swarams, namely Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni.
"Thānam" is rhythmic / rhythm based improvisation of the rāgam. It is done with rhythm based syllables like "tha, nam, thom and na". It is usually included as second part in a "Rāgam Thānam Pallavi".
"Rāgamālika", which literally means "garland of rāgams", is a composition that has different verses set to different "rāgams". "Rāgamālika" swarams refers to singing of "Kalpanaswarams" in different rāgams.
Rāgam Thānam Pallavi
"Rāgam Thānam Pallavi" is a rendition of Carnatic music which lends to total improvisation, in different forms. It consists of "Rāgam Ālāpana" (rāgam), "Thānam" and a "Pallavi" line. The pallavi line is sung many times in different speeds, different ranges of the rāgam and different octaves. This is usually followed by "Kalpanaswarams", sometimes in multiple rāgams ("rāgamālika").
Viruttam" is a devotional verse or phrase sung in an impromptu choice of rāgam or rāgamālika usually before a song. The rāgam (or last rāgam in case of rāgamālika) is usually the same as that of the song that follows.
"Manōdharma" is the concept of impromptu or spontaneous improvisation, which is one of the important aspects of Carnatic music. There are many types of improvisations, like "Rāgam Ālāpana", "Thānam", "Niraval", "Viruttam" and "Kalpanaswaram".
The seven swarams in Carnatic music, then followed by other terms related to swaram.
The first swaram in the scale is "Shadjam" (Sa). It is invariant and is always included in all ragams.
The second swaram in the scale is "Rishabham" (Ri). It has three pitch possibilities, namely "Suddha", "Chathusruti" and "Shatsruti".
The third swaram in the scale is "Gāndhāram" (Ga). It has three pitch possibilities, namely "Suddha", "Sādhārana" and "Antara".
The fourth swaram in the scale is "Madhyamam" (Ma). It has two pitch possibilities, namely "Suddha" and "Prati".
The fifth swaram in the scale is "Panchamam" (Pa). It is invariant.
The sixth swaram in the scale is "Dhaivatam" (Dha). It has three pitch possibilities, namely "Suddha", "Chathusruti" and "Shatsruti".
The third swaram in the scale is "Nishādham" (Ni). It has three pitch possibilities, namely "Suddha", "Kaisiki" and "Kākali".
"Anya swaram" in a "janya" rāgam is a swaram that is not found in its parent rāgam ("melakartā" rāgam). "Anya" means "outside the set/ group".
"Sthāi" refers to an "octave" of music. There are 5 "sthāis" in Carnatic music, namely, "Anumandra" (lowest), "Mandra" (literally means chant, which means lower), "Madhya" (literally means middle), "Tara" (means higher) and "Athitara" (meaning very high). Most artists sing over two octaves or two and a half octaves range (within Mandra, Madhya and Tara sthais). Very few can sing well in bigger range of 3 or more octaves.
"Vādi swaram" in a rāgam is the main/ primary swaram of importance in it. A "vādi" swaram is repeated quite often in a rendition.
"Samvādi swaram" in a rāgam has a concordant effect with the "vādi swaram". It has a good effect to the ear (melody or pleasing) along with the "vādi". In western music it is equivalent of the "consonant".
"Vivādi swaram" in a rāgam has a discordant effect with the "vādi swaram" in it. It may not have a pleasing effect when sounded together, but composers use appropriate phrases so that such discordant effect is skipped or avoided. In western music it is equivalent of the "dissonant".
"Anuvādi swaram" in a rāgam has neither concordant nor discordant effect with the "vādi swaram".
A musical notes phrase of a rāgam (series of swarams sung in a particular rāgam) is known as "Prayōgam".
"Vishesha" means "special". Hence, important phrases of a rāgam are known as "Vishesha Prayōgams".
Missing swarams in a "janya" rāgam, when derived from a "melakartā" rāgam are referred as "varjya". For example, "Rishabham" and "Panchamam" are "varjya" in "
Hindolam" when derived from " Natabhairavi".
Swarams are said to be "vakram" in a rāgam, if either the "Ārōhanam", "Avarōhanam" or both, do not follow a strictly "ascending" or "descending" order. They go up and down (example, 2 steps forward one step back). In such a rāgam, these swarams should always use the same order in order to give the unique melody of the rāgam.
A "janya rāgam" is "Upānga" if all the swarams in its scale are strictly derived from its "melakartā rāgam" (parent). There are no "anya" swarams (external swarams).
A "janya rāgam" is "Bhāshānga" if an "anya" swaram is introduced in its scale, when derived from its "melakartā rāgam" (parent).
A "janya rāgam" is "Nishādhāntya" if the highest note that can be played is the "Nishādham". The rules for such rāgams are that they should be played or sung within the single octave - "Ni, Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni". Examples are "Nadanamakriya" and "Punnāgavarāli" rāgams.
A "janya rāgam" is "Dhaivadhāntya" if the highest note that can be played is the "Dhaivatam". The rules for such rāgams are that they should be played or sung within the single octave - "Dha, Ni, Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha". Example "Kurinji" rāgam.
A "janya rāgam" is "Panchamāntya" if the highest note that can be played is the "Panchamam". The rules for such rāgams are that they should be played or sung within the single octave - "Pa, Dha, Ni, Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa". Example "Navroj" rāgam.
The following terms are applicable to ascending scale (ārōhanam) of a rāgam, descending scale (avarōhanam) of a rāgam, or the rāgam as a whole.
"Sampurna rāgam" is a rāgam that has all seven swarams, namely, "Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni".
"Shādava rāgam" is a rāgam that has only six of the seven swarams in its scale.
"Owdava rāgam" is a rāgam that has only five of the seven swarams in its scale. It is a pentatonic scale.
"Svarantara rāgam" is a rāgam that has only four of the seven swarams in its scale.
"Jathi" of a "tālam" specifies "beat count" of the rhythm cycle. It specifically applies to "lagu" component(s) of the tālam and not necessarily to the entire tālam. The different jathis are tisra (three beats in lagu), chathusra (four), khanda (five), misra (seven) and sankeerna (nine).
"Gati" of a "tālam" specifies sub-divisions of a beat in a composition. It is also referred as "Nadai". "Chathusra" gati is the most common (four), followed by "Tisra" (three). Others are "Khanda", "Misra" and "Sankeerna".
"Lagu" is the component of a "tālam" which is the variant part. Its beat count is dependent on the "jathi" of the "tālam". The action for counting includes a tap / clap, followed by a count of sub-beats of the full rhythm cycle. Note that a tisra jathi lagu is actually 1 clap and 2 counts = 3 beats.
"Dhrutham" is the component of a "tālam" which is invariant and includes only two beats. Its action includes a tap / clap, followed by a "veechu" (wave).
"Anudhrutham" is the component of a "tālam" which is invariant and includes only one beat. Its action is a tap / clap.
"Āvartanam" of a "tālam" refers to one cycle of the tālam. Most tālams have at least 1 lagu, except for the rare tālams (see tālam page).
"Eduppu" means from Tamil means "take", in this case "start". Eduppu denotes the point within the "Āvartanam" of a "tālam" when a composition or stanza in a composition begins. "Onru" (one beat later, meaning second beat), "Onrarai" (one and half beat later, meaning between 2nd and 3rd beat) are common, other than "Samam" (meaning equal) which starts in synchronization with the beginning of a "tālam".
"Rūpaka tālam" refers to the group of "tālams" that consist of 1 dhrutam, followed by 1 lagu. "Rūpaka tālam" also refers to "chathusra-jathi rūpaka tālam" as a default (2 + 4 = 6 beats in an āvartanam). This is considered equivalent of 3/4 of western music or the "Waltz" rhythm.
"Triputa tālam" refers to the group of "tālams" that consist of 1 lagu, followed by 2 dhrutams. "Triputa tālam" also refers to "tisra-jathi triputa tālam" as a default (3 + 2 + 2 = 7 beats in an āvartanam).
"Dhruva tālam" refers to the group of "tālams" that consist of 1 lagu, followed by 1 dhrutam, followed by two lagus. "Dhruva tālam" also refers to "chathusra-jathi dhruva tālam" as a default (4 + 2 + 4 + 4 = 14 beats in an āvartanam), unless a different jathi is specified.
"Matya tālam" refers to the group of "tālams" that consist of 1 lagu, followed by 1 dhrutam, followed by 1 lagu. "Matya tālam" also refers to "chathusra-jathi matya tālam" as a default (4 + 2 + 4 = 10 beats in an āvartanam).
"Jhampa tālam" refers to the group of "tālams" that consist of 1 lagu, followed by 1 anudhrutam, followed by 1 dhrutam. "Jhampa tālam" also refers to "misra-jathi jhampa tālam" as a default (7 + 1 + 2 = 10 beats in an āvartanam).
"Ata tālam" refers to the group of "tālams" that consist of 2 lagus, followed by 2 dhrutams. "Ata tālam" also refers to "khanda-jathi ata tālam" as a default (5 + 5 + 2 + 2 = 14 beats in an āvartanam).
"Eka tālam" refers to the group of "tālams" that consist of 1 lagu only. "Eka tālam" also refers to "chathusra-jathi eka tālam" as a default (4 beats in an āvartanam).
"Ādhi tālam" refers to "chathusra-jathi triputa tālam" (4 + 2 + 2 = 8 beats in an āvartanam), which is very common in Carnatic music. This is the equivalent of 8 beat / 16 beat of Western music.
Khanda chāpu tālam
"Khanda chāpu" refers to a tālam with 10 beat āvartanam (Khanda literally means 5) which does not fit into above classification of tālams.
Misra chāpu tālam
"Misra chāpu" refers to a tālam with 14 beat āvartanam (Misra literally means 7) which does not fit into above classification of tālams.
"Desādhi" refers to "ādhi tālam" with (8 beat āvartanam), where the "eduppu" is one and a half beats from beginning of "āvaratanam" ("onrarai").
Learning Carnatic music involves learning most of the following exercises, mostly in the order listed below.
"Sarali varisai" is used to learn the swarams in the octave, usually in "Māyāmālavagowla" ragam. It is learnt in simple straight ascending and descending fashion and a few variations. It is also learnt in multiple speeds (kalams).
"Jhanta varisai" are exercises used to learn the swarams in the octave in twin fashion (sa sa ri ri ga ga and so on) and a few other combinations. It is also usually learnt in "Māyāmālavagowla" rāgam.
"Dhāttu" literally means jump. "Dhāttu varisai" are exercises used to learn the swarams in zig-zag fashion, so that more control of the notes and different combinations are achieved. Example, "sa ma ri ga, sa ri ga ma", and so on. Each of these exercises are set to different "tālams", so that different rhythm aspects are learnt.
"Vali" means "row" or "arrangement". "Swarāvali" are exercises with different arrangements of swarams.
"Alankāra" means "decoration". These exercises are groups or patterns of swarams, each of which are set to different "tālams", so that rhythm aspect is also learnt together with different rāgams.
Types of composition
Geetham" means "song" or "melody". Geethams are the first songs that are learnt. They are very short and are the first exercises where singing "lyrics" along with their swaram patterns are learnt.
Swarajati" lead to learning bigger songs / compositions after learning "Geethams". They are set to different rāgams and lead towards learning " varnams" and " kritis".
Varnam" is a type of composition which is suited for vocal exercises of a wide variety of Carnatic music aspects, including slow and fast tempo of singing, both lyrics and swarams. It is the most complex of vocal exercises. In modern carnatic concerts, it is usually sung as a first song and is supposed to help warm-up.
"Keerthanam" or "Kriti" is the category of most compositions in Carnatic music. A concert consists mainly of Keerthanams with zero or one of "Varnam", "Rāgam Thānam Pallavi" and "Thillānā" included in appropriate order.
Kriti", see "Keerthanam" above.
"Thillānā" is a composition consisting of "rhythm" syllables, like "Dheem, thom, tarana and thaani" in first two stanzas, followed by a one or two line lyric.
Parts of a composition
Pallavi" is the first verse in a composition, especially "Keerthanams" or "Kritis".
Anupallavi" is an optional verse that follows the "pallavi" in a composition, especially "keerthanams" or "kritis".
Charanams" are the verse(s) that follow the "pallavi" or "anupallavi" (if present).
"Chittaswarams" are the swaram phrases, sung as swaram syllables, corresponding to the immediately following lyrical verse in a "charanam". In practice only a few compositions are sung with "chittaswarams" preceding each "charanam" of the composition.
"Muktāyi swarams" are the swaram phrases sung as swaram syllables as part of a rendition, which does not have a corresponding lyrical verse. This is more related to the songs for dance performances, like "
#"A practical course in Carnatic music" by Prof. P. Sambamurthy, 15th edition published 1998, The Indian Music publishing house
#"Ragas in Carnatic music" by Dr. S. Bhagyalekshmy, Pub. 1990, CBH Publications
#"Raganidhi" by P. Subba Rao, Pub. 1964, The Music Academy of Madras
* [http://carnatica.net/onlinedictionary/onlinemain.htm Online dictionary within Carnatic music handbook from carnatica.net]
* [http://www.saigan.com/heritage/music/terms.htm Dictionary of some South Indian Musical terms]
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