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The Basics of Indian Carnatic Music
Carnatic music is one of the two forms of Indian classical music. The origin of Carnatic music is considered divine. Goddess Saraswati, who performs Veena, blesses us with the talent to play Carnatic music. It is an ancient form of music dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Men create various swaras and ragas by observing the sounds of animals and ocean waves. Carnatic music is completely melodious and sung with a lot of improvisation by the performer. Like all other forms of music, Carnatic music requires proper training and dedication.
Carnatic music has two main elements: Raga (Ragam) and Tala (Talam). Raga is a mode and Tala is a rhythmic cycle. There are many ragas and tals and by combining them you can sing various and wonderful songs. Major ragas are Sankarabharanam, Mohanam, Aarabhi, Hindolam, Kamas etc. The main talas are Aadi, rupakam, dhruva, triputa, jampa and matya. With these ragas and thals we can create miracles.
All Ragas are based on Swara. There are seven main swaras in Indian classical music. They are Sa(Do), Ri(Re), Ga(Mi), Ma(Fa), Pa(So), Da(La), Ni(Ti). With different combinations of these swaras we can create different ragas. There are two main elements in a raga; Aarohanam (ascending notes of a raga) and Aarohanam (descending notes of a raga on a scale).
Sruti plays an important role in music. Just like the “key” of western music. Sruti is like the soul of carnatic music. An early form of Carnatic music Saralivarisai. This is an exercise that makes us familiar with svaras and srutis. It helps in learning the various combinations of swaras available. Then it comes Jandavarisai This is the next level of saralivarisai. In this practice, you will be intensively trained in how to chant with srutis and how to coordinate swaras properly. Then it comes Swarajati. It is a combination of swara and song. This is the basic exercise we need to do to get the raga right. Then it comes Varnam, which is a special one emphasizing the importance of different ragas. It also teaches us how to stress and approach certain notes. Most of the time, Varam is sung first in any concert because it attracts the attention of the audience.
Then it comes Kirtana (Kriti). It is basically a song composed with the help of swara and raga. It consists of Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charanam which are sung in given order. While Pallavi and Anupallavi are generally two lines, Charanam has more lines and emphasis on the purpose of the song, i.e. raga and tala.
All the above mentioned forms of carnatic music are sung at different speed levels to increase vocal strength and control. During practice, students are often asked to alternately sing ‘Aa’ instead of all the swaras, which helps them achieve perfection in the raga. In ancient times, students were advised to practice standing in a pond or lake up to the level of their throats, in order to maintain a good voice and raga. And in order to have a great voice, students are said to have pebbles in their mouths while practicing.
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