Carnatic Music (1 of 2)
Thu, 16 May 1996 11:29:42 -0500

Carnatic Music (1 of 2)=20

Ceratain forms of fine arts such as literature require some knowledge=
to enjoy them. However, music is one of such an exception, which=
can be enjoyed even without the knowledge of it. That is why it=
is often said that 'SiSurvEtti paSurvEtti, vEtti gAna rasaM phaNihi'(saMge=
etamunu; SiSuvulu, paSuvulu, pAmulu kUDA AnaMdinca galavu). However,=
some curious or inquisitive souls are never satisfied without knowing=
a few details of how 'music' was organized and 'what are the fundamentals=
that are forming it'. Though it is an extremely tough task to address=
all of those aspects, this is a highly simplified overview confining=
to some details about how the classical Carnatic 'rAgAs' are formed=
based on 'svarAs'.

'nAdamE vEdamu, sAma vEdamE saMgeetam' is said to be the general=
notion for Indian classical music. Sound is the first and major=
important component of any music. If that 'sound' is organized in=
a rhythmic manner, it makes music. The first ever 'sound' in Indian=
scriptures is said to be 'Om kAramu'. From this, all the other sounds=
are generated and there are 'seven' sounds identified important=
for music. Today, it is very tough to determine how and why only=
'seven' sounds are recognized as the basis of Indian music. These=
are called the 'sapta svarAs'. 'svaraM' is explained as ['(sva)=
svakeeyamugA (raM) raMjincu dhvani viSEshamu']. Indeed, many people=
know 'sa', 'ri', 'ga', 'ma', 'pa', 'dha', and 'ni' as 'sapta svarAs'.=
However, it should be borne in mind that these are only the 'indicating=
letters' of 'svarAs' and actually 'svarAs' are 'sound based'. The=
following is the list of the sounds of these 'svarAs'.
svara resembles the sound of indicating letter
shadjamamu nemali sa

rishabhamu eddu ri

gAndhAramu mEka ga

madhyamamu kraunca pakshi ma
(a kind of crane)
pancamamu vasanta kAlapu kOyila pa

dhaivatamu gurramu dha

nishAdamu Enugu ni

Though the ancient Indian music is the same all over the country,=
due to many invasions of North India in the past and the subsequent=
cross-cultural influence (especially that of Persian music), it=
is often believed that a different trend of music called 'hindustani'=
emerged out in India. For the same reason, some people believe that=
Carnatic music is relatively more 'virgin'.

Of the basic seven 'svarAs'(now I confine to using the 'indicating=
letters' and Carnatic music only) five of them have variations within=
themselves. While 'sa' and 'pa' do not have any variations and each=
remains as single, 'ma' has two whereas, 'ri', 'ga', 'dha' and 'ni'=
have three each and altogether there are 16 variations of 'svarAs'.=
However, once again based on the 'sound', there are identified four=
duplicates. So, the ultimate effective number of 'svarAs' to set=
'rAgAs' is=20
(16 - 4=3D) 12.=20

If the 'svarAs' are rendered in the increasing order, sa, ri, ga,=
ma, pa, dha, ni; it is called 'ArOhaNa'(ascending) and in the reverse=
it is 'avarOhaNa' (descending). A 'rAga' may be described as ['svaramulacE=
alaMkariMpabaDi, janula cittamunu raMjiMpajEyu layAnvitamaina dhvani=
viSEshamu']. The formation of 'rAgAs' is more of a mathematical=
exercise with various permutations and combimations of these 'svara=
variations'. Every rAga has specific order of svarAs. If there are=
'7 and 7 svarAs' in both 'ArOhaNa' and 'avarOhaNa', it is called=
a 'saMpUrNa or mElakarta rAga'. In Carnatic music, there are 72=
such rAgAs. These are called 'janaka rAgAs' also. There are many=
derived out of them, which are called 'janya rAgAs'(derivatives).=
From each of these 72 rAgAs, the other permutations and combinations=
are also possible. If 'ArOhaNa' and 'avarOhaNa' follows with the=
combination svarAs in, (7 and 6); (7 and 5); (6 and 7); (6 and 6);=
(6 and 5); (5 and 7); (5 and 6); (5 and 5); a total of 484 rAgAs=
can be derived from each of the 72 original 'rAgAs', making a total=
of 72 x 484 =3D 34,848 'rAgAs'. I once again remind that these are=
all based on the '12 variations of svarAs' only. This is the reason=
why some of the 'rAgAs' might sound similar for a common man (even=
for an uncommon man also), but one may have a very subtle difference=
compared to the other, which the experts only can distinguish. The=
only best way of identifying a 'rAga' is to know the eaxct 'svarAs',=
but not by the mere tune of the song.=20

(I guess, at this stage one might resort to the proverb 'ignorance=
is bliss' thinking that music can be enjoyed without knowing about=
it. Afterall, I can only say 'no pains; no gains'.)

In addition, there are 'vakra' rAgAs. These are the ones where, in=
'ArOhaNa' and/or 'avarOhaNa', the 'svarAs' can occur in a 'zig-zag'=
manner and not necessarily in the exact order they used to be. This=
aspect makes it tough to render these rAgAs and also the number=
of 'rAgAs' possible much, much, much more. One very famous example=
of 'vakra rAgas' is 'Sree rAga' (tyAgarAja kRti - endarO mahAnubhAvulu).=

Quite a number of film songs are tuned based on the classical rAgAs.=
However, because of many factors, the film musicians can never incorporate=
the original 'rAga' 100% in a song. Very often they tend to deviate=
from the original and mix up a lot to get as much variety as possible.=
In a way, it is not an exaggeration to say that 'light music' is=
also mostly either 'partially adulterated' or 'highly discounted'=
classical music only.=20

The general method of tuning a song is based on one 'rAga'. However,=
as certain 'rAgAs' are very apt for certain 'bhAvAs', different=
stanzas of some 'keertanAs' or songs are set to difeerent 'rAgAs',=
which is termed as 'rAga mAlika'. One of the best examples is the=
usage of ten 'rAgAs' for describing 'daSAvatArAs' of 'jayadEva=
AshTapadi-jaya jaga deeSa harE!' in the film 'bhakta jayadEva'.

The other important aspect of music is 'tALa' (beat). In Carnatic=
music, there are basically 7 types of 'tALAs' and with each of them=
having 5 sub-types, makes a total of (7 x 5 =3D) 35 varieties of=

With regards,=20
Prabhakar Vissavajjhala

P.S.: The details of 'svara variations' and 72 'rAgAs' are described=
in part 2.