Why knowledge of Varnams is important to understand rakti ragas?
It is an established fact that to understand Carnatic music, one must have a profound knowledge of varnams, which help learners to fathom the nuances, and execute raga alapana, niraval and kalpanaswaras. Composed by experts, they provide insights into the intricacies and depth of a raga.
The lec-dem, at Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha, by scholar and musician Rama Ravi, supported by daughter Nanditha Ravi, on the ‘Role of varnam in understanding the raga swaroopa of rakti ragas’ was interesting and educative.
“The varnams came into use mostly during the post-Trinity times,” said Rama Ravi. “So were alankaras — an orderly arrangement of swaras effectively used in kalpitha and manodharma music. Varnams particularly help the learner to understand how to employ akara, ukara, ikara when presenting a raga. There are many great composers of varnam such as Pallavi Sesha Iyer, Veenai Kuppier, Karur Devudu Iyer, Pachimiriyam Adiyappaiyya, Patnam Subramaniya Iyer, Thanjavur Ramaswami Dikshitar to cite a few.
Rama Ravi demonstrated a few rakti raga varnams and how they facilitate raga development and structuring. She began with ‘Sarasooda’ by Kothavasal Venkatrama Iyer in Saveri. She explained how the jiva swara daivatam was used in different places and was employed as kampita, plain as well as nyasa swara. Nanditha Ravi sang these to make rasikas understand the variations.
The next was Kalyani Ata tala varnam ‘Vanajakshi’ by Pallavi Gopala Iyer that emphasises the significance of ‘ma’, ‘pa’ and ‘ni’ in the raga. It showcased how the various segments of the varnam could be deployed in starting and developing a raga alapana. According to Rama Ravi, it enables the learner to understand the various combinations of these swaras not just to draw up a perfect raga image but also to frame swarakalpana with varja and jaru prayogas. She chose the popular Thodi varnam ‘Era naapai’ to throw light on the sequencing swaras in ascending and descending order even while excluding the panchamam. “You could still create a fantastic portrait of Thodi.” The Ata tala varnam ‘Kanakangi’ by Pallavi Gopala Iyer was chosen to demonstrate how the raga exposition could be understood through its well-structured swaras.
Similar demonstrations were made with Sankarabharanam varnam, ‘Sami ninne’, and fleeting references were also made to Begada and Sahana varnams. Rama Ravi warned that indiscriminate extrapolation at certain junctures carries the danger of landing on a different raga. Therefore, the exercise demands care, control and perfect understanding.
All these explanations were backed by Nanditha’s singing of swaras, sahityas and raga vinyasams. Shruti Sarathy supported the duo on the violin.