Beginner to Intermediate in Carnatic Music: How to progress?

Beginner to Intermediate in Carnatic Music: How to progress?

What next after the varases?

This is one question that pops into the mind of every beginner who is learning how to sing. Once a student is through with the basic singing lessons i.e. sarale varase, janti varase, taggusthaayi varase, taarasthaayi varase, dhaatu varase and alankaara, before proceeding to learn the pillarigeethe and sanchari geethe, one litmus test to see if he/she is ready to learn different types of geethe is to sing the basic singing lessons in three speeds continuously. If possible, the three speeds can be rendered in ‘aakaara’ as well. This should be an indicator to see if the swara sthana is perfect by this time because this forms the foundation for singing geethe.

Aruna Sairam
Veteran singer Aruna Sairam performing at a Carnatic concert

The next stage of basic singing lessons would be different types of geethe like pillarigeethe, sanchari geethe, lakshana geethe, jatiswara, swarajati and notuswara. A geethe is a simple composition that has swara and sahitya i.e. dhaatu and maatu. Geethe is generally composed in one of the saptatalas. Geethe is usually sung only in the first speed where there is one swara and sahitya akshara per beat of the tala. The nature of the sahitya would be to invoke the Lord’s blessing(as in Pillari geethe), or explain the Lord’s beauty (as in sanchari geethe)or it might explain the structure of the raga, explain whether it is a sampoorna raga or janya raga(oudhava/shadhava) , name of the tala used(as in lakshana geethe)

Pillari geethe is composed in raga Malahari by Sangeetha Pitamaha Purandaradasa. This is rendered in the beginning as an invocatory composition ,especially in pancharatna goshti gayana, because it invokes the blessings of Lord Ganesha, who is to be remembered before starting with anything auspicious. It also describes the beauty of Ganesha. This geethe has 4 sets of sahitya, each set with three subsets of sahitya. The first two sets are in chaturashra jaati roopaka tala and the next two sets are in trishra jaati triputa tala. The first set of sahitya starts as “sri gananatha sindhoora varna “, the second set is “kunda gowra gowri vara”, third set is “kereya neeranu” and the fourth set goes as “padumanabha paramapurusha”. Pillari geethe has been composed in simple Kannada language.

Sanchari Geethe is a composition that is composed by various composers in ragas like mohana, kalyani, shuddha saveri, kambhoji, anandabhairavi, begade etc. The main intent of composing geethe in complex ragas like begade, anandabhairavi and kambhoji is to give an insight into the raga before learning Varna and kritis in these ragas. The geethe has been skilfully structured so as give a clear picture of the essence of the raga as a short composition.  These are generally set to chaturashra jaati roopaka tala or trishra jaati triputa tala.

Lakshana geethe are compositions that are composed specifically to give the lakshana of the composition i.e. an idea of the raga it is composed in, whether it is a sampoorna raga or oudhava raga or shadhava raga, tala it is composed in, the kind of swaras it has in the aarohana and avarohana, and finally an invocatory sahitya part that praises either the king or the Lord in general.

Jatiswara are compositions mainly used in dance. The ‘jati’ used in dance, is translated to swaras here. There are simple mathematical patterns introduced in order to aid learning swara prastara in future.

Swarajati are compositions that have both swara and sahitya. Here both the swara and sahitya are sung alternately. In dance, this becomes a main presentation. The nature of sahitya here is in simple, easy to follow language and is generally composed in Sanskrit, kannada, telugu, tamil languages. One example is a swarajati in raga Bilahari : “raaravenu gopabala rajita sadguna jayasheela”.

Notuswara are very short, simple set of 39 compositions that are composed by Sri Muttuswami Dikshitar, one of the three early composers celebrated as “Trinity of Carnatic Music”. These are composed in Sanskrit language and all the compositions are in Raga Shankarabharana. These are to be rendered specifically devoid of any gamaka(or ornamentation) because these are sung on the same lines as western notes in major scale. However, the sahitya is purely in Sanskrit and resembles the stotra literature. For example “Shakti sahita ganapatim shankaraadi sevitam”. All the notuswaras have ‘guruguha’ as the ankita or pen-name of Dikshitar that may occur in any part of the composition.

Perfection in these advanced basic lessons show that one is ready to leap onto the next step that serves as the stepping stone for manodharma sangeetha i.e. varnams.

You can learn all the above in the Carnatic music tradition on the Riyaz App.

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