Musical Forms in Carnatic Music - Alaapana,Kalpana Swaram,Thaanam,Pallavi
The Aalaapana is an example of a musical form giving scope for improvisation
within a framework. It is not totally unstructured or a mere combination of
random notes of the raagam, but an emotionally satisfying development of the
raagam mood within its definitions but giving scope for creativity. The
Aalaapana does not have a rhythmic pattern, but there is an inherent time sense
in the phrases. It could take as little as a minute or two or could be expanded
to cover even an hour! When made elaborate, aalaapana is usually structured
starting at the lower pitches and progressively touching higher pitches and
finally covering some quick phrases. In older schools, the aalaapana was
supposed to stress more on the melodic aspects of the Krithi to follow and a full
exposition of the raagam was reserved to Raagam, Thaanam, Pallavi.
Kalpana Swaram is the extempore singing of solfa (sa ri ga ma etc.) at the
end of a krithi or in the middle, taking either the pallavi or other line as a
refrain. Rhythmic pattern is the main highlight of kalpana swaram. Each group
has to end correctly at the point in the thaalam cycle where the refrain starts.
Starting with groups of swarams covering one or two aavarthams, the artiste
goes on to larger number of aavarthams often using clever rhythmic patterns
at the end of each group before repeating the refrain. The "iruthi makutam" or
last group of phrases usually a combination of groups of odd number of notes
repeated thrice to correctly coincide with the start of the refrain, has now
become a standard practice.
Thaanam is the extempore elaboration of the raagam mood to stress the
ghana aspect using the syllables "a, tha, nom, tham". (Historically the term
had a different meaning implying skipping of notes.) There is inherent rhythm
in thaanam and sometimes artistes have mridhangam accompany the Thaanam
though it is not set to any thaalam in particular. One of the definitions of a
"ghana" raagam is a raagam which is well suited for thaanam. The present
Thaanam form perhaps developed on the Veena which is very suited for it and
Thaanam is often played on the Veena after aalaapana before a krithi but
vocalists generally reserve it to "raagam, thaanam, pallavi". Some 'chittai'
thaanam's (ready made) are available in the ghana panchaka raagams.
Pallavi is the form where instead of a krithi a single line of lyric covering one
aavartham (or more if chaapu thaalam is chosen) in 2 kalai or even 4 kalai
is taken up for elaboration with great emphasis on the rhythmic aspect. The
line could be the pallavi of a well known song (but could be in a different
thaalam). Usually sung after aalaapana and thaanam, the pallavi is elaborated
in different kaalams including a thisra nadai in which 3 cycles of the pallavi
cover 2 aavarthams. Kalpana Swaram invariably follows the pallavi and often
the swarams are sung in other raagams returning to the main raagam at the
end. In days of 3 or 4 hour concerts raagam, thaanam, pallavi was always
included in the concert.