Friday, January 7, 2011

Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi (RTP)

I have always had a great passion for singing Ragam-Tanam-Pallavis (RTPs) in my concerts.

The Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi is a musical form that is very unique to Carnatic Music. It is a form that offers a lot of scope for creativity. Anyone can compose a Pallavi line (with proper adherence to its grammar) and elaborate on it. Some Pallavis that past masters have composed and sung have become very popular and each artist portrays an elaboration of the same line in different ways, according to his or her own imagination.

I would neither claim myself to be an expert nor to be doing anything new. I would just call it my passion and courage (probably also weakness !!) to take up tough Pallavis, make an earnest attempt and present them to the best of my ability in my concerts.

(@ Mahesh - It is your comment on my previous post that has triggered off the idea of writing this post now :-))

Musicians of yesteryears have been a great source of inspiration in the kinds of Pallavis that they have taken up and the way they have handled them.

One of my greatest source of inspiration has been my Guru, Padma Bhushan Sangeetha Kalanidhi, Madurai Sri.T.N.Seshagopalan. The plethora of innovations he brings in, while singing Pallavis, the way he develops the alapana and the tAnam has always amazed me ! A true genius of this century..

Contemporary musicians (young and senior) have been exemplary in their presentation of RTPs and listening to each of them has always been a learning experience, according to me. I am not taking any names here, as the list would go on and on :-)

I always believe that a RTP should be aesthetically appealing and pleasing. I would never to go into too much of mathematics, which would make the ear "tired". I always try to maintain a good balance. Even the calculations that are done should be appealing and done with a lot of poise. According to me, an artist who can present a complex Pallavi and at the same time, make it sound easy to the listeners is the real artist.

It is a misnomer that Pallavis always have to be complex. Easy pallavis can definitely be taken up and the individual's numerous ways of interpretation of the same can go on and on. This is precisely why we call it a creative art form.

Just to name a few Pallavi types - Nadai pallavis, KaLai pallavis, Pallavis in multiple Talas,Nadais and Ragas, dwi-Avarthana Pallavis, madhyama Kala Pallavis, Pallavis with the raga names intelligently woven into the lyrics - such varieties are numerous.

I would personally internalize every RTP that I sing and make it my "own" before I present it on stage. It is not always true that musicians practise a RTP for weeks or months together before presenting it on stage. Internalizing its structure is the key. Once we get this into our system, the vast scope that each RTP could offer can be mind-boggling !
Each of these three components - Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi is a vast subject by itself.
Ragam - If we take the Raga Alapana, the raga exposition can be done in different stages. Recordings of past masters like GNB, Alathur Brothers,MLV,DKP,SKR (to name just a few) are excellent examples of how to develop the Alapana stage by stage. This area,by itself, offers a vast scope for creativity.

Tanam - Tanam singing is another art by itself. Syllables to be used while singing the Tanam, the permutations and combinations of these syllables used - all play an important role and at the same time,it should be appealing to the ear.

Pallavi - The Pallavi line is sung 2 or 3 times, for the accompanists and the audience to first get familiar with the particular line. Then a detailed Neraval is sung.
Neraval singing for Kritis is different from singing Neraval for a Pallavi. The words of the Pallavi should always fall at the same place in the Talam without deviation while singing the neraval. At the same time, the musician has to give a lot of varieties - by filling in the gaps and singing neraval at different speeds to avoid monotony. Singing an appealing Neraval is an art by itself.

After this, the Trikalam, Anulomam and Pratilomam are done. This is followed by Kalpanaswaras. This again is an area which offers a lot of scope. And of course, the Ragamalika Swaras sung towards the end is something that everyone looks forward to !

I am not going into the technicalities of these here. I am just reiterating the fact that any RTP should be complete, with proper focus and time allotted for each of the above aspects.

Earlier concerts used to be for a minimum duration of 4-5 hours. This gave the musician to sing the RTP at a very leisurely pace, giving ample time for the raga alapana to be sung and explored in various stages, sing an extensive Tanam and develop the Pallavi in all possible aspects.

I suppose singing a RTP these days can be more challenging, because one tries to bring in all these above mentioned aspects within the limited time available. For instance, in a 2.5 hour concert, I would personally set aside a clear 50-55 minutes for the RTP. Giving all the ingredients within this timeframe as a capsule requires a lot of mental planning. One must know where to stop ! I try singing as many varieties as I can while developing the pallavi and bring out as many possibilites as I can.

Role of Accompanists while presenting a RTP : I give a lot of importance to this aspect. When all artists take up the challenge and present the RTP, it is a very enjoyable experience. It is never a one-man show. I have been very fortunate in the sense that, all my accompanists play very earnestly for the RTPs that I sing. We share a lot of ideas on stage. If one of us comes up with a flash of an idea, the other artist takes the cue from there and we instantly improvise on it. On the whole, I find it very enjoyable. For instance, while I am singing the Neraval or Trikalam, I really like it if the Mridangist fills the gap with interesting patterns or flourishes without disturbing the flow of the lyrics.

One particular senior accompanist whom I have always admired and drawn inspiration from, is Sri.Mannargudi Eashwaran, for the kinds of replies that he gives while following a pallavi. I have heard him accompany my Guru on several occasions and his approach always amazes me. (This doesn't mean that I don't acknowledge other great percussionists or violinists - its just that I have had the opportunity to listen to Sri.Eashwaran on more occasions.)

While singing a RTP, minor mistakes do happen (atleast in my case!). We are after all humans, not robots ! A missed Karvai or an extra Karvai somewhere can result in the entire thing going haywire.
Earlier, maybe 10 yrs back, if I made a minor mistake somewhere in the calculations while singing the pallavi in a concert, the night after the concert would be a nightmare. I would keep tossing this way and that and the mistake used to haunt me for days together. To get rid of this, subsequently, with more experience, even if I made a small mistake, I always try and quickly calculate while the violinist plays his/her turn and attempt the same thing again and ensure that I get it right the next time! Of course one's aim would always be to present a flawless Pallavi, but at times we find ourselves in a tight spot and it requires a sharp, smart and alert mind to quickly wriggle out of such a situation !

I think it is the duty of every musician to educate the audience about the nuances of what we present in a RTP and to pass on this wonderful creative form to the future generations, in its purest form. I personally have never been able to accept RTPs sung and done away with, in just 15 or 20 minutes.

I have just quickly keyed down whatever ideas came to my mind now on this topic. I can go on talking about this subject but let me stop for now :-)

In every concert that I sing a Pallavi, I just take a deep breath and embark on this wonderful, musical journey of singing RTPs :-)


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed thoroughly your latangi RTP.The pallavi singing was brilliant and enjoyable..I also feel that RTP in 15 or 20 minutes do not bring about the nuances clearly.In fact a musician"s capability is best judged by his/her singing RTP.Infact going too much into mathematics clearly spoils the whole thing and really not pleasing to a lay listener like me.

riyer88 said...

Dear Mrs. Girish, this post is an excellent read for I must thank you for posting the same. Regards

Vasu Srinivasan said...

Thanks for very good informative article with interesting personal touches and experiences.

Though I would like to see more "janaranjaka" pallavi's. Seems most pallavis are of namami, namaste, pahimam, rakshamam, arulvai category.

Also tirukkural could be used for pallavi-s, doesn't 1.5 line split neatly as an arudi?

Anonymous said...

Gayathri, its mind boggling to think of so many aspects coming together to present the centre piece of a concert. Thanks for giving us an insight into the "backstage effort"! Truly enlightning. Would love to read more....


Anonymous said...

I am just reading a book"The Madras Quartet"(Women in Karnatak Music) by Indira Menon.I quote from that book on R.T.P
Pattammal"s pioneering effort in RTP was carried forward by MLV.Her RTP was a class by itself.Each component received a spacious treatmentOf the three parts tanam was her forte,............Her madhyamavathi pallavi "Meenakshi-ma-madurai-meenakshi kanchi-kamaksi-kashi-visalakshi... linking up the three important shakthi peetams is an exciting piece.
At a time when RTP had all but faded away from the concert format she pleaded for its revival in he address to the Music Academy (1977)"A sense of proportion plays an important role in concerts and one can sing atleast a small pallavi in a 2 hr concert"
I thought this may be relevant in the context of talking about RTP


Anonymous said...

Could you pl give me your email id. I would like my daughter to learn carnatic music from you. She has now been learning carnatic music for the last 8 years. Than ks and cheers - Lakshmi. My email id is

sangeetha said...

Actually this seems to be a great attempt to write about rtp...
It is one of the majestic form where a musician can show his creativity...Nowadays in cncrts people dont encourage pallavi singing...But for students like us this a very important information...
thanks to srimati. gayathri girish..
Mam excepting more right ups on the practical side of rtp like anulomam pratilomam .. naalu kala pallavis etc...