Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

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SrinathK
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#1 Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

Post by SrinathK »

The varnam might have found its way into CM from dance, but as far as I can see there isn't a more versatile form of composition in CM than the varnam. Few points, others are most welcome to add :

1) Varnams are more technical compared to kritis. In fact, they can package every element of CM into a single composition.
2) They can be sung or played in many degrees of speed in multiple naDais, even if their inherent structure was not designed for those naDais.
2.a) With some cleverness, they can even be played in other tAlas with naDa bhEdam and even masked rhythmical forms like chatushra tisram.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrhbfdKpprk

3) They are also suitable for a massive range of tempos and levels of gamakas. Their pacing can be used to project different aesthetics.
4) The aTa tALa varnams uniquely explored a +2 eDuppu.
5) You can sing it as simply and elegantly as you want, or make it as complex as you want. They can be sung as an opener, sub main or main also. Even as a tailender, if the varnam is composed and rendered in a certain manner.

I know who you might be thinking of reading this, but let's just discuss the argument purely on the basis of musical merit.

6) It is possible to do neravals and kalpanaswaras with them.
7) Varnams lay the best possible foundation for rAgas, gamakas and swaras.
8) akaara sadhakam using varnams is a fantastic exercise.
9) If you're an instrumentalist (I play the violin), you can showcase all your technical trickery in addition to the above, and still make it look more than a mere technical exercise.
10) There are varnams that have done both naDai and graha bhEdam. Like Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar's mOhana varnam.

Where else can this art form go?
1) More varnams in more languages and more versatile lyrics. Varnams by vidwans like LGJ broke new ground in that area.
2) More rasas. We usually run the standard sringAra run of the mill 'sAmi ninnE kOri' varnams a lot. Human experience of rasa is vast however. I am curious to know how much of other rasas are explored.
3) More talas and naDais. Varnams haven't even explored the 7 tAlAs enough IMHO.

The chatushra naDai varnams, for all their versatility of being capable of sung in so many different naDais, are actually not intrinsically designed with the natural rhythmic patterns and aesthetics of other naDais in mind. There's a whole continent worth of possibilities in there.

4) More ragas.
5) More exposure. I mean, there are at least 600-700 of them out there, and it's rare for me to hear anything beyond the standard dozen or two in most concerts. The other day there was a nagaswaram concert by parivAdini that had one in sumanEsaranjani.

I wish this thread would develop into a good one exclusively on varnams with lots of links shared. My knowledge of varnams is limited and I want to know what's out there.
Last edited by SrinathK on 29 Jul 2018, 11:59, edited 2 times in total.

Sreeni Rajarao
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#2 Re: Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

Post by Sreeni Rajarao »

SrinathK,

I find your postings very interesting! Thanks for starting yet another great thread. I hope it will accomplish what you intended for this thread.

I am sure you are familiar with Sri B M Sundaram and his efforts in compiling Tana Varnas.
Quoting here from what I found on the Net "Tana Varna Tarangini deals with 880 varnams (with all available pathantara variations). BMS himself has composed 22 tana varnams"

I will be happy to share one or two varnas (audio/video) that do not belong to the mainstream.
I am sure there are several hundreds that belong to this category - these may never see much light or any light in concert performances.

In Bharatanatya dance performances, I enjoy the elaborate varnas. I have been a first hand witness to the tremendous effort the Teacher and the student performing rangapravesha (Arangetram) invest in their preparation. Some of them are as long as 30 or 40 minutes duration!

I am looking forward to this thread growing into an enriching one with contributions from the informed Rasikas on our Forum.
Last edited by Sreeni Rajarao on 29 Jul 2018, 16:49, edited 1 time in total.

ram1999
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#3 Re: Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

Post by ram1999 »

But for TMK, no one on this earth would have ever known that a varnam has the verstility to sung in the beginning of a concert or as sub-main or a main or a ragam thanam pallavi or as a mangalam :)

rshankar
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#4 Re: Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

Post by rshankar »

With this "expanded" role/incarnation, a tAna varNam can become what the pada varNam has always been for dancers: a) a center-piece of the mArgam (the "main", if you will), and b) a complete piece - the pada varNam offers scope for all the facets of bharatnATyam: abstract dance (nRtta to the jatis), emoting and bringing the lyrics to life (abhinaya), and story telling through the sancAris (nATyam in its catholic sense) - so, if presented with an AlApana, nereval, and kalpana svaram, a tAna varNam should become a showcase for all the aspects of kalpita and manodharma sangItam in all its glory.

Like Sreeni, I am looking forward to the growth of this thread as well.

KSJaishankar
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#5 Re: Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

Post by KSJaishankar »

Vid. Sowmya had given a concert featuring varnams exclusively - it was even released as a commercial recording. Sorry I do not have details of the label.

vasanthakokilam
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#6 Re: Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

Post by vasanthakokilam »

That concert of Sowmya is a favorite of mine and I used to listen to that a lot. I need to find that again now that you mention.

I echo what Srinath has written above. I made myself a 'mixed cd' of varnams in different ragas by various artists and used to be great drive time listening providing enough variations which is an essential requirement for such purposes.

arasi
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#7 Re: Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

Post by arasi »

Srinath,
Just like you to start a thread like this! May this grow into another meaningful and resourceful thread for rasikAs.
Personally, varNams didn't mean anything extraordinary when I was growing up, learning some, listening to them in concerts. It all changed as years went by. I started seeing them differently over the years: they hold keys to rAgAs, speak of their structural beauty, and are delightful on their own to listen to. Big example: viribOni--in a rAgA which isn't my favorite. How it unfolds, viriyum tAmarai (the unfolding petals of a lotus)...
The structuring of the piece by the composer blossoms slowly but steadily there.
Above all, good singing of a varNam holds promise for a good concert to follow...

arasi
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#8 Re: Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

Post by arasi »

Correction, on my being nudged on my post by a friend: to follow, AND to be preceded by too? Can they hold their place any place? After all, that's what the thread says too--one of the vidwans practicing it as well. We could alter 'all in its proper place' to 'properly voiced, no matter where it is placed in a concert'?
It makes me wonder. Like many others,I listen to music which is not live most of the time and I listen to concerts at times in a jumbled way which means the varNam isn't the opener every time I listen. I don't mind that. In a live concert? I still would like it as the first item, I think. A vinAyakA invocation is fine, but I still miss the varNam if it's not sung at all...

shankarank
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#9 Re: Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

Post by shankarank »

arasi wrote: 30 Jul 2018, 19:31 I started seeing them differently over the years: they hold keys to rAgAs
Now that means , they have to be handled with care. As they were considered repository of rAgA svarUpa themselves! So you have subtly indicated that mangling them too much is not ideal.
arasi wrote: 30 Jul 2018, 19:31 How it unfolds, viriyum tAmarai (the unfolding petals of a lotus)...
adai poye kasakki mugaruvAnEn? Why then crush it and then smell it?

Much has been made out of them being made into warm up stretches and getting a cursory treatment. But then people lost sight of the fact that most everything got that type of treatment. And the time duration and collation of various forms, Aloppanai, noraival, sworum, did not just yield diminishing returns, but even negative interest as well, like the US treasury bills post the financial crisis. I.E. we paid to supposedly safe keep CM, safe in the hands of the next generation!

So making an issue out of vaRNam being given a cursory treatment in a concert is not valid, if that's what inspired all the discussion.
Last edited by shankarank on 31 Jul 2018, 18:38, edited 1 time in total.

kvchellappa
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#10 Re: Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

Post by kvchellappa »

The discussion as I understand is the scope and depth of varnams as musical compositions.

shankarank
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#11 Re: Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

Post by shankarank »

Lets make lots of new vaRNams in non-rAgA rAgAs, like how it was put, and mangle them to our satisfaction. Abounding Aesthetic extravagance! All plastic stuff , but we just got to heat it up a bit.

SrinathK
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#12 Re: Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

Post by SrinathK »

In the past, there was a thread just like this - it died out because permanent cloud storage wasn't possible in those days, and once links went dead, they stayed dead (something which we all need to check from time to time). I just found out about it now.

viewtopic.php?f=2&t=65&hilit=varnams

But times have changed. The cloud is a reality, storage capacities huge, rates dirt cheap or free, and data sharing has never been easier. Music albums themselves have started leveraging youtube. Sangeethapriya has come a long way. A lot of 'others' are the ones doing the sharing. I don't think that sharing links up here should be an issue anymore. Hopefully any links we're sharing in recent days will be here to stay.

https://in.pcmag.com/storage/40065/guid ... es-of-2018

If there are any issues with any particular recordings, we can avoid sharing those and simply recommend searching or books instead.

So here's the deal. We'll do a lot of music sharing and discussion in this thread over time, with one caevat - please try and stick to one link per person per post.. We can have multiple links if you wanted to compare a few different renditions of varnams. But no spamming.

EDIT : At least that's what I have been thinking. I do know that we've had policies on not sharing commercial recordings or recordings of current artistes, but since 2006-07 the digital landscape has just exploded. I need a discussion on how we can explore the unexplored.

If there are threads elsewhere on rasikas that are exploring varnams and have links to recordings (and there seem to be a LOT in the composers, lyrics and requests section), I'll just put up the link. That's easier.

As a starter though, it will be good if there was a list of known varnams out there, a link will do. I have raided all of sangeethamshare's archives of varnams sometime back and have found a lot of varnams, and yet it's still far from what is out there (I will link them down the road). My own approach to expand my music collections has always been to get a list and then pick an item and see where I can find it online.

For krithis, a composer based approach has worked best for me. For varnams, I felt it was better to search by category.

I will also look into the lyrics and dance sections if someone requested notations or lyrics for varnams.

My advice is to please download and keep a copy of any recording before sharing. You'll need it.

Let me see if I can use the old threads on rasikas as a starting point. Just like the good 'ol days huh?
Last edited by SrinathK on 31 Jul 2018, 16:38, edited 3 times in total.

SrinathK
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#13 Re: Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

Post by SrinathK »

Just for the record, here's an almighty list of documented varnams (almost 1500 courtesy none other than Lakshman sir) : http://www.karnatik.com/varnams.shtml

Here's a link that I found with some interesting points : https://sriramv.wordpress.com/2010/12/1 ... n-varnams/

There are 2 books out there that detail a humongous number of varnams - TK Govinda Rao’s Varnasagaram (2006) in which there are around 500 and in the Tana Varna Tarangini of BM Sundaram there are over 800. I wasn't aware of BM Sundaram's book until now. Thank you.

So now it's time to go treasure hunting :)

In the meantime, like I wrote up there, we need to discuss the recording links policy since times have changed. The are lots of recordings out there, but there is also the risk of a valuable Youtube channel getting shut down, and as far as I have searched some old threads, there has been quite some trouble and mischief kicked up over the issue of sharing music.

And yet, it's only because of the technology and the efforts of rasikas that so much repertoire and manodharma has been preserved and is coming to light. There is a lot of repertoire which I never knew existed, and which will also be a revelation for many people, and we can discuss it. The limits of what is known can never be pushed without a willingness to reveal the unknown.

So here's my idea. We know the sources of public storage - sangeethapriya / sangeethamshare and youtube mainly. Even github is turning into another source now (more on this later - I do not know the scope of it). There are a few other well known ones. And whatever we don't know, google will tell. So should we share a link or is it enough if we just advise searching for it or keep the sharing private? Your thoughts?

Personally, if I do talk of a recording, consider it already in my hard drive.

shankarank
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#14 Re: Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

Post by shankarank »

This one by Dr BMK starts with a bright rendition of his own in shanmukhapriyA with Dr Yella's accompaniment. I did not hear the sAhityam part in other renditions of this pada vaRNam.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3t60xtgRb0

eesha
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#15 Re: Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

Post by eesha »

ram1999 wrote: 29 Jul 2018, 08:34 But for TMK, no one on this earth would have ever known that a varnam has the verstility to sung in the beginning of a concert or as sub-main or a main or a ragam thanam pallavi or as a mangalam :)
Dr S Balachander once gave a concert for 2 hours featuring only 1 item - Nava raga malika varnam

All the "innovations" today are re-cycled versions of what Dr SB had done already.

talalaya
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#16 Re: Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

Post by talalaya »

Not just Balachander Most of the "So-called" innovations hat we get to her today have been tried and tested by Past Masters like SB, Kalyanaraman etc. Not just vocal Music but also in violin, Mridangam etc

Sreeni Rajarao
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#17 Re: Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

Post by Sreeni Rajarao »

SrinathK,
I hope my effort here will align with your Note 5 in the opening post on this thread .......
"(5) More exposure. I mean, there are at least 600-700 of them out there, and it's rare for me to hear anything beyond the standard dozen or two in most concerts........"

I am sharing here a recording that I have found to be unique, in the sense that I have not heard any other artiste performing this tAna varNa.

I urged my sister Smt Veena Kinhal to perform this varNa again in a concert, after a long gap (of 41 years, if I am right!)

vagakAda mA sundari, a composition of Sri Kottavasal Venkatarama Iyer
Natakuranji rAga, Adi tALa

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAFvzY5 ... e=youtu.be

Downloadable mp3 only here:
https://archive.org/details/VarNaVagakA ... 5AudioOnly

GNB_LGJ_PR
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#18 Re: Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

Post by GNB_LGJ_PR »

SrinathK,

:D Awesome discussion - I wish we had the Whatsapp thumbs Up smiley in our list :)

Just a thought/question - Would it be a good idea to practise a scalical(non-gamaka oriented) raga varnam in another scalical raga?

Cheers

Lakshman
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#19 Re: Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

Post by Lakshman »

SrinathK: If there is interest, I can generate a list of varnAs. Notations for most of these are available.

Vayoo Flute
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#20 Re: Just how vast and versatile are varnams? And what new frontiers can they explore?

Post by Vayoo Flute »

Nice thread.

I find that most musicians, unfortunately, tend to treat the varnam as a warm-up exercise, with renderings that are largely mechanical, not giving justice to the beauty in many of these. S Balachandar was certainly an exception to this. His navaragamalika varnam can be used as a great learning tool for the component ragas. Another exception is Mali (although his varnam repertoire seemed to be limited). Here is a wonderful rendition of the Kambhoji ata tala varnam.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXSYFB2OPgs

Note that he has avoided the norm of playing the first part in 2X speed. Singing the same phrases in different speeds would have destroyed the mood he is trying to create. Note his treatment of the charanam. He is probably the first to split each line into 4-nadai and 3-nadai and does it without making it sound contrived.

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