ABHYASA GANA - Gita
Gita, literally meaning a song, is the first composition that one learns with lyrics. The lyrics are normally in praise of Gods and Goddesses.
Structure: It is a very simple composition in terms of raga and tala, that a beginner would be able to learn with utmost ease. It sometimes has all the sections of a composition, namely, Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charanam. Or it may just have a Pallavi and Charanam(s).
There are two kinds of Gitas:
(a) Samanya Gita: Ordinary Gita
(b) Lakshana Gita: These are special Gitas that describe the characteristics (lakshana) of the raga in which they are composed.
Languages used: Sanskrit, Kannada or Bhandira.
Popular Composers: Purandaradasa, Paidala Gurumurti Sastri, Ramamatya, Venkatamakhi
Purpose: This simple composition enables an aspirant to understand the perfect synchronisation of melody, rhythm and prosody. While Gitas, in general, provide a link to higher musical forms, the lakshana gitas give an insight into the raga and its characteristics.
As the very name suggests, musical composition containing Swara and Jati (rhythmic solfas). The lyrics are normally devotional in nature, though at times, they contain descriptions of heroic deeds.
Structure: A Swarajati has all the three sections – Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charanams. The Charanams have different tunes and are first sung as swaras (solfa passages) and then repeated with lyrics. Each Charanam is sung in this manner before going on to the next Charanam. Originally, this was a dance form containing Jatis, which were later excluded by Syama Sastri, who refined and perfected this form. The normal Swarajati is similar to a Pada Varnam in the structure and speed of execution. However, Syama Sastri’s Swarajatis have become very popular as concert pieces.
Language used: Predominantly Telugu.
Popular composers: Syama Sastri, Pachimiriam Adiyappayya, etc.
Purpose: They are pleasing melodies which form the stepping stone to the next important composition, Varnam.
A musical form which has both Swaras and Jatis woven together. This form belongs to the dance repertoire.
Structure: The structure is very similar to the Swarajati. It has the usual three sections, the Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charanams. Though the Charanams were originally intended to be sung with jatis, the present day Jatiswarams have no jatis or lyrics but only swaras. The emphasis here is on the rhythmic patterns.
Popular composers: Swati Tirunal, Ponnaiyya, Sivanandam, Vadivelu and Vina Krishnamachari.
Purpose: Jatiswaram is a dance item that helps in developing rhythmic stability.
This is not only an advanced study piece but a fine concert opener too. Classical Varnams have been composed in weighty or evocative ragas, usually expressing romantic or devotional sentiments. The lyrics of the varnam are usually in praise of a God or a patron.
Structure: The varnam consists of two halves:
a) Purvanga - the first half consisting of three sections, namely, the pallavi, the anupallavi and the muktayi / chitta swaras.
b) Uttaranga - the second half consisting of the Charanam and the Charanaswaras.
The pallavi and anupallavi, usually consisting of two lines each, are sung consecutively, followed by the Chittaswara. One then goes back to the pallavi to render the whole Purvanga in multiple speeds before going on to the Uttaranga. The charanam has only one line with lyrics followed by four or more charana swaras. The Uttaranga can also be rendered in multiple speeds.
a) Tana Varnam - Normally performed in music concerts, the Tana varnam has plenty of vowel extensions in the lyrics and the words are generally in praise of God or a guru (teacher) or patron (usually Kings). It has lyrics only in the pallavi, anupallavi and the charanam.
b) Pada Varnam - This generally is considered more a part of the dance repertoire, although some Pada Varnams are used frequently in music concerts. These are normally sung in a very slow tempo in order to express the emotions. The theme here is generally love. In the Pada varnam, other than the pallavi, anupallavi and charanam, each charanaswara and the chittaswara have lyrics.
Languages used: Telugu, Tamil and Sanskrit.
Popular composers: Pacchimiriam Adiyappa, Pallavi Gopala Iyer, Vina Kuppayyar, Tiruvottriyur Tyagayyar, Patnam Subramanya Iyer, Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar and many more.
Tana Varnams - Eranapai (Todi ), Vanajakshi (Kalyani), Ninnukori (Mohanam)
Pada Varnams - Sarasalanu (Kapi), Chalamela (Natakurinji)
Purpose: The varnam is the last type of Abhyasa Gana that is learnt before going on to kriti. As the Varnams contain several important, unique, unusual and appealing phrases of a raga, it requires dexterity, knowledge, technique and good musicianship to compose and sing a varnam.
The study and practice of Varnams are of utmost importance both to the vocalist for voice training and the instrumentalists for developing good fingering techniques. The swara passages are a good basis for the performer to learn the technique of kalpanaswaras. Also practising Varnams in multiple speeds gives one a good, steady sense of rhythm.