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Surabhi Post : Carnatic Music Terminologies (Post0003)


In this week’s column, I am going to talk to you about some of the basic carnatic music terminologies that are often employed in music circles.  Some of these terms may be familiar to our rasikas but the idea of going through it, is for the benefit of carnatic music students and beginners.

Shruti and Laya: “Shruti Matha, Laya Pitha” means shruti is the mother of music and laya its father.  Shruti is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Shru’ meaning ‘to hear’.  So, what do you hear? The shruti box or tambura constantly plays the fundamental invariant note ‘Sa’ along with the corresponding ‘Pa’ and higher ‘Sa’, listening to which a person is able to sing or perform.  As mentioned earlier, the base ‘Sa’ is the frequency which determines the position of all the other swaras.  The role of shruti box or tambura is therefore so crucial and students must never attempt to sing without the accompaniment of shruti.  In carnatic music, shruti is given by a number.  Most of the female vocalists normally sing in 5 – 6 and male vocalists sing between 1 and 2. ( Listen to 5 kattai shruti and 6 kattai shruti).  Laya or tala is the rhythm or tempo of the song.  Talas are classified on the basis of the number of beats in each cycle.  Basically, there are seven types of talas for which several sub-divisions are possible.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnatic_musichttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tala_(music)http://www.angelfire.com/mb/mridhangam/tala.html

Tara Sthayi and Mandra Sthayi – Sthayi means octave.  The octave is defined by the fundamental swara ‘Sa’ and constitutes swaras from ‘Sa’ to higher ‘Sa’. ‘Tara Sthayi’ means higher than the chosen octave (listen to Mayamalava Gowlai tara sthayi sample) and ‘Mandra Sthayi’ means lower than the chosen octave (listen to Mayamalava Gowlai mandra sthayi sample).

Gamakam: The oscillation or shaking of a particular note or swara is referred to as gamakam.  This is a very special feature of carnatic music and is responsible for making it so unique.  Many of the common ragas like Thodi, Shankarabaranam, Kalyani, Bhairavi, Kambodhi etc. have gamakas in-built in their structure without which these ragas would lose their charm and beauty. (Listen to Gamakas in the raga Shankarabaranam).http://www.karnatik.com/gamakas.shtmlhttp://carnaticmusicknowledge.blogspot.com/2007/08/facts-on-gamakas-in-carnatic-music.html 

Briga: Fast or speedy rendition of a particular phrase is called the briga. (Listen to samples in Shankarabaranam).  We come across brigas in regular carnatic compositions.  Brigas also form a part of raga alapana making them more appealing.  Carnatic music stalwarts like GNB, MLV are known to have employed lot of brigas with lightening speed in their renditions.

 More terms will come up in my next post. Till then, happy reading and listening!

 Musically yours,

A step by step initiation in to Carnatic music theory addressing raga classification, common music terminologies, various swara sthanas, raga lakshanas and more...Do take time to go through our blogs where all concepts are described with appropriate audio demonstrations. (Explanations in English)