Raga identification made easy!

Surabhi Post : Carnatic Music Terminologies Contd (Post0005)


Lets now try to cover some of the terms relevant in the context of appreciating a carnatic music concert. Here again one needs to first get familiar with the items presented in a regular kutcheri or concert and how the artiste brings about improvisations as per their skill, voice range and knowledge.

Carnatic music focuses on both Lakshya and Lakshana aspects. Lakshya gnanam is that which is acquired or learnt from a guru (for e.g., rendering of a kriti or a song), whereas Lakshana gnanam is an individual's creativity, that which the artiste manifests on the concert platform spontaneously (for e.g., raga alapana or kalpana swaras).  This is also referred to as manodharma sangeetham.  An artiste therefore, has to first learn, then appreciate, understand, assimilate and then improvise and perform.

The different facets of manodharma are discussed below:

Raga Alapana -  This exercise involves singing of short or long phrases of a raga aimed mainly at creating a mood of the raga and laying the foundation for the composition that is to follow next.  Ususally it is the artiste's choice to choose the syllables for rendering the ragam, like tha-tha ri-na, na-na-na, aaa-aaa, la-la-la etc. (Listen to Raga Alapana in Shankarabaranam)

Kalpana Swara - This exercise involves singing of swaras in an appropriate place in a kriti, spontaneously.  It is a very interesting and challenging exercise for the artiste because while rendering the swara patterns, the artistes also have to adhere rigorously to the tala. (Listen to Kalpana Swara in Shankarabaranam)
Neraval - Improvisation of a particular line in a kriti as per the manodharma of the artiste is called neraval.  It is entirely the artiste's prerogative to choose the sahithyam (lyrics) for neraval.  Usually the line chosen for neraval is rich in sahithya and bhava (emotion) aspects. (Listen to Neraval in Shankarabaranam)

Ragam-Thanam-Pallavi (RTP)- This item features usually in a concert which has a duration of 2 or more hours.  It is the highest form of manodharma sangeetham because all the components rendered are entirely the artiste's imagination. Ragam refers to the raga alapana mentioned earlier.  Thanam refers to singing phrases in certain rhythmic patterns in the same raga for which the alapana was rendered.  It can be roughly described as a modified form raga alapana at  a much faster pace. The syllables employed are 'anamtham' 'aanandham', 'numtha' 'thomtha' etc. (Listen to Thanam in Shankarabaranam). Pallavi is a single line composition (composed either by the artiste, or their guru or a pallavi specialist) in the same ragam, covering one cycle of tala.  The pallavi line is first rendered a few times, then improvised in various sthayis and speeds (similar to neraval) followed by which kalpana swaras are rendered.  It is the artiste's liberty to take up few rounds of kalpana swaras in various ragas making a ragamalika out of it and finally concluding by coming back to the original pallavi (Listen to Pallavi in Shankarabaranam in   khandajathi ata talam ).

It is also important for us to know the elements that feature in a normal carnatic concert and that, we will take up in our next post.

Till then, happy reading and listening!

Musically yours,


A rasika asked for a clarification regarding the difference between Sangathi and Neraval:

Improvisations of each line in a song is called the sangathi.  For eg., In the kriti Bantureethi Kolu, the pallavi line has atleast 5-6 improvisations, similarly in the anupallavi line, 'thundavinti vani' there are two sangathis, again in the charanam, 'romanja mane' has two sangathis and 'ramanama mane' has two sangathis.  This is true in the case of every kriti and these sangathis are passed on from teacher to student and mostly do not change to a great extent.  Thats why 'Bantureeti kolu' by any artiste would sound almost the same.

Neraval is also improvisation of a particular line but the difference is, it is rendered extempore by the artist.  You are right in pointing out that 'neraval' in tamil means' filling up' meaning one has to fill up the words in a proper manner adhering to the ragam and the talam of the keerthana.  Unlike sangathis, neraval can be improvised in any sthayi and any speed. There can be long kaarvais in between, the line can be split and part of the line can be repeated without destroying the meaning of the line but all this  is done keeping the talam intact. The most important difference between sangathi and neraval is that while sangathis are taught to us by our gurus, neraval is the artiste's own imagination or manodharmam. It is up to the artiste to
decide whether he/she wants to do a neraval and where the neraval would be and what would be its duration.

Please listen to the audio file (Sangathi / Neraval at 'Ramanama mane') to understand the difference.

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)