Carnatic music is a dynamic system continuously fuelled by dashes of creativity and improvisation. Here is a quick peek into the world of manodharma.

The word ‘manodharma’ in Sanskrit means ‘order of the mind’ referring to the scope for improvisation available to every artiste in his or her creations and renditions.

In music, manodharma refers to on-the-spot improvisation arising from a musician’s creativity, but within the confines of musical grammar defined by the raga and tala in question.

Key elements involving improvisation include the neraval, kalpana swaram, raga alapana and the tani avartanam. Exposition of a Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi is completely based on one’s manodharma.

While several kritis and varnams are ‘kalpita’ or preset, they hold scope for improvisation in the form of minor nuances and sangatis that can be skilfully woven in.

Manodharma is shaped by one’s musical repertoire and exposure to music. It, in turn, influences kalpita sangeetam since the creation of new musical pieces is governed by the creativity of the composer.

Musicians of yore were awarded titles suggestive of the branches they specialised in. Some examples include Pallavi Sesha Iyer, Athana Appayya and Todi Sitaramayya, who is believed to have sung the Todi ragam for eight full days.

An emphasis on manodharma is the crowning glory of Indian classical music, though a few western forms like jazz do involve some improvisation.

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