The Margazhi music season has just commenced! Let us celebrate his festive start with quick trivia on a musical form that typically marks the beginning of every concert- the Varnam!
The word varnam means ‘colour’ and ‘division’ or ‘category’ akin to the four varnas, the erstwhile classes of society.
Varnams encapsulate multiple musical and rhythmic nuances and truly highlight the colour and shades of the raga(s) they are set to!
They are structured as a pallavi, anupallavi and charanam (also known as the ettugada pallavi) followed by multiple swara passages.
Varnams can be set to a single raga or span multiple ragas in a ragamalika format, a well known example of which is the Navaragamalika containing 9 ragas.
Padavarnams are typically rich in long notes and slower in tempo, with each swaram associated with a corresponding sahityam. They are leveraged extensively for the portrayal of abhinayam in Bharatanatyam recitals.
Tanavarnams, usually faster in tempo, are studded with musical constructs such as yatis, swarams, kaarvais and so forth. They lend themselves well to tanam singing.
Noted varnam composers of yore include Pachimiriyam Adiyappa, Veena Kuppier, Ramaswamy Dikshitar, The Tanjore Quartet and Patnam Subramanya Iyer to name just a few.
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