Is this a sound practice?

The pattern of a traditional Carnatic concert was designed by none other than Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar. However, today, musicians tend to deviate from it in different ways. A senior rasika wonders if this augurs well for the future of Carnatic music?

March 21, 2013 04:45 pm | Updated 04:45 pm IST

Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, with his sense of proportion, set an example on what a concert should be composed of

Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, with his sense of proportion, set an example on what a concert should be composed of

The great masters of yesteryear have erected a strong edifice of classical Carnatic music. It has a rich tradition, established over a period of time. Present-day musicians would do well to preserve and adhere to this tradition.

It was Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, one of the most renowned musicians, who introduced a set concert pattern, which was readily accepted and adopted by all other contemporary musicians.

It was followed by stalwarts such as Ariyakudi, Semmangudi, GNB, Alathur Brothers, Madurai Mani Iyer, M.S. Subbalakshmi, D.K. Pattammal, M.L. Vasanthakumari and scores of other musicians and instrumentalists. Sometimes, vidwans used to commence the concert with a song in a familiar raga, instead of a varnam. But they adhered to the above “paddhathi” in respect of the other items. The audience also became used to this system and were happy with it.

Things have changed now and the present trend is not only disturbing but also distressing. Musicians are deviating from the time-honoured concert pattern (described in the box) and performing according to their whims and fancies. Even youngsters do not begin the concert with the varnam; they start with a kriti that is usually taken up in the middle of the concert. Recently, in a major festival concert, a musician commenced with a varnam, but followed it up with an elaborate alapana of Natakapriya, a raga not much familiar to the listeners. Why take up an alapana as the very second item, that too in an unfamiliar raga?

T.M. Krishna is a highly talented musician, Endowed with a powerful, resonant voice with a wide range, he mesmerises the audience with his vintage music. He is one of the most sought after musicians in the present age. But, of late, his approach has moved away from the traditional format of concerts.

In a recent concert, after a brilliant elaboration of a raga, he did not present the kriti in that raga, but rendered a composition in another major raga. In another concert, he presented two alapanas in succession and rendered a kriti in another raga. In yet another case, the concert was started with a kriti of Muthuswamy Dikshitar in a major raga. In a recital in Chennai, he sang a varnam in the middle of the recital.

If a senior and reputed artiste like Krishna acts against the concert pattern followed by the great masters, other musicians including youngsters will follow suit. This is not a healthy sign. Probably, one day we will see a musician starting with mangalam and ending with varnam. Tradition should be respected. If innovation is the aim, it can be done in so many other ways, within the boundaries of tradition. Another unhealthy practice prevalent these days relates to the sound system. The artistes give too many instructions to the sound technicians. The accompanists want increased volume. The audience is unable to listen to the main artiste, due to too much noise produced by the percussionists. In olden days, no separate mike was provided to the accompanists; the concerts went off well. The great mridangam maestro Palghat Mani Iyer Introduced the concept of “mike less” concerts. He played in numerous mike less concerts which were highly successful.

Yet another undesirable feature is the way the percussionists play the “muthayppu” at the end of a song. They prolong it and make it a mini tani avarthanam, with unbearable noise levels. It is nothing but playing to the gallery. Reputed mridangam players such as Mani Iyer, Palani Subramanya Pillai and others used to play the muthayppu with elegance, ending it perfectly along with the song.

One more disturbing feature is youngsters, without proper training under a guru, learning something from an amateur or listening to cassettes, CDs and You tube and rushing to the concert platform with half baked stuff. The pity is, even parents encourage this practice.

One more irritant is the habit of constantly referring to books and diaries while singing. While referring to a note book occasionally is acceptable, seeing it during the entire concert is an unhealthy trend. Stalwarts of yesteryear never resorted to this habit.

Some musicians spend too much time in alapana and swaraprastharas. Ariyakudi set an example with his keen sense of proportion; his alapanas, neravals and swaras were precise. Palghat Mani Iyer’s excellent sense of proportion earned him laurels. He produced the best tani avarthanam in optimum time.

Can we hope that today’s musicians will ponder over these adverse trends and bring about a change – a change for the better, to preserve the pristine glory of Carnatic music, by following the customs and conventions created by the great maestros.


As per the conventional pattern, the concert begins with a varnam, followed by one or two kritis rendered in quick succession, without an alapana – for example a song on Ganesha, Saraswathi or Subrahmanya and so on. These kritis are in familiar ragas such as Natta, Gowla, Hamsadhwani, Mayamaalavagowla, Sriranjani and so on. Kalpana swaras, if rendered, is brief. This healthy practice also served as a warm-up up exercise for the artiste. Some musicians used to render a pancharatna kriti of Tyagaraja at this stage. The artiste then presents an alapana, preferably in a “prathimadhyama” raga, followed by the kriti in the same raga (the alapana in a particular raga is automatically followed by a kriti in the same raga), appended with neraval and kalpana swaras; sometimes only swaras without neraval. Thereafter, the singer presents the other items selected for the concert – one or two vilamba kaala kritis, sometimes preceded by a brief alapana and a couple of durita kaala kritis, with or without swaraprastharas. Then he takes up the main raga for detailed delineation, followed by the kriti, with comprehensive neraval and swaraprastharas. At this point, the percussionists present the tani avarthanam. After that, one or two fast-paced kritis are rendered, before embarking on Ragam, thaanam and pallavi (RTP). RTP was an important part of the concert and it would take 45 minutes minutes to an hour to do full justice to it. In those days, musicians enthralled the audience with an elaborate RTP, normally in a major raga. The duration of the concert used to be three to three-and-a-half hours.

In the post-pallavi session, (called “thukkada”phase) light pieces such as thillanas, jaavalis, padams, bhajans, slokas or verses rich in aesthetics in ragamalika format are rendered, before concluding the concert.

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