Karnatak Music Compositions

Karnatak Music Compositions!

The vocal form, ragam-tanam-pallavi, is generally the main item in Karnatak music concerts.


The ragam is an elaborately improvised alapana in completely free time, and the tanam, though rhythmic, is still unmeasured. It is the final section— pallavi—that is a composition of words and melody set to a tala.

The statement of the composition is followed by elaborate rhythmic and melodic variations still using the pallavi.

The kriti is, perhaps, the most popular form in Karnatak music. Kriti means a ‘creation’; kirtanai, ‘to sing’. Though used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference between the two— the kirtanai refers more particularly to a devotional song, with the poetic beauty of the song dominating; in the kriti, it is the music which is more important.

The major part of the modern repertoire of kritis comes from the three composers, Thyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Shastri, who lived in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.


However, the Tallapakam composers (14th-15th centuries) are credited with the earliest kritis which were mostly in Telugu and arranged into three sections—pallavi, anupallavi and charanam. Purandharadasa (1480-1564) contributed much to the development of the kriti.

The kriti is embellished by decorative phrases such as sangati, a built-in variation of a phrase; niraval, improvised melodic variations of text; svara kalpana, improvisation based on the sargam passages; and chittasvara, a set of svara in the raga and tala of the kriti.

The varnam is a complete composed piece, designed to show the characteristic phrases and melodic movements of a raga, and is usually performed at the beginning of a concert.

The padam and javali are generally love songs, more lyrical than the kriti, using poetic imagery characteristic of the bhakti movement. Padams are, however, of a slower tempo and graver import with the love terms referring to the human yearning for the adored godhead. Javalis are not quite as allegoric as padams; they are direct descriptions of human love, and faster in tempo than padams.

The tillana is the south Indian musical counterpart of the north Indian tarana—rhythmic and fast in tempo. Sometimes a passage of meaningful words is interspersed in the tillana which is otherwise composed of a variety of meaningless syllables.

As in Hindustani music, in Karnatak music too, bhakti influenced the development of the music, though as early as 7th-9th centuries AD. Some of the earliest known hymns were the tevaram, which, indeed, formed the foundations of the musical culture of the Tamil-speaking people. Tevarams were sung by a class of singers known as oduvars. The Tiruvachakam of Manikkavachakar and the Tirupugazh of Arunagirinathar were other devotionals. Kirtanais, as already mentioned, were more sophisiticated devotionals. A great composer of kirtanais was Bhadrachala Ramadas (17th century) who sang in Telugu.

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