Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Kamalambam Navavarna Krithis

I'm not sure what to post here, because I'm not sure to what extent you listen to Carnatic music. I thought I'd begin by pointing at some very famous pieces, do let me know whether this is already well-known to you guys :) And I should add that I am not an expert, I've spent a few years learning vocals, and a few more listening; that's all. :)

As you may know, the krithi is the fundamental unit in a Carnatic musician's repertoire. The most common structure of a krithi is 2 lines of a pallavi, 2 lines of anupallavi, and 4 lines of charanam. The first line of a pallavi acts as a refrain, and is repeated after the anupallavi and charanam; on some occasions the entire pallavi is repeated. Each line of a krithi has a basic melodic structure given by the composer, but each school (and indeed each musician) may add different kinds of gamakams & improvisations to the lines in their renditions; these are usually built up from simple to complex. The basic melodic structure of a krithi determines to a large extent what kinds of gamakams can be sung on it; some krithis sound fine when performed by your average talented 12 year old, some others can be unbearable. Those others are also often the ones that offer the greatest scope for beautiful gamakams, and the Kamalambam Navavarna krithis fall into this category.

The Kamalambam Navavarna krithis are a series of 11 krithis composed on the goddess Kamalamba at Tiruvarur, by Dikshitar. (All of the krithis that I know of are devotional in nature.) All 11 of the krithis performed by D.K.Jayaraman are available as MP3s on the Carnatic Krithi Archive (scroll down a bit, look for the last file on each line: "original mp3"). They are in each in a different ragam, and a few different talams are used. Many of these ragams are "major", turning up regularly in concerts as main/sub-main pieces, e.g. Thodi (Hindustani: Bhairavi), Kalyani (Hindustani: Yaman), Sankarabharanam (Hindustani: Bilawal?), Ananda Bhairavi, Kambhoji, Bhairavi (I don't know the equivalents of these). The Carnatica website has a lot of detail on the beauty and complexity of the lyrics, but I've never really paid attention there.

The music, however, is brilliant. They are wonderful to listen to, over and over again, because their elucidation of the ragas -- at least in the ragas that I know -- is so very broad and complex. They are all also slow, majestic krithis, giving ample scope for each line of teachers to add a non-trivial stamp to their rendition of it. In the Kalyani krithi for example (the only one I can claim to have learnt), the T.V.Sankaranarayanan version here sounds to me nothing like what I learnt (the song itself goes from 4.50 to 10.05, the rest is an alapanai before and kalpanaswaras after), whereas the DKJ version above is a tiny bit closer, and the version by U.Shrinivas on the mandolin here seems a lot closer (song from 6.12 to 10.12).

I've never heard them performed all together, though a search shows that there are a few such concerts: usually, one krithi gets chosen as the main/sub-main piece of the evening, and performed independently. In fact, I've never heard the last few performed at all (but then I didn't grow up in India.) And because these krithis are so demanding, I can't imagine how it would be to perform them all together.

In the meantime, that's what recordings are for... I highly recommend listening to them, and of course, I'd love to hear your thoughts :)


DD said...

nice post :)

sorry for not responding earlier. will listen to the recordings that you've liked to.

SVR said...

Oh, no worries -- I'm curious if this is already well-known :)

Take your time, and tell us what you think of the pieces after you've had a chance to listen. :)

Rangakrishnan Srinivasan said...

interesting post. the welcome carnatic touch to this blog. :)

I suppose we are all united in our ignorance. Contrary to what you might think, not many people might know of these krithis (me being one of them!).

thanks for your efforts!

SVR said...

thanks :)

I actually thought you would know of them, since you've written some kutcheri posts here, but I figured the others might not... good to know that it's new & interesting to more people :)