Natalie Savelyeva

Varnam in Music

"Varna" means "color", some scholars relate the word to "Varnana" (description). Description of Raga, prescribing its lakshana was done in earlier times, only through a geetam and hence it came to be called as "Lakshana geetam". Perhaps, due to its inadequate nature to portray all the possible and admirable combinations and colors of a raga, the Varna took its birth. Varna took shape to project all "sancharas" of a raga, with various shades, in a more elaborate manner. The constituents prescribed for a Varna, namely, Arohi (ascending order of notes), Avarohi (descending order of notes), Sthayi )resting or elongation of the note) and Sanchari (movements of the note) are all found in musical portion of Varna.

Varna in general has five divisions:

    Poorvaranga (first section)

  1. Pallavi is the beginning section
  2. Anupallavi is the section that follows the Pallavi
  3. Muktayisvara is a set of svara phrases appended to the anupallavi

    Uttaranga (latter section)

  4. Ettugada or Ettugada pallavi is the short lyrical line, found after the muktayisvara, but rendered separately
  5. Ettugadasvaras is few sets of svara passages that follow Ettugada pallavi. At the end if every cycle of ettugadasvaras, ettugada pallavi is rendered.

Pallavi has some statement in the nature of a prayer or request, while Anupallavi continues the statement by supposing the statement of the Pallavi and addresses the deity or the patron, as the case may be.

Ettugada pallavi shortly indicated as "Ettugada" may be compared to the Charana of kriti or keertana. Sometimes it is mentioned as "Upapallavi" or Chitta pallavi. In Telugu and Kannada "Ettigada" means "commencement", "position of attack". King Shahji substituted the word "Charana" with "ettugada" in some of his compositions, that was later adopted by varna composers. The piece of lyric used in Ettugada is comparatively short and mostly, has incomplete meaning or may compliment to the statement found in the Pallavi and Anupallavi.

Muktayisvara is indicated as "chittasvara" by some. Chittasvaras with or without Sahityas are used in kriti to add color, serve as complemental, not compulsory part. They may composed by composer or added later on by other singers. In Varna Muktayisvara is a must. "Muktayi" means "finish", it is concluding portion of Poorvaranga. In Tanavarna Muktayisvara may hava sahitya or not.

The set if svara passages that follow the ettugada are called 'ettugada svaras' to differentiate them from the muktayisvara.

In initial stage of its birth, Varna had one more section called "Anubandha" (appendix), rendered after all the ettugada svara passages (for ex, varnam Viriboni has this section).

The content of Varna may be found in the wordings and its underlying theme. It may possess aither devotion or love or in praise of a patron. The aim of the composer is to portray the raga in all its brilliant hues and shades.

Svara patterns used in tanavarna adhere to the "Tanam" type and hence it gained that name. It enables a practitioner to make his voice cultured to execute any type of Gamaka, at any desired speed.

Padavarna is used only for dancing purpose. It is always rendered in a slow tempo and hence is called 'Chaukavarna' (slow varna). This is replica of tanavarnam in form, but every svara passage has its iwn sahitya. Sometimes padavarna may contain jatis, then it's called 'padajati varna' which is nothing but svarajati. Padavarnas never admit excessive gamakas, nor loaded with sangatis (embellishments).

Since the padavarna is a product of feudal times, its theme is based on Bhakti and Sringara, as found in Padams. The methods to approach God are many, Madhura bhava or Bhakti Sringara is one of them. Vipralamba Sringara (opposite to Sambhoga Sringara) arises pangs of separation and innumerable feelings and emotions, expressed in poetry. That is why this type of Sringara is more employed as theme of padavarnas.

Varnam in Dance

Varnam is the most complicated item of Bharatanatyam Margam comprising either Nritta or Nritya aspects. Main mood of Varnam may be either Sringara or Bhakti (devotion expressed through love to God, called Bhakti–Sringara).

In Varnam Nayaki (the heroine) addresses her Lord directly or indirectly (by appealing to her close friend, Sakhi, asking help and convey her message). She requests help, laments, reproaches or expresses her love and devotion. In Varnam the God is considered as Nayaka (the hero), i.e. abstract idea of God finds its manifestation in God–like human creature.

There are two types of Varnams:

  1. Pada Varnams are used for dance choreography, and are also called Chowka Varnams. They are set in slower tempo (chowka kalam). All the swaras are accompanied by sahityam (lyrics) and thus are more suitable for dance.
  2. Tana Varnams are intended for musical performance and practice. Tana Varnams are set in faster tempo. Chitta Swaras of the second part of Tana Varnams do not have sahityam.

Varnam comprises of two parts:

  1. First part is called Purvaranga and includes Pallavi, Anupallavi, Muktai Swara and Muktai Swara Sahityam.
  2. The second part is called Uttaranga and comprises Charanam and Charana swaras (also called as Chitta Swaras, short notes).

Varnam commences with Trikala Jathi. Sollukattus (garlands of syllables) and corresponding series of adavus are executed in three speeds (kala–s): vilambha, madhyama and druta. The last portion of Trikala Jathi is called Kuraippu. Adavus of Kuraippu are performed without repetition. Muktaippu is finishing sequence of Kuraippu, final chain if adavus called makuta or teermana adavus executed in triple cycle.

Trikala Jathi (and all other jathi) are followed by Aradi (rhythmical patters used as conclusion of Nritta portions accompanied by footwork.)

Besides Trikala Jathi, Purvaranga portion of Varnam includes Kuraippu (performed separately) and several different jathi–s, intermingled with singing of Pallavi and Anupallavi.

In Varnam two types of Abhinaya are employed:

  1. Pada artha abhinaya is illustration of direct meaning of sahityam, i.e. "word–by–word" meaning (literary, pada artha means "step be step").
  2. Vachika artha abhinaya is more elaborated illustration of sahityam (vachika artha lit. means "going with speech"). Its purpose is to give wider context to direct meaning of particular line, i.e. to explain indirect aspects using related mythological stories, associations, etc. Such free interpretation is called Sanchari (lit, roaming round).

After each line of Pallavi and Anupallavi, jathi–s are executed, each followed by Aradi. Muktai Swaras are sung after Anupallavi (and corresponding last Jathi). For Muktai Swara dancer executes Korvai (set of adavus). Usually, Muktai Swara is repeated twice. Muktai Swara Sahityam is again illustrated using Abhinaya. It is also repeated twice. The second repetition is accompanied by tattu–mettu adavu (footwork, set to different rhythmic patters). Here abhinaya may be also accompanied by Sarpa nadai, special way of moving on the stage along snake–like curve.

Uttaranga part of Varnam is rendered in faster speed. It starts with Charana sahityam illustrated using Abhinaya. Charanam is repeated several times.

Each Chitta swara is repeated twice. The dancer performs short and brick Korvai–s. Chitta swara sahityam follows, also repeated twice. First time Chitta swara is illustrated with pure abhinaya. The second rendering of sahityam is accompanied by tattu–mettu adavu or Sarpa nadai.

Varnam is concluded with Charanam. Charanam is the heart of Varnam, the most emotionally charged line of sahityam. It expresses the main idea, the message the heroine seeks to convey to her beloved. Often it is formulated as a question (How can I bear the shower of Manmada arrows?), sometimes as imperative sentence (Please, come back my beloved!) which contains more or less evident hint or suggestion, hidden intention and innermost wish.

Varnam starts by Pallavi. Varnam is composed as a conversation, thus it stars from afar. Pallavi may comprise a question in rhetoric form (Why are you angry?) or direct addressing which emphasizes some quality or condition of the hero.

Anupallavi contains further description of nature, virtues, qualities and deeds of the hero.

Muktai swara sahityam contains some myth or story taken from life of the hero which is very illustrative of his character and helps to understand nature of relationship between the hero and the heroine.

Charanam is emotionally charged plea of the heroine. Here she reaches the point of her conversation, revels her inner attachment and wishes.

In sahityam of Chitta swaras the heroine develops her intentions. Using myths or stories as examples she describes her attitude and relation to the hero. Here she freely expresses her emotions relating the hero, his qualities and deeds. She opens her heart to full extent. Faster tempo of the second part, brick Nritta and emotionally charged, very different swaras give bright picture of heroines inner feelings.

The interesting feature is that after each Chitta swara sahityam Charana swara sahityam is repeated. This has special meaning. Sometimes Charanam is called "ettakadai pallavi". They say that each Chitta swara sahityam may be properly understood only if followed by Charanam.

S Sharada Teacher explains Varnam as follows:

"In the Varnam, teermanam–s should be in proportion to the rest of the piece. Disproportionately lenghy teermenam–s spoil the continuity of the work. So do unnecessary long Sanchari–s. When Sanchari go beyond three or four avarta–s (rhythmical cycles), the dance turns into a drama or mono acting. At one recital, I counted as many as 60 repetitions of a line, at which point I gave up counting. This kind of a thing distorts the form of the varnam. It is possible to communicate what is necessary in the shortest span of time.

The kalapramanam (tempo) for a varnam should be moderate. This enhances the beauty of the presentation. In the older forms, tattu mettu was never done for the Pallavi and Anupallavi. Tattu mettu was done for the Chittaswara sahitya. The continuity of teermanam–s should also not be broken. Adavu–s should be in proportion to the teermanams.

The stage space should be correctly used. Just as the delineation of adavu is important, so also are the lines created when covering the stage. A dancer should not wander on the stage; there are certain prescribed ways of moving which should be respected.

For the Sanchari–s in the varnam, the various subtle meanings of the song should be used within the context. This will make the presentation attractive."


In Carnatic music, Swarajathi is understood as simple composition, comprising Pallavi, Anupallavi (not always) and one or several Charanas, all with sahityam. Charanas are rendered in swaras and then in sahityam, which is feature of swarajathi comparing to kriti or kirtanam. In musical training swarajathis are sung as preparation for Varnams.

There are three major types of Swrajathi:

  • swarajati used in Abhasa gana (music class), which structure is simple - pallavi, anupallavi and number of charanas.
  • swarajathi composed by Shyama Sastri based on the frame of Abhyasa gana swarajati, but included into music concerts because of oustanding merit and quality.

    "The beauty of the swarajatis of Sri Shyama Sastri is that ragas have been shown in them taking a phrase-oriented approach. An example is the swarajati in raga Bhairavi. One can just borrow these phrases while one tries to portray Bhairavi. After beautifully showing what all does bhairavi include, it seems as though he is saying – "This is what is bhairavi" when he ends the swarajati in "ipuDu shrI bhairavI." [3]

  • swarajti intended for dance, which structure is similar to pada varnam, with several key features (described below.)

In dance under Swarajathis are understood compositions very close to Varnams by structure. The difference is that instead of Muktai swaras and Muktai swara sahityam (like in Varmnam), Swarajathis comprises Muktai swarajathi, i.e. swaras mingled with Sollukattus, without any sahityam after. Another difference is that Charanam swaras are sung first followed by Charana sahityam.

Purvaranga (first part) includes Pallavi, Anupallavi, Muktai swarajathi.

Trikala jathi and several jathis are inserted after each line of Pallavi and Anupallavi.

Muktai swarajathi is sung twice (sometimes in two speeds), set to different korvais.

Uttaranga (second part) comprises Charana swaras, Charana sahityam, Chitta swaras and Chittaswara sahityam.

Charanam swaras are sung first followed by Charana sahityam set to pure abhinaya.

Charana swaras are set to different korvais. Charana sahityam is set to pure abhinaya.

Chitta swaras are performed like in Varnam, swaras are sung twice, set to different korvais.

Chitta swara sahityam follows set to pure abhinaya and abhinaya accompanied by tattu mettu adavu or Sarpa nadai.

Swarajathis are very old musical form. Many Swarajathis were composed by Tanjore Quartette, specially for dance. Famous Swarajathi are Husseini, Anandabhairavi, Bhairavi (by Shyama Sastri).

Varnam and Swarajathi

Before Varna occupied the place, Svarajathi played the important role. Svarajatis are are of two kinds. One serving as a vocalise and the other used in dancing.

Vocal Svarajati had Pallavi, Anupallavi and or more charanams. Some of them do not have Anupallavi, as we find in the structure of a keertana with Samashti Charana. The theme of the song may be either devotional, heroic or amorous. Since a passage of jathis (rhythmic solfeg gio) was originally an inegral part, this composition tightly acquired the name "svarajathi". It contains swara (musical tone), jathi and padas (words). Some of svarajathis are available today do not contain jathis, but still retain the same name.

The second type of svarajathi was used in dancing, until Padavarna replaced it. It adheres to a great extent, to the lakshana of Prabandha consisting of Svara (musical note), Biruda (small word used for exclamation, such as "O", "Ha"), Pada (lyrics), Patha (rhythmic solfa syllable) and Tala (rhythmic structure). Only "Tenaka" (words like "Tana Tana") is missing. The structure of Svarajathi is almost akin to the Padavarna. Pallavi, Anupallavi, Muktayisvara (some call this "Chittasvara"). Ettugada (also called "Charanam") and ettugada svaras, with lyrics for all these. The only distinction between Svarajathi and Padavarna is that the former is interspersed with Jathis, which is absent in the latter.


  1. "Varna Swarajati" by B.M.Sundaram, Saraswathi Mahal Library, Tanjavoor
  2. "Nirmalam" by S Sharada, Madras, 1997
  3. Lecture Demonstration on Sri Shyama Sastri on