The Kriti is a highly refined musical form that evolved from the Kirthana. kirthanas were born as early as the 14th century AD when the tAlapakkam composers created this musical form with the divisions: pallavi, anupallavi and caraNam. In kirthanas, the sahitya (lyrics) is of primary importance, with the music being merely a vehicle to sing the devotional lyrics.
In Kritis it is the other way round, with the music being of prime importance - the delineation of the raga in various shades is the composer”s primary concern.
Of all the musical forms the kriti introduced by Tyagaraja is the most popular. This is a three-art structure composed of the presentation of an idea, its development and final resolution in a resentment. The first part, Pallavi, means a creeper, a tendril which is yet to grow and blossom. It constitutes the basic idea of the kriti of the burden of he song and is repeated at the end of each section like a refrain. The second part is Anupallavi or that which follows the Pallavi and is a short elaboration of the theme. The charanam (which literally means "foot" or that which moves round) sums up the idea and knots it into a whole. Musically, the Charanam is made up of two parts. The first part is largely a repetition of the Anupallavi but with different words. There may be more than one Charanam in a kriti. The structure of a kriti may be illustrated as follows:
(Pallavi = A. Anupallavi = B. Charanam = C.)
The kriti form takes the following pattern:
C + CB (A)
What sets the kriti apart from an ordinary keertana (hymn) is the sangati or variations n a theme of the Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charanam built into it by the composer. Sangatis were innovation of Tyagaraja. As in the case of literature and scriptures, there are interpolations in music too, with musicians adding their own sangatis to well-known kritis. The greater part of compositions sung today consist of the kriti of the Trinity, Swati Tirunal and the Tamil composers of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Other forms of kalpita sangita like the Tevaram, Divya Prabandham, Tiruppugazh, Devarnama and Tiruppavai are sung at the end of a concert. Padams, javalis and tillanas which are part of dance music also become part of mainstream classical music and are sung in the latter part of a concert. Padams are sung in a very slow tempo and are extremely difficult to handle. The late Veena Dhanam and the members of her family, Jayammal, Brinda and Mukta have been the acknowledged experts in this field. Javalis, popular love songs in lilting melodies, appeared in the Tanjavur court in the 18th-19th centuries. This again has been an heirloom of the family of Veena Dhanam, whose lineage goes back to the court dancers of the 18th century in Tanjavur.
Indian music is based on melody and the raga is pivotal to the system. Raga (what which pleases) is a melodic structure governed by rigid rules but it allows the practitioners a great deal of freedom to improvise. Ragas are derived from scales with particular combinations of notes with a definite relationship to the tonic which when sung evoke certain moods and emotions. The swaras of a raga have to be strictly adhered to and only permitted deviations which enhance the aesthetic quality of the raga are possible.
A peculiar and inseparable part of Karnatak ragas is the gamaka. To explain this complex term, it is better to quote Professor Sambamoorthy, the greatest authority on Karnatak music of the 20th century: "Gamaka is a collective term given to the various shakes, graces, ornaments and embellishments used in Indian music. It constitutes another dimension in music. In other words when the plain character of a note is altered so to result in a musical effect it becomes a gamaka".
The slower the tempo of singing the greater is the scope for the manipulation of a swara. The fast tempo tends to slur over gamakas and rob the raga of its essential character. Some ragas like Todi, Varali, Bhairavi, Begada, etc., are heavily gamaka-oriented and singing them without the right oscillation of the notes would destroy their identity. Todi, for example, sung without gamaka would turn into Sindubhairavi which corresponds to Hindustani Bhairavi. Ragas like Hamsadwani and Bilahari and some minor ragas do not have gamakas.
Desribibg Karnatak music as "near-perfect" a contemporary musician, T.V.Goalakrishnan, who has been trained in Karnatak, Hindustani and Western systems says: "Notes are plain in Hindustani and Western music, while in Carnatic, they are given 'gamaka' (resonance) and thus made more lively" (The Hindu, 2 May 1997). He adds that it is this reliance on microtones that lends a distinct character to Karnatak music.
Gamakas make notation of music difficult as they can only be taught by the oral method. Notation in Karnatak music is only as useful as the script of a play to an actor. It makes a musician aware of the structure of a Varnam or kriti but the actual rendering of it has to be learned from a guru.
The Madras Quartet by Indira Menon, Roli Books, New Delhi, 1999