Natalie Savelyeva

Chapter 2. Setting of Varnam in dance

Besides classical division of varnam into two sections, i.e. Purva ranga and Uttara ranga), from the point of view of choreography, it is logical to separate Pallavi/Anupallavi part from Muktayi part, Thus, Varnam as a dance item could be divided into three parts. The first part includes Pallavi and Anupallavi. The second part comprises Muktayi svara and sahityam. The third part includes Ettugada pallavi and Ettugada svaras with sahityam.

Vocalist starts varnam with small introduction of the raga. After that vocalist commences the first line of Pallavi, during which the musicians, mridangist and nattuvanar join the vocalist. Dancer enters the stage and commences varnam with "Tattu" (simple footwork when the strong beat of tala is emphasized.) This footwork is performed before execution of each Nritta portion. Similarly, Nattuvanar renders chain of solkattus (for example, "dhalangu taka diku taka tadin ginatom" in case of cheturasra nadai) This chain of Solkattus sets the kalapramanam and nadai (or gati) of coming Nritta portion (for each kind of nadai, the special chain of Solkattus is used, for instance, in case of Tisra nadai it is "dhalangu thom taka tadin ginathom.")

Nritta in varnam commences with Trikala Jathi. The feature of this teermanam is, that 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. This final chain of adavus is also called "makuta" or "teermana" adavus executed in triple cycle.

Further on, each line of Pallavi-Anupallavi is repeated several times and illustrated with Abhinaya. In Pallavi and Anupallavi "melody and sahitya are melted together in free-flowing style" (Higgins). Hence, the melody admits variations (especially if we talk about Pada varnam) such as Sangati and Niraval. Abhinaya performed to Pallavi and Anupallavi is elaborate and includes variations called "Kai" and "Sancari".

"Kai" is depiction of particular line of Sahityam using hand gestures ("kai" means hand, thus the term "kai" is applicable to pure abhinaya passages). Kai variations follow the rules of Pada artha abhinaya, i.e. the meaning is depicted according to the words of poetry, but using different hand gestures and movements. Each Kai gives slightly different variation of the meaning. Intensity of Bhava is slowly increased with each Kai.

Last variation is performed in form of "Sancari" (literary - "roaming round"). In the context of Abhinaya, Sancari is an illustration of the meaning using a story or set of associations, which do not correspond literally to the words of the line performed, but represent the elaboration of the meaning of the line.) Sancari sums up the previous interpretations and elaborates the general meaning of the line as a whole.

Jathis are inserted in between the line of Pallavi-Anupallavi (there can be one jathi or pair of jathis inserted.) Jathi brings out rhythmic aspect of varnam. The particular contrast between slow development of Abhinaya and precise rhythmical setting of Jathi-korvais, is the feature of the first part of the varnam. Here pure Nritta and Abhinaya are clearly separated. Emotional intensity of Abhinaya is increased by each line of Pallavi and Anupallavi. Similarly, the gait and rhythmical complexity of pure Nritta is increased from one Jathi to another one.

Each Jathi in varnam is followed by "Aradi" or "Arudi", the rhythmical patterns concluding Nritta portion and accompanied by footwork. Aradi serves as the juncture between the Jathi and the following line of sahityam set to melody. Aradi is also the point of synchronization, which allows the dancer, nattuvanar, mridangist, musicians and vocalists come together and proceed to the next avartana.

Muktayi svara is rendered twice, and two different Nritta korvais are perfumed to svaras. Rhythmic structure of adavus follow the gait of svaras and introduce additional rhythmic patters.

Sahityam of Muktayi svara runs step in step with svara phrases, each word of sahityam is matching to certain melodic phrase. Sahityam of Muktayi svara is song twice. First time it is illustrated by pure Abhinaya. The second set of Abhinaya is empowered with "Tattu mettu" adavu (footwork set to different jathis or sequences of 4, 3, 7, 5 or 9 beats) or "Sarpa nadai" (when the dancer walks from left to right and back along the line resembling the shape of a snake.)

Rhythmic pulse of Muktai svara is crisp and precise. There is not so much prolongation of vowels, as in Pallavi-Anupallavi section, and not so much scope for elaboration for musicians. Thus, Abhinaya is performed in Pada artha manner without any variations. Tattu mettu adavu serves as the summit. In Tattu mettu, all three aspects of varnam, i.e. rhythm, melody and lyrics, are amalgamated. Intensity of emotional expression reaches its summit in here. This portion is like a cadence of the first section of the varnam. In this portion, Tattu mettu performs the same function relating abhinaya as mridangam perform for vocalist in music kutcheri. Rhythmic patters of Tattu mettu are suggested by svara phrases.

The Uttara ranga section of varnam comprises Ettugada pallavi followed by Ettugada svaras. Kalapramanam of this section could be increased up to 1.5 of the tempo of Purva ranga.

Sahityam of Ettugada pallavi is repeated several times in the beginning and in the end of this section. Ettugada pallavi is illustrated with Abhinaya. As Ettugada Pallavi is repeated several times, Abhinaya admits several Kai variations and sometimes one Sancari is performed to the last two repetitions of Ettugada Pallavi. Ettugada Pallavi is also repeated after each Ettugada svara. This repetition is used either for Aradi or dancer can go backwards and prepare for the next Korvai.

Each Ettugada svara is repeated twice. The dancer performs two Korvais set to different kanakku and adavu patterns. Tempo and rhythmical complexity of Nritta korvais increase in harmony with melodic arrangement of Ettugada svaras and emotional intensity of Abhinaya, which should become more and more impressive in order to reach the summit in the end of the varnam.

Sahityam set to Ettugada svaras is repeated twice as well. First repetition it is used to perform pure abhinaya. Second time, Abhinaya is accompanied by Tattu mettu or Sarpa nadai. Here abhinaya is not so lengthy and elaborated. Syllables of sahityam are allocated in more "compact" manner, following the gait and rhythmic patterns of the melody. In general, Sahityam in this section is more informative. The heroine uses different stories (mythical or real) to express her feelings and explain her condition.

After the last Ettugada svara sahityam is over, Ettugada Pallavi is repeated again several times and dancer performs Abhinaya (which usually is repetition of the Kai performed in the beginning of this section).

Structure of varna is summarized in the below.

Here, "Tattu" denotes simple footwork in preparation for Nritta, executed to Solkattu like "dhalangu taka diku taka tadin ginatom" or to the music, as a rule during the last drutam before starting the Nritta portion. "Tattu mettu" denotes execution of abhinaya to lines of sahityam set to music and accompanied by footwork set to different rhythmic patterns, reflecting the rhythmic structure of svaras or varnamettus, potent phrases of melody, or poetical meter of the lyrics, as a case may be.)

Also, in Svarajathi, Muktayi Svarajathi korveys could be set in two kalas (speeds), i.e. Korvei1 – in Vilamba Kala (slow speed), and Korvei2 – in Madhyama kala (medium speed).

Comparison of Varnam and Svarajathi setting in dance
Setting of Varnam Setting of Svarajathi
Purva Ranga

Short Raga Alapa — Pallavi Line1 (enterance)

Tattu — Trikala Jathi (Korvei) — Arudi

Pallavi Line1 (Abhinaya)

Tattu — Kuraippu (Korvei) — Arudi

Pallavi Line2 (Abhinaya)

Tattu — Jathi1 (Korvei) — Arudi

Anupallavi Line1 (Abhinaya)

Tattu — Jathi2 (Korvei) — Arudi

Anupallavi Line2 (Abhinaya)

Tattu — Jathi3 (Korvei) — Arudi

Muktai Svara (Korvai1) — (Korvai2) — Arudi

Muktai Svara Sahityam (Abhinaya) — (Tattu mettu) — Arudi

Pallavi Line1 and mridangam solo (finishing)

Short Raga Alapa — Pallavi Line1 (enterance)

Tattu — Trikala Jathi (Korvei) — Arudi

Pallavi Line1 (Abhinaya)

Tattu — Kuraippu (Korvei) — Arudi

Pallavi Line2 (Abhinaya)

Tattu — Jathi1 (Korvei) — Arudi

Anupallavi Line1 (Abhinaya)

Tattu — Jathi2 (Korvei) — Arudi

Anupallavi Line2 (Abhinaya)

Tattu — Jathi3 (Korvei) — Arudi

Muktai Svarajathi (Korvai1) —(Korvai2) — Arudi

Muktai Svarajathi Sahityam (Abhinaya) — (Tattu mettu) — Arudi

Pallavi Line1 and mridangam solo (finishing)

Uttara Ranga

(—)

Ettugada Pallavi Sahityam (Abhinaya)

Ettugada Svara1 (Korvei1) — (Korvei2) — Arudi

Ettugada Svara1 Sahityam (Abhinaya) — (Tattu mettu) — Arudi

Ettugada Svara2 (Korvei1) — (Korvei2) — Arudi

Ettugada Svara2 Sahityam (Abhinaya) — (Tattu mettu) — Arudi

Ettugada Svara3 (Korvei1) — (Korvei2) — Arudi

Ettugada Svara3 Sahityam (Abhinaya) — (Tattu mettu) — Arudi

Ettugada Pallavi Sahityam (Abhinaya)

Mridangam solo (finishing)

Tattu - Ettugada Pallavi Svaras (Korvei1) — (Korvei2) — Arudi

Ettugada Pallavi Sahityam (Abhinaya) — (Tattu mettu) — Arudi

Ettugada Svara1 (Korvei1) — (Korvei2) — Arudi

Ettugada Svara1 Sahityam (Abhinaya) — (Tattu mettu) — Arudi

Ettugada Svara2 (Korvei1) — (Korvei2) — Arudi

Ettugada Svara2 Sahityam (Abhinaya) — (Tattu mettu) — Arudi

Ettugada Svara3 (Korvei1) — (Korvei2) — Arudi

Ettugada Svara3 Sahityam (Abhinaya) — (Tattu mettu) — Arudi

Ettugada Pallavi Sahityam (Abhinaya)

Mridangam solo (finishing)

In the next table below, the summary of characteristic features of constituent elements (angas) of the varnam is given.

Characteristic Features of Different Sections of the Varnam
Jathi

Nritta set to Solkattus

Each Jathi (Teermanam) is repeated once, sometimes two different teermanas can be performed in chain between the lines of sahityam

Two streams of rhythm: Solkattu of jathi and Kanakku of Adavus

Tension between Kanakku structure of Korvai and Solkattus of Jathi; pure concordance by the end of Teermanam and in Aradi

Pallavi/Anupallavi

Abhinaya set to music, follows Sahityam and rhythmic pulse of melody

Pada artha Abhinaya (Kai variations) and Sancari

Muktayi Svara

Nritta set to svaras,

Two streams of rhythm: Tattu karams of melody and kanakku of adavus

Muktayi Svara Sahityam

Abhinaya set to music (follows rhythm of Sahityam and rhythmic patterns of Tattu karams)

Abhinaya set to Tattu mettu (feet follow kanakku of Tattu mettu adavu, hands follow the words of Sahityam)

Ettugada Pallavi Sahityam

Abhinaya, follows words of poetry

Ettugada Svaras

Nritta set to svaras

Two streams of rhythm: Tattu karams of melody and kanakku of adavus

Ettugada Svaras Sahityam

Pure abhinaya set to music (follows rhythm of sahityam set to Tattu karams)

Abhinaya set to Tattu mettu (feet follow kanakku of Tattu mettu, hands follow rhythm of sahityam set to Tattu karams)

Variations admitted in different angas of varnam are summarized in the table below . Varnam is highly strategized and canonized item, both in dance and music. Still artistic presentation is impossible without certain measure of freedom, which is considerable in varnam, irrespective of its rigid structure and strict requirements. The reason is, that Varnam is versatile composition, comprising wide spectrum of expressive means encapsulated inside the canon.

Variations admitted within different angas of the Varnam and Svarajathi
Pallavi/Anupallavi and Jathi Muktayi Svara and Sahityam Ettugada Pallavi Ettugada Svaras and Sahityam
Jathis are composed using different gait/tempo (nadai), different speeds (kala) and different kinds of Mora (triple cadence), Yathi (rhythmic embelishments), Makutas (rhythmic finishing), etc. Muktayi Svara: two different korvais with different kanakku and adavus set to the same svara Nritta to Ettugada Pallavi is performed in Svarajathi (but never in varnam), including two dofferent korveis set to Ettugada Pallavi svaras. Nritta to Ettugada svara includes two different korvais with different kanakku and adavus set to the same svara.
Abhinaya to lines of Pallavi/Anupallavi admits: several Kai variations and Sancari Abhinaya performed to Muktayi Svara Sahityam admits no variations. Abhinaya to Ettugada Pallavi admits: two-three Kai variations and sometimes one Sancari; tattu mettu is performed only in Svarajathi, but never in varnam Abhinaya to Ettugada Svara Sahityam admits no variations.
Music: Sangati are used for Kai variations and Niraval is used for Sancari Music: Svaras and Sahityam are rendered without variations. Music: sangati could be used for kai variations and niraval could be used for sancari (if any) Music: Usually, in this part of varnam Sangati and Sancari are not used, even while rendering Ettugada Pallavi.

On the picture below, the structure of the varnam is represented. Three-folded unity of Rhythm, Music and Sahityam is represented by blending different colors. This illustration helps to feel how different aspects are merged in varnam and how this blend gives birth to different effects, which cannot be understood if we consider each aspect as separate.

Dance varnam is wonderful composition. It comprises multiple elements, including small features like Tattu, Dhlangutom or Aradi. Each of the elements is essential and necessary. There are no any "extra" elements in varnam. This amazing composition amalgamates every tiny feature in perfect order.

Setting of Varnam in Dance

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