Sumitra started with some history, mentioning that the Varnam is as recent as 300 years old and that it is said that the first varnam was composed by Govinda Samayya sometime in late 16th or early 17th century. Recalling Ilayaraja’s popular Tamil film song ‘Ninnukkori Varanam’ of the 1980s, she said that she would use the famous Ninnukori varnam in Mohanam to illustrate and demonstrate the various points of her lecture. A serious Carnatic Music student must at least learn 25 varnams which will enrich their learning before getting into learning Kritis in a particular raga, she added. The difference between ‘Tana Varnam’ and ‘Pada varnam’was explained by singing a sample of Pada varnam in Sankarabharanam. How Tana Varnam singing helps a student to get into the various aspects of Manodharma singing was explained by singing various parts of ‘Ninnukkori’ varnam. She showed beautifully how the phrases could be applied and incorporated into ‘Tanam singing’ and ‘Raga alapanai’. Her demonstration of the tempo and speed and the calculations of doing Tisram,Misram ,Khandam for a varnam was very commendable. Emphasizing the importance of Kalapramana (tempo) while singing, Sumitra recommended a simple technique to master tempo - that students practise using a metronome, adding that this was uncommon in Carnatic music, but very effective. She sang and explained how ‘akara’ and other similar practise using vowels – ‘e’,’u’ etc. could be done with a Varnam, which is of immense use in raga alapana. The varnam includes the aarohana and avarohana and other important, even rare prayogas, of a raga, which she demonstrated by singing some beautiful phrases from Sahana, Kalyani varnams gave us lot of insight. She demonstrated how the Jantai,Thaattu varisai prayogas in Varnam help in kalpana swaram and neraval singing, and how artistes can get the idea of finishing or landing note for a kalpana swaram from Charanam portions of a Varnam.She also showed how beautifully the muktayi swaram and last chittai swaram of a varnam gives a full gamut of a raga.
Towards the end, a surprise was in store for the audience, when Sumitra presented her own composition - a beautiful Varnam in Raga ‘Kedaram’ set to Adi talam, mentioning that she was rendering it for the first time on the stage! Truly it was a real enriching programme for all students and lovers of Carnatic music!
Varnams are one of the fundamental compositional forms in Carnatic music. A varnam is traditionally performed as an opening item in Carnatic music concerts as a warm-up for the musicians, and in Bharatanatyam it is the centre piece where the artiste showcases his or her full talent.
Ranjani Fine Arts made an apt choice of Vidushi Sumitra Nitin - an accomplished Carnatic Musician, Bharatanatyam dancer, teacher and herself the student of distinguished Gurus - to deliver a lecture-demonstration on “Harnessing the Power of the Varnam”.
Harnessing the power of Varnam