Song of Surrender

Thursday, 19 May 2016

D.K. Pattammal’s Ragam Tanam Pallavi in Jaganmohini raga: An observation

By Poorna Vaidhyanathan

Part-time Ph.D scholar from S.V. University, Tirupati.

This paper is aimed at bringing out some exclusive elements unique to the music of Carnatic vocalist D.K. Pattammal. This is part of an analysis of DKP's manodharma or creative singing. The author is working on the topic ‘Style in the music of D.K. Pattammal’ – for her Doctorate thesis. In this connection she has undertaken an in-depth analysis on the rendering of an RTP by DKP in Jaganmohini raga and Tisra gati - Chatusra jati - Triputa tala (commonly known as Tisra Adi tala). This paper comprises the observations made on listening to the personal recording of the RTP rendered by DKP. In the chosen recording, D.K. Pattammal was given vocal support by her younger brother D.K. Jayaraman, with Tiruparkadal Veeraraghavan on the violin and Palghat Mani Iyer on the mridangam.

D.K. Pattammal, or DKP, stormed the Carnatic music world when it was predominantly a male bastion. With an illustrious career that spanned over 80 years, she is known for her rich repertoire of compositions of various composers, patriotic songs and manodharma sangeeta.

Manodharma (creativity) is just yet another aspect where D.K. Patttammal proved her individuality, richly nurtured by her introspection of the raga from the angles of swara, bhava and tempo of the raga. She had specially contributed to the several dimensions of manodharma sangeeta like raga-alapana, niraval, kalpanaswara, viruttam or sloka singing and of course the most challenging Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi (RTP) singing. Rendition of RTP encompasses all forms of manodharma. An analysis of D.K. Pattammal’s rendition of RTP will give us a detailed idea of her strengths and uniqueness. During her RTP rendition, nowhere was her individuality lost. Her innovations were based on pure tradition.

Firstly, the selection of ragas for RTP rendering can be considered. Normally RTPs are sung in ghana ragas and very traditional ragas like Bhairavi, Kalyani, Todi, Kharaharapriya or Begada and other ragas which are phrase-oriented ragas known as rakti ragas. The reason for this being, that such ragas provide scope for extensive alapana and tanam rendition. D.K. Pattammal’s adherence to tradition and classicism in view of manodharma, began at this stage itself. Apart from handling these common traditional ragas, Pattammal also handled with great ease and brilliance a deceptively simple raga like Jaganmohini. This raga, Jaganmohini – seems simple because of the straight notes that occur in sequential order. She explored this raga and took it to the status of the other traditional ragas mentioned above. A very simple and pleasant Mohanam would also be placed on par with these ragas as the complexity of the Pallavi to be rendered would be one of a highly intricate variety or the handling of tanam and swara kalpana were simply mind-blowing and brilliant.

Going into the depths of alapana rendition – she had no ambiguity or confusion at any given point. The very opening phrases would themselves indicate the identity of the raga which would be further brought out well with all the essential sangatis placed in fine order and not haphazard. Each raga had a very beautiful and graceful form filled with all the vital factors. The order of sangatis was given high importance. Minimal usage of brigas and fast phrases were interspersed judiciously which gave life to the raga. She took great care to avoid repetition of sangatis. If the raga demanded the repetition of a particular phrase only then would it be repeated. Otherwise the occurrence of any sangati more than the required number of times was avoided. It is of interest to note that the identity of the raga was brought out so well that her rendition naturally showcased the general technicalities like graha swaras, nyasa swaras, etc. While proceeding further one could perceive the exploration of the raga without going beyond the boundaries. There were intentional efforts not to shout or go beyond the range that her voice would permit – this made for great listening pleasure delighting the rasikas and making them crave for more. Strictly adhering to the traditional portrayal of the raga in its full splendour was probably the reason why she did not indulge in swara or graha bheda while developing the raga.

The duration of the raga also had a good proportion with respect to the complexity and duration of the pallavi to be rendered. Sometimes it was very lengthy – for example in the very famous Jaganmohini RTP she had sung an alapana for almost 12 minutes. In the process, traditional values and aesthetics were not lost, on the contrary, they were well preserved. While trying not to over-do the alapana portion for a RTP, the tempo of the raga rendered was also given priority. The very fact that D.K. Pattammal would not render too many fast phrases and maintained raga bhava, is proof enough that she would harmoniously blend fast, medium and slow sangatis in alapana. One would never feel the overdose of any aspect in Pattammal’s music.

D.K. Pattammal’s tanam singing was very well articulated with the syllables like ‘ananta’, ‘nomta’, and the way she would finish it – by way of interspersing of raga alapana bits. Most of the times, it would evidently be a continuation of the alapana. That is, she would never finish the alapana the way it is done when rendered as a prefix to a kriti. After raga alapana she seamlessly moved into tanam singing. Typical rhythm of the tanam was felt and at the same time she would give the effect of a relaxed rendition too. The tanam was very much shorter in duration compared to the alapana. It would roughly be one fourths or one fifths of the alapana duration. She developed the tanam in not more than three stages, that is, sanchara (experimenting varieties of phrases) around one note in the madhya sthayi, then a few sancharas in the tara sthayi (upper octave) shadja and then as a finale, she would sing again around a note above in the tara sthayi shadja and come back to the lower octave to finish. She would definitely sing the alapana bit and finish – tanam sans the rhythmic effect.

Now coming to the actual pallavi (the line with the sahitya that is created and taken up for elaboration, and embellishing it in a variety of rhythmic patterns) rendition, DKP was foremost amongst the very few women of her times who included RTPs in their concerts. In pallavi singing, DKP left no stone unturned. The pallavis were themselves quite complicated and she added to the intricacies by rendering trikalam, tisram, anulomam and pratilomam and completely dealt with all the possibilities of presenting the pallavi. She would reserve sufficient time in a concert for the ragam tanam pallavi – hence there was never a dull moment nor lack of time, thus making sure full justice was done to the RTP rendering.

As an example, let us study the RTP in Jaganmohini that DKP made famous. This has been chosen as it is technically a tricky one and a real thriller to the listener.


As one listens to her rendition of the raga alapana – the first segment of RTP – one is amazed by the brilliance, the clarity and lustre of presentation in spite of the apparent simplicity of the sancharas. It makes one realise that true tastefulness lies in simplicity. That was the uniqueness of D.K. Pattammal. Each phrase that she sang was so confident and there was no element of ambiguity whatsoever. Some of the bold sangatis or sancharas were typically DKP – what we call ‘azhuttham’ in Tamil. It refers to weighty classicism. All these put together, we could call it the ‘DKP’ element.

In the Jaganmohini RTP, DKP’s alapana is in a very relaxed tempo in the beginning. Depth is felt in the handling of the gamakas in the phrase “ma pa ni ma pa” – the link from the notes ni to ma – all gamakas are limited to the identity of the raga only. She begins the alapana in medium pace in the middle octave. Sancharas rendered are around the note pa for some time before moving on to sa in the upper octave. The pace is not at all hurried. She strictly adheres to the characteristics of the raga. She has not attempted any brigas or flashy phrases. Only after an elaborate rendition she has rendered a few fast phrases, that too very limited and in the upper octave note sa. Even beyond that she sings full-throatedly. The strength with which she has rendered the notes ma and ga as suddha swaras (plain notes) is very typically Jaganmohini. Only occasionally has she touched the note pa in the upper octave; this gives the listener a comfortable feeling and there is no threat of slips or off notes. She has rendered the alapana in two portions – and in the second half, in madhya sthayi (or mid-octave), she has sung a few more fast phrases. She winds up the alapana in the lower octave sa reaching the note pa in the mandra sthayi (lower octave) just once.

Tanam singing

In the tanam – the second segment of the RTP – she again starts from pa of the middle octave. The proportion of raga alapana and tanam are balanced. The tempo matches the speed of the alapana. D.K. Pattammal’s rendition of the tanam is short and there are crisp phrases with generous occurrence of jantai (twin) swaras in phrases like pa ma ma pa ma ma pa, ma ni pa pa ma ga, ga ri ri sa ni pa. The rhythm that is typical of the tanam singing is palpable. In the upper octave she has sung with gradual increase in speed compared to the tempo in which she started the tanam rendition. She has rendered just a couple of brigas which is noteworthy because she completely avoided brigas in the alapana. The structure of tanam singing adopted by D.K. Pattammal is a grammatically strict rendition of the tanam. She has not gone beyond ga in the upper octave.While winding up she has sung a short phrase of alapana and finished in lower octave sa.

Pallavi

The actual pallavi line has been sung three times before the violinist plays it once independently. This gives the clear structure of the pallavi – its calculations, the poorvangam (fore section) and uttarangam (second section) and the sahityam. The pallavi is in tisra gati (a sub-division of the beats in the tala). After rendering the line four times, DKP immediately starts the niraval. The notation for the pallavi line is given below:

Jaganmohini RTP – Tisra gati (2 kalai) Adi tala

The pallavi taken up is Nenje ninai anbe tudi neri nin Guruparan mel, Anjaadiru nam paavangal panjaai parandidum aagaiyaal (nenje). The original line in tisra gati is given in Table (1) and the variation in chatusra gati is given in Table (2). The table shows each cell representing a kriya of the tala in order. The first half gives the laghu (one beat and counting of fingers) and the second half is 2 dhrutams (one beat and turning of the palm is one dhrutam). From the following notation it is evident that the pallavi line starts after the tala starts – in the case of tisra gati, it is after 8 counts and in case of chatusra gati after 6 counts. Table (3) shows the shifting of chatusra gati back to tisra gati.

Table (1)

Laghu
; ; ; ; g, m,
        Nen    
p, ; m, g,    p, m,
je– Ni  nai  An  - 
g, ;  r,  s,   g,  r, 
be- Tu di  Ne ri 
s, ;  ņ, s, g,  m,          |
Nin Gu ru pa ran

Dhrutam
p, ; ; ;  ś, ;
 mel - - An- 
ś, ; ŕ,  ś,  ś, ; |
jaa di ru Nam
śn p, p, m,     p, n, 
Paa - vangal Pan –
ś, n,   p, m,   np m,    ||
jaai – Pa ran di dum  

Laghu
g , ; r,    s,
Aa-gai  yaal (nenje…)





Table (2)

Laghu
; ; ;  g m
      Nen    
p ; m g,    p  m
je– Ni  nai  An  - 
g ;   r   s,   g   r 
be- Tu di   Ne ri 
s ;  n  s,  g  m            |
Nin Gu ru pa ran

Dhrutam                
p, ;  ;     s,
 mel - - An- 
s ;   s  s,   s,      |
aa   di  ru   Nam
sn p  p     pm   p n 
Paa– van gal   Pan
snp  p pm   p m         ||
jaai – Pa ran di  dum  
               
Laghu
g ;  r     s,    
Aa-gaiyaal(nenje…)





Table (3)

Laghu
; ; ;  g m
      Nen    
p ; m g,    p  m
je– Ni  nai  An  - 
g ;   r   s,   g   r 
be- Tu di   Ne ri 
s ;  n  s,  g  m            |
Nin Gu ru pa ran

Dhrutam
p, ;  ;     s,
 mel - - An- 
s ;   s  s,   s,      |
aa   di  ru   Nam
sn p  p     pm   p n 
Paa– van gal   Pan
snp  p pm   p m         ||
jaai – Pa ran di  dum  

Laghu
g , ; r,    s,
Aa-gai  yaal (nenje…)





Niraval Singing

Niraval is singing the chosen line several times without disturbing the laya element and carefully retaining the raga identity, attempting different melodic phrases of the raga. The variation comes in the combination of phrases. With very limited medium tempo niraval, DKP has rendered the second speed niraval in the upper sthayi or octave. The entire RTP has been rendered without much stress on the lower octave. Instead, only madhya sthayi and tara sthayi (middle and upper octaves) have been focused upon.

Handling of Tri-kalam

Next comes the scholarly section of rendering the tri-kalam in which the pallavi line is sung in varying speeds, and where possible, clever handling of a different gait or gati. This has been rendered by D.K. Pattammal in the following order:
# Original tempo
# Slow speed
# Original tempo
# Second speed

Here the original speed is referred to as first speed, slow speed is half of the first speed – which means what is sung in one cycle of a tala is spread out (proportionately) to two cycles of the same tala. The second speed is double speed – faster. Hence, what is sung in one cycle of a tala, is sung twice to the same tala. In case of a different tala, a tisram portion will also appear wherein, the pallavi line will be sung thrice to one cycle of the tala. Here again a first and second speed could occur.

Simple kalpana swaras are rendered in first speed with just one 3x5 calculation, that is, a concluding combination of 5 notes sung thrice. A slightly elaborate and complex rhythmic combination could form a ‘korvai’ which D.K. Pattammal has not rendered in the first speed. Compared to the presentation in the first speed, the second speed swara singing has more of calculations and korvais as a suffix or climax to the rendered kalpana swara. She has rendered kuraippu in the second speed, which are crisp and not too lengthy.

Kuraippu (literally means shortening) is another technical aspect of swara singing where the artist pauses on a note at diminishing duration points of a cycle of tala. After this she has rendered chatusra gati kalpana swaras with the ending phrases in tisram. This is the most interesting section of this RTP. Singing the chatusram and tisram alternately gives colour to the performance and excitement to the listener. With the same chatusra-tisra combination, she has rendered kuraippu in the second speed. This shows tremendous command over laya and control over voice. This is followed by the second speed of tisra kuraippu. This is a portion that leaves the listener awestruck. 

Each section, be it tisram, chatusram + tisram, tisram second speed, has been ended with a seemingly very simple korvai. After a detailed rendering of kalpana swara in this manner, the next section reveals a more scholarly division – anulomam and pratilomam (inversely varying speeds of either tala or pallavi while the other will remain constant) wherein she has rendered ragamalika (chain of contrasting ragas) swaras. Rendering of anulomam and pratilomam which is a rarity these days, itself needs great command over laya. A kuraippu in this is absolute and ultimate. The choice of ragas for ragamalika swaras are – Kambhoji, Karnataka Suddhasaveri, Athana, Sama, Anandabhairavi and Mohanam.

D.K. Pattammal’s RTP singing was obviously handled with ease and comfort. The recording also is proof that from the beginning till the end she has maintained a uniform tempo, where ever she came back to the original setting of the pallavi, the listener can feel that there was no speed variation. This needs special mention because it is quite natural for any artist to gradually and involuntarily increase the speed from the original speed in which the composition/ RTP was started. Very limited brigas and absence of non-conventional approach are adhered to. RTPs are usually an opportunity for artists to expose their skills in both musical and mathematical talents. D.K. Pattammal’s values in handling these aspects, is noteworthy. All her calculations were very well set, not at all simple as they seem so. Her rendition showcases her good control over laya. As far as musical calculations are concerned they were not sequential – not stereo-typed. D.K. Pattammal’s manodharma was highlighted by flawless spontaneity.

On a concluding note, just this one RTP, is enough to infer the genius of D.K. Pattammal. In the choice between speed, thrill, wizardry, gimmickry and voice maneuvering on the one hand, and dignity, poise, clarity, depth, weight and calmness on the other, she opted for the latter path. The respect she commanded and the reputation she enjoyed amongst connoisseurs and laymen alike is a sure testimony to the fact that the talent, diligence and commitment of an artist are truly rewarding. 

3 comments:

  1. Good to know about Sri DKP's style of Singing, this article will help Aspirants like us to understand her style in an easy and better way. Thanks to the author.

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