What are Geetams in Carnatic Music?
Geetam in Sanskrit means a song. Geetams are used to introduce students to the synthesis of Swara, rhythm and lyrics. A Geetam is a simple melody/song dedicated to devotion and is usually in praise of God. These simple songs are composed of simple Swaras without Sangati or ‘Anga’ changes, and are taught immediately after Carnatic Vocal beginner lessons. Once a Guru finds that the student is able to sing Sapta Swaras in all three speeds and in different permutations and combinations in different Sthaayis/Octaves (both higher and lower octave to the Shruthi/pitch that the student has chosen), then the Guru starts the student on Geetams.
To learn more about Sapta Swaras, please refer to https://www.raagaschool.com/sapta-swaras.html. To learn more about what is taught in the beginners lessons, please refer to https://www.raagaschool.com/beginner-carnatic-music-lessons-article.html
Geetams have no defined structure as in Varnams or Krithis. But in some Geetams, students can find Pallavi, Anu Pallavi or Charanas. These are simple songs because each swara takes the syllable of the Sahitya (lyrics). Unlike in Varnams, an observant listener may not find repetition of the same verses from beginning to the end. That said, Geetams typically conclude with the first line of the song or the first few lines in the song.
The different types of Geetams
Geetams fall into two main categories.
The first kind is Samanya or Sadharana Geetam. They are songs in praise of God. Pillari Geetams are taught first. These are songs dedicated to Lord Ganesha, Lord Shiva, Lord Subramanya, etc. We also have Raga Malika Geetams which have more than one raga in a song. There are Geetams written on Rakthi Ragas. Rakthi ragas focus more on phrases rather than Swaras. For example, Varaveena Mridhupaani in Mohanam is a classic one for Geetam in Rakthi raga Mohanam. Geetams written in ragas Nata, Gowla, Arabhi are known as Ghana Raga Geetams
The Second kind is Lakshana Geetams. They describe the lakshanas (features) of the raga it is composed of. In the olden days, knowledge was passed on mainly through Shruti (listening). Students could register the attributes of a particular raga in their minds through these Lakshana Geetams. They typically describe the Arohanam and Avarohanam of ragas, Graha swaras (start note) and Jiya, Nyasa (ending notes). Also, Lakshana Geetams help understand if a raga is a Melakarta Raga (parent raga) or a Janya Raga (derivative raga). Vakram (deviation) in the Arohanam and Avarohanam of the raga can also be found while singing a Geetam. Lakshana Geetams throw light on knowing whether a raga is Audava (pentatonic having five swaras), Shadava (hexatonic having six swaras) or Sampoorna (complete or all seven swaras). There are Bhashanga and Upanga ragas. Students can identify if it is a Bhashanga or Uphanga by learning Geetams well with correct understanding.
Some of the proponents of Geetams are Sri Purandara Dasar, Sri Pydala Gurumurthy Sastry, Sri Rama Mathya, Sri Venkata Makhi, and Sri Govindacharya
Importance of learning Geetams
Geetams give confidence to students to move from learning Swaras to singing complete songs with Sangatis and ‘Angas’. Students can stabilize their Talam while learning Geetams as there is no tempo change and this is a platform for them to see and appreciate various talams taught in Alankarams. While there are no fixed number of Geetams to be taught at this level, Gurus teach a good number of 10 – 12 Geetams of various ragas starting from Malahari, Sankarabharanam, Shuddha Saveri, Kalyani, etc.
The various Ragas such as Malahari and others are introduced to students who have been learning Mayamalavagowla till now. The Arohanam and Avarohanam of the new raga is taught first, Swaras next and then the Sahityam(lyrics) of the songs. The teaching style and selection of songs varies according to Gurus.
The first Geetam is set in Malahari Ragam in Chathurasra Jathi Rupaka talam. The song is Sree Gananatha Sindhoora Varna. Some of the other popular compositions in Geetams are Varaveena Mridhupaani in Mohanam, Shri Ramachandra in Mayamalavagowla, Hari Hari Vinuta in Naatai, Kamala Sulochana in Anandha Bhairavi, etc.
How long does it take to learn Geetams?
Geetams are the base for Varnams and Krithis and practicing them very well is a key to moving to the advanced lessons. For this, our Gurus recommend a clear cut strategy.
The practice time should be divided into three parts where the first segment should be dedicated to the basic lessons, the second to the new lesson taught in the class, and the third segment should be devoted to knowing the details and information regarding the new lessons taught. In this way, students will also be well versed in the theoretical aspects of Carnatic Music. Guru advises not to stress the vocal cords by practicing for a longer time and through continuous loud singing. Students should determine the time and length of the practice to see that their voices are not strained. The duration can be increased gradually by controlling the voice texture through sincere and consistent practice.
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Author: Y. Gomathi