What is Varnam or Varnas in Carnatic Music?
Varnas are the foundation of Carnatic Music. Varnams are short metric pieces that capture the features of a particular raga. Learning Varnam is an important stage in learning Carnatic Music. They express the bhava(feel) of the raga, ranjaka prayogas(phrases that bring out the beauty of the raga), visesha sancharas(Phrases that are typical to a particular raga), etc,. The phrases comprising the combination and permutations of Swaras(like in Dhattu and Janta) are a part of the Varnam.
When are Varnams introduced to a student of Carnatic Music?
Varnams are taught after the Varisais and Geethams. The students are by then introduced to the beginner lessons and are equipped to sing in a shruthi(pitch) and on talam(rhythmic pattern). The Sahityam(lyrics) of the songs along with Swarasthanas(position of the swaras) according to ragas are also trained. The focus at this level is to strengthen the deeper understanding of the swaras, key phrases and gamakas of a particular raga.
Importance of learning Varnas
“The most important and difficult part in Carnatic Music is unfailing control over talas, while rendering Niravals and Kalpana swaras. To obtain success in this regard, it is highly essential to practice every varna at least in two kalas (Vilamba and Madhyama). Such practice would definitely afford the required Voice culture, while rendering Niravals followed by Kalpana swaras, without encountering any difficulty.” From the preface of “Ganamrutha Varnamalika” by Panchapakesa Iyer.
Some commonly taught ragas in Varnams are Mohanam, Shankarabaranam, Hamsadwani, Vasantha, Abhogi, Kalyani and Kambodhi. Few popular Varnams as prescribed in the famous ‘Ganamrutha Varnamalika’ by Panchapakesa Iyer are Sami ninnekori of Shankarabaranam, Ninnu Kori of Mohanam, Evvari Bodhana of Abogi, Tharuni ninnu of Kamboji, Sarasusa Ninne of Saveri, Vanajaksiro of Kalyani, Eranapai of Thodi, Intha Modi of Saranga, etc,.
How long does it take to learn Varnams?
Learning pace is based on the teacher and student. Usually learning Carnatic Music is student centric. With consistent and focussed practice along with an eminent Guru’s guidance, students will be able to learn Varnams easily. A simple varnam of moderate length could be taught in five classes if students have strong basics on shruthi, tala and have done their beginners exercises perfectly.
By practicing Varnas in the established manner, one gains perfection and thorough knowledge in Ragas, Swaras, Talas and a controlled voice culture. Students can read the notations of ragas by that time. And, they can also recognise the ragas found in film songs or other carnatic songs.
Best ways to practice Varnams
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. The 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.
Choose the right School and Guru
Our faculty at The Raaga School of Music knows the importance of teaching students about all the historical nuances of our rich cultural heritage and traditions. We strongly believe in our commitment to inspiring and teaching the next generation of musicians.
For a no-obligations trial with one of our esteemed Gurus, please fill out the form. We can help you schedule a Carnatic Music lesson (Carnatic Vocal, Flute, Violin, Mridangam). You can also visit our studios here in one of our four location in San Jose, Saratoga, Fremont or Foster City. Quite a few of our students also attend our online-only lessons.
Author: Y. Gomathi