SRUTIR MATA LAYAH PITA - A Special Article on Tani Avartanam

- By Neyveli Narayanan


The basics of any music are Sruti  and Laya. All worldly functions are time or laya-bound. Similarly, all the activities of our body i.e., breathing, heart beat etc. are laya-bound. Therefore, laya plays an important role in our life. 

Laya is otherwise known as rhythm. In most music systems of the world, laya is represented by talas or other rhythmic structures. It indicates the tempo (kalapramana)  and the gait of a song. Music without laya is lifeless. Perhaps, due to this reason, during mourning, mostly Viruttams  etc are sung without laya support. 

In a Carnatic concert, the role of providing rhythmic support is that of percussion instruments like mridangam, ghatam, khanjira, morsing etc. In this regard, the Mridangam assumes the role of the main accompaniment, and is called a Pakka-vadyam (literally meaning side-instrument). The other percussion instruments are optional, though their presence adds to the variety and brightness of the concert. In a nagaswaram concert however, the mridangam is substituted by the tavil, which singularly provides rhythmic support. There are no other percussion instruments. 

A music concert comprises songs rendered by the main artiste with improvisations like raga alapana, tanam, neraval and kalpanaswaras. These are interspersed with the creative display of the accompanists and include the Tani Avartanam by the mridangam and the other laya vidwans (percussionists). 

Tani Avartanam is the exclusive property of the laya vidwans, where they get to show their technical and creative prowess. This is usually played as part of the main item of the concert, after the raga alapana, main song / Pallavi, as the case may be, neraval and the kalpanaswaras. It can therefore be rightly said that the Tani Avartanam is an extension of the main item. 

The mridangist plays the Tani Avartanam using the same tala in which the main artiste left off. He elaborates either on the central theme that the main artiste presented or presents something on his own. This part is called vinyasa. Thus, he has a very wide scope. An able and experienced mridangist gets the opportunity to exhibit his talent and skill in a remarkable way. After elaboration or vinyasa, the mridangist rounds off with what is known as a kuraippu, (progressive tapering of the number of rhythmic cycles per round), mohra, which are just set patterns, before launching into the final stage of the Tani Avartanam, the korvai

If there is more than one laya vadyam in a concert, the Tani avartanam is played by each of the artistes in turns, where the general idea is delivered in various parts. In such a case, the artistes generally display the different gatis / nadais in the same tala for sheer variety. It is the usual practise to play different patterns in Chaturasra gati in the first part and in Tisra, Khanda or Misra gati in other parts, depending on the time available. All the percussionists merge during the mohra  and play the korvai  together, in a grand finale. Subsequently, the main artiste picks up where he left off initially and completes the song. 

The most important aspect of the Tani Avartanam is that it should generally be in the same kalapramana (tempo) in which the main artiste has sung the main piece. Besides, it should also be played at the same eduppu  (starting point of that particular line where the main artiste left off). 

Playing Tani Avartanam in a concert as already said, is to exhibit the prowess of the percussionists. However, the key word here would be adaptability, according to the main item of the concert, the type of concert (vocal / instrumental) and time availability. If the main piece were a kriti, the approach would be different from the exposition for a Ragam Tanam Pallavi. Similarly, if it were a vocal concert, the pattern would be different from that of an instrumental concert.  

Konnakkol,  the art of uttering the rhythmic intonations, occupied an important place in a concert earlier. So much so, that it took precedence over the mridangam, in the sense that konnakkol would be uttered first and would be followed by other laya vadyams. Gradually, konnakkol rendering diminished and we hardly have a few artistes practising this art today. 

Although there were many mridangam stalwarts, the contribution of Tanjore Sri Vaidyanatha Iyer is worth mentioning as he has codified the procedure for teaching the art of mridangam playing, which is being followed by the present day vidwans. 

If we hear recordings of concerts held 20 or 30 years back, we will find that the duration of the concert was over 4 hours, with the inevitable Ragam Tanam Pallavi. In most of these concerts, we also find that there are two Tani Avartanams - one after the main kriti and one after the Pallavi, totally lasting for about 30 minutes or more. The present scenario is different in that, the concert duration is restricted to 2 - 2 hours and Pallavi singing has become a rarity. Such being the case, the duration of Tani Avartanam is also compressed, depending on the main artiste and the calibre of the percussion artiste(s). In a nagaswaram concert, however, even now the Tani Avartanam is played for more than half an hour and in some places people attend the programmes only for the Tani Avartanam by the special tavil vidwans. 

The duration of the Tani Avartanam also depends as to when it is played in a concert. In a concert of 2 hours, if the Tani Avartanam is allowed after 2 hours and the main artiste still has one or two tukkadas  (small songs) to sing, the percussion artiste ends up with hardly 5 minutes to exhibit his skills. It would be ideal if the percussionists get something between 10 - 15 minutes for the Tani Avartanam.  

There is a general feeling that there is a great exodus among rasikas during the Tani Avartanam. It is not so in all cases and only happens sometimes, perhaps due to the following reasons:  

  •          The Tani Avartanam is allowed at the fag end of the concert.

  •          Lack of adequate knowledge in the intricacies of laya. 

Frequent lecture-demonstrations by eminent laya vidwans would help in greater understanding of the laya aspects so that the rasikas can appreciate the laya patterns played in a concert in general, and the Tani Avartanam in particular.


(The author is one of the top young mridangists of Carnatic music today)


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