Monday, 28 October 2013

Korvai or muthayippu swaras

One of the distinguishing features of Carnatic Music is its complex variety of tALas, that are rhythmic patterns employed in compositions. A common aphorism that pertains to music is "shruthiR mAta, laya pitA" (melody is mother, rhythm is father). 

Creativity in carnatic music is not only expounded through rAga vistAra (elaboration of a rAga), but also through swaras. The usual pattern followed in concerts is:
  •  a rAga is delineated through what is called a rAga vistAra,
  •  then a composition is sung in that rAga,
  •  followed by swaras.
 The first and third aspects are extempore, i.e. one doesn't learn them up-front and reproduce them on stage - rather, they are manifestations of creativity.

Singing impromptu swaras pushes the boundaries of imagination, and is rewarding to both the singer and listener. The challenge mostly comes by virtue of not only adhering to the rAga, but also strictly conforming to the tALa (rhythmic structure) that is followed in the composition. Any number of swara cycles may follow the composition; these typically are sung at increasing lengths - first in a slow fashion and then with speed.

While the rAga vistAra is a platform for exchanges between the violinist and the singer; the swara section is a collaboration between the singer and the mRidangist (and other percussion artists), and to a lesser extent, the violinist. The penultimate and ultimate swara cycles generally showcase a singer's laya abilities. The last sections of these swara cycles generally employ enjoyable arrangements of swaras, and are juxtaposed by appropriate beats by the percussion artists. These mathematically formed swaras can be called as "kORvai" or "muthayi" swaras. 

Except for the kORvai swaras, a singer is expected to sing what springs to his/her mind at that point of time. kORvai swaras may be rehearsed and practised by a singer up-front. The transition from extempore section to rehearsed section can be really tricky for a singer, since it needs to be so seamless that the listening experience remains unaffected. It is possible for experienced singers to bring about this 'point of inflection' in the most natural way

In the upcoming posts, I'll sketch examples of kORvais in different tALas.


  1. is there a new post on the sample korvai's?

    1. I have not written an article in a really long time (6 years, I reckon) - but I plan to do one soon. Now that you've asked about sample korvais, my new article is going to be exactly about that. Please check back in a month's time from now :-)