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Varnam In Music

Varnam is a form of musical composition used in both Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam dance style of South India. It depicts the frontiers, range, and beauties of a raga (musical mode) of the classical music system. It consists of three movements interspersed with solfeggio passages. Composed in the three octaves, different rhythmic gaits, varied combination of notes and movements, it clearly delineates the grammar of a raga with the esthetic aspect dominating it. Varnam are found in Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit. There are also varnams composed as ragamalika (string of ragas) and some in more than one tala (time cycle).

Varnam, which forms a part of the beginner’s musical lessons, helps the singer to develop voice and understand the structure of a raga. Tana varnam, one of the two kinds of varnam, has minimum number of words and maximum vocalization and medium tempo. It is generally rendered at the start of a concert as a warm up number. It originated about 250 years ago.

The other kind of varnam, pada varnam, gives importance to both lyric and music. Set to a slow tempo, it was used for classical dance. The centerpiece of a Bharatanatyam dance recital nowadays, pada varnam is an expression of a damsel in love and is addressed to the presiding deity of the temple of the place or the patron of its composer, a ruler or a wealthy man. It is admittedly the test of a dancer’s competence.