Learn the Lingo
Demystifying technical terms from the arts.
Margam: Literally meaning `the path' or `way', this term refers to the repertoire of Bharatanatyam evolved by four brothers who lived in the 19th Century and played a major role in the structuring of the art form as it is seen today. Known as the Tanjore Quartet, they were dance teachers, choreographers and music composers. The margam has only slightly changed over the decades.
The margam consists of a set of dance compositions alarippu, jatiswaram, shabdam, varnam, padam, kirtanam, javali, tillana and shlokam. Usually, a student learns these dance pieces in the same order as they are performed. They increase in complexity. While the alarippu is likened to a warm-up piece, the jatiswaram contains more intricate rhythmic patterns and movements. Storytelling is introduced in the shabdam, and the varnam brings both miming and rhythmic movement to a crescendo. After this intense piece that lasts at least 30 minutes, the margam moves on to pure mime. The underlying logic is that after intense physical activity, the dancer is primed to express the song's meaning through facial expression alone.
The tempo builds up again and peaks with the purely rhythmic and joyous number, tillana. Today performances often end here, on a `high'. Traditionally, however, the programme comes to a close on a more soothing and meditative note.
Raga: A raga is a melodic scale. It comprises a group of notes from the seven basic notes Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni. Taking into account that Re, Ga, Ma, Dha and Ni can have flat and sharp variations, this provides a pool of 12 notes. A minimum of five notes makes up a raga. The notes are set in a norm of ascent and descent. Nuances in the way the notes are sung, manipulation of their order, or stress on certain notes, etc., give character to each raga. The concept of raga is common to Hindustani and Carnatic music. Hundreds of ragas have been classified in the two genres.
Thaat: The ragas of Hindustani music are classified into groups known as thaats. There are 10 thaats, conceived by the pioneering musicologist and teacher, Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande. The thaats contain seven notes each. Bilawal, Kalyan, Khamaj, Bhairav, Poorvi, Marwa, Kafi, Asavari, Bhairavi and Todi are the 10 thaats. While these names are also raga names, a thaat is not the same as a raga. A thaat has only an ascending scale and is not meant to be sung.
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