Revealing the Mystery of Mastering Tanam by Veena Dr R.S. Jayalakshmi

18 Dec 2020
By Bhushan Toshniwal
Bhushan Toshniwal is a National Level Singer of Hindustani and Carnatic Classical and Semi-classical Music and a Motivational Speaker performing all over India. He is a graded artist of All-India Radio and Doordarshan. Has come first all over India in Sangeet Alankar all over India.
I attended the masterclass on Tanam by the Veena maestro Dr R.S.Jayalakshmi, conducted by Acharyanet. It was a wonderful session, in which various aspects about how to sing/play Tanam were explained.
Vidushi R.S.Jayalakshmi first explained the importance of singing/playing a good Tanam for various artists. Tanam is an important part of the Ragam Tanam Pallavi format in vocal/instrumental music. For Veena artists it is even more important to play a good Tanam, as they have to perform it before playing Kritis as well. The place of the Tanam is before the Pallavi/Kriti as the case may be, and after the raga alapana is rendered.
Vidushi Jayalakshmi then explained about the basics of Tanam. Tanam is a part of Manodharma Sangeetam, in which Raga Bhava and Laya come together. Even though there is no talam employed while singing Tanam, it has a laya structure, which must be followed. The vocalist uses the letters Aa , Nam and Ta. Generally, Tanam is sung in Medium and fast speeds. [There are some artists who start in slow speed while singing the lower and middle octave, and increase the speed in upper octave.]
Another point to be remembered is that, the Tanam should start from the Shadja or any other important note in the middle octave, which is below panchama. The Raga alapana can start in the higher octave, but Tanam must not start in the higher octave.
Then Vidushi Jayalakshmi explained about the important part of how to build patterns while rendering Tanam. Tanam consists of raga phrases rendered with laya, in the combination of 3/4/5 notes in each phrase. Even if an artist renders a phrase with 6 notes it is normally made up of 3+3 combination. If there is a 7 note phrase, it’s a combination of 4+3 or 2+2+3. Hence, it is important for an artist to be able to form patterns of 3/4/5 notes, without compromising the grammatical and aesthetic aspects of the Raga. While building these patterns, a vocalist should not forget to pronounce the above mentioned letters at appropriate places, while an instrumentalist should show notes clearly with appropriate strokes. If an artist fails to do this, the Tanam feeling would be lost. In the raga alapana, an artist can hold the note for a long time [depending on his/her capacity] but in Tanam, even if an artist wants to sing/play a single note, it should be sung with the above letters/played with multiple strokes. So there is no time for an artist to think of next phrase in Tanam, like in Raga Alapana. Therefore it is imperative for an artist to be thorough with the grammatical aspects of a raga, the important notes in the raga [the notes which can be elaborated], ‘must use’ phrases of a raga, correct gamakas, and the laya aesthetics.
To remember the above-mentioned patterns of 3/4/5 notes, the artist can use words like Seeta [denoting 4 note pattern in 2+2 combination], Rama, Uma [both denoting 3 note pattern], Shree Raama [denoting 5 note pattern in 2+3 combination], Ananta [denoting 4 note pattern in 1+2+1 combination] etc. to facilitate forming these patterns.
Vidushi Jayalakshmi recommended the following practices :
  • Practising Alankarams/Jantais etc, using tanam letters, instead of Swaraksharams. It should be noted that, while practicing these, an artist should not be restricted between the middle and higher Sa, but should employ the range up to higher Ma/Pa and up to lower Pa/Ma.
  • Practising Varnams with Tana letters, instead of the Sahityam.
  • Incorporating the phrases from Kritis in tanam style.
While building these patterns special care should be taken in Audava Sampurna/Shadava Sampurna/Vakra ragas, as there is more chance of the raga getting compromised. It should be noted that, tanam cannot be sung in all ragas [except by extraordinary musicians]
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