The origins of South Indian music are traced to prehistoric times. Carnatic music owes its name to the Sanskrit term Karnātaka Sangītam which denotes “traditional” or “codified” music. The trio of Tyāgarāja (1767-1847), Shyama Sastri and Muttuswami Dīkshitar, described as the “Trinity” of Carnatic music popularised this form of music.
Most compositions in the Carnatic music have three parts to their body. The first or two thematic lines of the song are referred as ‘Pallavi’, which are often repeated in each stanza. Pallavi is usually followed by two more lines called ‘Anu Pallavi’, which is sung in the beginning and sometimes also towards the end of a song, but not necessarily repeated after each stanza or ‘Charanam’.
Varnam is a composition usually sung or played at the beginning of a recital and reveals the general form of the Raga. It is made up of two parts: ‘Purvanga’ or first half and ‘Uttaranga’ or second half.
Kriti is a highly evolved musical song set to a certain raga and fixed tala or rhythmic cycle.
Ragam is a melodic improvisation in free rhythm played without mridangam accompaniment.
Thanam is a style of melodic improvisation in free rhythm.
Pallavi is the “Pièce de résistance” or the best part of the Carnatic composition called ‘Ragam Thanam Pallavi’, where the artist has great scope for improvisation.
Trikalam is the section where the ‘Pallavi’ is played in three tempi keeping the tala constant.
Swara-Kalpana is the improvised section performed with the drummer in medium and fast speeds.
Ragamalika is the concluding part of Pallavi when the soloist freely indulges in improvisation and reverts to the original theme at the end.