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Varna Varnanam - An Exposition of Select Varnams

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Item Code: NAQ972
Author: Dr. Kanakam Devaguptapu
Publisher: Suryakala Foundation for Performing Arts
Language: English
Edition: 2019
ISBN: 9789353512941
Pages: 322 ( 1 B/W and 3 Color Illustrations)
Other Details 11.00 X 8.50 inch
Weight 720 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

‘Varna varnanam’ is an exposition of 26 varnams, which includes tana, pada, cauka, and daru varnams in Telugu, Tamil, Samskrtam, Kannada, Malayalam and manipravalam, taken from the varnam composition’ corpus of 16th century till date. Lyrics have been given in the root language of the varnam, Samskrtam and English, which are supported with notation, meanings and comprehensive explanation.

About the Author

Dr. Kanakam Devaguptapu retired as Head of the Department of English from Stenden University (Netherlands University; Qatar Campus). she has been a Carnatic Music (Veena) practitioner for over 5 decades; a music teacher and researcher for over 20 years. Since her retirement, she has been devoting her time to further her interest in musicology and music research. As a native Telugu speaker, she has been focusing her research efforts on exploring rare Telugu compositions of yester-year composers. she strives to formalize, document and share her research through books that serve as comprehensive and informative guides for practitioners and connoisseurs of music and dance alike.

Foreword by Naatyaachaarya Sri. V.P. Dhananjayan

Being a Naatyaachaarya I am honoured to write a foreword to a compilation of Carnatic Music Compositions by Dr. Kanakam Devaguptapu. My association with her is from the day she brought her daughter, Divya Devaguptapu, to teach Bharatanaatyam almost three decades ago. Divya has become a full-fledged professional Bharatanaatyam artiste who has carved a niche for herself as an ace Naatya practitioner. Her illustrious mother, Dr. Kanakarn, moulded her to be an accomplished artiste with the knowledge of Sangeetam and Saahityam (literature), the most essential requirements for a performing artiste. As Music is an integral part of Naatya, the learned mother Kanakam thoughtfully delved deep into the subject to help her prodigious daughter Divya. Thus the fruitful result is the compiling of rare 'Varnams' into this valuable book titled "VARNA VARNANAM".

Her magnanimity in sharing these magnificent compositions with all music and natya fraternity should be greatly appreciated and welcomed.

Carnatic Music has reached far and wide. Thanks to technology, knowledgeable teachers are being able to impart it to all talented youngsters and ageing enthusiasts around the world. Dr. Kanakam also contributes to the popularization of Carnatic Music, by imparting the great art through skype sessions, in addition to face to face teaching.

This publication of rare pada varnams and tana varnams will serve as an additional contribution to the world of Carnatic Music. The book is crafted very intelligently to suit the present generation of students and give them a comprehensive in-depth understanding of the language, meaning of the song, correct notation and accurate intonation. The discerning learners can easily spot these prominent features that are very meticulously incorporated.

This illustrious author has specified the salient features of selected 'varnams' as under, which will help us know what we can expect from this beautiful publication.

Salient features of the varnams included in Dr. Kanakam Devaguptapu’s book "varna varananam":

About the choice of varnams:

1. The main focus of the book is to give a comprehensive input about the lyrics and meanings of 26 varnams which will be useful for natyacharyas and Musicians (concert singers).

2. Only two of the compositions are taken from contemporary composers: Smt. Suguna Purushottaman and Dr. M. Balamurali Krishna. The remaining 24 varnams are from composers of earlier times, dating back to the 17th century till 20th.

3. 20 varnams are in Telugu, 2 in Tamil, 2 in Samskrtam, 1 in Kannada and 1 in Malayalam.

4. The types of varnams included are: srmgara varnams, bhakti varnams, stava varnams, pada varnams, cauka varnams, tana varnams, with lyrics and varnarns with anubandham. Details of the same are indicated clearly in the index.

5. A couple of varnams have anubandham or sampurna caranam. This is a format which has not been in use in recent times. It was in vogue till almost a century ago. The author has included these varnams after consulting some very senior musicians, who felt that it is very important to renew the anubandham format, which has almost been forgotten now. For all those varnams where the caranams are incomplete and brief, the anubandham at a later stage helps elaborate the meaning and give a conclusiveness to the composition. Thus the 'anubandham' is a very valuable tool which adds to the lyrical value of the varnam and enhances its thematic beauty.

6. A couple of varnams have muktayi swara sahityam and anubandham or sampurna caranam. They do not have ettugada swara sahitya. Such varnams can be used for dance programs when the programs are of a shorter duration.

7. In "varna varnanam" care has been taken to see that the compositions cover a wide gamut of ragams. Many very popular ragas like Sankarabharanam and todi along with a few not often used ragas like suddha bangala have been included. Except for one repetition (kambhoji), there is no repetition of any other ragam. So, the varnams are in a range of 25 ragas. Thus, all of the varnams bring out different musical flavours!

8. All the 26 compositions are taken from 23 different well-known composers (either in their own regions or across South India), from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. The two samskrtam varnams included are taken from Sri Swati Tirunal's works.

9. Dr. Kanakam has taken efforts to the best of her ability to procure original notations and lyrics, either from printed versions which are at least 50 years old or from manuscripts.

10. "varna varnanam" has been conceptualized, planned, designed, typed out and formatted by Dr. Kanakam herself in order to see that the entire process goes in a smooth manner, with a singular focus of thought, plan and execution.

The varnams are provided in the following format:

a. Main details of the varnams are given at the outset: varnam number, first word of the varnam, type of varnams, language, composer, talam, ragam, ragam's arohanam & avarohanam with details of the scale of the ragam.

b. A summary of the varnam is provided.

c. For a few varnams which were written in a context, she has given the anecdotes as well. This can help the dancer/musician contextualize the varnam to its original situation.

d. Lyrics of the varnam in English, the root language of the varnam and in samskrtam are given.

e. Varnam text with detailed notation is included.

f. Detailed word to word meaning [sabda vivarana] is given for each section of the song.

g. Overall meaning (bhavartham) has been given for each section of the song.

1. The text will be supported with audio recordings of the songs, which will be available for downloading to all those who buy the book.

2. On the day of the book release, some of these varnams will be sung by professional and popular musicians, who have been on the team that provided audio for those varnams. One varnam will be performed by Divya Devaguptapu in Bharatanatyam.

3. I also understand that the author is planning an audio support for correct intonation of the varnams, The audio files of the lyrics will help understand the structure and purport of lyrics better.


A varnam's musical multi-dimensional versatility has always enamoured me. As a research enthusiast and a Carnatic music practitioner, I started working on exploring the varnam format, its history, its varieties and its importance for both Carnatic classical music and dance alike.

During my music learning phase I enjoyed singing the tana varnams which helped me understand and learn the movement of the ragam from the way the notes are arranged. While singing the pada varnams the import of the lyrics attracted my attention to the padas in them that always flowed with the raga bhava. The lyrics were laden with interesting stories and meanings. When it came to tana varnams with lyrics, like "calamela" in natakuranji, and "viriboni" in bhairavi, I realized that the lyrical beauty was perfectly synchronizing with the musicality of the varnams: thereby enhancing their charm and beauty and making them sound very similar to pada varnams. This observation along with my interest in research of Telugu compositions of earlier centuries prompted me to delve deeper into the subject. During my inquiry I found many brilliant compositions that are musically and lyrically very rich, which I felt can be included and popularized in the current music and dance practices.

The purpose of this book, "varna varnanam", is to elaborate the meanings and understand the scope of a few tana varnams with lyrics and pada varnams with equal focus on musical and lyrical content. I have included 26 compositions: 20 Telugu, 2 Tamil, 2 samskrtam, 1 kannada and 1 malayalam in the book. The compositions are taken from the corpus of varnams from 17th century till date.

The varnams that are chosen for this book are 6 tana varnams with lyrics set for the muktayi and ettugada swarams, 16 'pada varnams' or 'cauka varnams' that include lyrical passages or 'sahitya' for its complex interwoven swara passages that are rich both in raga and bhava content, 3 varnams with an 'anubandham' or sarnpurna caranam (a format that is not currently in vogue) and one daru varnam. Interestingly a couple of varnams have jatis along with sahityam for a few ettugada swarams.

I have structured each varnam in the following order:

1. Song details (title)

2. Raga information in detail (raga, janaka or janya, murchana and other information if any, like identifying and coding anya swaras, etc.)

3. A brief summary of the meaning of the varnam

4. Lyrics of the varnam in English, the root language and in sarnskrtam

5. Notation of the varnam

6. Detailed word to word meaning and overall meaning of each segment of the varnam

7. Audio support is provided

Hopefully the way the compositions are structured would facilitate easy understanding. I tried to address issues that can cause confusion, like the alignment of the sahityam, phrase division, mainly for a reader/learner who is not very familiar with the language, to the best of my capacity. In order to give comprehensive meanings, the conjoined words have been divided appropriately and explained, which will enable better understanding of the lyrics. Care has been taken, as far as possible, to see that the formatting of the book is easy on the eyes and helps quicker and better reading of the text, and assimilating the matter given.

Right from selecting to procuring and collating the original texts to understanding the languages the way they were used those days; right from researching about the authors to the back-ground of the entire gamut of life style of the people when the particular composition was penned; in totality, right from research to execution "varna varnanam" project has been an exceptionally fascinating, thought-provoking and rewarding journey and experience for me.

I thank the almighty, Lalita Devi, for blessing me and taking me through this venture, guiding and protecting me throughout. My earnest namaskarams to my parents who have been my motivation. But for their incredible encouragement of my studying (both music and academics) all my life, I would not have acquired the capacity and skills to venture into a project of this nature. My sincere namaskarams to all my teachers in every aspect, at every juncture of life, who facilitated the knowledge and skills necessary to further my interest in research.

I extend my sincere gratitude and namaskarams to the eminent and well-known Musicologist, writer and Telugu scholar Dr. Sri Veturi Ananda Murthy Garu who graciously agreed to write a Foreword, which has summed up my work from musicological perspective in the most appropriate phrases. My humble gratitude to him for supporting me with suitable and necessary advice and guidance whenever I sought his help, right from sharing manuscripts to offering mature advice. I thank Padmabhushan Sri. V. P. Dhananjayan Sir, for his exhaustive foreword, giving a detailed idea of the book and its use for dancers. I extend my heartfelt thanks to Sri. B. Krishnamoorthy Sir, for his foreword, mentioning the relevance of the book for musicians, music students and music connoisseurs.


Presently, in the field of carnatic music, 'varnam' is one of the most popular type of composition which has its own definite form and a huge variety. It has a prime place both as a practice piece [abhyasa gana] and a warming up piece in a regular concert. In a dance concert, a varnam occupies the prime place as the main item of the repertoire.

'varnam' takes the first rank in point of importance in a carnatic music learning process. It prepares the students with adequate skills to be able to learn 'kritis'. varnams are practised as vocal exercises by performers of carnatic music, to help develop voice culture, and maintain proper pitch and control of rhythm. The melodic patterns in a varnam are considered to be characteristic patterns of the particular raga and assist a performer in ensuring that the kalpana swaras of the raga are sung or played effectively.

varnam - its definition and meaning: 'varnam' in the current context of musical importance, may refer to a multi-dimensional musical composition which exhibits an enormous richness of music and meaning. Bharata in his "natya sastra" used the term 'varna' for a certain 'gana kriya' or melodic movement, which was also called 'alankaras' based on four types of swara movements: the sthayi, arohi, avarohi and sancari. These melodic movements are skilfully woven into the varnam based on the personality of the raga. Thus, the dominant role of the swaras which helped develop the raga svarupa (shape) has established a perfect connect between Bharata's days and modern concept of varnam, It is also very important that the lyrics blend perfectly and beautifully with the notes.

Origin and development of the varnam format

The word varnam in its meaning as stuti (praise) is also relevant because as far as the sahitya of a varnam is concerned it is almost invariably in praise of a deity or in praise of a king or patron. Records show that a type of composition called 'varnam' or 'varnasara' was in practice in Indian Music System even 1000 years ago. The 'varna prabandha-s' of the late medieval period contained 'biruda' or words of praise, which occurred in most of them, as 'yasogiti-s'. They were composed on the models of 'bhavabhinaya prabandha-s' such as 'pada-s', 'sabda-s' and 'swarajati-s', which were mainly dance forms. It can be said that these dance forms have paved way to the construction of the form 'varnam', These prabandha compositions were in Telugu. They have taken birth in Vijayanagar and flourished in Tanjore, during the Nayaka rule. Thus the influence of Kshetrayya padam-s in Telugu, which were erotic in theme, can be seen on varna-s, which are mostly in Telugu and which are erotic in theme, containing 'biruda' or word of praise, for the King / ruler / Lord / God. Thus, as research shows, the varnam in its modern construction, can be looked at as more of a fusion of 'pada', 'sabda' and 'swarajati'.

However, a piece of composition which came to be popularized as 'varnam' with a specific format has come into existence in the late 17th century. It has originated during the period of Govindasamayya, of Karvetinagar (1680 - 1710). His mohana, kedaragaula and navaroz varnams are printed in 'Sanglta Sarvartha Sara Sangrahamu', a compilation of Tirunagari Vina Ramanujayya that predates 'Sanglta Sampradaya Pradarsini' by about half a century. By arranging the composition and the composer's period, chronologically, the growth of this form in terms of structure (type), language, raga-s and tala-s employed in structuring the varnam can be analysed and understood. Govindasarnayya's mohanam and kedaragaula varnams (which are given in this book), were extremely popular as some of the earliest varnams. They are much like pada varnams in form and structure, with sahitya for all anga-s. Both these composers have constructed 'jati-s' as well for a few ettugada swara-s, which also suggests that they were skilled at natya, and made the varnam-s suitable for natya as well. A composer of a varnam should be equipped with a detailed knowledge of 'lakshanas' (features) of a raga, and creative faculty of a high order to pen lyrics that flow with the melody in order to bring out a piece that is long lasting. That is the reason why there are only a few composers of varnams and only a few hundreds of varnams!

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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