Differentiate Between A Varnam, Padam And A Shabdam.

Mallika writes…

Identification of varnam

Varnam is a song in the Carnatic music repertoire. A varnam is a relatively long piece and can range from 30 minutes to up to nearly an hour or 40-50 min. It is usually set to Aadi or Ata tala. It is the center piece in a recital of dance. The lyrics are simple and consist mostly of long syllables and swara phrases of various lengths which bring out the essential features of the raga.
It has two types: Taana varnam and Pada varnam.
Varnams are considered vocal exercises in a particular raga. The patterns in a varnam are considered to be characteristic patterns of a particular raga or scale. Varnams are considered the most complex of the vocal exercises in Carnatic Music. They are designed to help develop voice culture and proper control of rhythm. Indeed, varnams are often practiced in double and triple speeds and proper rhythmic control (tala) must be kept.
Type of varnams
Tana varnams are considered pure vocal exercises, and pada varnams are generally sung to accompany South Indian classical dance (Bharatanatyam). Pada varnams generally contain much more text and lyric content than the tana varnam. The tana varnam is composed of just a few lines, and words may be extended through many notes. For example, many varnams contain the lyric “Sâmi”, meaning God, may be extended to “sa a a a a a a m i i i i i i i”… and so on.
Contents of a varnam
The varnam is subdivided into several sections:
• Pallavi: the first line, sung with lyric
• Anupallavi: a sort of recapitulation, sung with lyric
• Mukthaayiswaram: sung completely with syllables — or swaras — (like sa ri ga ma pa da ni sa)
• Charanam: sung with lyric
• Charanam Swaras: sung completely with syllables.
In a Pada varnam, there are lyrics which correspond to the Charanam swaras. The swaras occur in several groups or stanzas.
Generally, a varnam is sung as follows:
  • PallaviAnupallavi
  • Muktayi Swaram
  • Pallavi (in double speed)
  • Repeat, then Pallavi sung in triple speed, or in original speed.
  • Charanam
  • Charanam Swara Group 1
  • Charanam
  • Charanam Swara Group 2
  • Charanam
  • Charanam Swara Group 3
  • Charanam
  • Charanam Swara Group 4
  • Charanam
There are generally 3-5 swara groups in every varnam. In a concert, the entire charanam section is sung at approximately 1.5 speed.
Varnams are generally sung in 2 varieties of talas, or metric systems, Adi Tala (8 beat cycle) and Ata Tala (14 beat cycle), where Ata Tala varnams are generally more complicated and advanced.
The varnam consists of two halves:

a) Purvanga – the first half consisting of three sections, namely, the pallavi, the anupallavi and the muktayi / chitta swaras.
b) Uttaranga – the second half consisting of the Charanam and the Charanaswaras.
The pallavi and anupallavi, usually consisting of two lines each, are sung consecutively, followed by the Chittaswara. One then goes back to the pallavi to render the whole Purvanga in multiple speeds before going on to the Uttaranga. The charanam has only one line with lyrics followed by four or more charana swaras. The Uttaranga can also be rendered in multiple speeds.

Identification of Padams

A particular type of musical form or composition (sabhaa gaanam), meant for dance, that brings out the relationship of naayaka-naayaki (hero and heroine) as well as tOzhi (close friend) to tell important truths. The words are written through the mouth of the naayaka, naayaki or tOzhi, explaining the joy, sorrow, and other feelings of love. They indirectly refer to god, since the naayaka is said to represent the “paramaatma” (Great Soul, God), the naayika(heroine) represents the jeevaatma (human soul, man), and the tOzhi represents the guru (teacher), so the words of each is thought to help the audience reach mOksha (heaven). In Telugu, padams often have Lord Krishna as the naayaka, while Tamil padams often have Lord Subramanya (Murugan) as their naayaka. Padam has pallavi, anupallavi and at least one caraNam (all with the same pattern of swaras), with few sangatis and with easy prayOgams, while still bringing out the swaroopam of the raaga. Some padams begin from the anupallavi. Performed mainly in dance concerts, they may also be at the end of vocal and instrumental concerts. The first padams in Sanskrit were composed by Vasudeva Kavi who adorned the court of King Sarfoji of Tanjore. In dance, padams include more graceful movement than footwork. They require slower-moving grace, expression, and emotion, involving the hand gestures, eyes, and face for expression rather than fancy steps.
sometimes padams have no footwork. or can be composed without any footwork.

Identification of shabdams

In this item the dancer introduces abhinaya for the first time in the repertoire. The abhinaya composed to simple sahityam is usually separated by easy korvais.This item is usually in misra chapu taalam and the most common ones are in praise of Lord Krishna.
generally its like telling a synopsyins in the first line then giving a description in the later repetitiions. after the stanza, there is very simple footsteps. the number of stanzas can vary from 2-4 or 5. Each stanza can contain a different story of all of them put together is one single story. but essentially its about one person, one theme. usually composed in ragamalika and misrachapu tala(thakita takadhimi)
The movements here are leisurely. In the Sabdam, emotions are withheld at the beginning; thereafter, when the dancer has clarified herself, they are released in a measured and disciplined manner.
The Sources for the above article are unverified
PS from Sangeetha: Shapdams are also referred to as Yasogitams . They have also inheretided an Islamic Influence of repeating the salaamu or Namostute (paying respects to the Almighty or the King) at the end of each line. This pleased the patrons. Initially Shapdams were composed and rendered in one raga, perhaps Kamboji. But it is now a common practice to use one raaga for each stanza and present the composition in raagamalika.

47 responses to “Differentiate Between A Varnam, Padam And A Shabdam.

  1. i would like to enquire about the varnam swamiye vara solladi, ragam purvikalyani. could i have a synopsis of the varnam

  2. Hi. This is a lovely Varnam and one of my favorites. I will atempt to give you a synopsis to my best understanding. I hope I am correct.
    This is a song in praise of Muruga. The Nayika tells her friend “tell my Lord to come to me”. The One who is praised by the whole world, son of Sivakami. Tell him not to rty my patience at this time.
    Second Half – “Solladi, manam kallodi?”
    Oh Sakhi, is your heart made of stone? Do you not see my pining for my Lord….Please go and ask him to come to me right away!

    All the best –

    Shilpa Krishnan

  3. poorest english i ever saw

    Hi Lakshmi,
    The syntax and construction of this article isn’t really amazing. This article was published more for its content than for its composition.. I dont have the time to really rewrite articles sent or identified… I post them if I find the content to be relevant and informative.
    By the way I have seen worse and wouldnt label it the “poorest”:) It is easy for us to dissect and dismiss, but the thought and effort that has gone into writing/compiling this article needs to be commended. I just wish and hope the prevalent negativism gives way to something more positive and constructive…
    Thanks for dropping by!

  4. Hi: I am seeking help to find a nice Shiva padam for my daughters soon to come Aryangetram.

    Hi Pradeep,
    I am sure her Guru knows best. The choice of the item itself may depend on the age and skill of the dancer. Here are a few that come to me off hand:-
    The usual choices with scope for footwork are:-
    1. Natanam Aadinar- Vasantha Raagam- by Gopala Krishna Bharathiyar
    2.Ananda Natamaaduvar Thilai -Poorvi Kalyaani raagam- by Neelakanta Sivan
    Slightly less common pieces
    3. Ananda Kootadinar in Rishaba Priya- by some dikshathar (Sorry I aint sure here). My personal favorite
    For slightly less footwork and more scope for abhinaya
    4. Kalaithooki ninru aadum Deivame-yadukula Kamboji -by Marimuttu Pillai
    5. Theruvil Vaarano-Kamas-by Ganam Krishnaiyer
    6. Varugalaamo Aiya-Manji- Gopala Krishna Bharathiyar

    Best Wishes,

  5. Sangeetha:
    Thank you for those suggestions. With kind regards.

    You are welcome.. Here are a few currently-doing-the-rounds Padams on Shiva that somehow escaped my previous list 🙂
    1. Bho Sambho in Revathi by Sri. Dayananda Saraswathi
    2. Sankara Sri Giri in Hamsanandi by Swati Tirunal
    3.Kapli nee, Dayanithi a krithi written by Nithyasree Mahadevan’s mother (Smt. Lakshmi Sivakumar) in Palini raagam .I have a commercial recording of this in an audio casette and it should be easy for you to find it.
    Best Wishes,

  6. Namaskar….
    In the description of varnam… u told that there are 2 types of varnas…
    1. pada varnam
    2. thana varnam
    But, as i know there are 4 types of varnams…
    1. pada varnam
    2. thana varnam
    3. swarajathi varnam
    4. chawka varnam

    swarajathi varnam is similar to padavarnam…
    The difference is-
    In mukthaya swara of swarajathi varnam for swara there is lyric as well as sholkattu….
    whether what i am telling is collect?

    Hi Deepthi,
    This article was compiled by Mrs. Mallika Jayanthi.
    It is most common to divide the varnams into Pada and Tana varnam category.
    Chauka(slow/leisurely) Varnams are placed along with pada varnams which emphasize on the lyrical content and making it more apt for dance. Dancing to Ninnukori (Mohanam) may not be as appealing as dancing to Swami Nan Undan adiami (pada Varnam- Nattakurinji)Tana Varnams has more akaras and ukaras basically making it not as appealing to choreograph for a dance format.
    Swarajathis are also sometimes performed instead of the varnam in dance performances.These are also sometimes called padajathi varnams and as you say the mukthayiswaras may have sollukattus. Sakhiye in anandabhairavi belongs to this type.
    Darus are also included in the varnam format, mathe malayathwaja being a famous example
    Thanks for dropping in

  7. Thank u mamdam[:)]
    I hav one more doubt.
    For subramanya and shani, hands are just opposite.
    (i.e. for subramanya:right hand-shikara,left hand-trishoola)
    The hands are just opposite in shani…. why?????

  8. I want d answer to the question asked above within one week…..
    Am waiting…. Please dont ignore….

    My Dear Deepti,

    I am not ignoring your request. Quite a few of us are working on your request.:)
    While on the outset, it may seems like an easy question, with the weapons of these Gods carrying the lance,bow and tirushool seeming to explain it all.
    I have always seen that the dancer stoops when she uses the hasta (shikaram and trishoolam at the Natyarambham level) and lifts a leg to denote Muruga seated on a peacock. This picture (http://static.newworldencyclopedia.org/thumb/1/12/RaviLord-Muruga.jpg/275px-RaviLord-Muruga.jpg) probably a representation by Ravi Varma categorically shows Muruga seated on a peacock with a bow on the left and Trishool on the Right. (The hands as you have narrated).I have once heard a reviewer say that since the dancer was holding the shikara a little too high, it felt like depicting Rama. 🙂
    Muruga is a war-lord and carries a host of other weapons apart form the famous Shakti-vel. Muruga can apart from the lance bearing usual position, can also be depicted with a trishoolam on the right hand and the left in Dola .

    The weapons of Lord Sanishwaran are Bow and arrow and trishul (trident).
    But I am not sure why they are held exactly held in opposite hands. If somebody gets back to me with a good answer I will post it here. Let us know if you get a satisfactory answer.
    Best wishes…

  9. Dear Deepthi, there are two reasons i can think of
    1) shani is the son of surya, while shiva has moon on his head- both opposites. even in natesa kauthuvam the popular line ‘ shashi ravi bhushana” – i read it as ‘ shashira vibhushana” as nataraja doesnt have sun on him.

    2) while muruga rides on peacock, shani is on crow-both opposites. shani’s main weapon is the pasham rope, and is not a war lord. while muruga has many weapons, his main weapon is shakti-vel.

    that is why it is important to show the opposite hands for the same weapons for different lords.

    i hope u understand.

    Hi Mallika,
    Thanks for your comment.
    “sashi ravi bhushana” is sometimes understood and interpreted as the idea that Sun and the Moon are the right and the left eyes of Shiva.
    And I wonder why they didnt choose to show pasham to depict lord shanishwara were it the main weapon for Him?

  10. this writeup was to compare three different types of compositions that was in response to a query purely from dance point of view.

  11. lovely article. very informative.
    I was researching on the dance forms of medieval devadasis when i hit on the page. BTW, any suggestion where I can get more info on the dance practices of devadasis in Vijayanagar empire around 1500 AD?


    Hi Rashmi,
    I have read a few pages of this google book, which is infact an extension of PhD thesis work by Saskia C. Kersenboom-submitted to the University of Utrecht, 1984. The book is titled “Nityasumangali-Devadasi tradition” and only a limited preview is available at the google. Bibliographical References from this book should be able to help you too!

  12. dear rashmi,
    it is best that you contact Sangeet Natak Academy in New Delhi. they actually house archives.

    if iam not wrong, the 17 or 18 antahpura geethe-s were composed during that time. Also my guru might have much information on that.

  13. iam sorry,
    the main weapon for shani is NOT pasham its gada or is bow and arrow. the vahana an also be read as vulture or crow.

  14. There are many types of Varnams that we learn today at dance class and during this dance, there is alot of expression and eye movement so that the audience will understand what the dancer is trying to tell with their expression and eye movement. This way, they will get more encouragement.

  15. Varnam is a great song and smooth movements that are done

    Dear Suruthyi123- You seem to really like varnams :)- Sangeetha

  16. Hai Sangeeta…
    Thanks for the valuable informations in this field….i’m also into dancing and would like to know more about bharatanatyam…thanks …

    Hi Shereen,
    Thanks for stopping by.

  17. Is there an audio clip available for the pada varNa sAmiyai vara sollaDi (PUrvikalyANi) by K.N.Dandayudapani PIllai and also for his dashavatara kriti parandAmanE sharaNam?
    If these are on CDs, title and publisher’s name would be much appreciated. Thanks.

  18. Dear Mr. Lakshman,
    I think the varnam is. Have to check on it.
    Will try finding out..Will email you if we find the answers.


  19. Hi
    Will any of you please email me the lyrics of the varnam with the swaras, and meaning?
    Below are the details:

    Varnam ” Nee Indha Maayam” by Sri Papanasam Shivan.
    Ragam :Dhanyasi
    Thalam : Adhi

    Awaiting for your reply.

    Thank you

  20. I am sorry, by mistake there is a spelling mistake in my previous query

    Will any of you please email me the lyrics of the varnam with the swaras, and meaning?
    Below are the details:

    Varnam ” Nee Indha Maayam” by Sri Papanasam Shivan.
    Ragam – Dhanyasi
    Thalam – Adhi

    Awaiting for your reply.

    Thank you

  21. Hello Mam

    Can you please let me know your opinion on Varnam “ye mayaladi raa” huseni


    Hi Sirisha,
    Haven’t heard it all that much.
    Do you have something in mind? I would be glad to hear .
    And by the way I ain’t big enough to give “opinions” on Compositions.. at least as of yet 🙂

  22. Hai,maam.
    Its valuable but not at all complete, i think. can you tell me which the very first book that gives us the word padam?

  23. great and very helpful on terms.
    Could you please also do the same breakdown of parts and characteristics for pushpanjali, jatiswaram & tillana, also?

  24. Hi. Can anyone please let me know if I can find a video or an audio of the Shabdam.. “Gopikampathi” – navaragamalika.
    I am badly in need of it.

  25. What is the source of content (lyrics) for shabdam and varnam like one refers to poems for padams and javalis. .

  26. Hi everyone, it’s my first visit at this site, and post is really fruitful designed for me, keep up posting these articles.

  27. Hi All
    Can anyone send me the swaras for chittai swaram and charanam for the varnam ‘Nee Indha Mayam’. Gone through the previous posts and am able to find only the sahithyam.
    Composer: Papanasam Sivan
    Ragam: Dhanyasi
    Talam: Adi
    May mail id is dhakshanvka@gmail.com

    Thank you

  28. Dear Dance Lovers ,

    Could anyone please write the lyrics of muruga shabdam.
    Raga: malika
    Thalam: Mishra chapu

    Thank You.

  29. It’s really useful….
    All comments n it reply…
    Thank u so much…
    Read one of the best article

  30. Thank you very much. This was a very clear cut explanation of all the three types of dance. It was of great use to me.

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