Edupu in Carnatic Music: Part 1

On this day i.e., October 22nd, 2015, as my blog and I (as CanTHeeRava) celebrate our 7th birthday, I wish to write about a topic in Carnatic music that has lingered in my mind for many years.  The following discussion assumes some basic understanding in the reader of what is a taaLa (go to aadi taaLa to get a primer) and some associated concepts in Carnatic music.  To begin with, I shall give a brief outline of edupu and its place in Carnatic music.

Time and time again
Time and time again

A textbook definition of edupu tells you that in Carnatic music, “the relationship between a kriti and its taaLa at the beginning of a kriti or a typical segment (stanza) of a kriti is defined by edupu”.  In other words, edupu tells you whether the taaLa preceeds the kriti (anaagata graha) or the kriti preceeds the taaLa (ateeta graha).  In essence, edupu is an interval of time at the beginning of a kriti where silence is music (no singing, no playing).  Often the edupu defines a critical juncture in the saahitya of a kriti.    Another concept from the textbook is graha, which is considered as one of the 10 defining elements (dahsapraaNa) of a taaLa.  There are two types of grahaSama graha, where the kriti and the taaLa begin simultaneously.  So, clearly edupu has no existence when we are dealing with sama graha, although some experts call this sama edupu.  The other type of graha called vishama graha comprises the two subtypes (ateeta and anaagatha) that are recognized as forms of edupu.

We are familiar with kriti saahitya that follow either ateeta and anaagatha edupu of a taaLa.  Percussionists often play tani aavartane (solo performance at the end of a vocal or instrumental concert) so as to follow the edupu of the taaLa that the main artiste had employed to render a kriti or a stand-alone pallavi.  Some players start their playing sequence from sama (i.e., the supposed beginning of a taaLa according to its anga scheme) and then arrive at the prescribed edupu to finish their sequence.  Others may start at the edupu  and arrive at sama.   The same goes during the short intervals between various segments of a kriti (which may follow different edupu).  These are examples of innumerable possibilities offered by edupu to improvise and embellish a concert segment.

It is a tradition to play and repeat a short playing sequence three times on the percussion instrument to indicate the end of a kriti, usually after the main artiste concludes their rendition.  These triplets have three identical repeating playing units (sollukattu).  Such triplets are also heard during the kriti when the artiste switches from pallavi to charana or any movement between segments of a kriti.  These triplets are often a set of percussive notations and may or may not be a full-fledged percussive composition (called muktaaya).

With this short introduction, let me get into the question that intrigues me.  You may have noticed that often the triplet played at the concluding end of a kriti is slightly different to other mini-conclusions done during movements between segments of a kriti.  Irrespective of what the edupu is, the ultimate concluding triplet is different to other triplets in the following way (not always true but quite often).  The ultimate triplet is made up of two identical playing units followed by a slightly slower version of the same playing unit (I shall explain this with examples in Part 2).  Such an asymmetry often means (a) the taaLa slows down ever so slightly in the final phase of the concluding aavartha, or (b) the third and concluding unit of the triplet exceeds the final aavartha and spills over to the next (non-existent) aavartha by a tiny fraction of a time unit.  In other words, the conclusion of a kriti, (irrespective of whether it had ateetha, anaagatha or no edupu) often ends up creating a new edupu.  If we want to be faithful to our earlier definition of an edupu, the newly created excess time (not part of the original taaLa frame work) is not an edupu.  It is some other new entity.

The fact that the last few seconds of the concluding part of any kriti or percussion sequence slows down ever so slightly is in itself an intriguing aspect of Carnatic music and perhaps is a feature of many other forms of music world over.  In a future post, I hope to dissect this phenomenon and explore why and how did such an infinitesimally small decrease at the rate of playing at the discussed segment of a concert evolve. 


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