About this Website Ornamentation in Indian Classical Music alankar If you have a simple melody that can stand on its own, ornamentation is what is added to this to make it more appealing. There are many different kinds of ornaments alankar in Indian classical music. Some add finer nuances to the melody, others give it texture. Together, the various ornaments play a very important role in giving body and expressiveness to a simple melody, making it complete in and of itself without the need for accompaniment. This page introduces some of the main ornaments used in Indian classical and semi-classical music. For convenience, I focus on vocal music, but all of the ornaments below apply to instrumental music too.
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In the context of Indian classical music, the application of an alankar is essentially to embellish or enhance the inherent beauty of the genre. This treatise on dramaturgy mentions 33 types of Alankars. The Shastras or ancient texts have categorized alankars into two broad groups — Varnalankar and Shabdalankar.
The former comprised the varna based alankars of earlier times. The four Varnas, sthayi, arohi, avarohi, and sanchari were arrangements of notes in a particular sequence or four kinds of movements among notes.
Sthayi refers to halting at a single note, arohi to an upward movement, avarohi to a downward movement and sanchari is a mixed upward and downward movement. This classification of alankars related to the structural aspect of a raga.
The latter classification, Shabdalankar, comprised the aesthetic aspect. It referred to the sound production technique utilised by either the human voice or on an instrument. Shabdalankar had a wide connotation and would actually include everything that a performer wove both melodically and rhythmically outside the periphery of the fixed composition. In other words, all the extempore variations that a performer created during a performance within the raga and tala limits could be termed as alankar, because these variations embellished and enhanced the beauty of the raga, the tala and the composition.
But going by current performance practices, printed and audio material and the personal opinions of musicians and musicologists over the last to years, the definition and gamut of shabdalankars seems to have changed. Besides the raga, the tala and the bandish which are the fixed portions in a performance, the process of elaboration has been divided into several angas or stages. These stages comprise the alaap-vistaar , behelawa, bol-bant, sargams, taans, in vilambit laya and drut laya in case of khayal and Alaap, jod and gats in case of instrumental music.
These may further vary from one gharana to another. Therefore, when we talk about alankars today, we specifically refer to embellishments to a swar or a note.
In Indian music and especially in raga sangeet, staccato or straight isolated notes are almost unheard of. In instrumental music too, with the exception of some instruments, the notes are never static either. Each note has some link with its preceding or succeeding note. It is this extra note or grace note that lays the foundation of all alankars. In the Shastras, a grace note has been referred to as alankarik swar. When a group or cluster of notes embellishes another swar, they form the alankarik pad.
The alankars in practice today and those that have been earmarked for this page include both types. The alankars in common use today comprise Meend varieties of glides linking two or more notes , Kan grace note , Sparsh and Krintan both dealing with grace notes - especially as applied in plucked stringed instruments , Andolan a slow oscillation between adjacent notes and shrutis , Gamak heavy forceful oscillations between adjacent and distant notes , Kampit an oscillation or a vibrato on a single note , Gitkari or Khatka cluster of notes embellishing a single note , Zamzama addition of notes, with sharp gamaks and Murki a swift and subtle taan-like movement.
A word of caution from our gurus, however : the definitions provided are widely accepted but not sacrosanct. Interpretations other than the ones given may also exist and like so much else in Raga Sangeet, definitions and illustrations may also vary from gharana to gharana. Alankars other than the ones featured may exist - we have selected those that are unique and comprehensible and commonly used by practicing musicians.
And finally, our gurus advise that many of these alankars are raga and form-specific to a khayal, thumri, instrumental music etc.
Hindustani Music : Basic Notes and Note Patterns (Alankars)