05 December 2010 ~ 13 Comments

Korvai in Mridangam and Upavadhyam

                          Korvai can be termed as a Rhythmic Pattern or a structured pattern of rhythmic activity performed in a concert. A korvai generally contains a Poorvanga (the first portion) the Madhyanga (the middle portion – Optional) and the utharaanga (the end portion). Again the Poorvanga and others are just combination of phrases to give the korvai the total effect.

                      Let us start with the basics. Say if you want a korvai for Adi Tala oru Kalai one cycle there are about 32 micro counts spanning for 8 beats. We have to split the portion of 32 and the first of the will be poorvanga and the last of them will be utharaanga. we can split them in any number of ways. But generally poorvaanga has a pattern played thrice without or with kaarvais and utharaanga three times with or without kaarvais. Assume you want to make a korvai for 32 we can split poorvaanga and utharaanga which are in themselves divisible by three. Make 15 as poorvaanga the remainder is 17. 15 is of course divisible by three as a straight forward case. Whereas the 17 is not divisible by three. Hence we have a concept of Kaarvais which can be introduced in between rhythmic patterns to form a part of the pattern. Hence we have to take the previous number 16 which is not divisible by three. Hence we again take 15 which is divisible by three and then add 1 karvai each for the first and second numbers to make the total to 17.

Here is a korvai for one avarta of Adi tala:

It is only bare mathematics.

5+5+5 (Poorvaanga)
5+1(karvai)+5+(1 Karvai)+5 then will fall on samam or idam as the case may be.

Then comes the rhythmic syllable replacement for the above korvai.

thakathakita thakathakita thakathakita
thadiginathom(1) thadiginathom (1) thadiginathom (tha – will be the start point)
One 5 within the poorvaanga can be further divided into 3+(2 Karvai)+3+(2 Karvai)+3+(2 Karvai)

                        This is how generally a korvai is done. The shorter the total number of the korvai easier to split. Longer Korvais have longer patterns which are again divided into perceivable poorvaanga and utharaanga.

Given below is the Poorvaanga and utharaanga table for easy mathematics reference.

                        Poorvaanga Table: The figures going down on the left side of the table is the Kanakku we will play. The right side numbers (across) gives you the karvais for the given kanakku. The chart gives you poorvanga total which is generally played three times.

Kanakku Karvai –> 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 
1 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 24 27 30 33             

2 6 9 12 15 18 21 24 27 30 33 36

3 9 12 15 18 21 24 27 30 33 36 39

4 12 15 18 21 24 27 30 33 36 39 42

5 15 18 21 24 27 30 33 36 39 42 45

6 18 21 24 27 30 33 36 39 42 45 48

7 21 24 27 30 33 36 39 42 45 48 51

8 24 27 30 33 36 39 42 45 48 51 54

9 27 30 33 36 39 42 45 48 51 54 57

10 30 33 36 39 42 45 48 51 54 57 60

                              The calculation i have taken presuming that we have 4 syllables per beat. so if there are 2 avartanas of an adi tala there are 64 syllables possible in third speed. To give you an idea only i have taken this type of samples. we can take in madyama kala or even vilamba kala.

                              The Utaraanga chart is as follows: We have to be careful not to leave a gap after the last pattern for utharaanga whereas the symmetry of leaving equal gaps applies to each and every one of the patterns we use three times in poorvaanga, the utaraanga pattern three times takes karvais for the first two patterns only and hence a different kanakku table.

Kanakku Karvai –> 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1 3 5 7 9 11 13 15 17 19 21 23

2 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26

3 9 11 13 15 17 19 21 23 25 27 29

4 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30 32

5 15 17 19 21 23 25 27 29 31 33 35

6 18 20 22 24 26 28 30 32 34 36 38

7 21 23 25 27 29 31 33 35 37 39 41

8 24 26 28 30 32 34 36 38 40 42 44

9 27 29 31 33 35 37 39 41 43 45 47

10 30 32 34 36 38 40 42 44 46 48 50

                     From the above you can make any number of korvais using the combinations given above for poorvaanga and utharanga.

there are basically four stages in rhythmic activity.
1) Mathematics
2) Representation
3) Presentation
4) Aesthetics

We have as the base for all the mathematics since we use it for calculation for arriving at a certain sum.

Then the mathematical calculation should be musically expressed.

for we say

1 – Tha

                                            and so on and so forth as a representative values of the bare mathematics.

Then comes the presentation aspect of these bare representations.

                                  Take for example we can take Takatakita and make interesting patterns for all the combinations (as per tala prastara there are about 16 combinations possible for 5) by judiciously using karvais also. This is how presentation aspect matters a lot.

                                  Aesthetic aspect of korvais come next where the interweaving of patterns and also use of left right combinations make them pleasant to listen to.

                                  What i have explained is only the basic aspects of korvai making. Each one of the above points can be elaborated further and extended further.

Question by sbala: Are these set patterns ?

                                  The patterns are generally taught to us in the initial stages by our Gurus and later on we will be able to develop our own thru experience and constant listening.

Question: Are there differences between the different schools of playing ?

                                   Though this is not relevant to this thread i would like to throw light on some of the aspects here. There are two giant schools in Mridangam Playing: One is Tanjore tradition as developed and popularised by Palghat Mani Iyer and another is pudukkottai school as developed and popularised by Palani M Subramaniapillai. There are lots of interesting information about how these two became giants and those are well known to the rasikas. The playing method and accompaniment method differs if you closely watch these two giants playing in concerts. It is very difficult to explain in mere words.

Question: Any importance given to the talaangas ?

                                    Importance is given to talaangas in the sense that we have to be careful to watch the angas so that we start off and end off properly creating a proper cycle.

Hope this is suffice for now. More later.

Courtesy :  Mannarkoil J. Balaji  through  www.rasikas.org

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13 Responses to “Korvai in Mridangam and Upavadhyam”

  1. ZeltToovelf 1 March 2011 at 11:23 am Permalink

    hi, new to the site, thanks.

  2. glenn rogers 10 April 2011 at 1:56 pm Permalink

    HI i am stating a masters in music in Australia researching konnokol I cannot find a good definition of mukthayam is it the same as korvai what are the differences ?Glenn Rogers

    • Sriram 13 April 2011 at 3:35 am Permalink

      Dear sir

      Thank u for the query.
      The word Mukthayam means “Completion of a part of musical form of nadai or Theka or varisai in instruments like mridangam,ghatam etc. Similar words like mukthayams are Arithi,Theermanam,Mohra,Parans,Muthaipu.

      For eg. we take a varnam in musical form there are some parts like “Pallavi,Anupallavi,Mukthayiswaram, Charanam and or Chittaiswaram.
      In the varnam the we sing from pallavi up to Mukthayiswaram and end with pallavi, then we move to Charanam and all the chittaiswaram.we cant sing again the pallavi. So the part of pallavi and anupallavi gets completion by the part of Mukthayiswaram. The charanam is also called as UpaPallavi and the Chittaiswaram is called as it is or Charanaswaram.
      Please reply is it useful to u.

  3. k 13 January 2013 at 6:50 am Permalink

    Can you explain the matras of different thalams?

  4. Eric 11 April 2013 at 3:48 am Permalink

    Hi there,

    Percussionist from North America here. Thanks for the effort you’ve put into these explanations – great stuff. I’ve read and re-read your explanation of the tables for Poorvanga and Uttaranga, and I cannot make sense of them. Is there any chance you could pick some examples from each table and elaborate?

    Warm regards,

    • Mannarkoil J Balaji 1 September 2015 at 9:23 am Permalink

      Dear Eric

      Please mail me at mridhangam@me.com for further details regarding the tables as I am the originator of that table.

      Mannarkoil J Balaji
      Mridangam vidwan

    • Jayashri 5 October 2015 at 10:31 am Permalink

      Hey Eric,

      Let me try to explain as best as I can. I am a relative beginner to mridangam whose main inroad to rhythm is bharathanatyam, so I can’t give the most beautiful/elegant examples, but I can give technically correct ones.

      Here’s the structure of poorvangam and uttarangam. Kanakku means ‘count’ and is used to represent a phrase that we actually play. Karvai means ‘interval’ and often represents a rest, though sometimes it is played as a sort of in-between to string the phrases together.
      Poorvangam: kanakku-(karvai)-kanakku-(karvai)-kanakku-(karvai)
      Uttarangam: kanakku-(karvai)-kanakku-(karvai)-kanakku
      A karvai may be absent, ie. value = 0.

      I’ll explain the tables cos the spacing is a bit off. Try transferring the info to excel for a better understanding.
      The horizontal header line from 0-10 is the number of mathras in your karvai. The first vertical column from 1-10 is the number of mathras in your kanakku. The rest of the values represent the total number of mathras for a given kanakku and karvai after you insert them into the structure of a poorvangam/uttarangam I explained above. I will use R to represent row (kanakku 1-10) and C to represent column (karvai 0-10), and these are not including the first row and first column which are the headers for karvai and kanakku respectively. In the poorvangam table for eg, R1C0=3, R1C7=24, R4C7=33.

      An example korvai that was given in the article was:
      Poorvangam: thakathakita-thakathakita-thakathakita (no karvai)
      uttarangam: thadhinginathom-(1)-thadhinginathom-(1)-thadhinginathom

      For this example we are now using the tala chathusra jathi thriputa thalam, also known as aadi. One syllable is one mathra (subbeat) and there are four mathras to one akshara (one beat) and there are eight aksharas to one avarthanam (one cycle). That gives 32 maathras in one avarthanam. (are you familiar with these terms?)

      Translating our example korvai into mathematics, using one syllable -> 1 maathra:
      Poorvangam: 5-(0)-5-(0)-5-(0) = 15 mathras
      Uttarangam: 5-(1)-5-(1)-5 = 17 mathras

      Using the tables, let’s look at other ways we could have formed a poorvangam and uttarangam with similar numbers of mathras.

      Our example poorvangam has 15 mathras in total. Bearing in mind the structure of a poorvangam, let’s look at the poorvangam table. 15 mathras can be found in the following positions:
      R1C4 = 1-(4)-1-(4)-1-(4) = tha-(thakadhimi)-tha-(thakadhimi)-tha-(thakadhimi)
      R2C3 = 2-(3)-2-(3)-2-(3) = thaka-(thakita)-thaka-(thakita)-thaka-(thakita)
      R3C2 = 3-(2)-3-(2)-3-(2) = thakita-(thaka)-thakita-(thaka)-thakita-(thaka)
      R4C1 = 4-(1)-4-(1)-4-(1) = thakadhimi-(tha)-thakadhimi-(tha)-thakadhimi-(tha)
      R5C0 = 5-(0)-5-(0)-5-(0) = thakathakita-thakathakita-thakathakita, which is our example poorvangam.

      Our example uttarangam has 17 mathras. Keeping in mind the structure of an uttarangam, let’s use the table to find our other options:
      R1C7 = 1-(7)-1-(7)-1 = thom-(thakitathakadhimi)-thom-(thakitathakadhimi)-thom
      R3C4 = 3-(4)-3-(4)-3 = ginathom-(thakadhimi)-ginathom-(thakadhimi)-ginathom
      R5C1 = 5-(1)-5-(1)-5 = thadhinginathom-(tha)-thadhinginathom-(tha)-thadhinginathom, our example uttarangam.

      So by combining our options, another korvai which has the same number of mathras in the poorvangam (15) and uttarangam (17) would be:
      This gives a total of 32 mathras, which is one cycle/avarthanam of adi talam.
      (Note that sometimes ‘tham’/‘dhim’/’thom’ is written after the end of a korvai. This falls on the first beat of the next cycle and is technically not included in the korvai; it is just played if the korvai is used to end your playing because ‘ginathom’ isn’t a very nice cadence. Kinda like how the I chord in IV-V-I resolution usually falls on the first beat of a new bar.)

      I hope until this point everything’s clear!

      Some other things that come to mind:

      a) Longer korvais
      The example above was a korvai that fit into 32 mathras = 1 avarthanam of adi talam. What about a longer korvai that takes more cycles to conclude? Let’s say I have the following poorvangam:
      tha, thi, tha, thaka dhina (tham, ,, ,, ,,) x3
      (Usually for korvais with this kind of phrasing at this speed, it’s 2 syllables to 1 mathra. The smallest subdivision is represented by 1 comma, so 2 commas or the equivalent to a mathra.)
      If we translate this to counts in our poorvangam framework:
      5-(4)-5-(4)-5-(4) = 27 mathras

      Now we have to decide when to end our korvai.
      If we want to end within one cycle, we have 32-27=5 mathras left for our uttarangam. Looking at our uttarangam table, our only option is:
      R1C1 = 1-(1)-1-(1)-1 = tham,-(tha,)-tham,-(tha,)-tham,
      However, we can choose to conclude the korvai only after 2 cycles, or 64 mathras. Then we have 64-27=37 mathras left to play with. From our table, our options are:
      R7C8 = 7-(8)-7-(8)-7 = tha, ka, dhin, na, tham, thaka dhina – (tham, ,, ,, ,, dhim, ,, ,, ,,) – tha, ka, dhin, na, tham, thaka dhina – (tham, ,, ,, ,, dhim, ,, ,, ,,) – tha, ka, dhin, na, tham, thaka dhina
      R9C5 = 9-(5)-9-(5)-9 = thaka ,dhin na, tham, ,, tha, ka, dhin, na, – (tham, ,, dhim, ,, ,,) -thaka ,dhin na, tham, ,, tha, ka, dhin, na, – (tham, ,, dhim, ,, ,,) – thaka ,dhin na, tham, ,, tha, ka, dhin, na,

      And if you really wanted, you could choose to end in 3 cycles/96 mathras instead, and so on!
      (The above examples are beginner attempts at coming up with syllabic phrases for the given number of counts, and are definitely not the prettiest. Experts, please provide more elegant examples.)

      b) Talams other than chathusra nadai adi
      The tables hold no matter what talam you choose, all you need to do is adjust your total number of mathras and aksharas in your avarthanam.

      Here’s a korvai in melkalam thisra nadai adi. 6 mathras per akshara, 8 aksharas per avarthanam. 48 mathras in one avarthanam. This korvai finishes in 2 avarthanams/96 mathras.
      P: Tha,, thakita thakatha kajonu thakita tham,, x3 = 18-(0)-18-(0)-18-(0) = 54 mathras
      extra bit: tha,, thi,, ki,, ta,, thom,, = 15 mathras
      U: tha, thi, ki, ta, thom x3 = 9-(0)-9-(0)-9 = 27 mathras

      To generate our uttarangam, we take 96-(54+15) = 27 mathras left, and then use the table to figure out what our possible combinations are. Try it!

      I’ll end here. There’s so much more to talk about, like eduppus, poorvangams and uttarangams that vary in each of their 3 repetitions, switching nadai, etc, but I’ll leave that to someone else. I hope this has been helpful in some way!
      Jayashri (Singapore)

  5. vasu 16 June 2014 at 8:59 am Permalink


    i am a vocalist. I would like to get a copy of the above article soft copy and others of yours if you can. Also How do you use purvanga uttaranga? How do u convert them into swaras. Can you pl tell me taking say adamodi galade which is adi starts samam

  6. Benji 31 May 2015 at 7:19 pm Permalink

    Hi , im thinking to come to india to further my studies, / play and colloborate with other musicians & artists, also travel around too ..

    any information would be helpful … Thank you !



  7. GV 14 January 2016 at 12:26 am Permalink

    How do you read the above tables you have provided? Can you please explain with an example?


  8. Nirupama 8 May 2016 at 1:46 pm Permalink

    This a really helpful article – thank you!

    Can someone please explain the mohra+korvai construction for misra chap talam?

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