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William Tallotte

An instrumental genre specific to the periya mēḷam repertoire, performed in south Indian (Tamil) Brahmanical temples. In performance practice, a mallāri consists of three parts: the alārippu (‘opening’), a short rhythmic improvisation played on the drum (tavil) and based on a quintuple subdivision of the beat (khaṇḍa gati); the rāgam (or ālāpana, ‘discourse’), a modal improvisation in free rhythm, performed by the leading shawm (nāgasvaram) player; and the mallāri itself, a pre-composed melodic-rhythmic theme developed by the whole orchestra according to a principle of rhythmic augmentation and diminution called trikāla (‘three speeds’). While a mallāri, by convention, must be played in Gambhīra-nāṭa, a melodic mode (rāga) based on the pentatonic scale C–E–F–G–B, it can be rendered in any metric cycle (tāla), thus allowing musicians to explore unusual combinations and demonstrate their skill in the rhythmic domain.

Most mallāris are performed at the beginning of deities’ processions and named after the ...