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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 ...

Article

William Tallotte

[rakti](Skt.: ‘pleasingness, charm’)

An instrumental and improvisatory South Indian genre. It developed in the Brahmanical temples of the Kaveri Delta among famous lineages of nāgasvaram players. According to musicians and local specialists, the rakti gained its letters of nobility in the first half of the 20th century under the auspices of two traditions, that of Sembannarkoyil, with Sembannarkoyil Ramasvami Pillai (1880–1923) and his two sons Govindasvami (1897–1955) and Dakshinamurti (1904–76), and that of Chidambaram, with Chidambaram Vaidyanatha Pillai (1884–1937) and his first disciple Chidambaram Radhakrishna Pillai (1906–93). Due to its potential for rhythmic challenge and modal improvisation, the rakti was at the heart of lively and sustained instrumental jousting during temple festival processions. However, due to a lack of patronage and the tendency of most renowned artists to neglect the temple in favour of other contexts, it gradually fell into disuse in the 1980s.

Like the pallavi, the rakti is based on a theme and variation structure. The theme consists of a melodic-rhythmic sequence built around a six-syllable formula (...