Musicolinguistic artistry of niraval in Carnatic vocal music

Mahesh Radhakrishnan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review


Niraval is a form of virtuosic musicolinguistic improvisation in Carnatic music whereby a line within a song is repeated in various melodic and rhythmic manifestations within the rāgam (melodic framework) and tāl am (beat cycle). For a Carnatic singer, niraval makes different aesthetic demands than other forms of non-textual improvisation within the tradition. To convey artful, sincere renditions of the same lyrical text, the singer-musician must imaginatively devise interesting repetitions which attend to both melodic and rhythmic elements and the lyric text. Combining melodic and rhythmic skill and verbal artistry in a range of South Indian languages as well as Sanskrit, Carnatic singers display extraordinary communicative and artistic competence and captivate their audiences. This paper analyses the musical and linguistic elements of a single niraval performance in Sydney’s Carnatic music community. It is hoped that such research will contribute to a greater understanding of the interplay of language and music in sung performance.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 42nd Australian Linguistic Society Conference 2011
EditorsMaïa Ponsonnet, Loan Dao, Margit Bowler
Place of PublicationCanberra, A.C.T.
PublisherAustralian Linguistic Society
Number of pages42
ISBN (Print)9780980281545
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes
EventConference of the Australian Linguistic Society - Canberra
Duration: 1 Dec 20114 Dec 2011


ConferenceConference of the Australian Linguistic Society


  • Carnatic singing
  • ethnography
  • verbal art
  • music
  • improvisation


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