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KRITI In South Indian or Karnatak music (Karnataka sangītam), the Sanskrit term kriti (work or composition) refers to a tripartite song with Sanskrit or vernacular lyrics. As most solo performers acquire their repertoire of kritis from a guru belonging to a lineage of several teachers and disciples (guru shishya parampara), associating oneself with a well-established tradition (sampradāya) or personal style (bāni) remains a matter of prestige.


The term kriti is widely regarded as being synonymous with kīrtana, although some scholars make a distinction and reserve kriti for the more differentiated form of art music. Any simple devotional song is referred to as kīrtana, pada, or dēvarnāma. The sparing use of text in a kriti has resulted in a melismatic and expressive style. Many scholars believe that Tyāgarāja (1767–1847) was the composer who perfected the kriti form.

In the early twentieth century, the kriti became the main Karnatak concert item, as it provides all participants with ample scope for solo improvisations and spontaneous interaction. Until then, the creative aspect of art music (manōdharma sangīta) consisted mainly of formal and highly complicated elaborations of a single theme (pallavi or rāgam tānam pallavi).

With its mellifluous quality, Telugu continues to be the favorite Dravidian language for kriti lyrics. Tamil, the medium of the earliest bhakti poetry, has played a greater role since the Tamil music movement (Tamil Ishai) was institutionalized in the 1940s.


A kriti consists of three main themes: (1) an opening theme or refrain (pallavi, P, "sprouting"); (2) a secondary theme building on the pallavi (anupallavi, A); and (3) the concluding stanza, or several stanzas (charanam, C, "foot"). The typical arrangement of these kriti parts (anga) can be summarized as P-A-P-C-(A)-P. Any section may comprise several lines and repetitions. The three themes are often enriched with complex variations (sangati), either as intended by the composer or in the form of additions made by other musicians. Both the profusion and refinement of sangatis are regarded as the hallmark of Tyāgarāja's kritis.

For his short kritis, Dīkshitar employed a different format known as samashti charana, in which the anupallavi is omitted, much as in a kīrtana. Some of the kritis of Shyāma Shāstri and Dīkshitar, and also those of several later composers, are characterized by the use of meaningless sol-fa syllables (chittasvara), each syllable representing the name of a note (svara). A less common but important variant is known as svara sāhitya, in which a composer amalgamates meaningless sol-fa syllables (svara) with meaningful syllables as part of the lyrics (sāhitya), usually as an extension of the charanam. Tyāgarāja did not normally employ such techniques, the notable exceptions being found in the kritis popularly known as the five gems (pancharatna). Thus all the chittasvaras performed along with his pieces constitute additions made by others.

More than any other genre, the kriti facilitates the exploration of melodic and rhythmical intricacies. This important quality manifests itself in two ways, namely in the variations (sangati) provided by a composer, and in the optional solo improvisations (preludes and interludes) by concert musicians. A nonmetrical rāga exposition (rāga ālāpana) creates the appropriate mood (rāga bhāva) for a kriti in a manner that can be compared to the first part of a rāgam tānam pallavi performance. Sometimes the kriti that is presented as the highlight of a concert includes a tānam (a pulsating variant of the rāga ālāpana); then three more improvised sections are typically inserted in the anupallavi or charanam section before returning to the pallavi of the kriti: (1) niraval (filling up), which initially follows the distribution of the text syllables in order to heighten a particular mood; (2) several rounds of kalpana svara (decorative notes); and (3) tani āvartana, an extensive drum solo that concludes the main concert item. To establish their identity and discourage others from altering their songs, most kriti composers incorporate a seal (mudrā) toward the end of their lyrics, be it a pen name, their personal name, or that of their chosen deity (ishtadēvatā).


A kriti leads its listeners through a series of experiences that appeal to their artistic sensibilites as well as their innermost spiritual longings. In the kritis composed by Tyāgarāja, Shyāma Shāstri, Muttusvāmi Dīkshitar, and many of their successors, the aim of art music has been transformed radically: they refused to entertain or eulogize a powerful patron (narastuti), traditionally a highly cultured person belonging to a royal dynasty, often credited with divine qualities. Instead they focused on songs that praise their personal deity (ishta dēvatā), for instance SrīRāma, the divine king whose glory is described in most of Tyāgarāja's songs. Far from feeling intimidated by the grandeur he describes in such detail, Tyāgarāja even feels entitled to converse with God in rather familiar if not jocular terms, depending on the context of a song and his own disposition: "In Brovabhāramā, he asks if he is too much of a burden for Rama to bear and points out the huge burdens that the Lord had borne in the past, the mountain of Mandara and Govardhana on his back and palm, and the entire universe in his stomach" (Raghavan). In several songs, the saintly composer skillfully resorts to mocking praise (nindāstuti) and social satire with the help of succinct lyrics whose expression required a corresponding range of musical means. The Telugu is lyrical and minimal, possessing classical dignity and meaning.

Ludwig Pesch

See alsoKīrtana ; Music: South India ; Rāga


Jackson, William J. Tyāgarāja: Life and Lyrics. Chennai: Oxford University Press, 1991.

——. "Features of the Kriti: A Song Form Developed by Tyāgarāja." Asian Music 24, no. 1 (1992): 19–61.

——. Songs of the Three Great South Indian Saints. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Parthasarathy, T. S. Music Composers of India. Chennai: C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, 1982.

Raghavan. V. The Spiritual Heritage of Tyagaraja. Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1981.

Seetha, S. Tanjore as a Seat of Music. Chennai: University of Madras, 1981.