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Alankara, also referred to as palta or alankaram, is a concept in Indian classical music and literally means "ornament, decoration".[1][2][3] An alankara is any pattern of musical decoration a musician or vocalist creates within or across tones, based on ancient musical theories or driven by personal creative choices, in a progression of svaras.[1][4] The term alankara is standard in Carnatic music, while the same concept is referred to as palta or alankara in Hindustani music.[4]

The ancient and medieval music scholars of India state that there are unlimited creative possibilities available to a musician, but each scholar illustrated the concept with a set of alankara. Datilla discussed 13 alankaras, Bharata Muni presented 33, Sarngadeva described 63 alankaras, while mid medieval scholars presented numerous more.[1] The Indian music tradition classifies alankara as rational or irrational, wherein irrational alankara being those that cannot be reduced to a fixed scale degree pattern. The Indian theory of gamaka covers the group of irrational alankara.[1] The concept of alankara applies to both vocal and musical instrument performance.[1]

Purandara Dasa, the father of Carnatic music, developed learning exercises for students based on alankara and svaravali, where the student systematically repeats a certain set of patterns over three octave registers, across various ragas and talas.[5]


A song without any alankara,
would be like a night without a moon,
a river devoid of water,
a vine without any flower,
and a woman without any ornament.

Natya Shastra 29.75
Bharata Muni (200 BCE-200 CE)[1]

Here are some common types of alankara used in classical music are

  • meend, a technique of singing notes in a fluid manner with one note merging into the next - there are many different kinds of meend
  • kan-swar, grace notes - the use of grace-notes depends on the raga being performed
  • andolan, a gentle swing on specific notes, used selectively
  • gamaka, a heavy to-and-fro oscillation involving two or three distinct notes
  • khatka/gitkari, a rapid rendition of a cluster of notes distinctly yet lightly
  • murki, an even lighter and more subtle rendition of a cluster of notes

Other definitions[edit]

Alankara also refers to:

  • a pattern on a swara group within a given octave, in ancient Indian music.[2]
  • a type of exercise based on the 7 main talas and their variations.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Lewis Rowell (2015). Music and Musical Thought in Early India. University of Chicago Press. pp. 162–164. ISBN 978-0-226-73034-9.
  2. ^ a b c Prof. P Sambamoorthy (2005), South Indian Music - Vol I, Chennai, India: The Indian Music Publishing House, p. 51
  3. ^ Neil Sorrell; Ram Narayan (1980). Indian Music in Performance: A Practical Introduction. Manchester University Press. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-7190-0756-9.
  4. ^ a b David J. Hargreaves; Adrian North (2002). Musical Development and Learning. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 61–63. ISBN 978-1-84714-362-4.
  5. ^ Bruno Nettl; Ruth M. Stone; James Porter; et al. (1998). The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: South Asia : the Indian subcontinent. p. 216. ISBN 978-0-8240-4946-1.

External links[edit]

[[Category:Carnatic music terminology]]