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A pallavi is the thematic line of a song in carnatic music. It is usually one cycle long and repeated twice in order to give the percussionist the idea of the chosen taalam. Sometimes it is repeated a few more times using different phrases of the Rāgam to which the song is set.
The life of the song, the word pallavi consists of a wide range of items that are considered as a single item:
- pa is derived from padam which means phrase;
- lla comes from layam which means tempo;
- vi is from vinyasam which means variation.
In carnatic music, pallavi also forms a part of a special type of rendition called Rāgam Thānam Pallavi. Rāgam in this context is the initial ālāpana of chosen rāgam (elaboration and exploration of its scale). Thānam is elaboration of the rāgam using percussion syllables. Pallavi, a single line of one tālam cycle duration, is chosen for further elaboration of the rāgam in different speeds, octaves, rāgam phrases, etc.
The Pallavi is mainly presented as the pièce de résistance of the concert. In the Mysore-Bani style of concert presentation, the Raga-Tana-Pallavi is usually presented in the same raga as of the varnam with which the concert is started.
Pallavi in Sanskrit is used as an adjective or a verb with appropriate suffix to denote a small and tender red-coloured leaf of a plant or a tendril. In Hindi, the word "pallavi" and "pallav" are often used in poetry as a metaphor of the advent of spring or new beginnings.