Sunday, July 8, 2007

Carnatic music

Carnatic music, also known as karṇāṭaka sangītam is one of the oldest forms of Music which originated about 2500 years ago.
Carnatic music is completely melodic, with improvised variations. The main emphasis is on vocal music; most compositions are written to be sung, and even when played on instruments, they are meant to be performed in a singing style (known as gāyaki). Like Hindustani music, Carnatic music rests on two main elements: rāga, the modes or melodic formulæ, and tāḷa, the rhythmic cycles.

Origins and history

The Sama Veda is said to have laid the foundation for Indian music, and consists mainily of hymns of Rigveda, set to musical tunes, and would be sung using three to seven musical notes during Vedic sacrifices, sometimes accompanied by an instrument The Yajur-Veda, which mainly consists of sacrificial formulae, mentions the veena as an accompaniment to vocal recitations during the sacrifices.

Like all art forms in Indian culture, Carnatic Music is believed to have a divine origin, and music is venerated as an aspect of the supreme (nāda brāhmam). Ancient treatises describe the connection of the origin of swaras to the sounds of nature (as in animals and birds, the sound emanating from a bamboo reed as air passes through its hollows etc), and man’s keen sense of observation and perception that tried stimulating these sounds. Many scholars consider that folk music influenced the structure of Carnatic music too.

References to Indian classical music are made in many ancient religious texts, including epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The Yajnavalkya Smriti mentions "Veena vadhana tathvangna sruti, jathi, visartha talanjaaprayasena moksha margam niyachathi" ("The one who is well versed in veena, one who has the knowledge of srutis and one who is adept in tala, attains salvation without doubt.") The historical roots of this tradition can be found in Bharata's Natya Shastra. Carnatic music is based on music concepts mentioned in Natya Sastra. Natya Shastra mentions many musical concepts (including swara and tala) that continue to be relevant to Carnatic music today.

According to some scholars, Carnatic music shares certain classical music concepts with ancient Tamil music. The concept of Pann is related to Ragas used in Carnatic music. The rhythmic meters found in several musical forms (such as the Tiruppugazh) and other ancient literature, resemble the talas that are in use today.

Both Carnatic and Hindustani music shared a common history. Since the late 12th and early 13th centuries, as a result of the increasing Persian influence (and as a result of the Islamic conquest) in North India, Hindustani Music started evolving as a separate genre, while Carnatic music was relatively unaffected by these Arabic and Iranian influences. In Carnatic Music (which was based in South India), the pan-Indian bhakti movement laid a substantial basis as far as the use of religious themes are concerned, while major developments post 13th century also contributed to its divergence from Hindustani music.

Carnatic music saw renewed growth during Vijayanagar Empire by the Kannada Haridasa movement of Vyasaraja, Purandara Dasa, Kanakadasa and others. Purandara Dasa who is known as the Sangeeta Pitamaha (the grandfather of Carnatic music) laid out the fundamental tenets and framework for teaching carnatic music. Venkatamakhin is credited with the classification of ragas in the Melakarta System and wrote his most important work; Chaturdandi Prakasika (c.1635 CE) in Sanskrit. Govindacharya expanded the Melakarta Scheme into the Sampoorna raga system, which is the system in common use today.

Even though the earlier writers Matanga, Sarangadeva and others also were from Karnataka, the music tradition was formally named Karnataka Sangeetham for the first time only in the 13th Century when Vijayanagara empire was found.



Purandara Dasa (1480 - 1564) is known as the father (Pitamaha) of Carnatic music due to his pioneering contributions to Carnatic music. Purandara Dasa is renowned for formulating the basic lessons of Carnatic music. He structured graded exercises known as Swaravalis and Alankaras, and at the same time, introduced the Raga Mayamalavagowla as the first scale to be learnt by beginners. He also composed Gitas (simple songs) for novice students. Although only a fraction of his other compositions still exist, he is said to have composed around 475,000 compositions in total.

The contemporaries Tyagaraja (1759? - 1847), Muthuswami Dikshitar, (1776 - 1827) and Syama Sastri, (1762 - 1827) are regarded as the Trinity of Carnatic music, due to the quality of Syama Sastri's compositions, the varieties of compositions of Muthuswami Dikshitar and Tyagaraja's prolific output in composing kritis.[15]

Prominent composers prior to the Trinity of Carnatic Music include Vyasatirtha, Kanakadasa, Gopaladasa, Muthu Thandavar (1525-1625), Arunachala Kavi(1712-1779) and Marimuttha Pillai(1717-1787). Other prominent composers are Annamacharya, Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi, Swathi Thirunal, Narayana Teertha, Patnam Subramania Iyer, Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar, Mysore Vasudevacharya, Muthiah Bhagavathar, Kotiswara Iyer, Gopalakrishna Bharathi, Papanasam Sivan and Subramania Bharathiyar.

Composers of Carnatic music were often inspired by religious devotion and were usually scholars proficient in one or more of the following languages Kannada, Sanskrit , Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu. They usually included a signature, called a mudra, in their compositions. For example, all songs by Tyagaraja (who composed in Telugu) have the word Thyagaraja in them, all songs by Muthuswami Dikshitar (who composed in Sanskrit) have the words Guruguha in them, songs by Syama Sastri (who composed in Telugu) have the words Syama Krishna in them, Purandaradasa, who composed in Kannada, used the signature Purandara Vittala and Gopalakrishna Bharathi and Papanasam Sivan who composed in Tamil, used the signatures Gopalakrishnan and Ramadasan respectively.