Cacophony to Harmony - Debunking caste bias narratives in Carnatic Music

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By Lalitha Ravichandran
The recent award of Sangita Kalanidhi has stirred up a hornet’s nest. This article aims to debunk the
narrative that is being spun on social media and on You tube Channels.
There is inherent caste bias in Carnatic music and most of the performers are brahmins. The
Brahmin community has monopolized the art form and has prevented other communities from learning
and practicing the art form.
While it is true that more than 75% of the performers are from the Brahmin community, they
have not stopped anyone from learning or performing. There is a bit of history behind this, and the
discussion needs some nuance. In the 70s and 80s film music became popular and the traditional Isai
Vellalar community started moving away from Carnatic music as it was not a sustainable profession.
With no patronage either from zamindars or rich landowners, they could not sustain themselves and so
started drifting away. It was at this time that brahmins started building an ecosystem to support Carnatic
music by the below approach.

1. Actively organize and support Carnatic music concerts – Supported music performers.
2. Ensure a family member is trained in the arts – Supported music teachers.

Organization of Carnatic music concerts was active only in major urban centers and several individuals
devoted their entire life to this mission because of their love for the art form. They pooled money and
collected funds to organize concerts and many a musician’s life was sustainable because of their selfless
The insistence in brahmin families for the children to learn the art form was also because of the love for
the art form. These kids from the 70s and 80s migrated to faraway lands in search of greener pastures
and with them took their food, culture, and love for the art form. They ensured that again they repeat 1
and 2 from above in their adopted land. Thus, Carnatic music now had not only local Indian support but
also patronage outside India as well. While this has increased the rasika base, the Carnatic musician’s
professional trajectory is strewn with struggles. In the current milieu, film music has better exposure and
earning power that is perhaps 100 times that of Carnatic music. Truth be told, this has been a major
contributing factor in other communities not taking to Carnatic music as a profession. The same ills
plague the Naadhaswaram and Thavil artists. It is predominantly still played by people of a certain
community, but nowhere do we find narratives being propagated that they are monopolizing it and not
allowing other communities to step in.
No guru of Carnatic music has stopped anyone from learning Carnatic music. Similarly, no Carnatic music
organization has stopped people from attending concerts. Anyone from any community who is serious
about equity in the arts should strive to implement the following action items.

1. Ensure that children from their community get exposure to the artform. They should be
encouraged to take Carnatic music classes.

2. Take them to Carnatic music concerts instead of movies or TV reality shows. Nurture the talent
and then allow it to blossom. Taste for Carnatic music is an acquired taste. It does not appeal on
first try but if someone keeps at it, it grows on them and finally completely takes over every fibre
of their being.

3. Attend or support Carnatic music concerts in their local communities.

4. For marriages in their families. encourage traditional Carnatic music performances rather than
fusion or film music.
The brahmin community has been trying to keep the art form alive despite many challenges, financial
and logistical to name a few. To accuse them of monopoly and hegemony is akin to sitting on a tree and
trying to cut off its branch.

Carnatic music will be better served, and true progress made if musicians come together and provide
constructive feedback and action items for inclusion and diversity instead of resorting to mudslinging
and tokenisms.
Lalitha Ravichandran, a Senior Manager in IT has eclectic interests such as carnatic music, writing short stories, poetry and gardening. She has published articles and her first book of short stories and poetry in Tamizh titled குருவிக்கூடு is available on Amazon. She plays the veena and gives veena duet performances along with her son. She can be reached at
The views expressed in this article are those of the author only.

11 comments on “Cacophony to Harmony - Debunking caste bias narratives in Carnatic Music”

  1. Madam whatever you said is absolute truth. It is hurting some are politicising it for cheapest popularity. The divine art is still in existence, will continue to exist in absence of support from other communities.

  2. The simple truth put forward brilliantly. A forgotten truth and perspective. Thank you for bringing this to light. Hope many more read and understand the truth instead of just getting carried away with wrong information.

  3. The first truly understated,sane piece I have come across on this vexed subject. There is so much surround sound that one misses the wood for the trees.

  4. Whenever a charge of bias is made, the first and immediate response is of denial! That there's an ecosystem which promotes only people of a certain type is never acknowledged in the responses. That Karnatic music could have acquired greater depth and inclusiveness by introspection and change, of course, didn't occur to those who want more of the same... At this rate, the music form itself is in danger of death

  5. Not thinking,my child shd sing in Big platforms,as sending to School,teaching some form of carnatic music,( Fiddle,Mridhangam or
    flute) inadvertently helped in familiarisation of Ragas or songs in praise of God in Different languages hence widening their VISiON too.V

  6. Excellently articulated.

    Those following the left ideology have unfortunately created a narrative that anti-brahmanism is being secular. They create situations to target the community under one guise or another. Using the advantage that N Murali, who is an avowed communist, is the president of MMS, has used the opportunity to recognise another leftist through this award.

    Carnatic music is divine. Because a majority of the artists belong to the Brahmin community, these narrow minded people are targeting it, forgetting that this art has sustained because this community has supported it for the one and only reason…they love it.

  7. Agree. Brahmin families insist on their children learning carnatic music or dance. Along with emphasis on education, this too is de rigeur in south Indian brahmin families. Sadly,the controversy had led to excessive brahmin bashing. In TN talking insultingly to Brahmins is common, those of us who grew up in TN have faced it and put up with it quietly

  8. Very well written with valid points. This stereotypical Brahmin bashing which is the core of leftist narrative in every sphere of activity has now crept into Carnatic music as well. More such sane voices are needed to counter the false narratives.

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