The Formation and Evolution of Carnatic Music

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carnatic music

What is the origin of Carnatic music?

Music has existed since the genesis of human history. According to Hindu Mythology, the sacred ‘OM’ is the elemental source associated with the creation of the universe. The earliest sources include the ritual hymns of the Vedic scriptures over 2000 years ago and the timeless sources of folk music of the subcontinent. Alongside the two main forms Carnatic and Hindustani music, are various other derivative forms of devotional traditions, which have given back and received from the two traditions of music.

Apart from these two primary classifications, the roots can also be traced back to having Divine origins, as all other art forms, where the Gods and Goddesses are perceived to be associated with one or the other musical instruments. It is also seen that the music of Nature has inspired the nature of music. This stems from the understanding that each swara originated from the sound of an animal or bird, supported by treatises like Raga Manjari of Pundarika Vitthala. Bharata’s Natyashastra, the earliest treatise on music and dance, classification of musical instruments into 4 different categories and extensively deals with various other aspects of music and science as early as 2nd century AD.

When was Carnatic music created?

The timeline of Indian classical music can be studied under various categories.
2500 BC-500 BC, which can be called the Vedic period, shows instances of various musical instruments in use. The ritualistic chanting of the hymns from the Vedic scriptures was another pivotal source in identification of the seven notes of music.

500 BC to 500 AD, during which Sage Bharata wrote the Natyashastra, which covered concepts of music and dance, musical instruments’ classification for past, present and future, Dattilam, the first treatise written on music exclusively, evolution of concepts like shruti, swara, grama, murchana, tala etc. The great epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata contain references to musical instruments and their usage.

The medieval period (5th century Ad - 13th century AD) witnessed the works of:
  • Matanga’s Brihaddeshi in which the term Raga was first used.
  • Gita Govinda written by Jayadeva, where he is regarded as the trailblazer for having composed a work with structured compositions inclusive of his signature or mudra
  • Sangita Ratnakara of Shargnadeva deals with concepts like gamakas, ragas, talas, musical instruments, voice culture etc. It was during 12th-13th century AD that music of North India sees Persian and Central Asian influences. Sufi, the mystical form of Islamic belief comes to India during this time as well.
Between 12th and 14th centuries AD, the music of India began to evolve along two separate paths as Carnatic music, or music of South India and Hindustani music or the music of North India. There is also a belief that the two scholars in the court of Allauddin Khilji, who ruled the Delhi Sultanate, a south Indian scholar Gopalanayaka and a Persian poet Amir Khusro were pioneers in the evolution of these two timeless traditions.

Who is the father of Carnatic music?

Around 12th century AD, when the two traditions of music evolved as South Indian and North Indian musical systems, between the 12th and 16th century AD, Carnatic music flourished under the patronage of Vijayanagara empire. It was during this time Saint Purandara Dasa, referred to as the “Father of Carnatic Music”, composed thousands of keertanas or devotional songs and also formulated the basic lessons of Carnatic Music.

Who is known as the Trinity of Carnatic Music and Why?

The Trinity of Carnatic music comprises Sri Shyama Shastry ( 1762-1827), being the oldest , Sri Tyagaraja (1767-1847) and Sri Muttuswamy Dikshitar (1775 -1835), being the youngest of the trio. They have been instrumental in various aspects of music, be it in the systematic development of ragas, or the usage of talas, or the language used to put forth their feelings before their ishta devata or their chosen Lord or giving life to innumerable ragas that existed only in books, through their compositions.


Why is it called Carnatic music?

In ancient texts, the southern region of the Vindhyas is often referred to as Karnatakam. Possibly, this is where the music of South India gets its name from. The word ‘Carnatic’ can be interpreted as having its roots in the Sanskrit word ‘Karneshuathathi’, which is pleasing to the ear. Carnatic music has stood the test of time and remained immune to influences of Central Asia and Persia, whose profound influence can otherwise be seen in North Indian music. The repertoire of Carnatic music has been enriched by various composers across time periods.

Which language is used in Carnatic music?

The Carnatic music repertoire is replete with compositions in various languages like Telugu, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, apart from Sanskrit, which has been used predominantly by pre-medieval composers.

Is Carnatic music associated with any religion?

Music is above the boundaries of religion, caste or creed. However, the origin of Carnatic music is known to be in the Vedic scriptures and Hindu mythology.

What are the characteristics of Carnatic music?

Any form of Indian Classical Music is characterised and driven by Bhakti (devotion) and Melody. The compositions are rich in these aspects of music; each composer having their own manner of expressing the same. However, the basic concepts of music, Shruti(Pitch) , Raga(Melody) and Tala(rhythm) form the pillars of Indian classical music. In the case of Carnatic music, gamakas (ornamentation, oscillation of swaras) play a pivotal role in enhancing the beauty of a melodic piece. This aspect of Carnatic music is the distinguishing factor from other musical genres.

What are the elements of Carnatic music?

Three essential elements of Carnatic music are Shruti, Raga and Tala, of which Shruti and Tala are given greater importance. “Shrutir Mata Layah Pitah” - which means Shruti or pitch is the mother and Laya is the father of the musical system, which goes on to show the importance of these two aspects.
  • Sruti - Sruti is the smallest interval of pitch that the human ear can perceive.
  • Raga - Raga or melodic framework is the structure with a series of notes/ swaras in a particular sequence
  • Tala - Tala refers to the physical representation of time.

How can I learn Carnatic music?

It would be best to learn Carnatic music from an experienced and skilled teacher during the formative years to develop a strong foundation of the musical system. At Acharyanet, we provide more than 500 Carnatic music lessons by legendary musicians. Besides, our online Carnatic music classes are designed for every level and age of students globally. Click here to know more and join our online Carnatic music classes.

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