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Carnatic music, known as Karnāṭaka saṃgīta or Karnāṭaka saṅgītam in the South Indian languages, is a system of music commonly associated with South India, including the modern Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and Sri Lanka.
It is one of two main subgenres of Indian classical music that evolved from ancient Sanatana dharma sciences and traditions, the other subgenre being Hindustani music, which emerged as a distinct form because of Persian or Islamic influences from Northern India.
The main emphasis in Carnatic music is on vocal music; most compositions are written to be sung, and even when played on instruments, they are meant to be performed in gāyaki (singing) style.
The circle of fifths and several other popular concepts in western classical music have their origins in the theory of Carnatic classical music.
Although there are stylistic differences, the basic elements of śruti (the relative musical pitch), swara (the musical sound of a single note), rāga (the mode or melodic formulæ), and tala (the rhythmic cycles) form the foundation of improvisation and composition in both Carnatic and Hindustani music.
Although improvisation plays an important role, Carnatic music is mainly sung through compositions, especially the kriti (or kirtanam) – a form developed between the 14th and 20th centuries by composers such as Purandara Dasa and the Trinity of Carnatic music.
Carnatic music is also usually taught and learned through compositions.
Carnatic music is usually performed by a small ensemble of musicians, consisting of a principal performer (usually a vocalist), a melodic accompaniment (usually a violin), a rhythm accompaniment (usually a mridangam), and a tambura, which acts as a drone throughout the performance.
The greatest concentration of Carnatic musicians is to be found in the city of Chennai.
Various Carnatic music festivals are held throughout India and abroad, including the Madras Music Season, which has been considered to be one of the world's largest cultural events.
Origins, sources and history
Like all art forms in Indian culture, Indian classical music is believed to be a divine art form which originated from the Devas and Devis (Hindu Gods and Goddesses), and is venerated as symbolic of nāda brāhman.
Ancient treatises also describe the connection of the origin of the swaras, or notes, to the sounds of animals and birds and man's effort to simulate these sounds through a keen sense of observation and perception.
The Sama Veda, which is believed to have laid the foundation for Indian classical music, consists of hymns from the Rigveda, set to musical tunes which would be sung using three to seven musical notes during Vedic yajnas.
The Yajur-Veda, which mainly consists of sacrificial formulae, mentions the veena as an accompaniment to vocal recitations.
The Yajnavalkya Smriti mentions वीणावादन तत्त्वज्ञः श्रुतीजातिविशारदः ताळज्ञश्चाप्रयासेन मोक्षमार्गं नियच्छति ( vīṇāvādana tattvajñaḥ śrutijātiviśāradaḥ tālajñaścāprayāsena mokṣamārgaṃ niyacchati, "The one who is well versed in veena, one who has the knowledge of srutis and one who is adept in tala, attains liberation (moksha) without doubt").
Carnatic music is based as it is today on musical concepts (including swara, raga, and tala) that were described in detail in several ancient works, particularly the Bharata's Natya Shastra and Silappadhikaram by Ilango Adigal.
Owing to Persian and Islamic influences in North India from the 12th century onwards, Indian classical music began to diverge into two distinct styles — Hindustani music and Carnatic music.
By the 16th and 17th centuries, there was a clear demarcation between Carnatic and Hindustani music; Carnatic music remained relatively unaffected by Persian and Arabic influences.
Purandara Dasa, who is known as the "father (Pitamaha) of Carnatic music", formulated the system that is commonly used for the teaching of Carnatic music.
Govindacharya is known for expanding the melakarta system into the sampoorna raga scheme – the system that is in common use today.
Some of the royalty of the kingdoms of Mysore and Travancore were themselves noted composers and proficient in playing musical instruments, such as the veena, rudra veena, violin, ghatam, flute, mridangam, nagaswara and swarabhat.
With the dissolution of the erstwhile princely states and the Indian independence movement reaching its conclusion in 1947, Carnatic music went through a radical shift in patronage into an art of the masses with ticketed performances organised by private institutions called sabhās.
The main emphasis in Carnatic music 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).
Today, Carnatic music is presented by musicians in concerts or recordings, either vocally or through instruments.
Carnatic music itself developed around musical works or compositions of phenomenal composers (see below).
Main article: Śruti (music)
Śruti commonly refers to musical pitch.
It is the approximate equivalent of a tonic (or less precisely a key) in Western music; it is the note from which all the others are derived.
It is also used in the sense of graded pitches in an octave.
While there are an infinite number of sounds falling within a scale (or raga) in Carnatic music, the number that can be distinguished by auditory perception is twenty-two (although over the years, several of them have converged).
In this sense, while sruti is determined by auditory perception, it is also an expression in the listener's mind.
Main article: Swara
Swara refers to a type of musical sound that is a single note, which defines a relative (higher or lower) position of a note, rather than a defined frequency.
These names are abbreviations of the longer names shadja, rishabha, gandhara, madhyama, panchama, dhaivata and nishada.
Unlike other music systems, every member of the solfege (called a swara) has three variants.
A 7th century stone inscription in Kudumiyan Malai in Tamil Nadu shows vowel changes to solfege symbols with ra, ri, ru etc. to denote the higher quarter-tones.
In one scale, or raga, there is usually only one variant of each note present.
The exceptions exist in "light" ragas, in which, for artistic effect, there may be two, one ascending (in the arohanam) and another descending (in the avarohanam).
Main article: Raga
It specifies rules for movements up (aarohanam) and down (avarohanam), the scale of which notes should figure more and which notes should be used more sparingly, which notes may be sung with gamaka (ornamentation), which phrases should be used or avoided, and so on.
In effect, it is a series of obligatory musical events which must be observed, either absolutely or with a particular frequency.
In Carnatic music, the sampoorna ragas (those with all seven notes in their scales) are classified into a system called the melakarta, which groups them according to the kinds of notes that they have.
There are seventy-two melakarta ragas, thirty six of whose madhyama (subdominant) is shuddha (perfect fourth from the tonic), the remaining thirty-six of whose madhyama (subdominant) is prati (an augmented fourth from the tonic).
There is a system known as the katapayadi sankhya to determine the names of melakarta ragas.
Ragas may be divided into two classes: janaka ragas (i.e. melakarta or parent ragas) and janya ragas (descendant ragas of a particular janaka raga).
Janya ragas are themselves subclassified into various categories.
Main article: Tala (music)
Tala refers to a fixed time cycle or metre, set for a particular composition, which is built from groupings of beats.
Talas have cycles of a defined number of beats and rarely change within a song.
They have specific components, which in combinations can give rise to the variety to exist (over 108), allowing different compositions to have different rhythms.
Carnatic music singers usually keep the beat by moving their hands up and down in specified patterns, and using their fingers simultaneously to keep time.
Tala is formed with three basic parts (called angas) which are laghu, dhrtam, and anudhrtam, though complex talas may have other parts like plutam, guru, and kaakapaadam.
There are seven basic tala groups which can be formed from the laghu, dhrtam, and anudhrtam:
- Ata tala
- Dhruva tala
- Eka tala
- Jhampa tala
- Matya tala
- Rupaka tala
- Triputa tala
A laghu has five variants (called jaathis) based on the counting pattern.
Five jaathis times seven tala groups gives thirty-five basic talas, although use of other angas results in a total of 108 talas.
Improvisation in raga is the soul of Indian classical music – an essential aspect.
"Manodharma Sangeetam" or "kalpana Sangeetam" ("music of imagination") as it is known in Carnatic music, embraces several varieties of improvisation.
The main traditional forms of improvisation in Carnatic music consist of the following:
- Tani Avartanam
Main article: Alapana
An alapana, sometimes also called ragam, is the exposition of a raga or tone – a slow improvisation with no rhythm, where the raga acts as the basis of embellishment.
In performing alapana, performers consider each raga as an object that has beginnings and endings and consists somehow of sequences of thought.
The performer will explore the ragam and touch on its various nuances, singing in the lower octaves first, then gradually moving up to higher octaves, while giving a hint of the song to be performed.
Theoretically, this ought to be the easiest type of improvisation, since the rules are so few, but in fact, it takes much skill to sing a pleasing, comprehensive (in the sense of giving a "feel for the ragam") and, most importantly, original raga alapana.
Main article: Niraval
Niraval, usually performed by the more advanced performers, consists of singing one or two lines of text of a song repeatedly, but with a series of melodic improvised elaborations.
Although niraval consists of extempore melodic variations, generally, the original patterns of duration are maintained; each word in the lines of text stay set within their original place (idam) in the tala cycle.
The lines are then also played at different levels of speed which can include double speed, triple speed, quadruple speed and even sextuple speed.
The improvised elaborations are made with a view of outlining the raga, the tempo, and the theme of the composition.
Main article: Kalpanaswaram
Kalpanaswaram, also known as swarakalpana, consists of improvising melodic and rhythmic passages using swaras (solfa syllables).
Kalpanaswaras have a somewhat predictable rhythmical structure; the swaras are sung to end on the samam (the first beat of the rhythmical cycle).
The swaras can also be sung at the same speed or double the speed of the melody that is being sung, though some artists sing triple-speed phrases too.
Kalpanaswaram is the most elementary type of improvisation, usually taught before any other form of improvisation.
Tanam is one of the most important forms of improvisation, and is integral to Ragam Tanam Pallavi.
Originally developed for the veena, it consists of expanding the raga with syllables like tha, nam, thom, aa, nom, na, etc.
Ragam Tanam Pallavi
Main article: Ragam Tanam Pallavi
Ragam, Tanam, and Pallavi are the principal long form in concerts, and is a composite form of improvisation.
As the name suggests, it consists of raga alapana, tanam, and a pallavi line.
Set to a slow-paced tala, the pallavi line is often composed by the performer.
Through niraval, the performer manipulates the pallavi line in complex melodic and rhythmic ways.
The niraval is followed by kalpanaswarams.
Tani Avartanam refers to the extended solo that is played by the percussionists in a concert, and is usually played after the main composition in a concert.
The percussionist displays the full range of his skills and rhythmic imagination during the solo, which may take from two to twenty minutes.
There are many composers in Carnatic music.
Purandara Dasa (1484–1564) is referred to as the Pitamaha (the father or grandfather) of Carnatic music as he formulated the basic lessons in teaching Carnatic music, and in honour of his significant contribution to Carnatic music.
He also composed Gitas (simple songs) for novice students.
The contemporaries Tyagaraja (1767– 1847), Muthuswami Dikshitar, (1776–1835) and Syama Sastri, (1762–1827) are regarded as the Trinity of Carnatic music because of the quality of Syama Sastri's compositions, the varieties of compositions of Muthuswami Dikshitar, and Tyagaraja's prolific output in composing kritis.
Prominent composers prior to the Trinity of Carnatic music include Arunachala Kavi, Annamacharya, Narayana Theertha, Vijaya Dasa, Jagannatha Dasa, Gopala Dasa, Bhadrachala Ramadas, Sadasiva Brahmendra and Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi.
Other composers are Swathi Thirunal, Gopalakrishna Bharathi, Neelakanta Sivan, Patnam Subramania Iyer, Mysore Vasudevachar, Koteeswara Iyer, Muthiah Bhagavathar, Subramania Bharathiyar, Kalyani Varadarajan, and Papanasam Sivan.
The compositions of these composers are rendered frequently by artists of today.
They usually included a signature, called a mudra, in their compositions.
For example, all songs by Tyagaraja (who composed in Telugu) have the word Tyagaraja 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; all songs by Purandaradasa (who composed in Kannada) have the words Purandara Vittala; while Gopalakrishna Bharathi (who composed in Tamil) used the signature Gopalakrishnan in his compositions.
Papanasam Sivan, who has been hailed as the Tamil Tyagaraja of Carnatic music, composed in Tamil and Sanskrit, and used the signature Ramadasan in his compositions.
Carnatic music is traditionally taught according to the system formulated by Purandara Dasa.
It typically takes several years of learning before a student is adept enough to perform at a concert.
The learning texts and exercises are more or less uniform across all the South Indian states.
The learning structure is arranged in increasing order of complexity.
The lessons start with the learning of the sarali varisai (solfege set to a particular raga).
From the late 20th century onwards, with changes in lifestyles and need for young music aspirants to simultaneously pursue a parallel academic career, this system has found few takers.
In modern times, it is common for students to visit their gurus daily or weekly to learn music.
Though new technology has made learning easier with the availability of quick-learn media such as learning exercises recorded on audio cassettes and CDs, these are discouraged by most gurus who emphasize that face-to-face learning is best for students.
Notation is not a new concept in Indian music.
However, Carnatic music continued to be transmitted orally for centuries without being written down.
The disadvantage with this system was that if one wanted to learn about a kriti composed, for example, by Purandara Dasa, it involved the difficult task of finding a person from Purandara Dasa's lineage of students.
They contain snippets of solfege to be used when performing the mentioned ragas.
Past attempts to use the staff notation have mostly failed.
Indian music makes use of hundreds of ragas, many more than the church modes in Western music.
It becomes difficult to write Carnatic music using the staff notation without the use of too many accidentals.
Furthermore, the staff notation requires that the song be played in a certain key.
The notions of key and absolute pitch are deeply rooted in Western music, whereas the Carnatic notation does not specify the key and prefers to use scale degrees (relative pitch) to denote notes.
The singer is free to choose the actual pitch of the tonic note.
In the more precise forms of Carnatic notation, there are symbols placed above the notes indicating how the notes should be played or sung; however, informally this practice is not followed.
To show the length of a note, several devices are used.
If the duration of note is to be doubled, the letter is either capitalized (if using Roman script) or lengthened by a diacritic (in Indian languages).
For a duration of three, the letter is capitalized (or diacriticized) and followed by a comma.
For a length of four, the letter is capitalized (or diacriticized) and then followed by a semicolon.
In this way any duration can be indicated using a series of semicolons and commas.
However, a simpler notation has evolved which does not use semicolons and capitalization, but rather indicates all extensions of notes using a corresponding number of commas.
Thus, Sā quadrupled in length would be denoted as "S,,,".
The notation is divided into columns, depending on the structure of the tāḷaṃ.
The division between a laghu and a dhrutam is indicated by a।, called a ḍaṇḍā, and so is the division between two dhrutams or a dhrutam and an anudhrutam.
The end of a cycle is marked by a॥, called a double ḍaṇḍā, and looks like a caesura.
Main article: Performances of Carnatic music
Carnatic music is usually performed by a small ensemble of musicians, who sit on an elevated stage.
This usually consists of, at least, a principal performer, a melodic accompaniment, a rhythm accompaniment, and a drone.
Performances can be musical or musical-dramatic.
Musical recitals are either vocal, or purely instrumental in nature, while musical-dramatic recitals refer to Harikatha.
But, irrespective of what type of recital it is, what is featured are compositions which form the core of this genre of music.
See also: Indian musical instruments
The drone itself is an integral part of performances and furnishes stability – the equivalent of harmony in Western music.
In a vocal recital, a concert team may have one or more vocalists as the principal performer(s).
The rhythm accompanist is usually a mridangam player (who sits on the other side, facing the violin player).
The objective of the accompanying instruments is far more than following the melody and keeping the beats.
The accompaniments form an integral part of every composition presented, and they closely follow and augment the melodic phrases outlined by the lead singer.
Unlike Hindustani music concerts, where an accompanying tabla player can keep beats without following the musical phrases at times, in Carnatic music, the accompanists have to follow the intricacies of the composition since there are percussion elements such as eduppu in several compositions.
Some concerts feature a good bit of interaction with the lead musicians and accompanists exchanging notes, and accompanying musicians predicting the lead musician's musical phrases.
Contemporary concert content
A contemporary Carnatic music concert (called a kutcheri) usually lasts about three hours, and comprises a number of varied compositions.
Each composition is set with specific notes and beats, but performers improvise extensively.
Improvisation occurs in the melody of the composition as well as in using the notes to expound the beauty of the raga.
Concerts usually begin with a varnam or an invocatory item which will act as the opening piece.
It is lively and fast to get the audience's attention.
An invocatory item may usually follow the varnam.
Each kriti sticks to one specific raga, although some are composed with more than one raga; these are known as ragamalika (a garland of ragas).
The performer must improvise a string of swaras in any octave according to the rules of the raga and return to beginning of the cycle of beats smoothly, joining the swaras with a phrase selected from the kriti.
The violin performs these alternately with the main performer.
In very long strings of swara, the performers must calculate their notes accurately to ensure that they stick to the raga, have no awkward pauses or lapses in the beat of the song, and create a complex pattern of notes that a knowledgeable audience can follow.
In this, they use the sounds aa, ri, na, ta, etc. instead of swaras to slowly elaborate the notes and flow of the raga.
This begins slowly and builds to a crescendo, and finally establishes a complicated exposition of the raga that shows the performer's skill.
All of this is done without any rhythmic accompaniment, or beat.
Then the melodic accompaniment (violin or veena), expounds the raga.
Experienced listeners can identify many ragas after they hear just a few notes.
With the raga thus established, the song begins, usually with lyrics.
In this, the accompaniment (usually violin, sometimes veena) performs along with the main performer and the percussion (such as a mridangam).
In the next stage of the song, they may sing niraval or kalpanaswaram again.
In most concerts, the main item will at least have a section at the end of the item, for the percussion to perform solo (called the tani avartanam).
The percussion artists perform complex patterns of rhythm and display their skill.
If multiple percussion instruments are employed, they engage in a rhythmic dialogue until the main performer picks up the melody once again.
Some experienced artists may follow the main piece with a ragam thanam pallavi mid-concert, if they do not use it as the main item.
Following the main composition, the concert continues with shorter and lighter songs.
Some of the types of songs performed towards the end of the concerts are tillanas and thukkadas – bits of popular kritis or compositions requested by the audience.
Every concert that is the last of the day ends with a mangalam, a thankful prayer and conclusion to the musical event.
The audience of a typical concert will have some understanding of Carnatic music.
It is also typical to see the audience tapping out the tala in sync with the artist's performance.
As and when the artist exhibits creativity, the audience acknowledge it by clapping their hands.
With experienced artists, towards the middle of the concert, requests start flowing in.
The artist usually sings the requests, and it helps in exhibiting the artist's broad knowledge of the several thousand kritis that are in existence.
Various music festivals featuring Carnatic music performances are held in India, and throughout the world.
The Aradhana festival is an annual death-anniversary celebration of the prolific Carnatic music composer, Tyagaraja.
Held in the city of Thiruvayaru, thousands of musicians attend the festival to perform his compositions.
Since its inception, other festivals were started in a similar manner throughout India and abroad, such as the Chembai Sangeetholsavam in the Indian city of Guruvayur, and the Aradhana in the US city of Cleveland.
The city of Chennai also holds a six-week-long grand "Music Season", which has been described as the world's largest cultural event.
The Music Season was started in 1927, to mark the opening of the Madras Music Academy.
Some concert organisers also feature their own Carnatic music festivals during the season.
Thousands of performances are held by hundreds of musicians across various venues in the city.
The Karnataka Ganakala Parishat is an annual conference of Carnatic music, held in February every year, which has lectures and demonstrations in the morning, and performances in the afternoons and evenings.
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnatic music.