Performing Arts of south India

கர்நாடக  இசை   :::   Carnatic Music    :::   कर्नाटक  संगीत 

Carnatic Sangeetam (sangeetam means music) is the south Indian system of music, specifically rooted in Tamil Nadu.  It has a rich history and a very sophisticated theoretical system.  The performers and composers have gained world-class reputations by singing and

playing instruments such as the veena 
(a string-instrument), violin, and mridangam (percussion instrument).

Carnatic Music Theory:
Orchestra at debut performance; Ranjani's mother is in the middle.
Carnatic music has a very highly developed theoretical system.  It is based upon a complex system of ragam (melody or tune) and talam (rhythm or beat).  Ragam (raga) is basically the musical scale.  Just as in the western scale the seven notes are designated as    Do Re Mi Fa So La and Ti, similarly the seven notes of  the Carnatic scale are Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Dha and Ni.  However, unlike a simple scale, there are certain melodic restrictions and obligations.  Each ragam (scale) has a particular way that it moves from note to note.  The ragams are categorized into various modes that form the distinct basis of each scale.  These bases are referred to as melas,  and there are 72 melas or modes in Carnatic music.The tala (beat) is the rhythmic foundation to the musical system.  The south Indian talas are defined by a system of clapping and waving.  The rhythms of Carnatic music are divided into groups of 3, 4, 5, 7, and 9 beats.

We can begin our discussion of the history of Carnatic Sangeetam with Purandardas (1480-1564) who is considered to be the "Father of Carnatic Sangeetam."  He is credited for the codification of the method of education, and for the composition of several thousand songs.  Venkat Mukhi Swami (17th-century) is the "grand theorist" of Carnatic music.  He developed the melakarta system, which  classifies the south Indian ragas or musical scales.  Carnatic music arguably acquired its present form in the  18th century.  It  was during this period that the "Trinity" of Carnatic music, Thygaraja, Shamashastri, and Muthuswami Dikshitar composed their famous compositions.

Vocal aspect:
Vocal music forms the basis of south Indian music.  Although there is a rich instrumental tradition that uses such instruments as the veena and violin, the instrumental style revolves around renditions of vocal forms.

There are a number of sections to the Carnatic vocal performance.  Varnam is a form used to begin many concerts.  The word varnam literally means "a description", and the varnam section is used to unfold the various important features and elements of the raga, or tune of the song-item.  Kritis are fixed compositions in the raga (scale).  They are usually pre-composed, and thus do not allow much scope for variation or improvisation.  However, such kriti compositions are often preceded by alap.  The alap offers a way for the musician to "unfold" the raga (scale) for the audience's pleasure, and at the same time, allows the artist considerable scope for improvisation.  Indeed, individual expression, ingrained in the various form of improvisation, is a key element of Carnatic music.

Percussion instruments are:
  • Mridangam:  The mridangam is a south Indian percussion instrument that usually accompanies Carnatic music.  
  • Mridangam
  • Nattuvangam: Nattuvangam is a style of vocal art used in the Carnatic music that accompanies Bharatanatyam and other south Indian classical dance styles.  The melodious and captivating syllabic recitations of the nattuvanar (one who performs the nattuvangam rhythmically enhance the intricate footwork and energetic movements of the classical dancers.  The nattuvanar accentuates the rhythmic recitations by playing hand-cymbals according to the rhythmic patterns. 

For more information please refer to: Carnatic Music: