Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Carnatic Music

Carnatic music (known as karnataka sangīta , कर्णाटक सङ्गीत in Sanskrit, ಕರ್ನಾಟಕ ಸಂಗೀತ in Kannada, கருநாடக இசை in Tamil, కర్నాటక సంగీతం in Telugu) is the form of Indian classical music that had its origins in Karnataka South India.

Carnatic music is of a melodic form and is typically a monophonic song with improvised variations. This is one of the world's oldest and richest musical traditions. It is primarily a vocal form of music; most compositions are written to be sung, and even when played on instruments, they are meant to be performed in a singing style. Almost all songs are devotional in nature, being addressed to one of the many Hindu deities.

Carnatic music developed gradually from the ancient musical traditions of India, upon which Sama Veda had an important influence. The Yajur-Veda, which mainly consists of sacrificial formulæ, mentions the vīna as an accompaniment to vocal recitations during the sacrifices. The concept of Sruti and Tala are based on the Vedic pitch/accent (also called sruti), and Vedic meter (called chandas). The Vedas are themselves called sruti, as they are recited in the pitch-based Vedic language. The chants evolved into two main notes with two accents forming the first concept of the tetrachord (four notes). Three more notes were added to the original tetrachord resulting in the first full scale of seven notes; within this scale were all the important and known musical intervals. The concept of the octave is also mentioned here.

The Vedic rishi Yajnavalkya (compiler of Sukla Yajur Veda) says in his Yajnavalkya Smriti: “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 – all of them attain moksham or salvation without effort.") The Vedic Gandharvas (a class of beings) were the first to be exclusively considered celestial musicians. Natya Shastra (dated between 400BC and 200AD) is also an early work on Indian Classical Music and Dance.

Both Carnatic and Hindustani music shared a common history until the gradual increase in Persian influence on Indian Classical Music attributed to Mughal and other invasions through the north-west, leading to emergence of Hindustani Music as an independent genre. Carnatic Music started evolving independently with major contributions from later South Indian composers and musicologists. Carnatic Music also has a number of similarities with the Tamil music traditions, including the similarities between panns and ragas, swara system, usage of talas and the similarity in the song structures etc. The pan-Indian bhakti movement also laid a substantial basis for carnatic music as far as the evolution of kritis in various ragas, using religious themes is concerned.

The name 'Carnatic Music' is the anglicized form of Karnata Sangeetham, the traditional name of the classical music of South India. The Kannada composer Purandara Dasa is known as the Sangita Pitamaha or 'Patriarch of Carnatic music'. Carnatic music saw renewed growth during Vijayanagar Empire by the Kannada Haridasa movement of Vyasaraja, Purandara Dasa, Kanakadasa and others. Purandara Dasa, laid out the fundamental tenets and framework for teaching carnatic music.. Venkatamakhin (Venkateswara Dikshitar) is credited with the classification of ragas in the Melakarta System. He wrote his most important work Chaturdandi Prakasika (c.1635 CE) in Sanskrit. Govindacharya modified the Melakarta Scheme to include only Sampoorna ragas, which is the system in common use ever since. The three famous composers Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri, are known as the Trinity of Carnatic Music and composed hundreds of songs. These three were contemporaries and lived in Thanjavur district in the present-day Tamil Nadu.

The learning texts and exercises are more or less uniform across all the South Indian states. The learning structure is arranged in the increasing order of the complexity. The lessons start with the learning of the sarali varisai (solfege set to a particular raga)


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