History of Carnatic Music

Thankfully there are many treatises available from history, which shows the evolution of Carnatic music in India. Indian music was referenced in the Vedas, which date back to > 1000 BC. Sama Veda is dedicated to music. It consists of Rig Vedic hymns, set to music.  Vedic sacrifices also featured musical hymns using 3 – notes. Yajur Veda references Veena as an accompaniment instrument during sacrifices. “Ramayana” and “Mahabharata” the two great epics of the Indian sub-continent also have several musical references. Ramayana, authored by sage Valmiki, is the story of the great king Rama. The story of Rama is sung in Ramayana, by his own sons – Lava and Kusha. The music is set in the “Marga” style. “Parivrajaka Upanishad” , authored by Narada, has equivalent of Swara system is defined.

The timeline chart below shows for the graphical mind, how the music attained its form today.

Evolution of Carnatic Music

This section describes the progress of Indian music in the 2 nd to 4 th centuries AD.

Sage Bharata’s “Natyashastra” is the earliest formal treatise on Carnatic music. Although the focus of this text could be argued as dance form “BharataNatyam”. Yet, dance expertise also needs certain level of expertise to understand or even to sing music to which the dance is set. Hence the “Natyashastra” also explains music to a great depth.
The theory talks about the music system then existent. It clearly defines the notes. It establishes the constant “Shadja” – “Sa” note in place. The other higher notes follow.

There are two principles talked about in the text –

1. There is a natural consonance between the notes strictly seen between notes – Sa and Sa (High) and Sa and Pa.

2. It also states that there is a basic characteristic note in the scale pattern – both ascending and descending which sounds the same no matter where it is used in the composition.

These two points speak volumes about the characteristics of what a “Raaga” is. Every “Raaga” is unique due to the arrangement of notes and their characteristics.
The “Natyashastra” also describes the emotions a musical piece can bring to the listener. EG: Some notes like “Rishabha” or “Ri” bring about “Veera Rasa” the mood of heroism.

The dance pieces depicting a war sequence where the hero fights a battle fiercely could hence be set to music which invokes this mood. The presence of a certain note in the song consistently brings forth the intended mood. There are notes to bring about pathos, joy, Surprise etc.
Natyashastra” describes musical instruments in depth. The “Shruti” concept of 22 levels is also indicated using an experiment called “Sarana Chatushtai”.

The other important work of this time is “Silappadhikaram”. “Silappadhikaram” is a story set in Tamil Nadu. The story, a poetic piece was composed by a Buddhist monk –Elango Adigal. It describes in detail the story of a lady called Kannagi. The poetic piece describes the then existent classical music with notes, rhythms and the melodies called Raagas. The poetic piece deals with the talent of Kovalan ( Kannagi’ husband ) and Madhavi ( Kovalan’s another love interest ) in singing beautifully. Not only that, but it also describes music scientifically in terms of pitch and sound note arrangements.

This section describes the progress of Indian music in the 5 th to 6 th centuries AD.

“Brihaddeshi”, believed to be authored by sage Matanga, describes the Raagas and their concepts. However some of this work is lost in parts through generations. Matanga, explains in further details the concept touched upon by Bharata’s “Natyashastra” Eg. Raaga, Shruti ( Pitch) . Thus it may be inferred that by this time, music was enjoyed and appreciated by general people in its classical form, not only along with dance form, but also independently.

During this time period, Abhinav Gupta wrote a commentary on Bharata’s “Natyashastra” known as “Abinava Bharati”. He further comments on the “Rasa” concept introduced by Bharata.

This section describes the progress of Indian music in the 7 th to 9 th centuries AD.

Tamil Nadu, the south Indian region (now a state) has seen significant development of music. There are significant music compositions during the 7th to 9th century AD in Tamil Nadu. Here the Pallavas ruled and since then it has become a seat of art, culture and architecture. Temples are the center stage of dance, music, architecture.

Kudimiyanmalai Stone inscriptions in Tamil nadu dating back to 7th Century show the existence of musical notes at that time.

This section describes the progress of Indian music in the 10 th to 14 th centuries AD.

An inscription during the reign Chalukya king Vikramaditya (11 century AD) is present in Galaganath, Haveri Taluk and District, Karnataka. This mentions a title awarded to a musician as “Battisraga-Bahu-Kala Brahma”. This means that the musician is a master in 32 Raagas and many tempos. The “Brahma” in the title raises a question, whether the musician actually created the Raagas. Brahma is the creator. But no further information is found to prove this. It could be deduced that by 11th century Raagas were already existent.

Map of Galaganath

This section describes the progress of Indian music in the 15 th to 16 th centuries AD.

In the 15th century one the major contribution to music was creation of structured exercise for students. This was created by Purandara Daasa from Karnataka. Purandara Daasa also composed numerous songs in praise of Lord Purandara Vittala which are sung even today. Purandara Daasa is called the “Father of Carnatic music”.

Then also lived the famous composer Arunagirinathar who composed “Tiruppugazh” in praise of Lord Murugan.

Kanaka Daasa who lived in Karnataka too also composed several songs in praise of Lord Kanaka Daasa.

Annamacharya wrote “Sankeertanas” in Telugu language. He was called the “Pada Kavita Pitamaha” which means the great father of “Pada” style of poetry. Pada is a simple melodious song in praise of Lord, in this case Lord Venkatesha. These are perfect for group singing.

“SwaraMela Kalanidhi” by Ramamatya described the concept of “Mela” Raagas and Janya Raagas.

This section describes the progress of Indian music in the 17 th to 18 th centuries AD.

One of the major contributions during this period is the work of Venkatamukhi “Chaturdandi Prakasika”. This explains the music theory as known today. The “Melakarta” scheme of 72 Raagas with “Katapayadi” system was defined.

“Sangraha Choodamani” of Govindacharya is another important work of this time. Govindacharya describes the “MelaKarta” system with some changes compared to Venkatamukhi. The two differed in what Raaga is called a Melakarta. Govindacharya’s method is followed today and is mathematically more straightforward.

18 century saw the existence of the musical Trinity – Shyama Sastri, Tyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar. These great composers have contributed immense number of compositions to the world of Carnatic music.

Another great composer of this era is Gopalakishna Bharati.

This section describes the progress of Indian music in the 19 th to 21 th centuries AD.

This era, once again continues to be a thriving era for Carnatic music. Several patrons appreciating music, led to a number of musicians making living out of music. As times changed, the musicians performed on stage in concerts. They perform on the radio or television. Audio and video of the concerts and music are very popular these days. Even film music has a lot of fusion of classical and western music. New age artists like A R Rahman have brought the beauty of classical music into the film music as well.

Some of the famous composers and musicians of this era are – Subbaraya Sastri, Swati Tirunal, Tachi Singaracharlu, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer, Patnam Subramanya Iyer, Veena Seshanna and Subbarama Dikshitar, Papanasam Sivan, Koteeswara Iyer, Mysore Vasudevachar, Muthaiah Bhagavatar. These great artists continued the traditions of the older musicians who lived centuries ago.

Dr. BalaMuraliKrishna the renowned musician not only is a great musician, but also discovered and composed in new Raagas.

Carnatic music continues to live in the soul of people – old and young.