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Basics of carnatic music

Goddess Saraswati
Goddess Saraswati

Brief history

Indian Music had its origin in the "Vedas" (4000 B.C - 1000 B.C). The Yajur veda which mainly consists of sacrificial formulae, mentions the "Veena" as an accompaniment to vocal recitations during the sacrifices. By this time, the chants had evolved to two main notes with two accents forming the first concept of the Tetrachord (four notes).

The Sama veda laid the foundation for Indian Music. The origin of Indian Music can be traced back to this Veda. Three more notes were added to the original Tetrachord resulting in the first full scale of seven notes.

The South Indian music can be divided into 3 periods: the Ancient Period, the Medieval Period and the Modern Period. In the ancient period musical drams flourished. Medieval period is time for Thevaram and Divya Prabhandam.

Modern Period is the evolution of Kritis. One of the greatest influences in the development of carnatic music was that of Purandara Dasa (1484-1564). He made great contributions to both Sacred and Art music. He is the most prolific of all the South Indian composers. He perfected a systematic approach to train students of Carnatic music which has since become a standard format. He composed the "Sarali Swara", "Janta Swara" (simple exercises based on the Scale), "Alankaras" (exercises based on the seven basic Talas) and "Geetams" (simple melodic compositions in praise of the various deities). He was the creator of the musical form, "Kriti" which was later perfected by the great composer "Thyagaraja".

Musical Instruments


'Srutir mata, layah pita', it simply means, Melody is mother and Rhythm is Father. Carnatic music is based on these two basic elements. In addition, Carnatic music also places great importance on lyrics.

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 music.

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Copyright © 2010 by Prasad V. Rallabhandi