Carnatic Music Origin & Development
V. Subramanian

    The desire and ability to communicate distinguishes life forms from non-life. Communication progressed through the use of symbols. Symbols helps to develops speech into language. Thus, humanity attained through symbols a powerful tool through process and convey all shades of feelings and logic. While in one direction, symbols traversed mathematics and mathematical logic, in quite another direction the result was ARTS followed by culture embodying refinement, restraint and the development of skills.

Another direction for origin & development of carnatic music

    Broadly stated :

    Poets wrote VERSES as art forms for reading and reflection.

    Composers wrote VERSES & VERSIFIED PROSE (Sahitya) for music.

    In practice, things are not compartmentalized as above. In fact the proliferation of cross-disciplines and intensive discipline have enriched the cultural scene.

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    One of the God's gifts to mankind is the spiritual elevation that comes as a response to sound & rhythm. This is the basis for nadopasana which holds that music is divine. Bharatanatya sastra is listed under Gandharva veda, an Upaveda along with Ayurveda, arthasastra & Dhanurveda. Gandharvaveda is also listed under the 32 primary vidyas. ( Natya needs to be understood as a composite art encompassing dance (nritta/nritya), music (gita / vadya) & other allied art forms).

    Samavedadidam gitam Samjagrah pitamaha.

    (Meaning) Brahma derived music from Sama Veda. In the south, it is held that the notes figuring in Tyagaraja's "nada tanumanijam" kriti in the raga chittaranjani, as traditionally sung, represent the notes of the sama gana.

    The Indian solfa syllables ( sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni ) find mention in "Narada parivrajaka upanished" (perhaps 1st Century B.C.). In contrest, similar solfa syllables in China (Koung, Chang, Kio, Pion-tche, tu & pion-kaung) appeared later and the western solfa syllables (Do, re, mi etc.) due to Guido d' Arezzo (955-1050 A.D) much later ! This is the antiquity of our music.. Bharata's "Natya sastra" (4th century A.D.) speaks of 2 gramas. The term grama stood for the entire musical scale comprising all the notes from the fundamental to the octave. The various gramas comprised 84 jatis. In Bharata's time, the term Jati answered to some extent the latter term raga, though there are casual references to raga by Bharata, as also in Kalidasa's "Abhijana Sakuntalam" and a Panchatantra story (Ass as a singer). Matanga (5th century) defined grama in detail and went on to develop the idea of raga. He paved the way for the present janaka-janya raga system of raga system to take root. Vidyaranga (5th century) propounded the mela system of raga classification.

    Raga differs from mela (a mere scale with defined swaras in the arohana & avarohana) mainly on account of the pleasant effected produced by the raga. Ultimately, mela is to evolve in the hands of musicians through the medium of effective compositions (sahitya) to attain the status of a raga and give pleasure to the listeners.

    From the 5th century AD to the 11th century, there is a marked absesnce of major treatises on musical theory. But, in south India, tamil literature & poetry bloomed in that period. "Silappadhikaram" of llango Adigal appeared about 180 AD. Then there was a surge from the 5th century onwards as the following sample collection shows

    At that time, music theory was also independently developing in the south. Corresponding to the raga, there was (panns) in tamil. Many of the above work were rendered in music in (panns). This news travelled north also. There are references in Saranga Deva's "Sangita Ratnakara" (13th Century) to the (panns) used in "Thevara Thirupathigangal." But these works were art forms and not quite musical compositions. As Prof. Sambamurthy observes : "Poetic metres are not so well suited to musical compositions. Dignified prose with yati and prasa (versified prose or sahitya) regulated musical rhythm suits musical compositions better. Further, in poetry a verse has specified number of syllables. But in an avarta of a musical composition, there is no such restriction. The total number of syllables present in each avarta of a section may vary."

    On the above basis, the renowned Tamil authors cited above are known as great poets & saints but not as composers. As stated earlier, there are no strict compartments between poets and composers. Mahakavi Bharati's creations are truly poetic but they have been adapted for our musical concerts. There are works of "Thiruganasanbandar" and "Andal" which are musical compositions. Manickavachakar's "Thiruvachagam", Theravarangal and Arunagirinathar's "Thirupugazh" lines are used as compositions and in "Virutham" in our concerts. But the general observation holds that poets created work for reading and reflection while composers created compositions for music.

    It must be after the 11th century that a distinct identity of classical music of the north and south started evolving. But, even in the 13th century work of Sarangaveda (Sangita Ratnakara) there is no mention of this trend.

    The earliest known reference to 'Carnatic' & 'Hindustani' music appears in Haripala Deva's Sangita Sudhakaram" (1309-1312 AD) confirmed in the granthams of "Abhinava Ragamnjari" (1309-1312 AD). Then the branch of Carnatic music flourished.

    Purandara Dasa (1484-1564 AD) refined the teaching of carnatic music so creatively that today he retains the title 'Sangita Pitamaha' besides, he composed a very large number of compositions. But these are lying scattered and in parts. It was also in the 15th century that Tallapakkam Chinnayya enunciated the division of a song in to Pallavi, Anupallavi & Charanam. This feature stands till date. However, it must be mentioned that the term 'Pallavi' occurs in Sarangadeva's Sangita Ratnakara Also.

    Meanwhile, north India came under the sway of the muslim and moghal invaders who brought in their own music and grafted in to Hindustani music. But north also benefited by the introduction of a number of new instruments like the santoor, sitar (from shetar of middle east), sarod, shehnai, tabla, packwaj etc. Nevertheless, in the north Hindustani music declined under the moghals. In an extreme stand, emperor Aurangazeb even abolished court musicians saying that music was profane and an insult to Islam !

    But South Indian music remains more or less unchanged. There was a steady publication of treatises on music commencing the 14th century. Even a muslim, Ibrahim Adil Shah II (1580-1627 AD) published a work on Carnatic music !

    The mela system of Vidyaranga (5th century) came truly of age when Venkatamakhi published his "Chaturdandi Prakashikai" in 1635 AD outlining the now-famous 72 melakarta structure. "Sangita Sara Samgraha" (in Telungu) authored by Akalanka popularised the melakarta nomenclature. A hundred years later, in 1735 AD Tulaja Maharaja established a 'Katapayati' rule for the melas in his "Sangita Saramritham." Govindachar (18th century) further refined the Katapayathi rule in his "Sangraha Chudamani" linking the melakarta number to the first two syllbles of the mela. (Katapayati rule).

    If the events leading to a culmination in the 18th century were memorable for carnatic music theory, it looks as if the Gods ordained this in preparation for a celestial type phenomenon in the realm of musical compositions. For, it was in the 18th century, the births occurred of Syama Sastrigal (1762-1827), Tyagaraja (1767-1847) and Muthuswamy Dikshithar (1776-1835) who constituted and remain the 'Trinity' of carnatic music composers. (By a strance coincidence , by about the same time, the 'Trinity' of western music composers, Bach, Beethovan and Mozart were also born in Europe. (This phenomenon called "synchronicity" is under investigation by some). They were followed by a host of other illustrious composers.

    In south India, as in the rest of the country, divine origin is accorded to music. It is usual for composers to use their compositions to convey their religious feelings. Consequently, classical music themes are usually full of bhakti rasa (e.g. love as between Krishna & Radha). Composers have mostly drawn inspiration from personal Gods (isthadevatas) or from the presiding deitis in the temples visited by them (e.g. the sthalapurana content in Dikshitar Kritis). Indian phylosophy and religious culture are therefore well reflected in the compositions. "A composers by his compositions, not only imparts vitality to the system of music but also makes it grow. The composer pleases not only the audience of his time but also those of the future" - Prof. Sambamurthy. In the enjoyment of Carnatic music it is hence held that the richness of the sahitya is not to be overlooked. This is a point to note for both musicians and listeners.

    The above is a far-from-exhaustive coverage of the origin and development of Carnatic music along with a brief report on the concurrent development of music in South India before the establishment of Carnatic music as a distinct stream. Today, Carnatic music is practiced well and truly everywhere in South India. But the vestiges of the rigorous music that was developed by the Tamils before the 13th century AD can still be found in the rendering of Thevarams etc in the temples and in the folk music in South India.

    For a detailed coverage and better understanding of the development of Carnatic music it would be necessary to spend considerable time on the theoretical basis for the classification of ragas and the nourishment that was given to music by composers. The subject is a veritable ocean. Students who enbark on the study of the subject realise this as they study composition after composition to understand and bring out the magesticity of the ragas in our music.

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