Carnatic Music

Carnatic Music – “Carnatic” is derived from the word “Karnatak” which means musical performance. The Carnatic is the combination of two words “Karnad ” and “Natak ”. Carnatic Music was first introduced by the British colonial government in India in 18the century.

Carnatic Music

carnatic music
Carnatic Music – Harmonium

What is Carnatic Music?

Carnatic music originated in South India. It has sophisticated rhythms called talas and unique melodies called ragas. The veena, mridangam, ghatam, violin, and flute are the primary instruments used in this music’s singing and playing. South Indian culture places a high value on music, which is frequently played during ceremonial and social gatherings. South India has produced many well-known composers and musicians who are still popular today.

History of Carnatic Music

Carnatic music has its origins in ancient Hindu traditions and is thought to have been passed down via generations of performers for over 2,000 years. The earliest references to Carnatic music can be found in ancient Hindu scriptures such as the Natya Shastra, one of the oldest surviving treatises on music and performance arts.

Purandars Dasa and Thyagaraja contributed to the development of Carnatic music. They have created a large number of compositions that are still widely performed today.

In the 19th century, the British Government in India took an interest in carnatic musicians. They develop the concert tradition and support the professional musicians in India.

Carnatic music is the oldest form of classical music in the world for its rich tradition, complex ragas and rhythmic patterns.

Saint Purandara Dasa

Saint Purandara Dasa ( Year 1484-1564) is known as the father of Carnatic music. He was a saint, poet and musician from the state of Karnataka. Saint Purandara Dasa born in a wealthy family, but due to some personal struggles, he dedicated his life to Bhakti and devotional music in South India.

Purandara Dasa is credited with many raga-based compositions and many new styles of singing which were easy for common people to learn. He composed thousands of devotional songs which are still widely sung today. He also wrote a “Sangeeta Lakshna ” which is the basic principles of Carnatic music. The Saint Purandars Dasa compositions are very simple and devotional to god. He also introduced the concept of teaching music, which is still followed in the traditional music schools today.

Purandara Dasa’s contributions to Carnatic music is an important part of the music tradition in South India. His compositions are widely sung by the musicians and music lovers in India and all around the world. Some of the key points of Saint Purandara Dasa .

  1. He simplified and codified Carnatic music’s ragas and talas, making it more accessible to a wider audience.
  2. He wrote and composed many songs which are still widely performed today.
  3. He uses simple language in his lyrics and makes it more relatable to the common people.
  4. He developed a music education system.
  5. Purandara Dasa’s devotion and religious themes in Carnatic music, establishing it as a key aspect of the Bhakti movement.
  6. He wrote many kritis in honor of Lord Vishnu and many of them are still extensively sung and performed in classical performances today.
  7. He is also considered to be the father of the modern kirtana.
Example of Saint Purandara Dasa Ragas

Thousands of devotional songs were written by Saint Purandara Dasa, many of which were set to different ragas. Here are a few ragas that are frequently connected with his compositions:

  • Sankarabharanam – Sankarabharanam raga is considered the most ancient and important ragas in Carnatic music which include “Kanakana Ruchira” and “Sarasa Sanchara”. Sankarbharanam is also known as morning raga and it is typically performed during the first quarter of the day between 6:00 am to 9:00 am. This raga includes all seven notes for example Sa, Ri1, Ga1, Ma1, Pa, Dha1, and Ni2.
  • Mayamalavagowla – This is also a very ancient raga and it is also considered as a morning raga such as “Endaro Mahanubhavulu ” and “Sri Venkatesa Suprabhatham”. Mayamalavagowla raga is devoted to Lord Vishnu and suitable for singing during religious ceremonies, rituals and classical music concerts.
  • Hamsadhwani – This raga is mostly performed in the evening. It is a janya raga which is derived from the parent scale called Melakarta. It is the most difficult raga due to complex ascending and descending movements. Some of the famous compositions in Hamsadhwani are “Sri Ramam Bhajeham” and “Hamsadhwani Pahimam”.
  • Kalyani – This is Queen of Ragas usually performed in Evening and associated with spirituality and feelings of devotion. It is a very important and popular raga. Many of the compositions have been written in Kalyani raga. Some of the famous compositions in Kalyani are “Namo Namo Raghavendra” and “Sri Raghavendra Stotra”.

Example of Saint Purandara Dasa Devotional Songs

Saint Purandara Dasa composed thousands of devotional songs. Here are a few examples:

  1. Sri Krishna Nee Begane Baaro – A prayer belonging to Lord Krishna, in which he is praised for his beauty and divine play.
  2. Jagadodharana – A prayer belonging to Lord Vishnu, asking him to save the world from evil forces.
  3. Namo Namo Raghavendra – A prayer belonging to Saint Raghavendra, asking for his blessings.
  4. Hari Hari Hari – A song praising Lord Vishnu, asking for his protection and guidance.
  5. Mantralaya Sri Raghavendra – A prayer to Saint Raghavendra, asking for his blessings and guidance.


The music of Thyagaraja is very straightforward and spiritual. His lyrics are mostly accessible to a wide audience and simple to comprehend. He also created easy-to-follow ragas and basic musical structures. Both inside and outside of India, he enjoys enormous popularity among music enthusiasts.

Compositions by Thyagaraja are renowned for their expressiveness and depth of emotion. He frequently wrote about his love for Rama and his desire to reconnect with the god. His compositions are frequently regarded as some of the most stirring and potent in the Carnatic tradition, and this emotional depth is mirrored in the music as well.

The majority of compositions before him were written in Sanskrit, and he introduced new ragas and talas as well as writing kritis (lyrics) in Telugu.

Many of his compositions are still taught to students of Carnatic music today and are still regarded as the cornerstone for learning and comprehending the tradition. His works are regarded as the foundation of Carnatic music.

Basic carnatic music

Carnatic music is a South Indian classical music genre distinguished by the use of complex melodic patterns known as ragas and elaborate rhythmic cycles known as talas. Carnatic music singing and instrument playing is founded on the principles of swara (notes), raga (melodic structure), and tala (rhythmic structure).

Here are some basic elements of Carnatic music:
  1. Ragas – A raga is a melodic pattern that is the foundation for producing and performing music. Each raga has a collection of notes known as the arohana and avarohana.
  2. Swaras – In carnatic music’s seven fundamental notes are sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, dha, and ni. These notes are the foundation of Carnatic music and used in a variety of ways to construct diverse ragas.
  3. Talas – A tala is a pattern of beats the number of beats in a tala can vary, and these talas have different numbers of beats and different numbers of rhythmic patterns.
  4. Compositions – Musical composition is written by the composer or arranged by a composer. It creates a composition, the composer includes different elements such as harmony, melody, timbre and rhythm. The composer tries to create a unique sound and convey a particular emotion or idea. Carnatic music has a rich tradition in the field of composition which include varnams, kritis, and keerthanas. Varnams are short compositions that are used for warm-up. Kritis have a specific raga and tala which is devotional or philosophical theme. Keerthanas compositions are easy to learn and belong to bhajans and devotional singing.
  5. Vocal and Instrumental music – Carnatic music is based on vocal, but it also includes instrumental music. The main instruments used in Carnatic music are ghatam, flute, veena, violin and mridangam.
  6. Improvisation – The important part of Carnatic music is Improvisation. In Improvisation music the musician creates music in real time without pre-planned or pre-writing.

What is Carnatic Vocal ( Carnatic Singing )

The principles of Carnatic vocal music based on swara, raga, and tala. These concepts are used by singers to create elaborate and expressive melodies, which are complemented by percussion instruments like the mridangam and the ghatam.

Carnatic vocal music has a rich compositional tradition that includes kritis, varnams, and keerthanas. Kritis are intricate compositions in a certain raga and tala with a devotional or philosophical content. Varnams are shorter works used as a warm-up piece or to teach a specific raga or tala. Keerthanas are easy-to-learn compositions that are frequently used in bhajans and devotional singing.

The goal of Carnatic vocal music is to express emotions and devotion with the help of singing. This is the oldest music system in the world.

Carnatic Songs

Carnatic music has a rich compositional tradition that includes varnams, kritis, and keerthanas. These compositions are known for their devotional content and the manner in which they transmit a message of love and devotion to God.

  1. Kritis – Kritis are detailed compositions in a certain raga and tala with a devotional or philosophical content. Famous kritis include Saint Tyagaraja’s “Endaro Mahanubhavulu” and Bhadrachala Ramadasa’s “Sri Raghavendra Stotra”.
  2. Varnams – Varnams are shorter compositions that are usually used as a warm-up piece or to teach a specific raga or tala. Examples of famous varnams include “Sarasa Sanchara” by Saint Purandara Dasa and “Sarasijanabha” by Saint Muthuswamy Dikshitar.
  3. Keerthanas – Keerthanas are easy-to-learn compositions that are frequently used in bhajans and devotional singing. Famous keerthanas include Saint Purandara Dasa’s “Kanakana Ruchira ” and Saint Tyagaraja’s “Hari Hari Endaro Mahanubhavulu ”.

South Indian Classical Music

South Indian classical music refers to the classical music tradition of the southern states of India, primarily the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka. This music tradition is known as Carnatic music and is characterized by its use of complex melodic patterns, called ragas, and elaborate rhythmic cycles, called talas.

Carnatic Music Instruments

Instruments commonly used in Carnatic music include the ghatam (an earthen pot), the mridangam (a double-headed drum), the morsing (a mouth harp), the kanjira (a tambourine-like instrument), and the flute.

Trinity of Carnatic Music

The “Trinity” of Carnatic music refers to three great composers and musicians of the 18th and 19th centuries: Syama Sastri, Tyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar. These three composers are considered the main pillars of the Carnatic music tradition and their compositions.

  1. Syama Sastri’s compositions are more elegant and refined, and are known for their emotional depth and complexity.
  2. Tyagaraja is known for his devotional compositions, many of which are addressed to the god Rama.
  3. Muthuswami Dikshitar’s compositions are distinguished by rich and sophisticated melodic structures, and they frequently contain philosophical and spiritual themes.

These three composers have composed thousands of kritis and varnams which are considered as the backbone of carnatic music and are widely taught and learnt by students and professional musicians.

Vocal Carnatic Music Lessons for Beginners

If you are a beginner looking to learn vocal Carnatic music, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Learn the basics of music theory – Start learning from basic notes like sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, da, ni with different scales and the different rhythmic patterns, it is the base of Carnatic music.
  • Find a good teacher – Good and experienced teacher will help you to learn Carnatic music. They can help you to correct your singing techniques and they will help you to understand the different ragas and talas.
  • Practice regularly – Practice will make you perfect and it will improve your skills. Always start your practice in shorter sessions and gradually increase the duration of your practices.
  • Listen to music – Listening to music is an important part of learning Carnatic music. If you are Listen different musicians, then you will get an idea of different singing styles.
  • Learn the lyrics – Knowing the lyrics is very important. It helps you understand the meaning of the song and also helps you to sing properly with intonation and pronunciation.
  • Start with simple compositions – Start with simple compositions which you can easily learn, such as varnams and keerthanas. After completion of varnams and keerthanas then go for more complex compositions.
  • Learn the basic notation – Learning the basics notation and understanding the structure of a composition.
  • Participate in workshops and music events – Participating in workshops and music events can help you learn from experienced musicians and also give you an opportunity to perform in front of an audience.

Education Center for Carnatic Music in India

There are various Carnatic music education institutes in India, and the best ones vary depending on aspects such as reputation, teachers, facilities, and curriculum. Here are a few Carnatic music instruction facilities that are regarded as among the best in India:

  1. Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai – This institute is most popular in India basicaly for Carnatic music. It offers different music courses for both beginners and advanced students.
  2. The Music Academy, Chennai – One of the oldest and most respected music institutions in India. The Music Academy focuses on both classical and contemporary music. Its faculty includes some of the most respected musicians and teachers in India.
  3. Veena Dhanammal Bhavan, Chennai – This institute is dedicated for instrument training basically for Carnatic music. You can learn different musical instruments.
  4. Sri Thyaga Brahma Gana Sabha, Chennai – This institute is also popular for Carnatic music in India. They provide the best musicians and teachers for Carnatic music.

Online Carnatic Music Classes

There are many online resources that offer Carnatic music classes. Some popular options include:

  1. – they offer a variety of online classes for different levels of students, and classes can be taken live or recorded.
  2. – they have a wide range of classes for different instruments and vocal music, and also offer classes for beginners and advanced students.
  3. – they offer online classes for both vocal and instrumental music, as well as classes for specific instruments such as violin and mridangam.
  4. – they offer live classes by experienced teachers and also provide access to recorded classes
  5. youtube – There are many individual teachers and institutions who offer online carnatic music classes through YouTube.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What are the 5 types of Carnatic music?

The five different type of Carnatic music are

  1. Raga Alapana
  2. Kalpanaswaram
  3. Niraval
  4. Ragam Tanam Pallavi
  5. Tanam
Q. Why is it called Carnatic music?

Carnatic music is a traditional style of music from South India, specifically from the state of Karnâtaka. The word “Carnatic,” which meaning “traditional” or “codified” music in Sanskrit, is derived from the word “Karnâtaka Sangîtam.”

Q. Who is famous in Carnatic music?

There are many famous Carnatic musicians in India. Some are M. S. Subbulakshmi, M. Balamuralikrishna, T. N. Seshagopalan, L. Subramaniam and T. M. Krishna.

Q. Which language is used in Carnatic music?

There are various language are used in Carnatic Music like Telugu, Kannad, Tamil, Malayalam and Sanskrit.

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