A Musical journey – History of Carnatic music


musical journeyLike any other forms in Indian culture classical music is believed to be a divine art form that originated from devas and devis.

Indian classical music is divided into two forms. The Hindustani and Carnatic music. The Hindustani music has influences of Persian and Islamic art from the north. But carnatic music remains unaffected by Persian influences.

The most interesting part is that there is a connection between the swaras and the sounds of birds and animals. It is the man’s effort to stimulate these sounds through their keen observation and perception. The Vedas have laid the foundation to carnatic music especially the Sama Veda.

Carnatic music  is based on musical concepts described in ancient works like  Bharata’s Natya Shastra  and Silapatikaram by Ilango adigal .Carnatic music is taught and learnt through compositions (kritis) developed by Purandara Dasa.

Elements of Carnatic Music

The basic elements of carnatic music include

  • Shruti (relative pitch),
  • Swara (the musical sound of single note),
  • Tala (the rhythmic cycle)

Improvisation also plays an important role in classical music.

Galaxy of composers

Composers through their compositions have played a vital role in the development of Carnatic music by establishing the grammar and bhava of the many hundreds of ragas that are vogue in Carnatic music today.

Music is used as the medium to express their philosophy and bhakti rasa. The distinct feature of carnatic music composers is that most of them are vaggeyakaras, that is both music and lyrics are composed by the composer himself.

Carnatic music boasts a galaxy of great composers. However, it is customary to think of them as being Pre and Post Trinity period. Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri are collectively referred as Trinity of Carnatic music owing to their immense contribution to carnatic music. Their period is in fact termed as the Golden Age of Carnatic music.

  • Pre-Trinity period
  • The Trinity period
  • The Post-Trinity period

THE PRE TRINITY Period ( Before 18 century)

Alwar and Nayanmar compositions are the earliest compositions that we have. Gita Govindam by Jayadeva and Krishna Leela Tarangini by Narayana Teertha were composed in musical forms.

Haridasas of Karnataka are the building blocks of modern carnatic music. Their compositions are filled with not only devotion but also enriched with musical value. Sangita Pitamaha, Sri Purandaradasa, the principal among them is a prolific composer.


The sangeeta pitamaha has contributed a lot to carnatic music. He formulated the basic lessons of teaching carnatic music by structuring graded exercises like swaravalis and alankaras in the raga mayamalavagowlai. The compositions are mostly in Sanskrit and Kannada in his pen name Purandara vittala.


He is a 15th century Hindu saint and earliest known musician. His songs are in praise of lord venkateshwara. He is most glorified as a god father of Telugu song writing .His signature or the mudra in his song is venkachala.


He is a Tamil poet and composer of carnatic music .He is one of the Tamil trinity that consist of Muthu Thandavar and Marimuttu Pillai.

Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi (.1700 – 1765 CE) was one of the pioneering composers. Kshetrajna in Telugu and Muthuthandavar in Tamil gave us a new musical form called padam. Bhadrachala Ramadasa who sang several kirtanas in praise of Lord Rama is said to have influenced Tyagaraja in many of his compositions.

THE TRINITY PERIOD( 18th century)

header image - 2

The trinity of carnatic music includes the composers  Thyagaraja, Muthuswamy Dikshitar and Shyama Sastri. These prolific composers are known for creating a new era in the history of carnatic music.


. A well versed Sanskrit scholar, an extraordinary lyricist and matchless composer looked at music as a means to become one with God. He is famous for his pancharatna kritis. One of his most famous composition Nidhi chala sukhama (does wealth bring happiness) was sung spontaneously when he refused the royal invitation. His signature in his song is his own name tygaraju


He is famous in his signature name guruguha. His composition is mostly in Sanskrit in the kriti format. He has composed in all 72 melakarta ragas. He had composed kritis in all seven basic talas.  His famous group of composition is called as Navavarna kirtanas.


He is the architect of swarajati musical form. He composed most of his song in Telugu and mostly in praise of goddess Ambal or Parvati. His famous composition is the Navaratna malika (the nine kritis in praise of goddess Meenakshi). His noteworthy contribution is related to the talam and layam aspect. It is highlighted in his in his viloma style of chapu talam.

POST TRINITY PERIOD  (19th century)


There are many noteworthy Carnatic music composers who emerged after the trinity period and some of them are Pallavi Gopala lyer ,  Kotiswara lyer (1870-1936), Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar (1877-1945), Tiruvotriyur Thyagayyar (1845-1917), Vina Kuppaiy, Patnam Subramania Iyer, and Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar, Gopalakrishna Bharathi, Shuddanandha Bharathi, Subrahmaniya Bharathi and Papanasam Sivan


Some of the 20th century composers include Lalgudi Jeyaraman, Maharajapura Santhanam, M.Balamurali Krishna, and Periyasamy Thooran.

Travelling through the legacy of Carnatic music it has indeed travelled a long journey and continues to do so.

Like this post? Subscribe to our mailing list

stay tuned



This entry was posted in Blog and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Musical journey – History of Carnatic music

  1. anotherclosethippie says:

    Great history! Thanks for sharing.


  2. Pingback: Carnatic Music Composers – The Master of Rhythm | Learn Carnatic Music

  3. Pingback: The Rocking Carnatic Music Sisters Duo! | Learn Carnatic Music

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s