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" A Brief History of Carnatic Music "


Music is said to have begun from the sounds of the Universe, the Om. However, Carnatic music itself can be traced back to a time when there were no distinctions among the styles of music in India. Among the first music forms were the recitation of scriptures, including the Vedas (especially Sama Veda), which were originally performed with only three notes (ni, sa, ri), and later in 7 notes (400BC), in the raga kharaharapriya. The Vedas also described musical instruments. From 300-100BC, the Upanishads mention the notes and instruments, including the veena. The Ramayana and Mahabharata (around 40BC) also mention music. In the second century AD, Bharatha's Natyasastra described dance, but also music, in great detail. He described ragas (jaatis), swaras, varnams, tala, and other aspects of music. In the sixth century, the Brihaddesi first used the word "raga," and mentioned some popular ones. In the 12th century, Jayadeva's Gita Govinda inspired music and dance in his Ashtapadis, each in a different raga. Until the 13th century, classical music was similar or common across India. With the arrival of Moghul influences, Hindustani music and Carnatic music split into the two forms, the former incorporating the new influences and the latter retaining the original form. In the 15th century, Annamacharya first described the musical form known as the kriti, which had a pallavi, anupallavi, and caraNam, and Purandara Dasa also wrote the varisais for musical exercise and geetams which are still used to teach beginners. In the 16th century, Swaramela Kalanidhi described a further elaboration of melakarthas, ragas, and playing techniques for the veena.

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In the 17th century, Venkatamakhi created his 72 melakartha raga system, which used the katapayadi scheme. The Sangeeta Saramrita and Sangraha Choodamani were written in the 18th century. This was the century of the Trinity also: Syama Sastry, Tyaagaraaja, and Dikshitar were born. It wasn't until the 19th century that systematic notations were developed, written in Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarsini and Sangeeta Chandrikai. Some were even written at this time in Western staff notation. Swati Tirunal composed during this time, Papanasam Shivan was born, and others like Gopalakrishna Bharathi, Patnam Subramanya Iyer also composed music. In the 20th century, Carnatic music came into its modern form. It was then that sabhas were formed, concerts were performed for the public (and not just kings and nobles). Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar also created a system of concert format which most musicians use today. In the 21st century, Carnatic music continues to develop, with schools and concerts and organizations around the world. Elementary Terms in Carnatic music

" Swaras "

A swaram refers to a note in carnatic music. The seven syllables that represent the 'notes' or 'Swarams' in Carnatic music are referred to as the 'Saptha Swarams. Sa is shadjamam, the basic note that exists in all scales. It is used as a drone note (played on a tambura), along with Pa, panchamam, its fifth.The other notes are rishabam (ri), gaandaaram (ga), madhyamam (ma), daivatham (da), and nishaadam (ni).

" Shruthi " "

It refers to a tone or a frequency and its relation to a base frequency (eg: "sa" as expressed by the background tambura or sruti box). Kaarvai Sustenance of a note for a long time.

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" Sthaayi "

An octave is called a sthaayi. the main octave is called Madhya sthaayi', the octave above it (higher) is called 'taara stayi' and the octave just below the Madhya stayi is called 'Mandra stayi' (based on the way 'mantras' were chanted in low frequencies in the centuries past).

" Poorvaangam " Syllables ri and ga " Uttaraangam " syllables dha and ni "

the ascending scale of a raga (S R G )

" Avarohanam " the descending scale of a raga (S N D...)! "

Taalam the beat set for a particular composition (a measure of time). taaLas have cycles of a defined number of beats and rarely change within a song. taaLas have specific components, which in combinations can give rise to the variety of taaLas that exist (over 108), allowing different compositions to have different rhythms. Aavartanam One cycle through the rhythm or taaLa. For example, in aadi tala, one aavartanam is 8 beats.Two aavartanas are 16, etc.