The status of Carnatic instrumental music today

The status of Carnatic instrumental music today

– T.T. Narendran

Carnatic music has been evolving, probably, from the time it took its roots in south India. The evolution involves forms of compositions, usage of ragas, introduction of new ragas, themes of compositions, concerts, formats, duration, emphasis and more. Vocal and instrumental music have coexisted and have enjoyed varying degrees of patronage from the listening public (“languished for want of patronage” may be more appropriate in some cases!).

Nagaswaram and tavil, veena, flute, gottuvadyam (now rechristened chitraveena), mridangam, ghatam and khanjira were among the traditional instruments. Over time, other instruments were introduced to the music with varying degrees of success. The violin remains the strongest entrant—it was amenable to the production of most of the gamakas; the bow helped sustain notes for a long duration; it was seamlessly adopted as an accompanying instrument for all vocal concerts, for most flute concerts and for a few other instruments, too. Some lay listeners say that it is easier to identify a raga when the alapana is played on the violin.

In the early part of the 20th century, the harmonium had served as an accompanying instrument but faded out, eventually. The clarinet came into Carnatic music but with limited use, and with a small number of musicians. The mandolin and the saxophone were much later entrants and do not seem to have made a significant impact except when handled by the musicians who pioneered their entry to the concert platform… read more