Carnatic Music Composers

No other country in the world has produced as many great music composers as India has, over the centuries. To list all of those composers by itself is a daunting task and to include within that list, the life history of each composer and the songs that they had composed would be mindboggling. Therefore, in this article, I will briefly narrate the contributions of some of the Carnatic music composers and their contributions to enrichment of our music system.

Until the end of thirteenth century, India had only one system of music. There was no distinction made among this system as Hindustani or Carnatic music. It is only around the fourteenth and fifteenth century, the Indian music system began to differentiate itself into Northern Indian or Hindustani music and Southern Indian or Carnatic music. While the Northern Indian music was enriched by the influence of the Islamic influence, the Carnatic music has retained its age old traditions and originality.

The Southern Indian music system was believed to have been referred to as Carnatic music by Vidyaranya, one of the prime ministers of the Vijayanagaram Kingdom in current day Andhra Pradesh. Why was this music called Carnatic music? Several explanations are offered for this terminology, some plausible while others, not so accurate. The word Carnatic means ancient or traditional and therefore, the music that is ancient and followed the traditions were called Carnatic music. Caru or Karu also means black and since this music was quite prominent among the Dravidian culture of Southern India, whose people were darker skinned, some say, it was called Carnatic or Karnatic music. It also means the music of the people of the central parts of India. Karu also means center and atakam means place. A few people claim that the music originated from the state of Karnataka. However, this is not likely to be an origin of the word Carnatic. First of all, the music had its roots to the Vedic times, thousands of years ago and second, the State of Karnataka did not exist in the fiteenth century. It came into existence, just about forty years ago. I believe that the Carnatic music belongs to all of the states of Southern India because great composers and great musicians have originated from each of these states. It is also important to mention that Carnatic music has significantly benefited from great Composers from other parts of India.

Although many scholars point out that the golden age of Carnatic music began in the eighteenth century, when the Trimurthis of Carnatic music - Saint Thyagaraja, Muthuswamy Dikshitar, and Swati Thirunal - contributed to the greatness of the system. However, the contributions of the Trimurthis itself was made possible only because of the stalwarts and giants who had lived and contributed to Carnatic music before the Trimurthis were born. Similarly, the golden age of Carnatic music has been preserved and embellished only because of the contributions of great composers who followed them. Therefore, we can look into the history and contributions of the great composers of Carnatic music by classifying them into four groups: