The Tamil classic of the 2nd century A.D. titled the Silappadhikaram contains a vivid description of the music of that period. The Tolkappiyam, Kalladam and the contributions of the Saivite and Vaishnavite saints of the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. also serve as resource material for studying musical history.
It is said, that South Indian Music, as known today, flourished in Deogiri the capital city of the Yadavas in the middle ages, and that after the invasion and plunder of the city by the Muslims, the entire cultural life of the city took shelter in the Carnatic Empire of Vijayanagar under the reign of Krishnadevaraya. Thereafter, the music of South India came to be known as Carnatic Music.
In the field of practical music, South India had a succession of brilliant and prolific composers who enriched the art with thousands of compositions. After Purandaradasa, Tallapakam Annamacharya Narayana Tirtha, Bhadra-chalam Ramdasa and Kshetranja made contributions to the wealth of compositions
The birth of the Musical Trinity – Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri – at Tiruvarur between the years 1750 to 1850 A.D. ushered in an era of dynamic development in Carnatic music.
Outstanding feature of Carnatic music is its raga system & highly developed and intricate tala system. Though clear cut demarcations in the style of musical presentation, similar to the gharanas of Hindustani music are not seen in Carnatic music, yet, we do come across different styles in rendering compositions.
The ancient musical forms like Prabandhas, etc. gradually gave away to the different musicals forms that are in use in present day music, though the basic elements of the ancient Prabandhas are still retained in the modern forms. The following musical forms offer interesting study:
Gitam is the simplest type of composition. Taught to beginners of music, the gitam is very simple in construction, with an easy and melodious flow of music.
Very much like the gitam in musical structure and arrangement, the Suladis are of a higher standard than the gitam.
The Varnam is a beautiful creation of musical craftsmanship of a high order, combining in itself all the characteristic features of the raga in which it is composed. Practice in Varnam singing helps a musician to attain mastery in presentation and command over raga, tala and bhava.
This is learnt after a course in gitams. More complicated than the gitas, the Svarajati paves the way for the learning of the Varnams. The theme is either devotional, heroic or amorous.
Very similar to the svarajati in musical structure, this form- Jatisvaram-has no sahitya or words. The piece is sung with solfa syllables only.
The Kirtanam had its birth about the latter half of the 14th century. It is valued for the devotional content of the sahitya. Clothed in simple music, the kirtanam abounds in Bhakti bhava. It is suited for congregational singing as well as individual presentation.
The Kriti is a development from the Kirtana. It is an highly evolved musical form. The highest limit of aesthetic excellence is reached in the Kriti composition. The raga bhava is brought out in all the rich and varied colours in this form.
Padas are scholarly compositions in Telegu and Tamil. Though they are composed mainly as dance forms, they are also sung in concerts, on account of their musical excellence and aesthetic appeal. The music is slow-moving and dignified.
A javali is a composition belonging to the sphere of light classical music. Sung both in concert programmes and dance concerts, the javalis are popular because of the attractive melodies in which they are composed. In contrast to the padas which portray divine love, javalis are songs which are sensuous in concept and spirit.
The Tillana, corresponding to the Tarana of Hindustani music, is a short and crisp form. It is mainly a dance form, but on account of its brisk and attractive music, it sometimes finds a place in music concerts as a conclusion piece.
This is the most important branch of creative music. It is in this branch of manodharma sangeeta, that the musician has ample opportunities of displaying his or her creative talents, imaginative skill, and musical intelligence.
This is a branch of raga alapana. It is raga alapana in Madhyamakala or medium speed. There is perceptible rhythm in this. The rhythmical flow of music, flowing in fascinating patterns, makes tanam singing the most captivating part of raga exposition.