Dr. Meenakshi (Sumathi) Krishnan

The Making of Carnatic Music (CE 1800- 2000) The Forces of Change

Dr. Meenakshi (Sumathi) Krishnan
Director, Research Centre,
Music Academy, Madras

In the 200-year period of the 19th and 20th centuries, there have been unprecedented changes in music theory and practice.  These have given rise to upheavals, revolts against traditional practices, and a breaking from accepted and existing formats of performance in what has come to known as Carnatic Music, the classical music of South India.

In this presentation, the key things I will focus on are significant milestones in musical history along with the resultant changes to music theory and practice. Luminaries who have charted a new path and become exemplars for subsequent generations of musicians are key to this study. Royal patronage of the 19th century supported musicians, but also placed constraints. There were significant changes to music theory in this period, that affected practices. A key influence was the colonial influence and its impact on notation and music education. Carnatic music played a role in nation building, and forged a path for itself into contemporary India, through institutionalizing cultural knowledge. As musicians from smaller towns converged to erstwhile Madras, now Chennai, they had to perform to new contexts and audiences, themselves becoming harbingers of change.

Some of the questions I will address are, what was the role of systematizing practices of the raga system or stated simply, the melodic scale, in the making of Carnatic music? What role did texts play, in mediating between theory and practice in what is predominantly ‘manodharma’ or creative improvisational musical practice? What were the forces that led to creation of exclusive musical institutions? Finally I focus on the making of the Carnatic musician, through the study of historic exemplars who made a mark in different areas of Carnatic music.