• Manoj Kumar

The Brilliance of Carnatic Music – Indian Music for the Gods

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

A Typical Carnatic Music show (kacheri) being performed Live Photo Credit:

Carnatic music has its birthplace in the southern Peninsula of India. In most cases, it’s an ensemble of various instruments, such as Mridangam, Veena and Violin, and heartwarming vocals.

The vocals in Carnatic music is very different from other forms music in 2 fundamental ways i.e. in the lyrics and content of the songs and in the way it is sung.

With regards to the content and lyrics, most Carnatic music is devotional and sung for the ancients gods and goddesses of India. Most people, in these contemporary times, think that the gods and goddesses of India are human figures with superhuman powers who grant wishes but that is a very rudimentary understanding of the Indian thought and ideology. The human embodiment of the gods forms the doorway to the very first step in the understanding of oneself and what or who we really are. Also, each form of god represents a slice of human consciousness, a slice of the diverse human capabilities and of the myriad facets of our own sentience. For eg., Ganesha exemplifies mastery of knowledge, Shiva embodies the annihilation of the self, Vishnu symbolizes the resplendence of creation, Saraswati represents the art of learning and Mahalaxmi characterizes abundance. And thus, this music is essentially a guide to understanding the self.

With regards to the style, Carnatic music is sung in a wavy, swaying fashion. The notes and syllables of the lyric in the music surge like the flames of a fire, swaggering ecstatically, celebrating its own existence with gross and absolute contentment, even though it knows it is fleeting and transient. It’s like the warm air that rises above that fire, twirling and bending upon itself, ever-expanding into nothingness. It’s like the fragrance of delicate flowers riding, conquering, a soothing zephyr on a cool moonlit night, branching in waves of pure rapture. It’s like the sound of the waves of the ocean, ever-rising, thrashing, injecting you with pure exhilaration. It’s like the blithesome warm touch of a soul mate on the naked skin, in the throes of passion, teasing playfully, as you saunter on the edges of the pinnacle. It’s like a Buddhist prayer flag fluttering endlessly on the dry mountain air, like the azaan in the middle of an immaculate desert, like the dance of Shiva proclaiming, extolling this existence and its inherent duality, like a million temple bells and flames paying obeisance on the banks of the ancient and ever purifying Ganga.

Remember, the next time, you listen to this music let yourself go, let your body disappear, let your conditioned mind melt away and let your consciousness flow like a river into that intoxicating ocean called ‘Sangeetham’ to truly experience ‘Kirtana‘ one the nine forms of Bhakti yoga.

Watch: A brilliant Carnatic performance at the durbar festival

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