Carnatic Music is an ancient musical art form of South India. It has its roots in the traditions of Temple Music and the chanting of religious vedic mantras (hymns), dating back to the 4th century. Over the centuries, Carnatic music has evolved into a highly scientific and aesthetic system of melodic scale (ragams) and rhythmic structures (talams). Similar to most other systems of music, it is based on seven primary notes (swarams). These notes were originally associated with the sounds emanating from animals and birds. As the music developed over the ages, the human voice continued to be the primal and ultimate instrument, and music instruments were played to emulate vocal music. Carnatic music has therefore concentrated on melody, rather than harmony, giving rise to a highly sophisticated melodic musical structure.
A key feature of Carnatic music is the use of gamakams or note embellishments. The focus is not on individual and discrete notes, but on microtones, graces and variations around the notes. Emphasis is placed on the continuous transitions between notes. These features accentuate the gliding effect of this music, and evoke an emotional response from the listener.
The ragams, or melodic scales, to which Carnatic music compositions are set, define the notes that can be used in a piece, and the gamakams that can adorn each note. The system of talams or rhythmic framework is another critical aspect of Carnatic music. This system was formalized in the 15th century by Saint Purandara Dasa, who is considered the grandfather of Carnatic music.
While performing a piece (which may be a few centuries old) the performers add their interpretation and continuously experiment in the process of rendition, making the music exciting and dynamic.