Carnatic music (Sanskrit: Karnāṭaka saṃgītaṃ) is a system of music commonly associated with the southern part of the Indian subcontinent, with its area roughly confined to four modern states of India: Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. It is one of two main sub-genres of Indian classical music that evolved from ancient Hindu traditions; the other sub-genre being Hindustani music, which emerged as a distinct form due to Persian and Islamic influences in North India. During the 19th century, Chennai emerged as the locus for Carnatic music. The six week-long Music Season held in Chennai every December, has been described as the world’s largest cultural event.
As is the case in Hindustani music from North India, the main emphasis in Carnatic music is on vocal music; most compositions are written to be sung, and even when played on instruments, they are meant to be performed in gāyaki (singing) style. Four important elements – śruti (the relative musical pitch), swara (the musical sound of a single note), rāga (the mode or melodic formulæ), and tala (the rhythmic cycles) – form the foundation of composition and improvisation in Carnatic music.
Carnatic music is usually performed by a small ensemble of musicians, consisting of a principal performer (usually a vocalist), a melodic accompaniment (usually a violin), a rhythm accompaniment (usually a mridangam), and a tambura which acts as a drone throughout the performance. Other typical instruments used in performances may include the ghatam, kanjira, morsing, veena & flute. Although improvisation plays an important role in Indian classical music, Carnatic music is mainly sung through compositions; the most common form being the kriti (or kirtanam). This form was developed between the 14th and 20th centuries, by prominent composers, such as the Trinity of Carnatic music.