Sruti • Swara • Raga • Tala • Melakarta
Varnam • Kriti • Geetham • Swarajati • Ragam Thanam Pallavi • Thillana
Veena • Mridangam • Ghatam • Morsing • Kanjira • Violin
List of Carnatic composers
Carnatic music, also known as karṇāṭaka sangītam is one of the two styles of Indian classical music; the other is Hindustani music. The present form of Carnatic music is based on historical developments that can be traced to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries C.E.. Carnatic and Hindustani music shared a common history until the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, when, as a result of the increasing Persian influence (and as a result of the Islamic conquest) in North India, Hindustani music started evolving as a separate genre. Carnatic Music, which was based in South India, was substantially influenced by the pan-Indian bhakti movement which inspired the use of religious themes. In contrast to Hindustani music, 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.
Carnatic music was traditionally taught in the gurukula system, where the student lived with and learned the art from his guru (master). Today most students visit their teacher daily or weekly to take lessons, while maintaining their academic careers.
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Like all art forms in Indian culture, Carnatic music is believed to have a divine origin, from the Devas and Devis, but it is also generally accepted that the natural origins of music were an important factor in its development. Ancient treatises describe the connection of the origin of swaras (the notes of Indian music) to the sounds of animals and birds, and man’s keen sense of observation and perception in trying to simulate these sounds. According to ancient theory, after hearing and distinguishing between the different sounds that emanated from bamboo reed when air passes through its hollows, man designed the first flute. In this way, music is venerated as an aspect of the supreme (nāda brāhmam). Folk music is also said to have been a natural origin of Carnatic music, and many folk tunes correspond to specific Carnatic ragas.
From several epigraphical inscriptional evidences and other ancient works, the history of classical Indian musical traditions can be traced back about 2,500 years. The Vedas are generally accepted as the main probable source of Indian music. The Sama Veda is said to have laid the foundation for Indian music, and consists mainly of hymns of Rigveda, set to melodies that would be sung using three to seven musical notes during Vedic sacrifices. The Yajur-Veda, which mainly consists of sacrificial formulas, mentions the veena (plucked string instrument) as an accompaniment to vocal recitations during the sacrifices.
References to Indian classical music are found in many ancient religious texts, including epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The Yajnavalkya Smriti states, "Veena vadhana tathvangna sruti, jathi, visartha talanjaaprayasena moksha margam niyachathi" ("The one who is well versed in veena, one who has the knowledge of srutis and one who is adept in tala, attains salvation without doubt.") Carnatic music is based on music concepts mentioned in Bharata's Natya Shastra. The Natya Shastra mentions many musical concepts (including swara and tala) that continue to be relevant to Carnatic music today.
According to some scholars, Carnatic music shares certain classical music concepts with ancient Tamil music. The concept of Pann is related to Ragas used in Carnatic music. The rhythmic meters found in several musical forms (such as the Tiruppugazh) and other ancient literature, resemble the talas (rhythmical patterns) that are in use today.
Carnatic and Hindustani music shared a common history until the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, when, as a result of the increasing Persian influence (and as a result of the Islamic conquest) in North India, Hindustani Music started evolving as a separate genre. Carnatic music remained relatively unaffected by these Arabic and Iranian influences. Carnatic Music, which was based in South India), was substantially influenced by the pan-Indian bhakti movement which inspired the use of religious themes. Other developments after the thirteenth century also contributed to its divergence from Hindustani music.
Carnatic music experienced renewed growth during the Vijayanagar Empire through the Kannada Haridasa movement of Vyasaraja, Purandara Dasa, Kanakadasa and others. Purandara Dasa, who is known as the Sangeeta Pitamaha (the grandfather of Carnatic music) laid out the fundamental tenets and a framework for teaching Carnatic music. Venkatamakhin is credited with the classification of ragas in the Melakarta System and wrote his most important work; Chaturdandi Prakasika (c.1635 C.E.) in Sanskrit. Govindacharya expanded the Melakarta Scheme into the Sampoorna raga system, which is the system in common use today.
Even though the earlier writers on music, Matanga, Sarangadeva and others, were also from Karnataka, the music tradition was formally named Karnataka Sangeetha only in the thirteenth century when the Vijayanagara empire was founded.
A unique development in instrumental carnatic music took shape under the patronage of the kings of the Kingdom of Mysore from the eighteenth through twentieth centuries. Composers used to play their compositions on traditional instruments such as the veena, rudra veena, violin, tambura, ghata, flute (venu), mridangam, nagaswara, and swarabhat. Some instruments uncommon to the southern region, such as harmonium, sitar and jaltarang, came into use, and British influence popularized the saxophone and piano. Even royalty of this dynasty were noted composers and proficient in playing musical instruments, solo or in concert with others. Some famous instrumentalists were Veena Sheshanna(1852-1926), Veena Subbanna (1861-1939), and T. Chowdiah.
Carnatic music is practiced and presented today by musicians in concerts or recordings, both vocally and with instruments.
In contrast to Hindustani Music of the northern part of India, Carnatic music is taught and learned through compositions which encode many intricate musical details, but also provide scope for free improvisation. Nearly every rendition of a Carnatic music composition is different and unique, as it embodies elements of the composer’s vision, as well as the musician's interpretation.
In Carnatic music, the main emphasis is on vocal music; most compositions are written to be sung, and even when played on instruments, they are meant to be performed in a singing style (known as gāyaki). Like Hindustani music, Carnatic music rests on two main elements: rāga, the modes or melodic formulas, and tāḷa, the rhythmic cycles.
However, as well as these musical elements, a Carnatic composition also has a component of the emotion or sentiment conveyed in the composition. It is probably because of this fact that most Carnatic music compositions are composed for singing. In addition to the rich musical experience, each composition brings out the knowledge and personality of the composer, and thus the words are as important as the musical element itself. This poses a special challenge for the musicians because rendering this music does not involve just playing or singing the correct musical notes; the musicians are expected to understand what was conveyed by the composer in various languages, and sing musical phrases that create the effect that was intended by the composer in his or her composition.
There are many types and forms of compositions. Geethams and Swarajatis (which have their own peculiar composition structures) are principally meant to serve as basic learning exercises, and while there are many other types of compositions (including Padam, Javali and Thillana); the most common forms are the Varnam, and the Kriti (or Keerthanam).
The varnam highlights every important aspect of a raga; not just the scale, but also which notes to stress, how to approach a certain note, and classical and characteristic phrases. Though there are a few different types of varnams, in essence, they all have a pallavi, an anupallavi, muktayi swaras, a charana, and chittaswaras. They are sung in multiple speeds, and are very good for practice. In concerts, varnams are often sung at the beginning as they are fast and grab the audience's attention.
Carnatic songs (kritis) are varied in structure and style, but generally consist of three units:
This kind of song is called a keerthanam or a Kriti. There are other possible structures for a Kriti, which may in addition include swara passages named chittaswara. A chittaswara consists only of notes, and has no words. Other compositions have a verse at the end of the charana, called the madhyamakāla. It is sung immediately after the charana, but at double speed.
Many composers have contributed to Carnatic music. Purandara Dasa (1480 - 1564), known as the pioneer or father (Pitamaha) of Carnatic music, formulated the basic lessons of Carnatic music. He structured graded exercises known as Swaravalis and Alankaras, and at the same time, introduced the Raga Mayamalavagowla as the first scale to be learned by beginners. He also composed Gitas (simple songs) for novice students. Although only a fraction of them still exist, he is said to have produced around 475,000 compositions.
The contemporaries Tyagaraja (1759-1847), Muthuswami Dikshitar, (1776 - 1827) and Syama Sastri, (1762-1827) are regarded as the Trinity of Carnatic music due to the quality of Syama Sastri's compositions, the variety of the compositions of Muthuswami Dikshitar, and Tyagaraja's prolific output in composing kritis.
Prominent composers prior to the Trinity of Carnatic music include Annamacharya, Narayana Theertha, Bhadrachala Ramadas, Sadasiva Brahmendra and Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi. Other prominent composers are Swathi Thirunal, Gopalakrishna Bharathi, Neelakanta Sivan, Patnam Subramania Iyer, Mysore Vasudevachar, Koteeswara Iyer, Muthiah Bhagavathar, Subramania Bharathiyar, and Papanasam Sivan. The compositions of these composers are rendered frequently by prominent artists of today.
Composers of Carnatic music were often inspired by religious devotion and were usually scholars proficient in one or more of the following languages: Kannada, Sanskrit, Tamil, Malayalam, and Telugu. They usually included a signature, called a mudra, in their compositions. For example, all songs by Tyagaraja (who composed in Telugu) have the word Thyagaraja in them; all songs by Muthuswami Dikshitar (who composed in Sanskrit) have the words Guruguha in them; songs by Syama Sastri (who composed in Telugu) have the words Syama Krishna in them; and Purandaradasa, who composed in Kannada, used the signature Purandara Vittala. Gopalakrishna Bharathi used the signature Gopalakrishnan and composed in Tamil. Papanasam Sivan, who has been hailed as the Tamil Thyagaraja of Carnatic music, also composed in Sanskrit, and used the signature Ramadasan.
Śruti commonly refers to musical pitch. It is the approximate equivalent of a tonic (or less precisely a key) in Western music; it is the note from which all the others are derived. It is also used in the sense of graded pitches in an octave. While there are an infinite number of sounds falling within a scale (or raga) in Carnatic music, the number that can be distinguished by auditory perception is twenty-two (although over the years, several of them have converged). In this sense, while shruti is determined by auditory perception, it is also an expression in the listener's mind.
Swara refers to a type of musical sound that is a single note, which defines the relative higher or lower position of a note, rather than a particular frequency. Swaras also refer to the solfege of Carnatic music, which consist of seven notes, "sa-ri-ga-ma-pa-da-ni" (compare with the Hindustani sargam: sa-re-ga-ma-pa-dha-ni or Western do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti). These names are abbreviations of the longer names shadja, rishabha, gandhara. madhyama, panchama, dhaivata and nishada. Unlike other music systems, every member of the solfege (called a swara) has three variants. The exceptions are the drone notes, shadja and panchama (also known as the tonic and the dominant), which have only one form; and madhyama (the subdominant), which has two forms. A seventh century stone inscription in Kudumiyan Malai in Tamil Nadu shows vowel changes to solfege symbols with ra, ri, ru, and so on, to denote the higher quarter-tones. In one scale, or ragam, there is usually only one variant of each note present. The exceptions exist in "light" ragas, in which, for artistic effect, there may be two, one ascending (in the arohanam) and another descending (in the avarohanam).
A raga in Carnatic music prescribes a set of rules for building a melody - very similar to the Western concept of mode. It specifies rules for movements up (aarohanam) and down (avarohanam), the scale of which notes should figure more and which notes should be used more sparingly, which notes may be sung with gamaka (a shake or oscillation of a note, also known as bending the pitch), which phrases should be used, phrases should be avoided, and so on.
In Carnatic music, the sampoorna ragas (those with all seven notes in their scales) are classified into a system called the melakarta, which groups them according to the kinds of notes that they have. There are seventy-two melakarta ragas, thirty six of whose madhyama (subdominant) is sadharana (perfect fourth from the tonic), the remaining thirty-six of whose madhyama (subdominant) is prati (an augmented fourth from the tonic). The ragas are grouped into sets of six, called chakras ("wheels," though actually segments in the conventional representation) grouped according to the supertonic and mediant scale degrees. There is a system known as the 'Katapayadi sankhya to determine the names of Melakarta Ragas.
Ragas may be divided into two classes: Janaka ragas (that is, melakarta or parent ragas) and janyaragas (descendant ragas of a particular janaka raga). Janya ragas are subclassified into various categories themselves.
There are potentially hundreds and thousands of ragas, of which with over five thousand have been used.
Tala refers to the beat set for a particular composition (a measure of time). Talas have cycles of a defined number of beats and rarely change within a song. They have specific components, which can be put together in over 108 combinations, allowing different compositions to have different rhythms.
Carnatic music singers usually keep the beat by moving their hands up and down in specified patterns, and using their fingers simultaneously to keep time. Tala is formed with three basic parts (called angas) which are laghu, dhrtam, and anudhrtam, though complex talas may have other parts like plutam, guru and kaakapaadam. There are seven basic tala groups which can be formed from the laghu, dhrtam, and anudhrtam: Dhruva tala, Matya tala, Rupaka tala, Jhampa tala, Triputa tala, Ata tala, and Eka tala.
A laghu has five variants (called jaathis) based on the counting pattern. Five jaathis times seven tala groups gives thirty-five basic talas, although use of other angas results in a total of 108 talas.
There are four main types of improvisation in Carnatic music, but in every type, adhering to the scale and phrases of the raga is required.
This is the exposition of the ragam of the song that is about to be performed. A performer will explore the ragam first by singing lower octaves then moving up to higher ones and touching various aspects of the ragam while giving a hint of the song to be performed. It is a slow improvisation with no rhythm.
Theoretically, this ought to be the easiest type of improvisation, since the rules are so few, but in fact, it takes much skill to sing a pleasing, comprehensive (in the sense of giving a "feel for the ragam") and, most importantly, original ragam.
This is usually performed by the more advanced concert artists and consists of singing one or two lines of a song repeatedly, but with improvised elaborations. Niraval comes out of the manodarma sangeetha; the selected line is repeated within the tala timing to illustrate the beauty of the raaga.
The most elementary type of improvisation, usually taught before any other form of improvisation. It consists of singing a pattern of notes which finishes on the beat and the note just before the beat and the note on which the song starts. The swara pattern should adhere to the original raga's swara pattern, which is called as aarohanam-avarohanam
This form of improvisation was originally developed for the veena and consists of expanding the raga with syllables like tha, nam, thom, aa, nom, na, and so on.
This is a composite form of improvisation. As the name suggests, it consists of Raga Alapana, Thanam, and a pallavi line. The pallavi line is sung twice, and Niraval follows. After Niraval, the pallavi line is sung again, twice in normal speed, then sung once at half the speed, then twice at regular speed, then four times at twice the speed. Kalpanaswarams follow.
Carnatic music is traditionally taught according to the system formulated by Purandara Dasa. This involves swaravalis (graded exercises), alankaras (exercises based on the seven talas), Geethams or simple songs, and Swarajatis. After the student has reached a certain standard, Varnams are taught, and later, the student learns Kritis. It typically takes several years of lessons before a student is adept enough to perform at a concert.
The lesson texts and exercises are more or less uniform across all the South Indian states. The learning structure is arranged in the increasing order of complexity. The lessons start with the learning of the sarali varisai (solfege set to a particular raga).
Carnatic music was traditionally taught in the gurukula system, where the student lived with and learned the art from his guru (master). Musicians take great pride in letting people know about their Guru Parampara, or the hierarchy of disciples from some prominent ancient musician or composer, to which they belong. People whose The disciple-hierarchies of Thyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar, Syama Sastri, Swathi Thirunal, and Papanasam Sivan are often referred to.
From the late twentieth century onwards, changes in lifestyles and the need for aspiring young musicians to simultaneously maintain an academic career, have made this system untenable. In modern times, it is common for students to visit their gurus daily or weekly to learn music. Though new technology has made learning easier with the availability of quick-learn media such as learning exercises recorded on audio cassettes and CDs, these are discouraged by most gurus who emphasize that face-to-face learning is best for students.
Notation is not a new concept in Indian music. However, Carnatic music continued to be transmitted orally for centuries without being written down. The disadvantage with this system was that in order to learn about a Kriti composed, for example, by Purandara Dasa, it was necessary to find a person from Purandara Dasa's lineage of students.
Written notation of Carnatic music was established in the late seventeenth century and early eighteenth century, which coincided with rule of Shahaji II in Tanjore. Copies of Shahaji's musical manuscripts are still available at the Saraswathi Mahal Library in Tanjore, and they give us an idea of the music and its form. They contain snippets of solfege to be used when performing the mentioned ragas.
Unlike Western music, Carnatic music is notated almost exclusively in tonic solfa notation using either a Roman or Indic script to represent the solfa names. Past attempts to use the staff notation have mostly failed. Indian music makes use of hundreds of ragas, many more than the church modes in Western music. It becomes difficult to write Carnatic music using the staff notation without the use of too many accidentals. Furthermore, the staff notation requires that the song be played in a certain key. The notions of key and absolute pitch are deeply rooted in Western music, whereas the Carnatic notation does not specify the key and prefers to use scale degrees (relative pitch) to denote notes. The singer is free to choose the actual pitch of the tonic note. In the more precise forms of Carnatic notation, there are symbols placed above the notes indicating how the notes should be played or sung; however, informally this practice is not followed.
To show the length of a note, several devices are used. If the duration of note is to be doubled, the letter is either capitalized (if using Roman script) or lengthened by a diacritic (in Indian languages). For a duration of three, the letter is capitalized (or diacriticized) and followed by a comma. For a length of four, the letter is capitalized (or diacriticized) and then followed by a semicolon. In this way any duration can be indicated using a series of semicolons and commas.
However, a simpler notation has evolved which does not use semicolons and capitalization, but rather indicates all extensions of notes using a corresponding number of commas. Thus, Sā quadrupled in length would be denoted as "S,,,."
The notation is divided into columns, depending on the structure of the tāḷaṃ. The division between a laghu and a dhrutam is indicated by a ।, called a ḍaṇḍā, and so is the division between two dhrutams or a dhrutam and an anudhrutam. The end of a cycle is marked by a ॥, called a double ḍaṇḍā, and looks like a caesura.
Carnatic music concerts are usually performed by a small ensemble of musicians who sit on a slightly elevated stage. Carnatic music concerts can be vocal recitals, accompanied by supporting instruments, or purely instrumental concerts. Whether it is vocal or purely instrumental, a typical concert features the compositions which form the core of this music. The lead musician must also choose a signature octave based on his or her (vocal) range of comfort. However, it is expected that a musician maintains that same pitch once it is selected, and so to help all the performers maintain the selected pitch, the tambura is the traditional drone instrument used in concerts. Today, tamburas are increasingly being replaced by śruti boxes, and now more commonly, the "Electronic tambura"
In a vocal recital, a concert team may have one or more vocalists, accompanied by instrumentalists. Other instruments such as the veena or flute can be found to occasionally accompany a lead vocalist, but usually a vocalist is supported by a violin player (who sits on his or her left), and a few percussion players including at least a mridangam (who usually sits on the other side of the vocalist, facing the instrumentalist). Other percussion instruments include the ghatam, kanjira and morsing, which accompany the main percussion instrument and play almost in a contrapuntal fashion along with the beats. The objective of the accompanying instruments is far more than following the melody and keeping the beats. The accompaniments form an integral part of every composition, and they closely follow and augment the melodic phrases outlines by the lead singer. The vocalist and the violinist take turns while elaborating or while exhibiting creativity in sections like raga, niraval and kalpanaswaram. Unlike Hindustani music concerts, where an accompanying tabla player can keep beats without following the musical phrases at times, in carnatic music, the accompaniments have to follow intricacies of the composition, since there are percussion elements such as eduppu, in several compositions. Some of the best concerts feature considerable interaction, with the lead musicians and the accompaniments exchanging notes, and accompanying musicians predicting the lead singer’s musical phrases.
A contemporary Carnatic concert ((called a kutcheri) usually lasts about three hours, and comprises a number of varied compositions. Carnatic songs are composed in a particular raga, which means that they do not deviate from the notes in the raga. Each composition is set with specific notes and beats, but performers improvise extensively. Improvisation occurs in the melody of the composition as well as in using the notes to expound the beauty of the raga.
Concerts usually begin with a varnam or an invocatory item which will act as the opening piece. The varnam is composed with an emphasis on the swaras of the raga, but will also have lyrics, the saahityam. It is lively and fast to get the audience's attention. An invocatory item may alternatively follow the varnam.
After the varnam and invocatory item, the artist sings longer compositions called kirtanas (commonly referred to as kritis). Each kriti sticks to one specific raga, although some, known as ragamalika (a garland of ragas), are composed with more than one raga.
After singing the opening kriti, usually, the performer sings the kalpanaswaram of the raga to the beat. The performer must improvise a string of swaras in any octave according to the rules of the raga and return to beginning of the cycle of beats smoothly, joining the swaras with a phrase selected from the kriti. The violin performs these alternately with the main performer. In very long strings of swara, the performers must calculate their notes accurately to ensure that they stick to the raga, have no awkward pauses and lapses in the beat of the song, and create a complex pattern of notes that an experienced audience can follow.
Performers then begin the main compositions with a section called raga alapana exploring the raga. In this, they use the sounds aa, ri, na, ta, and so on, instead of swaras, to slowly elaborate the notes and flow of the raga. This begins slowly and builds to a crescendo, and finally establishes a complicated exposition of the raga that shows the performer's skill. All of this is done without any rhythmic accompaniment, or beat. Then the melodic accompaniment (violin or veena), expounds the raga. Experienced listeners can identify many ragas after they hear just a few notes. With the raga thus established, the song begins, usually with lyrics. In this, the accompaniment (usually violin, sometimes veena) performs along with the main performer and the percussion (such as a mridangam). In the next stage of the song, they may sing niraval or kalpanaswaram again.
In most concerts, the main item will at least have a section at the end of the item, for the percussion to perform solo (called the tani avartanam). The percussion performers perform complex patterns of rhythm and display their skill. If multiple percussion instruments are employed, they engage in a rhythmic dialogue until the main performer picks up the melody once again. Some experienced artists may follow the main piece with a ragam thanam pallavi mid-concert, if they do not use it as the main item.
Following the main composition, the concert continues with shorter and lighter songs. Some of the types of songs performed towards the end of the concerts are tillanas and thukkadas, bits of popular kritis or compositions requested by the audience. Every concert that is the last of the day ends with a mangalam, a thankful prayer and conclusion to the musical event.
The audience of a typical concert has a reasonable understanding of Carnatic music. It is also typical to see the audience tapping out the tala in sync with the artist's performance. As and when the artist exhibits creativity, the audience acknowledges it by clapping their hands. With experienced artists, towards the middle of the concert, requests start flowing in. The artist usually performs the requests, exhibiting his or her broad knowledge of the several thousand kritis that are in existence.
Every December, the city of Chennai in India has a six week-long Music Season, which has been described as the world's largest cultural event. The Music Season was started in 1927, to mark the opening of the Madras Music Academy. It used to be a traditional month-long Carnatic music festival, but since then it has also diversified into dance and drama, as well as non-Carnatic art forms.
Popularly referred to as the female trinity of the Carnatic music, M. L. Vasanthakumari, M. S. Subbulakshmi, and D. K. Pattammal, together with the leading male vocalists Muthiah Bhagavathar, Mysore Vasudevachar, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Musiri Subramania Iyer, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, G. N. Balasubramaniam, and Madurai Mani Iyer created a golden era for Carnatic music during the mid to late twentieth century.
Other popular prominent vocalists during this era include Alathur Venkatesa Iyer, Ramnad Krishnan, M. D. Ramanathan, S. Ramanathan, K. V. Narayanaswamy, Tanjore S. Kalyanaraman, Maharajapuram Santhanam, D. K. Jayaraman, T. K. Rangachari, Sirkazhi Govindarajan, P. S. Narayanaswamy, Madurai Somu, and Jon. B. Higgins.
Some of the most famous and accomplished senior vocalists performing today include Dr M Balamuralikrishna, Nedanuri Krishnamoorthy, T. N. Seshagopalan, R. Vedavalli, T. V. Sankaranarayanan, Neyveli Santhanagopalan, Dr.T.M.Sounderarajan, R. K. Srikanthan, K. J. Yesudas, S.R. Janakiraman, T R Subramaniam, Nookala Chinna Satyanarayana, Bombay Sisters, O. S. Thyagarajan, M. S. Sheela, Suguna Purushothaman, Parassala B. Ponnammal, and others.
Popular younger generation vocalists include Sudha Ragunathan, Nithyashree Mahadevan, Sanjay Subrahmanyan, Bombay Jayashri Ramnath, Aruna Sairam, Vijayalakshmy Subramaniam, P. Unnikrishnan, T. M. Krishna, S. Sowmya, Priya Sisters, Vani Sateesh, Ranjani-Gayatri, Sikkil Gurucharan, Carnatica Brothers (Shashikiran & Ganesh), Vijay Siva, Malladi Brothers - Sriram Prasad & Ravikumar, S Saketharaman, Sreevalsan J Menon, Abhishek Raghuram, T N S Krishna, S.P.Ramh, and Charulatha Mani.
T. Chowdiah, Rajamanikkam Pillai, Papa Venkataramiah, and Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu excelled in violin, while Palghat Mani Iyer, Palani Subramaniam Pillai and C.S. Murugabhoopathy redefined the role of mridangam. T.H. Vinayakram is a very famous ghatam player. T.R. Mahalingam and Thyagarajan were famous flute (venu) players. Some of the well known veena players include S. Balachander, Veena Dhanammal, Doraiswamy Iyengar, K.S. Narayanaswamy, and Emani Sankara Sastri.
T.N. Krishnan, M.S.G Opalakrishnan, Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan, Mysore Manjunath, Mysore Nagaraj, and A. Kanyakumari are among the living violinists who still perform. Other violinists of today include Ganesh and Kumaresh, Ranjani and Gayatri, Vittal Ramamurthy, Embar S. Kannan, Lalgudi GJR Krishnan, Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi, and others. Mridhangists include Karaikkudi Mani, Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman, T. K. Murthy, Guruvayur Dorai, Mannargudi Easwaran, T.V. Gopalakrishnan, I. Sivakumar, J. Vaidhyanathan, and Thiruvarur Vaidyanathan. T.H. Subhashchandran and N. Govindarajan continue to perform on Ghatam.
N. Ramani and the [[Sikkil Sisters, Kunjumani and Neela Sikkil, are the most well known flute players of today; others include Mala Chandhrashekharan, R. Thyagarajan, R. Atul Kumar, S. Shashank, T. Suresh. E. Gayathri, Kalpakam Swaminathan, and Jayanthi Kumaresh are known for playing the Veena. Kadri Gopalnath is known for his Carnatic talents on the saxophone, while N. Ravikiran is known for playing several stringed instruments, most notably the Chitraveena/Gottuvadhyam.
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