It is difficult to draw a clear distinction between vocal and instrumental music-making. Even if it is performed instrumentally, it was originally always written for a vocal part.
The instrumentalization in Carnatic music mostly follows established principles. A melodic accompaniment (mostly in the form of a violin), a rhythmic accompaniment (usually an Indian drum, the mridangam ) and a supporting instrument in the form of a flute or the like usually tune in to the singing . The oldest known compositions with notation in South India are stone inscriptions from the 7th century AD near Pudukkottai , Tamil Nadu.
Until today, Carnatic music is basically passed on in oral traditions (sampradāya) from the teacher to the students. The traditions each place their own emphasis on their composers as well as musical and stylistic peculiarities.
It is common for a student today to become familiar with several traditions. In the past it was mostly part of a single tradition. However, due to various influences, the differences between the traditions and regions are becoming increasingly blurred.
There is a millennia-old tradition that continues to live on in South Indian music. It goes back to sacred scriptures like the Vedas and Upanishads as well as anonymously ( Rishis ) and sacred musicians like the Nayanmars , Alvars , Jayadeva , Tiruvalluvar , Kabir , Mira Bai , Purandara Dāsa and especially Tyagaraja (1767–1847). Significant pioneers in this context were:
- Srīpadaraya (ಶ್ರೀಪಾದ ರಾಯರು) = Lakshminarayana Tīrtha (1404–1502).
- Vyāsatīrtha (ವ್ಯಾಸತೀರ್ಥ) = Vyāsaraya (1460-1539)
- Vadirājatīrtha (ಶ್ರೀ ವಾದಿರಾಜ ತೀರ್ಥರು) (between 1480 and 1600)
- Purandara Dāsa (ಪುರಂದರ ದಾಸ) (1484–1564)
- Kanaka Dāsa (ಕನಕ ದಾಸ) (1509–1609)
- Sri Tallapaka Annamācārya (శ్రీ తాళ్ళపాక అన్నమాచార్య) = Annamayya (1408–1503)
- Pedda Tirumalayyangar, the son of Sri Tallapaka Annamācārya
- Tallapakam Chinayya, grandson of Annamācārya
- Kancherla Gopanna = Bhadrādri Rāmadāsu = Bhadrācala Rāmadāsu (భద్రాచల రామదాసు) (approx. 1620–1680)
They all proclaimed the insight that good music is the key to self-discovery and thus the release of the individual from internal and external conflicts.
Purandara Dāsa holds a special position among these saints, since he introduced the teaching system of South Indian classical music that is still valid today.