Carnatic music (Sanskrit: Karnāṭaka saṃgīta) 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 because of Persian and Islamic influences in North India. 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.
Although there are stylistic differences, the basic elements of 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 improvisation and composition in both Carnatic and Hindustani music. Although improvisation plays an important role, Carnatic music is mainly sung through compositions, especially the kriti (or kirtanam), a form developed between the 16th and 20th centuries by composers such as Purandara Dasa and the Trinity of 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. The most outstanding performances, and the greatest concentration of Carnatic musicians, are found in the city of Chennai. In particular, the six week-long Music Season held in Chennai every December, has been described as the world’s largest cultural event.