I was amazed to see that a westerner who doesn’t even understand Indian languages was such a passionate about Carnatic Music. So I thought I could share it with you. This article appeared in the May 1999 issue of Keertana, the newsletter of the Carnatic Music Circle Melbourne. It has since been reprinted in other Indian publications.
As a Westerner interested in Carnatic music, I am frequently asked to explain my interest and to articulate what makes South Indian music special. Both Indians and Westerners ask the same questions. Since I did not grow up with it, but rather chose it for myself from among a broad range of world traditions, Carnatic music is special indeed.
There is always a sense in which cross-cultural interactions serve not only to broaden one’s horizons, but also to set one’s own cultural identity more strongly in relief. My more direct and natural interest in Western traditional music has been nourished by an appreciation for Indian music, and the same can hopefully apply in reverse. Here I hope to describe some points in common, as well as some of the strengths of Carnatic music from my perspective.
Even as its range expands, Carnatic music will continue to communicate the highest ideals, and many people around the world will be listening. There will be more interaction with other traditions, but there is also an audience for the strictest styles in the West. Carnatic music is one of the world’s great treasures.