I just said one comment, that I felt Carnatic singers are bit tedious on the ears because they keep repeating the same lines of the lyrics while instrumental for the same song is bit easy to latch on. And that innocuous comment took the same form on FB and thus began the grand debate. (Just hyping up a mokka conv thread :D ..achucho..mokkanu summa sonenga...kochikaporaanga)
There was a view point that Carnatic music is elitist and people were really onto that subject. That set me wondering, forget about it being elitist or not, I frankly don't understand what that word means. The point that people where shadow boxing around, I felt was, that it was casteist. More often than not, its a topic which people generally avoid either to avoid hurting the other person's sentiment or frankly they simply don't care about it. But its the party that gets hurt takes up cudgels to defend. Take this topic itself.
Honestly I've always felt, unknowingly though, that Carnatic music means devotional songs and since the Sanskrit and telugu versions always sung in praise of the hindu deities. Is there any Christian or muslim songs in Sanskrit or telgu with Carnatic music as theme?? to my non existent knowledge on this subject, I couldn't think of any. I felt in that thread there was a basic mismatch between Carnatic music and Carnatic songs. Songs depend on the language of the lyricist. Whereas the tune is independent. The same tune can be used to play tamil songs or even English and thousands of movie hits have their base set on some Carnatic raga or other. The problem of it being elitist is more specific to the kutcheris, which invariably is based on telugu songs probably some Sanskrit and lot of tamil keertanais as well. People use the lack of knowledge of these languages as a tool to criticise those who are crazy over those songs. If you can accept "Makkayala maakkayala" and "Omazhaziya" as tamil song lyrics, guess its high time the naysayers of kutcheris call themselves hypocrites. Infact, now that I started to think on this topic, majority of the music directors are not Brahmins. Be it IR, ARR, Deva or any famous or big time musician, none of them are from this caste. Yet that didn't stop them from learning the ragas and making wonderful tunes out of them.
Coming back to the core point of it being casteist rather elitist. I would say I go with the former. Invariably, I've seen only Brahmins taking up this form of music. Maybe the reason could be the lyrics which they are more familiar with, since majority of them are prayer songs on their households. Even if there are people from other caste or religion who are famous on this line of music, I think they are exceptions and not rules. Probably Hindustani has a bigger reach than its southern cousin for its in hindi(??therilapa..thappuna mannichu) and with lot of sufi influence(??) and is more acceptable to a larger audience with the language barrier being minimal. People who say they like ghazals more than Carnatic just because its "elitist", with no knowledge of both hindi or telugu, I really wonder how honest they are with themselves. If art is seen as something to enjoy and learn and perform, you wouldn't notice whether its a carol or keerthanai or ghazal. As for non-Brahmins not taking to tis form of music I personally feel its more related to the songs rather than the art form itself. Carnatic music needs to differentiate itself from Carnatic songs if it needs a bigger reach, I feel. Again the purists might say the art should be accepted as for what it is and not tampered with. But if you look at our heritage and culture, historically, our art forms have been linked with religion and little wonder people from other side of the great divide feel over awed and the memories of bad old days of caste driven problems doesn't help either.
I like to listen to all kinds of music. But when Backstreet Boys got "dubbed" by Deva into his movie songs, I liked it even more. It maybe too much to ask for centuries old traditional music to bend itself to suit a layman's taste like mine. But if the audience need to increase beyond the occasional NRI's the present form needs to redefine itself is my humble opinion. Obviously it will grow and extend into new horizons and who knows, there might be a super Carnatic singer show in the making soon.