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Indian classical music

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Indian classical music

Music of India
A Lady Playing the Tanpura, ca. 1735 (Rajasthan)
Media and performance
Music awards
Music festivals
Music media
Nationalistic and patriotic songs
National anthem Jana Gana Mana
Regional music

Indian classical music is the art music of the Indian subcontinent. The origins of Indian classical music can be found in the Vedas, which are the oldest scriptures in the Hindu tradition. The Samaveda was derived from the Rigveda so that its hymns could be sung as Samagana. These hymns were sung by Udgatar priests at sacrifices in which the Soma ritual drink, clarified and mixed with milk and other ingredients, was offered in libation to various deities. This chanting style evolved into jatis and eventually into ragas. Indian classical music has also been significantly influenced by, or syncretised with, Indian folk music. Bharat's Natyashastra was the first treatise laying down fundamental principles of dance, music, and drama.

Indian classical music is both elaborate and expressive. Like Western classical music, it divides the octave into 12 semitones of which the 8 basic notes are, in ascending tonal order, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa for Hindustani music and Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Da Ni Sa for Carnatic music, similar to Western music's Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Si Do. However, Indian music uses just-intonation tuning, unlike most modern Western classical music, which uses the equal-temperament tuning system. Also, unlike modern Western classical music, Indian classical music places great emphasis on improvisation.

Indian classical music is monophonic in nature and based around a single melody line, which is played over a fixed drone. The performance is based melodically on particular ragas and rhythmically on talas. Because of the focus on exploring the raga, performances have traditionally been solo endeavours, but duets are gaining in popularity.

Notation system

Indian music is traditionally taught via oral methods and, until the 20th century, did not employ notations as the primary media of instruction, understanding, or transmission. The rules of Indian music and compositions themselves are taught from a guru to a shishya, in person. Various Indian music schools follow notations and classifications (see melakarta and thaat); these are generally based on a notation system created by Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande.

Hindustani music

Hindustani music is mainly found in North India. Khyal and Dhrupad are its two main forms, but there are several other classical and semi-classical forms. There is a significant amount of Persian influence in Hindustani music in terms of the instruments, style of presentation, and ragas such as Hijaz Bhairav, Bhairavi, Bahar, and Yaman. Also, as is the case with Carnatic music, Hindustani music has assimilated various folk tunes. For example, ragas such as Kafi and Jaijaiwanti are based on folk tunes. Players of the tabla, a type of drum, usually keep the rhythm, an indicator of time in Hindustani music. Another common instrument is the stringed tanpura, which is played at a steady tone (a drone) throughout the performance of the raga, and which provides both a point of reference for the musician and a background against which the music stands out. The task of playing the tanpura traditionally falls to a student of the soloist. Other instruments for accompaniment include the sarangi and the harmonium.

The performance usually begins with a slow elaboration of the raga, known as alap. This may be very short (less than a minute) or up to 30 minutes depending on the preference of the musician. In vocal music, the alap is followed by a bandish, generally accompanied by the tabla, around which the raga is improvised. In the case of instrumental music, the alaap could be followed by a more rhythmical piece known as "jod" in which the artist provides rhythm with no rhythmic cycle, and subsequently a piece in fast tempo called ""jhala". The counterpart of the bandish in instrumental music is known as the "gat". The bandish or gat is initially sung or played in slow tempo known as "vilambit laya" to be followed by medium tempo known as "madhya laya" which in turn may be followed by a composition in fast tempo known as "drut gat".

Carnatic music

Carnatic music, from South India, tends to be more rhythmically intensive and structured than Hindustani music. Examples of this are the logical classification of ragas into melakarthas, and the use of fixed compositions similar to Western classical music. Carnatic raga elaborations are generally much faster in tempo and shorter than their equivalents in Hindustani music. In addition, accompanists have a much larger role in Carnatic concerts than in Hindustani concerts. Today's typical concert structure was put in place by the vocalist Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar. The opening piece is called a varnam, and is a warm-up for the musicians. A devotion and a request for a blessing follows, then a series of interchanges between ragams (unmetered melody) and thaalams (the ornamentation, equivalent to the jor). This is intermixed with hymns called krithis. The pallavi or theme from the raga then follows. Carnatic pieces also have notated lyrical poems that are reproduced as such, possibly with embellishments and treatments according to the performer's ideology.

Primary themes include worship, descriptions of temples, philosophy, and nayaka-nayika (Sanskrit "hero-heroine") themes. Tyagaraja (1759–1847), Muthuswami Dikshitar (1776–1827) and Syama Sastri (1762–1827) are known as the Trinity of Carnatic music, while Purandara Dasa (1480–1564) is considered the father of Carnatic music.


harmonium, veena, mridangam, kanjira, ghatam and violin.

The fundamental authoritative work on the subject of Indian instruments, Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya, was based on years of research carried out by Dr. Lalmani Misra.


Ancient texts give fundamental rules of Indian music but the modern writings of Omkarnath Thakur, S.N.Ratanjankar, Lalit Kishore Singh, Lalmani Misra, Acharya Brahaspati, Thakur Jaidev Singh, R. C. Mehta, Premlata Sharma, Subhadra Choudhary, Indrani Chakravarty, Ashok Ranade, Aban E. Mistry, and contemporary ones of Pushpa Basu, Prabha Atre, Ragini Trivedi, Ravi Sharma, Swatantra Sharma, Saubhagyavardhan Brahaspati, Suneera Kasliwal, and the like have given a rigorous basis to the Indian music system. Besides these, scholars from other streams[1] have also written about Indian music. There are a number of biographies of Indian musicians[2] although some critics[3] feel that Indian biographers have not paid due attention to the music.[4][5]


Indian classical music tradition recognises historic musicians whose contributions may be legendary: Tansen, court musician of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, Baiju Bawra, court musician of Man Singh I, Amir Khusrow, often credited with the creation of the khyal and tarana, and Sadarang, court musician of Muhammad Shah and another possible creator of the khyal. In Carnatic, Purandara dasa and Tyagaraja are historically well known composers.

Modern Carnatic vocalists include Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, D. K. Pattammal, G. N. Balasubramaniam, M. Balamuralikrishna, M. S. Subbulakshmi, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. In Hindustani, Modern dhrupad singers include the Dagar Brothers and Gundecha Brothers. Reputed khyal vocalists include Abdul Karim Khan, Abdul Wahid Khan, Amir Khan, Ashwini Bhide Deshpande, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Basavaraj Rajguru, Bhimsen Joshi, D. V. Paluskar, Faiyaz Khan, Gangubai Hangal, Hirabai Barodekar, Jitendra Abhisheki, Kesarbai Kerkar, Kishori Amonkar, Kumar Gandharva, Malini Rajurkar, Mallikarjun Mansur, Mogubai Kurdikar, Nazakat and Salamat Ali Khan, Nivruttibua Sarnaik, Omkarnath Thakur, Prabha Atre, Rajan-Sajan Mishra, Rashid Khan, Roshan Ara Begum, Sharafat Hussein Khan, Shruti Sadolikar Katkar, Ulhas Kashalkar and Vasantrao Deshpande.

Modern classical vocalists have often been recognised by the Indian government through the Indian honours system and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and Fellowship.


Allauddin Khan was a versatile instrumentalist. He trained his son and sarod player Ali Akbar Khan, his daughter and surbahar player Annapurna Devi, sitarists Nikhil Banerjee and Ravi Shankar, the flautist Pannalal Ghosh, and the violinist V. G. Jog. Younger-generation sitar players include Chandrakant Sardeshmukh, Budhaditya Mukherjee and Shahid Parvez. Among the list of younger-generation flautists are eminent names such as Vijay Raghav Rao and Hariprasad Chaurasia.

The name Bismillah Khan is synonymous with that of the shehnai. Zia Mohiuddin Dagar and Asad Ali Khan were known for their proficiency with the Rudra veena. Lalmani Misra revived Vichitra Veena along with creating Misrabani – a tantrakari style suited to string instruments.

Alla Rakha made the tabla popular in the West with Ravi Shankar. His son Zakir Hussain is also a well-known tabla player.

Among the southern classical musicians, U. Srinivas is known for his introduction of the mandolin to Carnatic classical music. Other well established Carnatic instrumentalists are Lalgudi Jayaraman, the late Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan, T.N. Krishnan, L. Subramaniam, M.S. Gopalakrishnan, and the duo of Dr.Mysore Manjunath and Mysore Nagaraj,Kumaresh and Ganesh, all known for their violin performances.

Status in the twenty-first century

Indian classical music is seen by some to be going out of favour gradually and is being replaced by Pop music, especially music from the Indian film industry.[6] Another emergent trend of the last several decades has been that of fusion music, where several genres such as khyal and western pop music are intermixed to appeal to a wider audience. Pandit Ravi Shankar was one of the earliest to have collaborated with western musicians.[7]

Nonetheless, several organisations continue to promote this genre. Some of them include Sangeet Sankalp,[8] which was established in 1989[9] and SPIC MACAY, which was established in 1977 and has more than 500 chapters in India and abroad.[10][11] SPIC MACAY holds around 5000 events every year related to Indian classical music and dance.

See also


  1. ^ Umesh Joshi. Bharatiya Sangeet ka Itihas. 
  2. ^ Komal Gandhar. Ustad Vilayat Khan. 
  3. ^ "Indian Classical Music". 
  4. ^ Mohan Nadkarni. The Great Masters Profiles in Hindustani Classical Vocal Music. 
  5. ^ Eminent Musicians of Yesteryears
  6. ^ "Everybody will come back to classical music: Ghulam Ali". Times of India. 
  7. ^ Kumar, Raj (2003). Essays on Indian Music. Discovery Publishing House. p. 16. 
  8. ^ "Sangeet Sankalp – An Artiste Co-Operative". 
  9. ^ "Announcement of The 17th Sangeet Sankalp Saptaah 2012". 
  10. ^ "About Us". Official Website. 
  11. ^ "About Us". Spic Macay Hong Kong Chapter. 


External links

  • Rajan Parrikar Music Archive includes detailed articles on Indian classical music with analyses and audio extracts from rare recordings.
  • Vijaya Parrikar Library of Indian Classical Music Library contains recorded music of India's great music masters of yesteryear, excerpts of old, hard-to-find or unpublished recordings.
  • Hindustani Rag Sangeet Online – more than 800 audio and video archives
  • Raag Hindustani – Explanations and examples of Indian Classical (Hindustani) music
  • Overview of Indian Classical Music by David Courtney (emphasises northern Indian music).
  • Simple Introduction to South Indian Classical Music – Part 1 Published by World Music Central
  • Simple Introduction to South Indian Classical Music – Part 2 Published by World Music Central
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