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Indian classical music

The origins of Indian classical music can be found in the Vedas, which are the oldest scriptures in the Hindu tradition. Indian classical music has also been significantly influenced by, or syncretised with, Indian folk music and Persian music. The Samaveda, one of the four Vedas, describes music at length. The Samaveda was derived from the Rigveda so that its hymns could be sung as Samagana; this style evolved into jatis and eventually into ragas. 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 7 basic notes are, in ascending tonal order, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa for Hindustani music and Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa for Carnatic music, similar to Western music's Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti 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 endeavors, 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 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. This task traditionally falls to a student of the soloist. Other instruments for accompaniment include the sarangi and the harmonium. Emotions are the prime themes of the different ragas in Hindustani classical music.

The performance usually begins with a slow elaboration of the raga, known as badhat. This can range from long (30 60 minutes) to short (8 10 minutes) depending on the raga, the style and preference of the musician, and the medium (LP records and All India Radio performance times had a fixed upper limit). Once the raga is established, the ornamentation around the mode begins to become rhythmical, gradually speeding up; this section is called the drut in vocal performances or the jor in instrumental performances.

Carnatic music

Carnatic music, from South India, tends to be significantly more 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. 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; these pieces are called compositions.

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 the father of Carnatic music.


Instruments typically used in Hindustani music include the sitar, sarod, surbahar, tanpura, bansuri, shehnai, sarangi, santoor, pakhavaj and tabla. Instruments typically used in Carnatic music include venu, gottuvadyam, 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, 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]


There have been many notable vocalists from Indian classical music, including Tansen, Kesarbai Kerkar, Roshan Ara Begum, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, M. S. Subbulakshmi, G. N. Balasubramaniam, M. Balamuralikrishna, Jon B. Higgins, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Abdul Karim Khan, Abdul Wahid Khan, Faiyaz Khan, Amir Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Kumar Gandharva, Bhimsen Joshi, Mogubai Kurdikar, Prabha Atre, Kishori Amonkar, Ulhas Kashalkar, Rashid Khan, D. V. Paluskar, Vinayakrao Patwardhan, Narayanrao Vyas, Basavaraj Rajguru, Mallikarjun Mansur, the senior and junior Dagar Brothers, Zia Fariduddin Dagar, the Gundecha Brothers, Nazakat and Salamat Ali Khan, Omkarnath Thakur, Jasraj, and Mohammad Hussain Sarahang.


Allauddin Khan was a versatile instrumentalist. He trained his son Ali Akbar Khan, his daughter Annapurna Devi, Nikhil Banerjee, Ravi Shankar, the flautist Pannalal Ghosh, Azizul Islam from Bangladesh. 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 was known for his proficiency with Rudra veena. Dr. Lalmani Misra revived Vichitra Veena along with creating Misrabani a tantrakari style suited to string instruments. V. G. Jog portrayed Hindustani classical music on the violin.

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

L.Shankar (not to be confused with Ravi) is a famous for developing and playing the ten-string, stereophonic double violin. L. Shankar worked on the score of the film The Last Temptation of Christ (1988),composed by Peter Gabriel, with his music ending up on both albums of the score - Passion: Music for The Last Temptation of Christ and Passion - Sources. He won a Grammy for his work on the latter in 1994. 1996 saw a Grammy nomination for the album Raga Aberi.[6] Shankar has performed on several of Peter Gabriel's records such as So and Us.

Among the southern classical musicians, Master U Srinivas is a top artist known worldwide. Known for his introduction of Mandolin to the Carnatic classical form of music, he has become synonymous with the word mandolin in India.

Among other well established Carnatic instrumentalists are Lalgudi G Jayaraman, the late Kunnukudi Vaidyanathan, T.N.Krishnan, Dr.L.Subramaniam, M.S. Gopalakrishnan, and the duo of Kumaresh & Ganesh, all known for their violin performances.

See also


  1. Eminent Musicians of Yesteryears

Further reading

  • Ludwig Pesch, The Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music, Oxford University Press.
  • George E. Ruckert, Music in North India: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture, Oxford University Press.
  • T. Viswanathan and Matthew Harp Allen; Music in South India: The Karnatak Concert Tradition and Beyond Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture; Oxford University Press.
  • Martin Clayton; Time in Indian Music: Rhythm, Metre, and Form in North Indian Rag Performance; Oxford University Press.

External links

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