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Hindustani Classical Music (Hindi: हिन्दुस्तानी शास्त्रीय संगीत, "hindustānī śāstrīy saṅgīt" Urdu: ہندوستانی شاستریہ سنگیت) is the Hindustani or erstwhileNorth Indian style of Indian classical music. Originating in the Vedic period, it is a tradition that has been evolving from the 12th century AD, in what is now northern India, Bangladeshmarker, and Pakistanmarker, and also Nepalmarker and Afghanistanmarker, and is today one of the two parts of Indian classical music, with the other one being Carnatic music, which represents the music of South India.


The tradition was born out of a cultural synthesis from several musical streams: the vedic chant tradition dating back to approximately one thousand BCE, the equally ancient Persian tradition of Musiqi-e assil, and also existent folk traditions prevalent in the region. The terms North Indian Classical Music or Shāstriya Sangeet are also occasionally used.

It is traditional for performers who have reached a distinguished level of achievement to be awarded titles of respect; Hindus are usually referred to as Pandit and Muslims as Ustad. An interesting aspect of Hindustani music going back to sufi times is the tradition of religious neutrality: Muslim ustads singing Hindu bhajans, or vice versa.

Around the 12th century, Hindustani classical music diverged from what eventually came to be identified as Carnatic classical music. The central notions in both these systems is that of a melodic mode or raga, sung to a rhythmic cycle or tala. The tradition dates back to the ancient Samaveda, (lit. sāma=ritual chant), which deals with the norms for chanting of srutis or hymns such as the Rig Veda. These principles were refined in the Natyashastra by Bharata (2nd-3d c. CE) and the Dattilam (probably 3d-4th c. AD).

In medieval times, many of the melodic systems were fused with ideas from Persian music, particularly through the influence of sufi composers like Amir Khusro, and later in the Moghul courts. Noted composers such as Tansen flourished, along with religious groups like the Vaishnavites. After the 16th century, the singing styles diversified into different gharanas patronized in different princely courts. Around 1900, Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande consolidated the musical structures of Hindustani classical music into a number of thaats.In the 20th century, Hindustani classical music has become popular across the world through the influence of artistes like Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan and many others.

Indian classical music has seven basic notes, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni, with five interspersed half-notes, resulting in a 12-note scale. Unlike the 12-note scale in Western music, the base frequency of the scale is not fixed, and intertonal gaps (temper) may also vary; however, with the gradual replacement of the sarangi by the harmonium, an equal tempered scale is increasingly used. The performance is set to a melodic pattern called a raga (also spelled as raag) characterized in part by specific ascent (Aroha) and descent (Avaroha) sequences, which may not be identical. Other characteristics include King (Vadi) and Queen (Samavadi) notes and characteristic phrases (Pakad). In addition each raga has its natural register (Ambit) and glissando (Meend) rules, as well as features specific to different styles and compositions within the raga structure. Performances are usually marked by considerable improvisation within these norms.


Music was first formalized in India in connection with preserving the sruti texts, primarily the four vedas, which are seen as apaurasheya (lit. un-created by man). Not only was the text important, but also the manner in which they had been enunciated by the immortals. Prosody and chanting were thus of great importance, and were enshrined in the two vedangas (bodies of knowledge) called Shiksha (pronunciation, chants) and Chhandas (prosody); these remained a key part of the brahminic educational system till modern times.The formal aspects of the chant are delineated in the Samaveda, with certain aspects, e.g. the relation of chanting to meditation, elaborated in the Chandogya Upanishad (ca. 8th c. BC). Priests involved in these ritual chants were called Samans and a number of ancient musical instruments such as the conch (shankh), lute (veena), flute (bansuri), trumpets and horns were associated with this and later practices of ritual singing.

Sanskritic Tradition

The Samaveda outlined the ritual chants for singing the verses of the Rigveda, particularly for offerings of Soma. It proposed a tonal structure consisting of seven notes, which were named, in descending order, as Krusht, Pratham, Dwitiya, Tritiya, Chaturth, Mandra and Atiswār. These refer to the notes of a flute, which was the only fixed frequency instrument. This is why the second note is called pratham (lit. first, i.e. note when only first hole is closed).

Music is dealt with extensively in the Valmiki Ramayana; Narada is an accomplished musician, as is Ravana; Saraswati with her veena is the goddess of music. Gandharvas are presented as spirits who are musical masters, and the gandharva style looks to music primarily for pleasure, accompanied by the soma rasa. In the Vishnudharmottara Purana, the Naga king Ashvatara asks to know the svaras from Saraswati.

The most important text on music in the ancient canon is Bharata's Natya Shastra, composed around the 3rd c. CE. The Natya Shastra deals with the different modes of music, dance, and drama, and also the emotional responses (rasa) they are expected to evoke. The scale is described in terms of 22 micro-tones, which can be combined in clusters of 4, 3, or two to form an octave.

While the term raga is articulated in the Natya Shastra (where its meaning is more literal, colour, as in the mood), it finds a clearer expression in what is called jati in the Dattilam, a text composed shortly after or around the same time as Natya Shastra. The Dattilam is focused on gandharva music, and discusses scales (swara), defining a tonal framework called grama in terms of 22 micro-tonal intervals (sruti) comprising one octave. It also discusses various arrangements of the notes (murchhana), the permutations and combinations of note-sequences (tanas), and alankara or elaboration. Dattilam categorizes melodic structure into 18 groups called jati, which are the fundamental melodic structures similar to the raga. The names of the jatis reflect regional origins, e.g. andhri, oudichya.

Music also finds mention in a number of texts from the Gupta period; Kalidasa mentions several kinds of veena (Parivadini, Vipanchi), as well as percussion instruments (Mridang), the flute (Vamshi) and conch (Shankha). Music also finds mention in Buddhist and Jaina texts from the earliest periods of the Christian era.

Narada's Sangita Makarandha treatise circa 1100 CE is the earliest text where rules similar to the current Hindustani classical music can be found. Narada actually names and classifies the system in its earlier form before the advent of changes as a result of Persian influences. Jayadeva's Gita Govinda from the 12th century was perhaps the earliest musical composition presently known sung in the classical tradition called Ashtapadi music.

In the 13th century, Sharngadeva composed the Sangita Ratnakara, which has names such as the turushka todi (Turkish todi), revealing an influx of ideas from the Islamic influx. This text is the last to be mentioned by both the Carnatic and the Hindustani traditions, and is often thought to date the divergence between the two.

Medieval Period: Persian influence

The advent of Islamic rule under the Delhi Sultanate and later the Mughal Empire over northern India caused considerable cultural interchange. Increasingly, musicians received patronage in the courts of the new rulers, who in their turn, started taking increasing interest in local music forms. While the initial generations may have been rooted in cultural traditions outside India, they gradually adopted many aspects from their kingdoms which retained the traditional Hindu culture. This helped spur the fusion of Hindu and Muslim ideas to bring forth new forms of musical synthesis like qawwali and khayal.

The most influential musician from the Delhi Sultanate period was Amir Khusrau (1253-1325), sometimes called the father of modern Hindustani classical music. A prolific composer in Persian, Turkish, Arabic, as well as Braj Bhasha, he is credited with systematizing many aspects of Hindustani music, and also introducing several ragas such as Yaman Kalyan, Zeelaf and Sarparda. He created the qawwali genre, which fuses Persian melody and beat on a dhrupad like structure. A number of instruments (such as the sitar and tabla) were also introduced in his time.

Amir Khusrau is sometimes credited with the origins of the khayal form, but the record of his compositions do not appear to support this. The compositions by the court musician Niyamat Khan (Sadarang) in the court of Muhammad Shah 'Rangiley' bear a closer affinity to the modern khyal, and suggests that while khyal already existed in some form, 'Sadarang' may have been the father of modern day khyal.

Much of the musical forms innovated by these pioneers merged with the Hindu tradition, composed in the popular language of the people (as opposed to Sanskrit) in the work of composers like Kabir or Nanak. This can be seen as part of a larger Bhakti tradition, (strongly related to the Vaishnavite movement) which remained influential across several centuries; notable figures include Jayadeva (11th century), Vidyapati (1375 AD), Chandidas (14th-15th century), and Meerabai (1555-1603 AD).

As the Mughal Empire came into closer contact with Hindus, especially under Jalal ud-Din Akbar, music and dance also flourished. Particularly, the legendary musician Tansen is recognized as having introduced a number of innovations, ragas as well as particular compositions. Legend has it that upon his rendition of a night-time raga in the morning, the entire city fell under a hush and clouds gathered in the sky, or that he could light fires by singing raga Deepak, which is supposed to be composed of notes in high octaves.

At the royal house of Gwaliormarker, Raja Mansingh Tomar (1486-1516 AD) also participated in the shift from Sanskrit to the local idiom (Hindi) as the language for classical songs. He himself penned several volumes of compositions on religious and secular themes, and was also responsible for the major compilation, the Mankutuhal (book of curiosity), which outlined the major forms of music prevalent at the time. In particular, the musical form known as dhrupad saw considerable development in his court and remained a strong point of the Gwalior gharana for many centuries.

After the dissolution of the Mughal empire, the patronage of music continued in smaller princely kingdoms like Lucknowmarker, Patialamarker, and Banarasmarker, giving rise to the diversity of styles that is today known as gharanas. Many musician families obtained large grants of land which made them self sufficient, at least for a few generations (e.g. the Sham Chaurasia gharana). Meanwhile the Bhakti and Sufi traditions continued to develop, and interact with the different gharanas and groups.

Modern era

In the 20th century, the power of the maharajahs and nawabs declined, and so did their patronage. With the expulsion of Wajid Ali Shah to Calcuttamarker after 1857, the Lucknavi musical tradition came to influence the music of renaissance Bengalmarker, giving rise to the tradition of Ragpradhan gan around the turn of the century.

In the early 20th century Vishnu Digambar Paluskar emerged as an extremely talented musician and organizer (despite having been blinded at age 12). His books on music, as well as the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya music school that he opened in Lahoremarker in 1901 helped foster a movement away from the closed gharana system.

Paluskar's contemporary (and occasional rival) 'Chaturpandit' Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande recognized the many rifts that had appeared in the structure of Indian classical music. He undertook extensive research visits to a large number of gharanas, Hindustani as well as Carnatic, collecting and comparing compositions. Between 1909 and 1932, he brought out themonumental Hindustani Sangeetha Padhathi (4 vols), which suggested a transcription for Indian music and described the many traditions in this notation. Finally, it consolidated the many musical forms of Hindustani Classical music into a number of thaats, a system that had been proposed in the Carnatic tradition in the 17th century. The ragas as we know them today were consolidated in this landmark work, although there are some inconsistencies and ambiguities in Bhatkande's system.

In modern times, the government-run All India Radio, Bangladesh Betar and Radio Pakistan helped to bring the artists in front of the public, countering the loss of the patronage system. The first star was Gauhar Jan, whose career was born out of Fred Gaisberg's first recordings of Indian music in 1902. With the advance of films and other public media, musicians started to make their living through public performances. With exposure to Western music, some of these melodies also started merging with classical forms, especially in the stream of popular music. A number of Gurukuls, such as that of Alauddin Khan at Maiharmarker, flourished. In more modern times, corporate support has also been forthcoming (e.g. the ITC Sangeet Research Academy).

Principles of Hindustani music

The rhythmic organization is based on rhythmic patterns called Taal. The melodic foundations are "melodic modes", or "Parent Scales", known as Thaats, under which most ragas can be classified based on the notes they use.

Thaats may consist of up to seven scale degrees, or swara. Hindustani musicians name these pitches using a system called Sargam, the equivalent of Western movable do solfege:
  • Sa (Shadaj) = Do
  • Re (Rishab) = Re
  • Ga (Gandhar) = Mi
  • Ma (Madhyam) = Fa
  • Pa (Pancham) = So
  • Dha (Dhaiwat) = La
  • Ni (Nishad) = Ti
  • Sa (Shadaj) = Do

Both systems repeat at the octave. The difference between sargam and solfege is that re, ga, ma, dha, and ni can refer to either "Natural" (Shuddha) or altered "Flat" (Komal) or "Sharp" (Tivra) versions of their respective scale degrees. As with movable do solfege, the notes are heard relative to an arbitrary tonic that varies from performance to performance, rather than to fixed frequencies, as on a xylophone.

The fine intonational differences between different instances of the same swara are sometimes called śruti. The three primary registers of Indian classical music are Mandra, Madhya and Tara. Since the octave location is not fixed, it is also possible to use provenances in mid-register (such as Mandra-Madhya or Madhya-Tara) for certain ragas. A typical rendition of Hindustani raga involves two stages:

  • Alap: a rhythmically free improvisation on the rules for the raga in order to give life to the raga and shape out its characteristics. The alap is followed by the jod and jhala in instrumental music.

  • Bandish or Gat: a fixed, melodic composition set in a specific raga, performed with rhythmic accompaniment by a tabla or pakhavaj. There are different ways of systematizing the parts of a composition. For example:
    • Sthaayi: The initial, Rondo phrase or line of a fixed, melodic composition.
    • Antara: The first body phrase or line of a fixed, melodic composition.
    • Sanchaari: The third body phrase or line of a fixed, melodic composition, seen more typically in Dhrupad Bandishes
    • Aabhog: The fourth and concluding body phrase or line of a fixed, melodic composition, seen more typically in Dhrupad Bandishes.
  • : There are three variations of Bandish, regarding tempo:
    • Vilambit Bandish: A slow and steady melodic composition, usually in Largo to Adagio speeds.
    • Madhyalaya Bandish: A medium tempo melodic competition, usually set in Andante to Allegretto speeds.
    • Drut Bandish: A fast tempo melodic composition, usually set to Allegretto speed, and onwards.

Vocal music

Hindustani classical music is primarily vocal-centric, insofar as the musical forms were designed primarily for vocal performance, and many instruments were designed and evaluated as to how well they emulate the human voice.

Types of compositions

The major vocal forms-cum-styles associated with Hindustani classical music are Dhrupad, Khayal, and Tarana. Other forms include Dhamar, Trivat, Chaiti, Kajari, Tappa, Tap-Khayal, Ashtapadis, Thumri, Dadra, Ghazal and Bhajan. Of these, some forms fall within the crossover to folk or semi-classical or light classical music, as they often do not adhere to the rigorous rules and regulations of classical music.


Dhrupad is an old style of singing, traditionally performed by male singers. It is performed with a tanpura and a Pakhawaj as instrumental accompaniments. The lyrics, which sometimes were in Sanskrit centuries ago, are presently often sung in Brajbhasha, a medieval form of Hindi that was spoken in the Mathura area. The Rudra Veena, an ancient string instrument, is used in instrumental music in the style of Dhrupad.

Dhrupad music is primarily devotional in theme and content. It contains recitals in praise of particular deities. Dhrupad compositions begin with a relatively long and acyclic Alap, where the syllables of the following mantra is recited:

"Om Anant tam Taran Tarini Twam Hari Om Narayan, Anant Hari Om Narayan".

The alap gradually unfolds into more rhythmic Jod and Jhala sections. This is followed by a rendition of Bandish, with the pakhawaj as an accompaniment. The great Indian musician Tansen sang in the Dhrupad style. A lighter form of Dhrupad, called Dhamar, is sung primarily during the festival of Holi.

Dhrupad was the main form of northern Indian classical music until two centuries ago, but has since then given way to the somewhat less austere, khyal, a more free-form style of singing. Since losing its main patrons among the royalty in Indian princely states, Dhrupad ran the risk of becoming extinct in the first half of the twentieth century. Fortunately, the efforts by a few proponents from the Dagar family have led to its revival and eventual popularization in India and in the West.

Some of the best known vocalists who sing in the Dhrupad style are the members of the Dagar, Bishnupur lineage, including the late Senior Dagar brothers, i.e. Us. Nasir Moinuddin Dagar and Us. Nasir Aminuddin Dagar, the late Junior Dagar brothers, i.e. Us. Nasir Zahiruddin and Us. Nasir Faiyazuddin Dagar, Us. Wasifuddin Dagar, Us. Fariduddin Dagar, Us. Sayeeduddin Dagar. Other leading exponents include the Gundecha Brothers (i.e. Ramakant and Umakant Gundecha), Dr. Ritwik Sanyal and Pt. Uday Bhawalkar, who have received training from some of the Dagars. Leading vocalists outside the Dagar lineage include the Mallik family. Bishnupur Gharana based in West Bengalmarker is a key school that has been propagating this style of singing since the Mughal times.


Khayal is a form of vocal music in Hindustani music, adopted from medieval Persian music and based on Dhrupad music. Khayal, literally meaning "thought" or "imagination" in Hindi/Urdu originally from Arabic, Khyal, is special as it is based on improvising and expressing emotion. A Khayal is a 2 to 8 lined lyric set to tune. The lyric is of an emotional account possibly from poetic observation. Khayals are also more popularly depicting emotional significance between two lovers, a situation evoking intense feeling, or situations of ethological significance in Hinduism and Islam.

Th importance of the Khayal's content is for the singer to depict, through music in the set raga, the emotional significance of the Khayal. The singer improvises and finds inspiration within the raga to depict the Khayal.

The origination of Khayal is controversial, yet it is accepted that this style was based on Dhrupad gayaki and influenced by Persian music. Many argue that Amir Khusrau created the style in the late 16th century. This form was popularized by Mughal Emperor Mohammad Shah, through his court musicians. Some well-known composers of this period were Sadarang, Adarang, and Manrang.

   "Kaisku Marwa Jaayal Hamaraa
   More darawa nayan ghar kan warahe,

   Mohammad Shah ke Sadarangile,
   Prem Piya la Chapate Apne,
   Huntara Tana Mana Waarune"
            - Mohammad Shah
This Khayal bandish in raga Bibhas was popularized by D.V. Paluskar. It is interesting how this bandish mentions three names — Mohammad Shah, Sadarang, and Prem Piya.

Later performers include D. V. Paluskar, Satyakinkar Bandyopadhyay, Gyan Gosain, Amir Khan, Faiyaz Khan, Vinayak Rao Patwardhan, Pt. Shankar Rao Vyas, Narayanrao Vyas, Nazakat Ali and Salamat Ali Khan, Eknath Sarolkar, Kashinath Pant Marathe, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Smt. Kesarbai Kerkar, Mogubai Kurdikar, Krishnarao Shankar Pandit, Balabhau Umdekar Kundalguru, Gajananrao Joshi, S.N.Ratanjankar, Ram Marathe, Ratnakar Pai, Kumar Gandharva, Jitendra Abhisheki, A. Kanan, Basavaraj Rajaguru and Mallikarjun Mansur.

Some of the present day vocalists are Manas Chakraborty, Rashid Khan, Pandit Jasraj, Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal, Yeshwantbua Joshi, Balasahab Poochwale, Girija Devi, Kishori Amonkar, Satyasheel Deshpande, Iqbal Ahmad Khan, Ishwarchandra Karkare, Rajshekhar Mansur, Ulhas Kashalkar, Shubhada Paradkar, Arun Bhaduri, Malini Rajurkar, Purnima Sen, Ajoy Chakrabarty, Prabakar Karekar, Alka Deo Marulkar, Sanjeev Abhyankar, Shruti Sadolikar, Ashwini Bhide, Padma Talwalkar, Arati Ankalikar-Tikekar, Chandrashekar Swami, Venkatesh Kumar, Mashkoor Ali Khan, Subhra Guha, Sulekha Bhat, Parameshwar Hegde, Indrani Choudhury, Ganapathi Bhatt, Madhav Gudi, Bhawani Angiras, Smt. Shashwati Mandal Paul, Dr.Tapasi Ghosh, Nagaraj Rao Havaldar, Somanath Mardoor, Panchakshariswamy Mattigatti, Shivanand Patil, Raghunandan Panshikar, Manjiri Asanare-Kelkar, Srivani Jade and Sanjeev Chimmalgi.


Tappa is a form of Indian semi-classical vocal music whose specialty is its rolling pace based on fast, subtle, knotty construction. It originated from the folk songs of the camel riders of Punjab and developed as a form of classical music by Mian Ghulam Nabi Shori or Shori Mian (1742 - 1792), a court singer of Asaf-Ud-Dowlah, Nawab of Awadh. Among the prominent living performers of this style are Pt. Laxmanrao Kr. Pandit of Gwalior, Shamma Khurana, Pt. Manvalkar of Gwalior, Smt. Girija Devi of Benaras, Dr. Ishwarchandra R. Karkare of Gwalior, Pt. Jayant Khot of Gwalior.


Another vocal form, Tarana are medium-to-fast paced songs that are used to convey a mood of elation and are usually performed towards the end of a concert. They consist of a few lines of poetry with rhythmic syllables or bols set to a tune. The singer uses these few lines as a basis for fast improvisation. In some sense the tarana can be compared to the Tillana of Carnatic music, although the latter is primarily associated with dance.


Thumri is a semiclassical vocal form said to have begun with the court of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, 1847-1856. There are three types of thumri: Punjabi, Lucknavi and Poorab ang thumri. The lyrics are typically in a proto-Hindi language called Braj bhasha and are usually romantic.

Some prominent recent performers of this genre are Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Begum Akhtar, Girija Devi, Siddheshwari Devi, and Shobha Gurtu.


Ghazal is an originally Persian form of poetry. In the Indian sub-continent, Ghazal became the most common form of poetry in the Urdu language and was popularized by classical poets like Mir Taqi Mir, Ghalib, Zauq and Saudamarker amongst the North Indian literary elite. Vocal music set to this mode of poetry is popular with multiple variations across Iranmarker, Afghanistanmarker, Central Asia, Turkeymarker, Indiamarker, Bangladeshmarker and Pakistanmarker. Ghazal exists in multiple variations, including folk and pop forms.

Instrumental music

Although Hindustani music clearly is focused on the vocal performance, instrumental forms have existed since ancient times. In fact, in recent decades, especially outside South Asia, instrumental Hindustani music is more popular than vocal music, perhaps because the lyrics in the latter are not comprehensible due to unfamiliarity with the language.

A number of musical instruments are associated with Hindustani classical music. The veena, a string instrument, was traditionally regarded as the most important, but few play it today and it has largely been superseded by its cousins the sitar and the sarod, both of which owe their origin to Persian influences. Other plucked/struck string instruments include the surbahar, sursringar, santoor, and various versions of the slide guitar. Among bowed instruments, the sarangi, esraj (or dilruba) and violin are popular. The bansuri (bamboo flute), shehnai, harmonium, and samvadini are important wind instruments. In the percussion ensemble, the tabla and the pakhavaj are the most popular. Various other instruments have also been used in varying degrees.

Some representative performers (these lists are by no means comprehensive nor are intended to be):

Prominent performers

There have been many great exponents of Hindustani music. Some of them (in no particular order) are:

Vocalists:Girija Devi, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Faiyaz Khan, Amir Khan, Abdul Karim Khan, Akhtar Sadmani, Vasantrao Deshpande, Gokulotsavji Maharaj, D. V. Paluskar, Salamat Ali Khan, Mallikarjun Mansur, Omkarnath Thakur, Gangubai Hangal, Bhimsen Joshi, Kishori Amonkar, Kumar Gandharva, Gundecha Brothers, Jasraj, Nityanand Haldipur, Shruti Sadolikar-Katkar, Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Ulhas Kashalkar, Malini Rajurkar, Prabha Atre, Dhondutai Kulkarni, Sharafat Hussain Khan

Instrumentalists:Allauddin Khan, Radhika Mohan Maitra, Vasant Rai, Vilayat Khan, Bismillah Khan, Ravi Shankar, Nikhil Banerjee, Ali Akbar Khan, Pannalal Ghosh, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Zakir Hussain, Shivkumar Sharma, Annapurna Devi, Vijay Raghav Rao, Shruti Adhikari

See also


External links

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