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The origins of Indian classical music can be found from the oldest of scriptures, part of the Hindu tradition, the Vedas.

The Samaveda, one of the four Vedas, describes music at length. The Samaveda was created out of Rigveda so that its hymns could be sung as Samagana; this style evolved into jati and eventually into ragas. Indian classical music has its origins as a meditation tool for attaining self realization. All different forms of these melodies (ragas) are believed to affect various "chakras" (energy centers, or "moods") in the path of the Kundalini . However, there is little mention of these esoteric beliefs in Bharat's Natyashastra, the first treatise laying down the fundamental principles of drama, dance and music.

Indian classical music has one of the most complex and complete musical systems ever developed. Like Western classical music, it divides the octave into 12 semitones of which the 7 basic notes are Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa, in order, replacing Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do. However, it uses the just intonation tuning (unlike most modern Western classical music, which uses the equal-temperament tuning system).

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.

Notation System

Indian music is traditionally practice oriented and does not employ notations as the primary media of instruction/understanding/transmission. The rules of Indian music and compositions themselves are taught from a guru to a shishya, in person. Various Indian music schools followed notations and classifications (see Melakarta and thaat); however, the notation is regarded as a matter of taste and is not standardized. Thus there is no universal system of notation for the rest of the world to study Indian music. Scholars of Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth century were enamoured by Indian music and with no facility to record the sound they explored for some existing system that might express sounds in the composition. There were pointers to an ancient notation system which scholars had also translated into Persian; still, the complexity of Indian classical music could not be expressed in writing. Though some western scholars did record compositions in the staff notation system, Indian musicians have used a system created by Bhatkhande in the 20th century. Though more accurate, this relies on Devanagari script rather than symbols and hence is cumbersome at times. A new notation system has been proposed which uses symbols and offers instantaneous comprehension like Staff notation system. It is with standardization of a notation system that hitherto unknown compositions would see the light of day.

Main genres

The two main streams of Indian classical music are:

Hindustani music

Khyal and dhrupad are the two main forms of Hindustani music, but there are several other classical and semi-classical forms. 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, a task which might seem monotonous but is, in fact, an honour and a rare opportunity for the student who gets it. Other instruments for accompaniment include the sarangi and the harmonium. The prime themes of Hindustani music are romantic love, nature, and devotionals. Yet, Indian classical music is independent of such themes. To sing a raga any poetic phrase appropriate for the raga may be chosen and the raga would not suffer.

The performance usually begins with a slow elaboration of the raga, known as badhat. This can range from long (30–40 minutes) to very short (2–3 minutes) depending on the style and preference of the musician. Once the raga is established, the ornamentation around the mode begins to become rhythmical, gradually speeding up. This section is called the drut or jor. Finally, the percussionist joins in and the tala is introduced. There is a significant amount of Persian influence in Hindustani music, in terms of both the instruments and the style of presentation.

Carnatic music

Carnatic music 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. This is followed by the pallavi or theme from the raga. Carnatic pieces also have notated, lyrical poems that are reproduced as such, possibly with embellishments and treatments as per the performer's ideology; these basic pieces are called compositions. Compositions usually have flexibility in them so as to foster creativity: it is commonplace to have same composition sung in different ways by different performers.

Carnatic music is similar to Hindustani music in that it is improvised (see musical improvisation). Primary themes include worship, descriptions of temples, philosophy, nayaka-nayaki themes and patriotic songs. 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 often called the father of Carnatic music.


Instruments typically used in Hindustani music include the sitar, sarod, tanpura, bansuri, shehnai, sarangi, santoor, 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 modern writings of Pt. Omkarnath Thakur, Prof. Lalit Kishore Singh, Dr. Lalmani Misra, Acharya Brahaspati, Thakur Jaidev Singh, Prof. R.C. Mehta, Dr. Premlata Sharma, Dr. Subhadra Choudhary, Dr. Indrani Chakravarty, Dr. Ashok Ranade, Aban E. Mistry etc. have given a rigorous basis to Indian music system. Besides these, scholars from other streams have also written about music. There are a number of biographies of Indian musicians although some critics feel that Indian litterateurs have not paid due attention to Indian classical music.

Musicians - Vocalists

There have been many notable vocalists from Indian classical music, these include Tansen Ji, Smt. Kesarbai Kerkar, Roshan Ara Begum, Smt. M.S Subbulakshmi, G. N. Balasubramaniam, Pt. Balamuralikrishnan , Jon B. Higgins, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Pt. D. V. Paluskar, Ustd. Abdul Karim Khan, Ustd. Abdul Waheed Khan, Ustd. Faiyaz Khan, Amir Khan, ustd. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Pt. Kumar Gandharva, Pt. Narayanrao Vyas, Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur, the senior and junior Dagar Brothers, the Gundecha Brothers, Nazakat and Salamat Ali Khan, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Mogubai Kurdikar, Gaan Saraswati Smt. Kishori Amonkar,Pt. Jasraj, Pt. Ulhas Kashalkar, Pt. Satyasheel Deshpande and ustd. Rashid KhanPt. Madhup MudgalPt. Vinayakrao PatwardhanPt. Omkarnath Thakur.

Musicians - Instrumentalists

Allauddin Khan was a versatile instrumentalist. He trained his son Ali Akbar Khan and his daughter Annapurna Devi, Nikhil Banerjee, Ravi Shankar, and the flautist Pannalal Ghosh, Azizul Islam from Bangladeshmarker. 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, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Raghunath Seth and Nityanand Haldipur.

The name of Bismillah Khan is synonymous with that of the shehnai. Zia Mohiuddin Dagar was known for his proficiency with the veena.

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

See also


  1. "Ome Swarlipi" in an article by Dr. Ragini Trivedi in Bhāratīya Shāstrīya Sangīt: Shāstra, Shikshan Va Prayōg. (Sahitya Sangam, Allahabad: 2008)
  2. Umesh Joshi-- Bharatiya Sangeet ka Itihas
  3. Komal Gandhar -- Ustad Vilayat Khan
  4. Indian Classical Music

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