Music is an art form and cultural activity whose medium is sound organized in time. In many cultures, music is an important part of people's way of life, as it plays a key role in religious rituals, rite of passage ceremonies (e.g., graduation and marriage), social activities (e.g., dancing) and cultural activities. Music is a universal language. In Indio too, Music is woven in ordinary life as Indian life and culture, from birth to death, are essentially celebratory and all ceremonies are conducted accompanied by singing, recitation or music.

The music of India includes multiple varieties of Indian classical music, folk music, filmi and Indian pop. India's classical music tradition, including Hindustani music and Carnatic, has a history spanning millennia and developed over several eras. Music in India began as an integral part of socio-religious life.


Indain Music

Indian Music




History of Indian Music

Ancient Period

Indian music has remained melodic since the beginings. In melody, a continued unity of effect is preserved while following the notes one after another. This is different from harmony, where musical sounds are superimposed on one another. 

Two important traditions of music can be thought of existing in this period - Aryan (Vedic) tradition and non-Aryan tradition. There was no Hindustani (north Indian) and Carnatic (South Indian) styles developed during this intial period. The non-Aryan tradition had their own art of music. For instance, Santhal music from the Eastern region may have been passed down from them. Such music of the people contributed to the formation of Hindustani Classical Music.

The Beginings

The origin of Indian music is traced back to the melodic patterns of vedic chanting. The metrical hymns were recited with modulation of voice and intermediate pauses. These were initially tritonal and later employed seven tones. Rig-Veda is the oldest book dealing with the music. The psalms of the Rig-Veda were called the richas. TheYajur Veda was also a religious chant. There also existed secular music but no descriptions talking about it survive today. It was much later in Nardiyashiksha and Natyashastra that non-ritual music was dealt with.

Various other books dealt with the music, most notable being the Vālmiki Rāmāyaṇa. Nārada and Rāvaṇa were accomplished musicians, and Sarasvatī is the goddess of music with her favourite instrument being vīṇā.

Natya Shastra of Bharata (between the 2nd century B.C. and the 2nd century A.D.) is important landmark in the history of Indian music. It mainly deals with dramaturgy with a few chapters dealing with music. It gives detailed account of both instrumental music and vocal music. Therein we get information on scales, melodic forms, tala and musical instruments. It refers music as “gandharva”. This term might be after the “Gandhara” region (modern Kandahar of Afghanistan) which must have been a great centre of music. It also mentions a category of celestial musicians called Gandharvas.

The grammar for the prevalent musical tradition was based on grama system. It has two gramas under which numorous jatis are represented. This grama system prevailed till medieval period. The whole scheme, also called the modal music was a very highly advanced and a scientific one. Only in fourteenth century CE that, this system was replaced by mela system (as called in South India). In northern part of India, it is called the thaat system.

The New Era

The development of raga out of the jatis mark the begining of new era. The major work dealing with the raga is the Brihaddesi of Matanga (4th century CE). He was from the Carnatic region. Up to this era, at least, the grammar of Indian music was more or less one throughout the country. By around (6th century CE), the ragas emerged as the basic scales without the gramas and murcchana classifications.

Nārada’s Saṅgīta Makarandha (11th century), has the rules similar to those of current Hindustānī classical music.

Jayadeva’s Gīta Govinda (12th century) was the earliest musical composition sung in the classical tradition of aṣṭapadī music.

In the 13th century A.D. Sarangadeva - hailing from Kashmir - later settled in South India, wrote his magnum opus Sangeeta Ratankara. His treatise deals with all three aspects of music — vocal, instrumental and dance. This is the last text mentioned by both the Carnatic and the Hindustani traditions and hence it marks the start of a divergence between the two.

Medieval Period

By the 11th century, Central and West Asian music began to influence our music tradition. This led to total disappearance of gramas and moorcchanas. Around the 15th century, the grama system became obsolete. The concept of mela or thata took its place. In this there is only one standard scale

The Turkish invasions and the Islamic governments established in India brought much changes into the pan-Indian music tradition. The temples were the first to face the onslought of the Islamic rulers and consequently, the temple dance and music tradition was hindered to great extent. This was the case mostly in north India as the southern India was much isolated from the Islamic rulers for most of the time. This was also the time when the chamber music was patronised by those ruler. 

Indian musicians also patronized the music in different sects (silsilas) of Sufis saints and their camps (dargahs) sites. But such mendicant could provide less material patronage more of audience. Songs for ecstatic dancing (samah) and in praise of the prophet (qawali) were cultivated at this time only.

Sa re ga ma pa dha ni is the mela aaroh of the modern raga. Besides these seven shuddha notes or svaras there are five variants, making in all twelve notes to a saptak. There are finer variations: these are the shrutis. These are 12 tonal regions rather than notes. All known ragas are grouped within this twelve tone scale. Indeed. it was a Carnatic musicologist - Venkatmukhi of the 17th century, who gave a system of 72 melas formed out of these twelve tones.

By about the 18th century even the standard or shuddha svara in Hindustani music becomes different. 

This period saw the synthesis of musical traditions like Vedic chant tradition, the Persian tradition of Musiqi-e-assīl, and folk traditions. But these changes influenced only the north Indian musical tradition. Hence from now onwards, a parallel development of the two styles of Indian classical music took place - north Indian or Hindustani classical music, and a south Indian or Carnatic classical music. In both styles, the underlying system consists of rāga, tāla (time-mea asure) and laya (tempo). However, their forms, reception and effects are different. See Hindustani verses Carnatic music for more details.

Bhakti Music

"Knowledge of music devoid of devotion can not secure salvation." - Tyāgarāja.

The propounders of this music tradition consider sound as a cosmic principle. The popular verses and songs of the Bhakti saints served as forerunners of a musical renaissance. The devotional compositions were sung by the saint poets and others. They were set to tune and rhythm with drone or stringed or drum-type instruments. Most of the by these compositions were pioneered in the popular languages of the people (as opposed to Sanskrit).

The Indian musician turned to the Hindu ashrams of saints and mendicants. For an average devotee, the ashrams were spaces of spiritual, cultural and aesthetic activity. The music that developed here was largely devotional, hymnical and other-worldly and mostly in vernaculars. In Northern India, earlier vernacular compositions called Prabandhas were first replaced by new compositions in Brijbhashas Hindi called Dhruvapadas and later by Khayals, Thumris, Dadras, etc. In the South, devotional compositions flourished and are now known as Kritis, Varnams, Pallavis, Jawalis etc. They are all in praise of the gods like Kṛṣṇa, Rāma, Śiva, Devī, the power of Nada (sound as a cosmic principle). This music cultivated in the ashrams was also patronised at the royal courts both Islamic and Hindu.

Music as a means of liberation was recognized by the Bhakti poets Jayadeva (11th century), Vidyāpati (14th century), Caṇḍidāsa (14th–15th century) and Mīrabai (16th century).

In South India, Annamacārya and Pūrandāsa (16th–17th century) promoted devotional music, exalting gods. Tyāgarāja (18th–19th century) made contributions to rāga lakṣaṇa, rāga lakṣya, and rāga swarūpa, or in general, to the development of musicology. Bhaja Govindam rendered by M.S. Subbulakṣmī, is also worth mentioning. 

The Bhakti compositions are known as bhajan in Hindustānī music and kīrtanam in Carnatic music. In the South, these compositions are also known as kṛtis, varṇams, pallavīs, jawālīs, etc.

Sufi Music

"The music takes you over completely. It's a healing thing."

The silsilas of Sufis saints and their dargahs valued music as a legitimate method of worship. Sufi spiritual music is often highly-syncopated and hypnotic. They believe in union of the body, spirit and music. 

"Music is the food of the spirit; when the spirit receives food, it turns aside from the government of the body." 

Sufism in India is credited to have kept the music alive in the Muslim world while orthodox Muslims tried to stamp it out. The events of Sufism include secret recitations and annual 40-day retreats known as chilla, Sufi mulids and religious festivals that honor the saints of mosque attract congregation by reciting Sufi poetry and music.

Qawwali (meaning philosophical utterance in Arabic) is a Sufi devotional music having high-pitched and fast-paced singing. It developed in the 13th century Indian subcontinent. It has come to mean performing Sufi poetry to music. Qawwali songs are based on devotional Sufi poems and often have romantic themes which can be interpreted as love between a devotee and God or between a man and a woman.

Modern Period

Later on, in the 20th century, Pt. Bhatkhande, chose 10 out of the 72 to classify Hindustani ragas.

Present State

The variety of music performed in the length and breadth of the nation is still staggeringly large. From the thousands of years old chanting of the Sanskrit mantras of the four Vedas, to the latest film hits, there are tribal and ritual songs of marriage, birth, naming, clothing, bathing, leaving home and death etc. in 28 languages and 600 dialects across the subcontinent. The traditions of Hindustani and Karnataka are moving closer in a healthy interchange. After the independence of India from British occupation in 1947, for three decades classical music was a major source of encouraging national pride at home and abroad.

In spite of its very archaic features Indian music has adapted with ease to the modern technical innovations from the microphone to the microchip without altering any of its content adversely. The technological revolution actually helped its spread within India and over the world to influence the music of many nations. The process of notating and printing the lyrics, so far handed down only orally, began early in the early twentieth century. This was followed by taking the folk and classical performer to the modern concert hall and the radio. Artists were recorded for the gramophone as early as in the West. Indian film industry, which also found its feet very early, consolidated the immense variety of music from all parts of India and transmitted it to the global listener. Through films, it is a major influence on the countries like Iran, Iraq, Turkey, the Gulf and states of Central Asia. In spite of the emergence of global pop, it has succeeded in maintaining its very distinct identity and independence from Western music. Its classical performers have taken it alive to all corners of the world and abounds increasingly in private collections.

Theory of Music

During the time of writing of Natyashastra, certain melodic tunes called the Jatis were in vogue across the Indian subcontinent. This was used to represent gramas (scale-groups), murcchanas (scales), svaras (notes) and shrutis (note intervals).

This system is dealt with in Natyashastra of Bharata. The musical tradition described in theses works was called "gandharva". The then contemporary music recognized two standard scales. These were called gramas. The word grama is derivable from the idea of group or sect: a village, for instance. This probably lead to a set of svaras or notes being called grama. This could roughly be translated as scales. Each grama had seven standard notes and two auxiliary ones.

At that time, the compositions were known as jātis (group) and had ten characteristics.

  • Aṅśa was the dominant note of the melody and a was tonic.
  • Graha was the note with which an exposition begins.
  • Nyāsa was the note on which a phrase stops.

The jātis were derived from the two grāmas (parent scales), seven of them from ṣadaj grāma and eleven from madhyama grāma. Songs were classified on the basis of these jātis. But this classification was not adequate so later, each jāti was split into rāgas. Thus the concept of raga was born and developed out of jati.

There were two gramas prevalent. One was called the Shadja grama, the other one was the Madhyama grama. The difference between the two was that the panchama in madhyama grama was one sruti lower than the panchama in shadja grama. 

From each grama, subsidiary scales caled moorcchanas are derived. The notes are played or sung in a descending manner. There are seven basic notes in a scale, hence there can be seven moorcchanas. Since each note could give a moorcchana, numerous such subsidiary scales could be obtained. There could be sixty-four moorcchanas derivable from two gramas. The resulting tonal orders gave all known classical melodies of those days.

The sruti is the unit of measure or small difference between the various consecutive pitches within a grama or a scale. They are practically twenty two, but in theory srutis employed in Indian music is infinite.

Types of Indian Music

Classical Music

Indian classical music was regarded as a means of self-realization and salvation, rather than simply a means of self-expression. It has one of the most complex and complete musical systems. Like Western classical music, it divides the octave into 12 semitones.

It all began with the melodic patterns of vedic chanting. Rig-Vedic psalms (richas) and religious chants of Yajur Veda were the first musical inventions. Few chapter of the Natya Shastra of Bharata deal with the music.

Later, two main traditions of Indian classical music emerged, both of which had this common musical root. They began to diverge in around the thirteenth century, with the establishment of the Islamic Delhi Sultanate in the north. Sharngadeva (thirteenth century) composed the Sangita Ratnakara is the last to be mentioned by both the Carnatic and the Hindustani traditions, and is thought to date the divergence between the two.

The two traditions in classical music of India are:

  1. Hindustani music: found in the northern and central parts; is considered to have absorbed Persian and Turkic features, introduced by musicians from Persia and Central Asia.
  2. Carnatic music: found predominantly in the peninsular regions of India; relatively aloof from the Islamic rule.

Light classical music

Light classical music is defined as a style of music that follows the rules of raag and taal but adheres to them less strictly than with classical music. In it, anything pleasant to hear (Ranjaka) and suiting the occasion is accepted. It doesn’t impose strict rules on usage of Anya swaras (swaras not belonging to the specific raga) in songs and other aspects such as Bhava, and style are also not adhered traditionally.

Most of the songs in modern films, are not based on a single raga. As they are composed mostly for varying moods, and for the sake of entertainment, mixing more than one Raga adds beauty and gives a varied dimension to the song.

There are many types of music which comes under the category of light classical or semi-classical. Some of the forms are Thumri, Dadra, Ghazal, Chaiti, Kajri, Tappa, Natya Sangeet and Qawwali.

Folk Music

Bhakti Music

Hindustani Music

Hindustani classical music (also called North Indian classical music or Shāstriya Sangīt) is the traditional music of northern areas of the Indian subcontinent, including the modern states of India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Its origins date from the 12th century CE, when it diverged from Carnatic music. It has has strongly influenced Indonesian classical music and Indonesian Dangdut popular music. Its main instruments are tabla, sitar and modern guitars.


Hindustani musical tradition flourished under Mughal court, particularly under Emperor Akbar. Initial generations may have been rooted in cultural traditions outside India, but they gradually adopted many aspects from their kingdoms which retained the traditional Hindu culture. This intermixing later led to new forms of musical synthesis like qawwali and khyal.

Tansen introduced many new ragas and compositions. Raja Mansingh Tomar (1486–1516 CE) of the royal house of Gwalior himself penned several compositions on religious and secular themes including the Mankutuhal ("Book of Curiosity"), which outlined the major forms of music prevalent at the time. Dhrupad form also saw considerable development in his court. Meanwhile, the Bhakti and Sufi traditions continued to develop and interact with the different gharanas and groups.

Some of the pioneers also composed in the popular language of the people (as opposed to Sanskrit). This can be seen as part of a larger Bhakti tradition (mainly a Vaishnavite movement). It includes composers like Kabir, Nanak, Jayadeva (11th century), Vidyapati (fl. 1375 CE), Chandidas (14th–15th century), and Meerabai (1555–1603 CE). Hindustani music displays the tradition of religious neutrality: Muslim ustads may sing compositions in praise of Hindu deities, and Hindu pandits may praise Muslim saints.

Until the late 19th century, Hindustani classical music was imparted on a one-on-one basis through the guru-shishya tradition. This system had many benefits, but also several drawbacks. This tradition later disappeared during the renaissance of Hindustani classical music. This renaissance was brought by the decline of maharajahs and nawabs and rise of two musical stars - Vishnu Digambar Paluskar and Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande. They spread Hindustani classical music to the masses through music conferences, starting schools, teaching music in class-rooms, and devising a standardized grading and testing system, and by standardizing the notation system.

The government-run All India Radio, Bangladesh Betar and Radio Pakistan helped countering the loss of the patronage system. Meanwhile, Hindustani classical music has become popular across the world through the influence of artists such as Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan.

Important Landmarks

  1. During the ancient Indian era, the principles were refined in the musical treatises Natya Shastra, by Bharata (2nd–3rd century CE), and Dattilam (probably 3rd–4th century CE).
  2. In medieval times, the melodic systems were fused with ideas from Persian music, particularly through the influence of Sufi composers like Amir Khusro, and later in the Mughal courts. Increasingly, musicians received patronage in the courts of the new local rulers, who in their turn, started taking increasing interest in local music forms. Noted composers such as Tansen flourished, along with religious groups like the Vaishnavites.
  3. After the 16th century, the singing styles diversified into different gharanas patronized in different princely courts.
  4. Around 1900, Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande consolidated the musical structures of Hindustani classical music, called ragas, into a number of thaats.

Characteristics of Hindustani Music

  • Indian classical music has seven basic notes with five interspersed half-notes, resulting in a 12-note scale.
  • Ragas are particular ascending and descending of notes. They must have at least five notes and they are of three types, (Jatis) Ourab - five notes, Sharab - six notes, Sampurna - Seven notes. Ragas may originate from any source, including religious hymns, bhajans, folklore, folk tunes and music from outside the Indian subcontinent.
  • Thaats should have seven notes. From one thaat several ragas can be composed. At times the thaats are named after the most popular raga of the thaat, scale.
  • Bhajans of Meera Bai, compositions of her guru Haridas (teacher of Tansen too), compositions of other saints like Surdas, Tulsidas, Nanak, etc are based on ragas.
  • Hindustan music follows the mood theory of emotions (navarasa ). Every raga is associated with a particular rasa.
  • Ragas also have specific timings of the day and night. There are morning ragas, ragas of the noon, afternoon, ragas of the evening,  ragas of the night, ragas of the dusk and dawn. Also, ragas suitable for particular seasons like the Spring,summer, Monsoon, winter.
  • It is primarily vocal-centric. Even many instruments were designed to emulate the human voice.
  • 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 flesh out its characteristics. The alap is followed by a long slow-tempo improvisation in vocal music, or by the jod and jhala in instrumental music.

Forms of Hindustani Music

The vocal forms associated with the Hindustani music tradition can be further thought of in two senses. This is based on the strictness of adherence to the rules of classical music.

  • Classical vocal forms: dhrupad, khyal, and tarana.
  • Light classical or semi classical forms: dhamar, trivat, chaiti, kajari, tappa, tap-khyal, ashtapadis, thumri, dadra, ghazal and bhajan; these often do not adhere to the rigorous rules of classical music.


It is a Sanskrit name, derived from the words dhruva (immovable, permanent) and pad (verse), a combination that means "pillar".

Dhrupada (or Dhruvapada) is  one of the core forms of classical music found all over the Indian subcontinent including in Carnatic tradition. It is an ancient form of Indian music and it is described in Natyashastra.

Dhrupad was the main form of northern Indian classical music until two centuries ago. When Khyal evolved from it, it became more popular due to its free-form style of singing and decreasing patronage from rulers. Efforts by a few proponents, especially from the Dagar family, have led to its revival and eventual popularization.


  • Dhrupad is traditionally performed by male singers. It is performed with a tambura and a pakhawaj as instrumental accompaniments. The lyrics, some of which were written in Sanskrit centuries ago, are presently often sung in brajbhasha. The rudra veena, an ancient string instrument, is used in instrumental music in dhrupad.
  • It is spiritual, heroic, thoughtful, virtuous, embedding moral wisdom or solemn form of song-music combination. Though it is primarily devotional in theme and content, other subjects from religious and spiritual (mostly in praise of Hindu deities) to royal panegyrics, musicology and romance are also portrayed. Some Dhrupadas were also composed to praise kings
  • Structure: It has two parts. The first is anibaddha section which is free alap. The second is sanchari dhrupad proper. It is a song in four parts: the asthayee, the antara, the Sanchari and the abhoga.
    Dhrupad compositions begin with a relatively long and acyclic alap. It gradually unfolds into more rhythmic jod and jhala sections. These sections are followed by a rendition of bandish, with the pakhawaj as an accompaniment.
  • A lighter form of dhrupad, called dhamar, is sung primarily during the festival of Holi.
  • Gharanas: There are many schools or vanis. Important are Dagar gharana, Darbhanga gharana and Bettish gharana (West Bengal)
  • Important musicians: Man Singh Tomar, the Maharaja of Gwalior was mainly responsible for the enormous vogue of dhrupad. Shri Shribhatta, Swami Haridas (guru of Tansen), Tansen were also the greatest proponent of dhrupad style. Other important singers are members of the Dagar lineage, Gundecha Brothers, Mallik family of Darbhanga tradition.


Khyal literally means "thought" or "imagination". It is said to have evolved out of Dhrupad and it is more lyrical. Some scholars consider its roots in ancient roopaka alaps. Later Amir Khusrou gave it an impetus in the 13th century. Sultan Mohammed Sharkhi of the 15th century is credited with encouraging this form. However, it attained its maturity at the hands of Niyamat Khan Sadarang and Adarang of the 18th century. Khyal's romanticism has led to it becoming the most popular genre of Hindustani classical music.


  • The lyric is of an emotional account possibly from poetic observation.
  • It is more free and flexible form, and it provides greater scope for improvisation.
  • Khyal contains a greater variety of embellishments and ornamentations compared to dhrupad.
  • The themes of subject cover diverse topics, such as romantic or divine love, praise of kings or gods, the seasons, dawn and dusk, and the pranks of Krishna, and they can have symbolism and imagery
  • A khyal song is called a bandish which are typically composed in a variant of Urdu/Hindi, Punjabi.
  • Gharanas:These are schools of singing founded or developed by various individuals or patrons such as kings or noblemen.

    The oldest of these is the Gwalior gharana. Other important ones are the Agra Gharana, the Jaipur Atroli gharana and the
    Rampur Saheswan gharana.


Tarana is a Persian word meaning a song. Tillana (a form in Carnatic music) is a corrupt form of this word. Tarana is a form in which certain words and syllables (e.g. "odani", "todani", "tadeem" and "yalali") based on Persian and Arabic phonemes are rendered at a medium or fast pace.

It was invented by Amir Khusro (1253-1325 CE). Before him since the time of Bharatmuni, Nirgit songs were in vogue which too had meaningless words. But they used hard consonants. Khusro used soft persian consonants and also some Hindi words to give some sense to it.

In modern times, it is most researched and promoted by singer Amir Khan. Sikh tenth Guru Sri Guru Gobind Singh also used Tarana in his compositions, like "jagardang nagardang bagardang".


Tappa is a form of semi-classical vocal music with rolling pace based on fast, subtle and knotty construction. Its tunes are melodious, sweet and depict the emotional outbursts of a lover.

Tappa style originated from the folk songs of the camel riders of Punjab which was later refined and introduced to the imperial court of the Mughals and Nawab of Awadh. In Bengal, Ramnidhi Gupta composed Bengali tappe and they are called as Nidhu Babu's Tappa. Ramkumar Chattopadhyay was perhaps the most significant vocal proponent in recent times, of the tappa style in Bengal. He is renowned for his semi-humorous renditions with his comical incorporation of English into the Bengali lyrics.


Thumrī is a semi-classical genre which is said to have begun in Uttar Pradesh with the court of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah (19th century). The term 'thumri' is derived from the Hindi verb thumakna which means "to walk with dancing steps so as to make the ankle-bells tinkle."

  • The form is, thus, connected with dance, dramatic gestures, mild eroticism, evocative love poetry and folk songs of Uttar Pradesh, with some regional variations.
  • It has a greater flexibility with the raag. The musical grammar is not strictly adered to.
  • The text is romantic or devotional in nature, and usually revolves around a girl's love for Krishna.
  • The lyrics are usually in Uttar Pradesh dialects of Hindi called Awadhi and Brij Bhasha.
  • There are two styles of thumri singing: the Poorab or Banaras which is fairly slow and staid and the Punjab style which is more mercurial.
  • Rasoolan Devi, Siddheshwari Devi are prominent musicians of this style.

Carnatic Music

In Haripala's "Sangeeta Sudhakara", (14th century A.D.), the terms Carnatic and Hindustani appeared for the first time. The distinction between these two styles came into vogue after the advent of the Muslims, particularly during the reign of the Mughal Emperors of Delhi. Carnatic music remained relatively uninfluenced by the Persian and Turkish musical traditions of Islamic rulers and continued to develop along its own original lines.

South Indian Music flourished in Deogiri - the capital city of the Yadavas. When Muslim rulers plundered the city, the center of this musical tradition was shifted to Vijayanagara which was under the reign of Krishnadevaraya. Thereafter it came to be known as Carnatic music.

Important Landmarks

  • Purandaradasa (15th Century): Also called as "Carnatic Sangeeta Pitamaha", he systematised and refined the Carnatic music which has remained the same till today. His system of teaching music prevails even today. His kirtanas are popularly referred to as Dasara Padas or Devarnamas.
  • Melakarta system by Venkatamakhi (17th Century): His work Chaturdandi Prakasika introduced a new Melakarta scheme with a systematic formula to includes within its fold all the modes used in ancient as well as modern systems of music of the different parts of the world. It made raga creation much easier leading to wonderful enrichment of the music.
  • Musical Trinity (18th and 19th Centuries): Rise of Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri put the Carnatic music to the zenith of artistic excellence.

Forms of Carnatic Music

  • Nibadha and Anibadha Sangeeta, that is, Kalpita sangeeta and Manodharma sangeeta or improvised music

The survey of these forms is given below. The related forms are grouped together only to make it easy to remember. This is not a classification in scientific terms.

Gitam, Suladi, Swarajatis, Jatisvaram


  • It is a music taught to beginners as it has simplest type of composition. It is just an extension of the raga in which it is composed.
  • Usually a devotional theme with no repetitions, uniform tempo, no dividing sections in composition, no intricate variations
  • Pillari gitas: Purandaradasa's introductory gitas in praise of Ganesha, Maheswara and Vishnu
    Lakshya gitas or Samanya gitas: describe the Lakshanas of the raga


  • Much similar to the gitam in structure, it has comparatively higher standard.
  • Devotional theme


  • Learnt after gitams, these are comparatively more complicated
  • Devotional, heroic or amorous themes
  • It has three sections, called Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charanam


  • Much similar to svarajati in musical structure, but has no sahitya or words
  • belonging to the realm of dance music
  • known for rhythmical excellence and the jati pattern used in it

Kirtanam and Kriti


  • First in the 14th century, Its significance lies in the devotional content
  • Simple music but more bhakti bhava
  • Composed in all the important traditional ragas and set to simple talas


  • Developed from the Kirtanam, it is a highly evolved musical form with very high aesthetic excellence
  • Development of Kriti led to the emergence of definite styles in musical compositions
  • Musical trinity has made tremendous contribution in the form of kritis

Varnam, Padam, Javalis


  • These are scholarly compositions in Telegu and Tamil.
  • Mainly composed as dance forms, they are also sung in concerts due to their aesthetic appeal
  • Music is slow-moving and dignified, and balance of music and words is maintained
  • Theme is madhura bhakti, portrayed as bahir sringara and antar bhakti
  • All the nava rasas are portrayed in padas, though sringara is the main theme
  • Characters of nayaka represents the Lord (Paramatma), nayika represents the Devotees (jeevatma) and the sakhi  represents the Guru


  • They belong to the light classical music
  • Sung in concert programmes and dance concerts
  • Popular because of the attractive melodies
  • Whereas padas portray divine love, javalis are sensuous in concept and spirit
  • Like padas, these too have the nayaka, nayika and sakhi theme but there is no dual interpretation of content
  • Javalis resemble the Thumris of Hindustani Music

Ragam, Tanam, Palliavi


  • It is a raga alapana in or medium speed
  • It has a perceptible rhythm in this
  • It uses the word 'Anantam ' is to merge with the musical patterns


  • Word Pallavi comes from Padam (words), Layam (time), Vinyasam (variations)
  • This is the most important branch of creative music with scope for displaying creative talents, imaginative skill, and musical intelligence.
  • Diverse themes though devotional themes are preferred
  • No precomposition of sahitya nor of music. The singer has the choice to choose the sahitya, the raga and the tala.
  • It is much common to the Khyal of Hindustani music
  • 'Niraval ' is a necessary part of Pallavi. It means filling up by adjustments.


  • Having birth in 18th century, Tillana is similar to Tarana form of Hindustani music
  • Word Tillana has no particular meaning as it is constituted of just syllables Ti, La and Na
  • It is short and appealing music. Hence usually used as a concluding part of a concert
  • A sahitya is sprinkled in between which may be Sanskrit, Telugu or Tamil

Comparison of Hindustani and Carnatic Musical Traditions

 Hindustani TraditionCarnatic Tradition
Common Featuresfundamental concepts of pitch (svara), melody type (raga, known as rag in the north and ragam in the South) and meter (tala, tal in the North and talam in the South)
similar types of performance ensembles
Also known asNorth Indian Classical Music or Shāstriya SangeetKarnataka Sangeetha
Region of InfluenceNorthern and central parts where Indo-Aryan languages are spoken; in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh

Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where Dravidian languages are spoken;

Some areas of Karnataka and Andra Pradesh practice Hindustani tradition

influencesAncient Hindu musical traditions, historical Vedic philosophy, Persian and Turkic influenceIndigenous music influenced by the pan-Indian bhakti movement
Stylecomposition which is set to a meter and from which extemporized variations are generatedfixed and memorized composition and its memorized variations
Musical forms designed for vocal performance, and many instruments were designed to emulate the human voiceemphasis is on vocal music; most compositions are written to be sung, and even when played on instruments, they are meant to be performed in a singing style
Pt. Bhatkhande in 20th century, used 10 of the 72 melas to classify Hindustani ragasVenkatmukhi in the 17th century gave a system of 72 melas
 This tradition has a gharana system leading to diverse styles and regional variation in renditionNo clear cut demarcations in the style of musical presentation, like the gharana system
Scopemostly a popular musicmostly a court or temple music
Famous vocal formsmajor vocal forms associated are dhrupad, khayal, and thumri 
Famous persons
  • most influential musician from the Delhi Sultanate period was Amir Khusrau (1253-1325) who is also known as the father of Hindustani classical music;
  • Kabir and Nanak of Bhakti tradition composed in the popular language of the people
  • Jayadeva (eleventh century), Vidyapati (1375), Chandidas (fourteenth-fifteenth century), and Meerabai (1555-1603), Tansen
  • Purandara Dasa (1480 - 1564), known as the father (Pitamaha) of Carnatic music
  • Trinity of Carnatic music: Tyagaraja, Shyama Shastry and Muthuswami Dikshitar
  • Venkatamakhin classified the ragas into the Melakarta System; he also wrote Chaturdandi Prakasika
  • Govindacharya expanded the Melakarta Scheme into the Sampoorna raga system, which is the system in common use today
PatronageIn the twentieth century, as the power of the maharajahs and nawabs waned, their patronage of Hindustani music declined
  • growth during Vijayanagar Empire through the Kannada Haridasa movement of Vyasaraja, Purandara Dasa, Kanakadasa
RevivalMostly by All India Radio, Radio Pakistan, film industry and public media 

Musical Instruments

Musical Instruments are said to be extensions of our body. From a simple gesture of clapping to most complex musical instruments, these are the medium of expression and transmission of our emotions.

Indian musical instruments have a  rich history. It can be traced back to find mention in Vedic literature (2500 BC-1000 BC), Natya Shastra and in Sangeet Ratnakar (13th Century). Cave paintings of Ajanta and Ellora also depict different musical instruments.


The general classification can have two kinds of musical instruments - Melodic musical instruments and Rhythmic or percussion instruments.

First systematic classification of musical instruments in India dates back to the Natyashastra. Another important basis of classification is given in Sangita Ratnakara.

According to Natyashastra

According to Natyashastra, classical musical instruments were classified in four major categories: Tata vadya, avanaddha, sushira and ghana vadya. This system of classification is very much similar Hornbostel–Sachs system which is popular today.

According to Sangita Damodara, each of these four types are favourite of some mythological characters: Tata Vadyas of God, Avnaddha Vadyas of the Rakshasas, Sushira Vadyas of Gandharvas, Ghana Vadyas of Kinnars.

  1. Tata Vadya (String Instruments)
    String Instruments are also known as ‘Chordophones’ in modern time. These instruments can be played by plucking with a nail or a striker (plectrum) and or with a bow as in a Violin.

    These instruments are considered as God's favorite ones. For instance, Veena (mother of all the string instruments) was played by goddess Saraswati and messenger of god Narad. This tells us that how ancient are these instruments.

    Subcategories: Plucked strings, bowed strings, other string instruments

    Plucked strings: Bulbul Tarang, Dotara, Ektara, Getchu Vadyam or Jhallari, Gopiyantra, Gottuvadhyam or Chitravina, Katho, Sarod, Sitar, Tambura, Tumbi, Tuntuna, Veena.

    Bowed strings: Chikara, Dilruba, Ektara violin, Esraj, Onavillu, Behala (violin type), Pena or Bana, Pulluvan veena - one stringed violin, sarangi, Tar shehnai.

    Other string instruments: Gethu or Jhallari, Gubguba or Jamuku - Percussion string instrument, Pulluvan kutam, Santoor - Hammered chord box
  2. Avanaddha (Instruments covered with membrane)
    In modern times this category is also known as ‘Membrane phones’ or Vitata vadya. vanaddya means “to be covered”, therefore, an instrument wherein a vessel or a frame is covered with leather is an Avanaddha Vadya. These instruments are of drum species and are hollow from inside and covered by a thick membrane. These instruments are used for keeping rhythm and time.

    These can be played with a striker, fingers and palms. Lord Shiva is believed to be the originator of this category as he used a Damroo in performing cosmic dance.

    Subcategories: Hand drums, hand frame drums, stick and hand drums, stick drums.

    Examples: ‘Bhoomi Dundubhi’ is the most ancient instrument of percussion. Khanjira, Dhol, Nagada, Tabla, Mridanga are some of the examples.
  3. Sushira vadya (Wind Instruments)
    These instruments have their origin in primitive age as well as the later civilised societies. In India, these have great significance in social and religious functions. These are either mouth blown or bellows blown like bugles, trumpets, horns and different types of flute. In India, flutes are usually made by bamboo pieces.


    Blown- with mouth by breath: like flute, shahnai, mouth organ etc.
    Blown- with some mechanical devices: like, harmonium.

  4. Ghana (Solid Instruments)
    Played with a striker or hammer, these instruments do not produce finite pitches. These are the musical instruments which are stuck against one another, such as Cymbals. Sound is produced due to the resonance by the conclusion of two solid bodies. Hence they can not produce the melody and consequently these are used rarely in Indian classical music.

    Examples: Kansya Tata, Ghanta, Kshudra Ghantika, Jaya-Ghanta, Kanuna, Jaltaranga, Nala-Taranga,Kashta-Taranga and Kartala.

The classification given by Bharata is still valid. But there are a few instruments which cannot be classified under these four heads. For instance, Tarang vadya such as Jal-tarang, Kashtha–tarang, Nal-tarang, Tabla-tarang and Mridanga–tarang etc. Then there are Electrophones which emerged in recent times like as Electronic Tanpura, Talmala and Talometere, etc.

According to the Sangita Ratnakara

It classifies the musical instruments on the basis of function of the instruments:

  1. Sushkam (solo playing)
  2. Gitanugam (accompaniment to vocal music)
  3. Nrittanugam (accompaniment to dance)
  4. Dvayanugam (accompaniment to both dance and vocal music)


Created by Vishal E on 2019/01/11 13:06
Translated into en by Vishal E on 2019/01/11 13:06


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