Indian Music

During the sixteenth century, Indian music took a definite turnaround. This was the time when, the distinction between North Indian (Hindustani) and South Indian (Carnatic) music was clearly defined. The music prevailing in the northern region of the country was more open to external influences. The reason behind that was strong and well spread Muslim presence in the north. Indian Classical music, both Hindustani and Carnatic was a mixture of both instrumental and vocal. People who follow Indian music believe that the vocalists truly embody the Indian music in its utmost splendor. But we can not ignore the fact that, instrumental music has a great following.


As northern music started taking prominence, Carnatic music also started to incorporate unfamiliar foreign instruments in its mainstream. This was their idea of proving themselves at being proficient as far as adopting new music was concerned. This was the time when, violin which was an unknown instrument by then, made an entry into repertoire of Carnatic music. Who would have expected violin to make such a strong impact in the coming time. The world has seen many great violinists in the twentieth century who have mesmerized the world with their astonishing talents. Other major change in Indian music was the performance place. It was a tradition to perform music in homes of the elite class citizens, temples and other such places like congregation of few people who used to enjoy music. Today, it’s mostly concert halls





It’s a little surprising to know but, traditionally, Indian songs were composed in Sanskrit. But going by the historians, arrival of sixteenth century brought new changes in songs as well. During this time, songs were started to be composed in various dialects of Hindi. Dialects like Bhojpuri and Braj Bhasa were main Hindi dialects. Apart from Hindi dialects, songs were also composed in Urdu and Persian


That era saw vast usage of songs written by great poet-saints like Tulsidas, Surdas, Kabir and Mirabai. All these songs were sung with great taste in vernacular tongues. These songs brought forth a devotional (or Bhakti) movements. These songs are still very popular amongst masses and can be heard in hinterland in the times of celebrations and festivals.


India is also credited to introduce few of the musical instruments to the world. Instruments like Sitar and Tabla are strictly associated with Indian music. Apart from these two, there are many instruments which we may not be familiar with. When we look at the Indian music history; it is no less complex and fascinating than Indian arts in general. But as we delve deep into the exciting ocean of Indian music, we keep finding pearls. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that, attempting to understand Indian music is a lifetime job.

The term “Rag” can be generally likened with the Western expression “mode or scale”. Rag is primarily an arrangement of seven notes which are arranged in a way not different from Western scales. But a closer look will make us see that it is pretty different from what we are familiar with. Whereas, the Tal (rhythmic forms), much like Rag are quite complex.  In Tal, numerous regular rhythmic patterns exist and they gyrate around recurring patterns of beats.


One interesting fact is, understanding of the rag and the Tal differs all across India.  The classical Indian music has two key traditions. North Indian, also known as Hindustani Sangeet and the south Indian tradition, popularly known as Carnatic Sangeet. Fundamentally, both systems are quite alike but vary in taxonomy and performance practice.


Looking into history, The Islamic presence was beginning to be felt in India somewhere around 13th-14th century. Many historical books credit “Amir Khusro” for the initiation of classical Indian music system. Muslim rulers are credited to nourish music. One shining example of this fact is presence of “Tansen”, one of the major jewels of Akbar’s court. Tansen was a famous composer cum musician of that era. Many Muslim rulers and other cultural bigwigs extended their patronage to Indian music which greatly helped Indian music to flourish.

The first sign of the evolution of Indian music came from a book called “Natyasastra” written by Bharata. The exact era of the conception of this book is not confirmed yet but it has been estimated to be composed sometime between the 2nd century BC and the 5th century AD.  The Natyasastra is an exposition on the Dramatic Arts. This work has ever since exercised an immense influence on the progress of Indian dance, music and the performing arts in general.


The Indian music is based upon the concept of “Sangeet” which is a beautiful amalgamation of three wonderful forms of art, namely, instrumental music, vocal music and dance. Initially these three forms of art originated from a solitary field of stagecraft. But with passage of time, these three artfroms have evolved into multifaceted and vastly superior individual art forms. The current structure of Indian music is based upon two significant pillars of “Rag” and “Tal”.  Rag is the melodic form while Tal is the rhythmic. The term raga was first mentioned in detail in a work from the 10th century called the Brhaddesi, credited to Matanga. Sometime, during 13th century, the theorist Sarngadeva, who had authored the great work Sangitaratnakara, listed 264 ragas.

Indian music is one of the oldest musical societies in the world. The Indian music has a proud history and rich cultural base. Music has always been an intrinsic part of Indian population. It is believed that, Indian music exists since the time of Vedas (Ancient Hindu scripture). There are many legends about the origin and growth of Indian music. Few of them say, chanting of Vedic hymns gave birth to Indian music system. Few references of diverse set of instruments, like string, wind instruments, drums, cymbals etc have been found in Vedas. Though, many researches also express the possibility of existence of musical culture during Indus valley civilization. But, not much is known about Indus valley, so it can’t be confirmed. Though, this researches and legends greatly emphasize the magnitude of music in Indian culture. Music has always ruled the imagination of not only India but also surrounding regions of south Asia. India has a diverse set of music culture. From simple melodies and hill tribe songs to classical music, India has it all.


Many modern, historical and cultural researches have been conducted on the subject of Indian music. Indian music has developed within a very multifaceted interface between dissimilar peoples of dissimilar races and traditions. It does seem that the cultural diversity of modern day India has been greatly influenced by the rich musical heritage we have from the earliest of times.