Indian History : Indian Classical Music


The origins of Indian classical music can be found from the oldest of the scriptures, Vedas. The Samveda, one of the four vedas, describes music at length. Indian classical is heavily influenced by the spirituality and hence it has its origins as a meditation tool for attaining self realization. However, Bharat’s Natyashastra is 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.

The two main streams of Indian classical music are:

Hindustani music

The Prime themes of Hindustani music are romantic love, nature and devotionals. Players of tabla, usually  keep the rhythm in Hindustani music. Another common instrument is the stringed tanpura, which is played at a steady tone throughout the performance of the raga. Other instruments for accompaniment include the sarangi and the harmonium. In Hindustani music, the performance usually begins with a slow elaboration of the raga, known as alap. 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 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 (the 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 music is similar to Hindustani music in that it is improvised. Primary themes include worship, descriptions of temples, philosophy, nayakanayaki themes and patriotic songs. Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri are known as the Trinity of Carnatic music, while Purandara Dasa is often called the father of Carnatic music.

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