Music of India

Indian classical music

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The origins of Indian classical music can be found from the oldest of scriptures, part of the Hindu tradition, the Vedas. Samaveda, one of the four Vedas, describes music at length. 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. The Samaveda, one of the four Vedas, created out of Riga-Veda so that its hymns could be sung as Samagana established its first principles. Hindustani classical music has its origin as a form of meditation, though available mainly to an elite audience.

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 Si Do. However, it uses the just intonation tuning (unlike 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.

The two main streams of Indian classical music are:

* Hindustani classical music, originally from North India
* Carnatic music (Karnataka Sangeeth), originally from South India

Hindustani music

Players of the tabla, a type of drum, usually keep the rhythm in Hindustani Music. Another common instrument is the stringed tambura (also known as 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. The prime themes of Hindustani music are Rasleela (Hindu devotionals) of Lord Rama, Krishna and Nature.

In Hindustani Music, the performance usually begins with a slow elaboration of the raga, known as alap. This can range from very 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 jor. Finally, the percussionist joins in and the tala is introduced
Carnatic music

Carnatic raga elaborations are generally much faster in tempo and shorter. 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 can also be fixed; these are famous compositions that are popular among those who appreciate Carnatic (especially vocal) music.

Carnatic music is similar to Hindustani music in that it is mostly improvised (see musical improvisation), but it is much more influenced by theory and has stricter rules. It emphasizes the expertise of the voice rather than that of the instruments. Primary themes include Devi worship, Rama worship, descriptions of temples and patriotic songs. Sri Purandara Dasa(1480 – 1564) is known as the father of Carnatic music. Tyagaraja (1759 – 1847), Muthuswami Dikshitar (1776 – 1827) and Syama Sastri (1762 – 1827) are know as Trinity of Carnatic music.


There have been many great exponents of Hindustani music. Some of them are Allauddin Khan, Vilayat Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Abdul Karim Khan, Vasantrao Deshpande, Ustad Amir Khan, Salamat Ali, Mallikarjun Mansur, Omkarnath Thakur, Bismillah Khan, Gangubai Hangal, Bhimsen Joshi, Kishori Amonkar, Kumar Gandharva, Pandit Jasraj, Ravi Shankar, Vijay Raghav Rao, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Zakir Hussain, Sumitra Guha, Pandit Bhajan Sopori, Shivkumar Sharma, Annapurna Devi, Ali Akbar Khan, and Aashish Khan, Pt. Vishwanath Rao Ringe among other notable performers.

Among the most popular living performers of Carnatic Music are D. K. Pattammal, Dr.M.Balamuralikrishna, Dr. K. J. Yesudas, T V Sankaranarayanan, Madurai T N Seshagopalan, Aruna Sayeeram, Sudha Ragunathan, Bombay Jayashree and T N Krishnan. M. S. Subbulakshmi was one of the greatest carnatic vocalists ever. M L Vasanthakumari, G N Balasubramaniam, Dr. S. Ramanathan, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar, Vidwan. Gopala Pillai are famous musical legends who lived in the last century.

Emperor Akbar Enjoying Music

Emperor Akbar Enjoying Music

Carnatic music

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Carnatic music, also known as karṇāṭaka sangÄ«tam is one of the two styles of Indian classical music, the other being Hindustani music. The present form of Carnatic music is based on historical developments that can be traced to the th – th centuries CE and thereafter. From the several epigraphical inscriptional evidences and other ancient works, the history of classical musical traditions can be traced back about years.

In Carnatic music, the main emphasis 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 (known as gāyaki).

Like Hindustani music, Carnatic music rests on two main elements: rāga, the modes or melodic formulæ, and tāḷa, the rhythmic cycles.
Origins and history

See also: List of Carnatic Music Treaties

Like all art forms in Indian culture, Carnatic Music is believed to have a divine origin – it is believed to have originated from the Devas and Devis. However, it is also generally accepted that the natural origins of music were an important factor in the development of Carnatic music. Ancient treatises describe the connection of the origin of swaras to the sounds of animals and birds, and man’s keen sense of observation and perception that tried simulating these sounds – after hearing and distinguishing between the different sounds that emanated from bamboo reed when air passes through its hollows, man designed the first flute. In this way, music is venerated as an aspect of the supreme (nāda brāhmam). Folk music is also said to have been a natural origin of Carnatic music, with many folk tunes corresponding to certain Carnatic ragas (discussed later).

The Vedas are generally accepted as the main probable source of Indian music. The Sama Veda is said to have laid the foundation for Indian music, and consists mainly of hymns of Rigveda, set to musical tunes which would be sung using three to seven musical notes during Vedic sacrifices. The Yajur-Veda, which mainly consists of sacrificial formulae, mentions the veena as an accompaniment to vocal recitations during the sacrifices.

References to Indian classical music are made in many ancient religious texts, including epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The Yajnavalkya Smriti mentions “Veena vadhana tathvangna sruti, jathi, visartha talanjaaprayasena moksha margam niyachathi” (“The one who is well versed in veena, one who has the knowledge of srutis and one who is adept in tala, attains salvation without doubt.”) Carnatic music is based on music concepts mentioned in Bharata’s Natya Shastra.. The Natya Shastra mentions many musical concepts (including swara and tala) that continue to be relevant to Carnatic music today.

According to some scholars, Carnatic music shares certain classical music concepts with ancient Tamil music. The concept of Pann is related to Ragas used in Carnatic music.. The rhythmic meters found in several musical forms (such as the Tiruppugazh) and other ancient literature, resemble the talas that are in use today

Both Carnatic and Hindustani music shared a common history. Since the late th and early th centuries, as a result of the increasing Persian influence (and as a result of the Islamic conquest) in North India, Hindustani Music started evolving as a separate genre, while Carnatic music was relatively unaffected by these Arabic and Iranian influences. In Carnatic Music (which was based in South India), the pan-Indian bhakti movement laid a substantial basis as far as the use of religious themes are concerned, while major developments post th century also contributed to its divergence from Hindustani music.

Carnatic music saw renewed growth during the Vijayanagar Empire by the Kannada Haridasa movement of Vyasaraja, Purandara Dasa, Kanakadasa and others. Purandara Dasa who is known as the Sangeeta Pitamaha (the grandfather of Carnatic music) laid out the fundamental tenets and framework for teaching Carnatic music.. Venkatamakhin is credited with the classification of ragas in the Melakarta System and wrote his most important work; Chaturdandi Prakasika (c. CE) in Sanskrit. Govindacharya expanded the Melakarta Scheme into the Sampoorna raga system, which is the system in common use today.

Even though the earlier writers Matanga, Sarangadeva and others also were from Karnataka, the music tradition was formally named Karnataka Sangeetha for the first time only in the th Century when the Vijayanagara empire was founded.

A unique development in the art of instrumental carnatic music took shape under the patronage of the kings of the Kingdom of Mysore in the th through th centuries. The composers used to play their compositions on instruments such as the veena, rudra veena, violin, tambura, ghata, flute, mridangam, nagaswara, swarabhat. Some instruments such as harmonium, sitar and jaltarang, though uncommon to the southern region came into use and the English influence popularised the saxophone and piano. Even royalty of this dynasty were noted composers and proficient in playing musical instruments, solo or in concert with others. Some famous instrumentalists were Veena Sheshanna(-), Veena Subbanna (-), T. Chowdiahand others.
Nature of Carnatic music

Carnatic music is practised and presented today by musicians in concerts or recordings, either vocally or through instruments. Carnatic music itself developed around musical works or compositions of phenomenal composers (see below).

In contrast to Hindustani Music of the northern part of India, Carnatic music is taught and learned through compositions, which encode many intricate musical details, also providing scope for free improvisation. Nearly every rendition of a Carnatic music composition is different and unique as it embodies elements of the composers vision, as well as the musician’s interpretation.

A Carnatic composition really has two elements, one being the musical element, the other being what is conveyed in the composition. It is probably because of this fact that most Carnatic music compositions are composed for singing. In addition to the rich musical experience, each composition brings out the knowledge and personality of the composer, and hence the words are as important as the musical element itself. This poses a special challenge for the musicians because rendering this music does not involve just playing or singing the correct musical notes; the musicians are expected to understand what was conveyed by the composer in various languages, and sing musical phrases that act to create the effect that was intended by the composer in his/her composition.

There are many types/forms of compositions. Geethams and Swarajatis (which have their own peculiar composition structures) are principally meant to serve as basic learning exercises, and while there are many other types/forms of compositions (including Padam, Javali and Thillana), the most common forms are the Varnam, and most importantly, the Kriti (or Keerthanam), which are discussed below.


This is a special item which highlights everything important about a raga; not just the scale, but also which notes to stress, how to approach a certain note, classical and characteristic phrases, etc. Though there are a few different types of varnams, in essence, they all have a pallavi, an anupallavi, muktayi swaras, a charana, and chittaswaras. They are sung in multiple speeds, and are very good for practice. In concerts, varnams are often sung at the beginning as they are fast and grab the audience’s attention.


Carnatic songs (kritis) are varied in structure and style, but generally consist of three units:

. Pallavi. This is the equivalent of a refrain in Western music. One or two lines.
. Anupallavi. The second verse. Also two lines.
. Charana. The final (and longest) verse that wraps up the song. The Charanam usually borrows patterns from the Anupallavi. There can be multiple charanas.

This kind of song is called a keerthanam or a Kriti. There are other possible structures for a Kriti, which may in addition include swara passages named chittaswara. Chittaswara consists only of notes, and has no words. Still others, have a verse at the end of the charana, called the madhyamakāla. It is sung immediately after the charana, but at double speed.

Musical Instruments of India

















We have an Amateur Music Group in Charleston consisting of about 20 to 25 couples of Indian origin whetting their whistles with classical and movie songs and practicing their instruments. We meet once every month for a serious practice session. Interested singers and musicians, please contact Shashidhar Pai at for further information.