Indian Classical Music

Indian Classical Music

A classical Indian music performance generally comprises of the vocalist and the instrument- playing musicians. Certain classical ensembles would probably not have a vocalist, as is the case with classical instrumental performances. Traditionally the classical music of India was distinguished into two forms:

  • Those compositions comprising of alaps, which is basically movements that are free in time and do not require percussion instruments
  • Those musical performances that were fixed in time and required a percussion instrument.
  • However, presently classical Indian music classified as
  • Hindustani: This form of classical music has been continuously evolving over time and originates from all other parts of India, except the southern states  
  • Carnatic: This classification of music hails from the southern part of India and has continued to maintain its original form as it has traveled through centuries since its origination.

The origins of classical Indian music is said to date back to over 5000 years ago. Basically this genre of music came about to serve a spiritual purpose. The melodies that were composed brought about feelings of peace, calm, tranquility, serenity, bliss and a closer bond with god. In fact according to the Vedas, music is considered to be a divine gift to humanity.

Prior to the invasion of the Mughals, India had more or less uniform musical creations. However, the invasion of the Mughals brought with it the influence of Arabic and Persian culture. This is when Hindustani music took birth and shifted the north Indian musical compositions from spiritual to entertaining. The Carnatic style of music continues to be purely classical, till date.

The composition of Hindustani music is based on ragas, which are the scales that comprise of the seven basic notes. These are sa, re, ga, ma pa, dha and ni. The commonly played musical instruments of this genre of Indian classical music include the sitar, surbahar, sarod, sarangi, santoor, bansuri, pakhavaj and tabla.

This genre of Indian classical music is said to have originated in the 13th and 14th centuries when north India was invaded by the Mughals. It was at then that influences of Arabia and Persia permeated into the north Indian classical compositions, distinguishing it from that of south India. As the south Indian states remained untouched by these invasions their compositions continued to progress maintaining the ancient heritage. However, there did develop a distinction in the kind of music composed by the northern and southern regions of India.   

A Hindustani music performance commences with the alap, which is a slow invocation of free rhythm. This is followed by a jhod, which is a rhythmic piece. The rapid rhythm called jhala comes next. The next stage is the gat, which introduces the percussions. This stage moves from slow, to medium paced to rapid. And finally the performance concludes with the alap.

The following are the popular variations of Hindustani music:

  • Hori Dhamar are compositions associated with the colorful festival of Holi
  • Tappa is a style of Hindustani music that has originated from he state of Punjab
  • Thumri has come into being from the eastern section of Uttar Pradesh. The compositions contain lyrics that portray the life of Lord Krishna and his beloved Radha
  • Ghazal is a collection of couplets clubbed together and set to a soothing musical tune
  • Tarana are songs sung to convey bliss, happiness and contentment
  • Thumri is an informal vocal form of Indian music
  • Gharana was a musical system that was categorized according to the family or the school that carried the tradition forward.