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Classical Music

It is really very difficult to determine the time of origin of Indian Classical music. Purely grammar based traditional and rigorous training based style of Indian classical music, also known as Shastriya Sangeet can be broadly categorized into three periods- Ancient, Medieval and Modern.

Ancient Period

The Ancient period covers up to around 2000 B.C. of Vedic ages. The Vedic literature describes that during those times, sages used to sing and their wives played Veena. The age of Ramayana and Mahabharata is considered to be the golden age of Gandharva music. The seven notes or swaras along with their scriptural deities on which music is based upon was named in Vedic age as

Shadaj- Sa- God Agni

Rishabh- Re- God Brahma

Gandhar- Ga- Goddess Saraswati

Madhyam- Ma- Lord Shiva

Pancham- Pa- Lord Vishnu

Dhaivat – Dha- Lord Ganesha

Nishad- Ni- God Surya

Post Vedic era, music was practiced in Buddhist era as well as in Maurya period. Music was evident from references in Kautilya’s Arthashastra. Vatsayan asserted Indian music as a total, unique and integrated assimilation of Geetam- an expression of emotion through vocal tunes, Vadyam- percussion as instrumental music to provide timing to music through rhythms and Nrityam- Dance form as visualization using different organic or physical movements.

Medieval Period

Medieval Period can be counted from 7th century AD to 13th century and played a vital role in India and outside. 7th century found Indian music popularizing religious ideas and the Hindu philosophy. Two of the scholarly books on music written in medieval period is Sarangdev’s “Sangeet Ratnakar” and Jaidev’s “Gitogobindo.”

There was a new era of classical music that evolved in 11th century AD. North Indian music saw a huge influence from the music of middle-eastern Muslim countries. A musical genius from the reign of Alauddin Khiljee, Amir Khusro was first to use percussions like Tabla and Sitar and also introduced new form vocal music like Tarana and Kawali. Medieval age also saw the evolving of Gwalior Gharana by Raja Maan Singh who is supposed to have composed the “Mankuthul.” “Bhakti Movement” with the emerging of devotional music saw various musical exponents like Kabir in 1405AD, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu; 1486AD and Mirabai; 1500 AD.  Mention of Indian classical music is incomplete without the mention of Miyan Tansen, a musical exponent who could create magic in Akbar’s court with his renditions.

Modern Period

Modern Period began from 18th century when the Muslim rule in India declined and English spread their empire over the country. Music suffered a great loss in this age. It was in early 20th century that Indian classical music was revived by maestros like Pt. Bishnu Digambar Paluskar and Pt. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande. Indian classical music in the modern age has been concentrated in families which held sadhana (practice) of carrying the tradition through generations. Some of the renowned names in this age are Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Biswadeep Chattopadhyay, Ustad Alauddin Khan, Ustad Enayat Khan, Pandit V.G. Jog, Ustad Faiz Khan, Ustad Amir Khan, Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, Tarapada Chakravarty, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar and so on.

Hindustani and Carnatic Shastriya Sangeet

Indian classical music is broadly classified into two groups- Hindustani classical music and Carnatic classical music. While Hindustani Gharana or section mainly comprises of the musical styles of North, West and Eastern India along with the styles adapted from Banladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanisthan, Carnatic music is mainly the music from the southern states of India like Andhrapradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and a brief influence from Sri Lanka. The style of rendition and composition are also different for these two divisions. The percussions assisted with the performances are also of different kinds.

The Hindustani Shastriya Sangeet is accompanied by a harmonium, table and tempura, while Carnatic Sharstiya Sangeet uses the mridangam, violin and tempura. It is very rarely found that the exponent of Hindustani Shastriya Sangeet is also skilled in the Carnatic style and vice-versa. Some of the Ragas are also unique to their own regions and are not found in the other.

Gharanas of Hindustani Shastriya Sangeet

Hindustani classical music was mostly sung in the king’s court. Later part of 19th century saw the decline of feudal system in India and the loss of patronage for these performers. The concept of Gharana came into existence where the performers were compelled to come and rehabilitate themselves in the urban places. There are 9 Gharanas well known for Khayal singing in India.

There are also Dhrupad singing Gharanas as well, which came to its existence many  centuries after its birth. The Dhrupad singers first performed in various temples and gradually shifted to the king’s court and finally dispersed into the regions like Vishnupur, Betia, Varanasi, Rampur, Darbhanga, Jaipur and Mathura. There are Banaras, Patiala and Lucknow Gharana in Thumri as well, although, there is another school that finds Thumri devoid of any divisions and more linked with certain specific styles.

Genres in Hindustani Classical Music

The North Indian Classical music is performed both as vocal and instrumental. The different ragas and Raginis are performed by exponents through singing known as vocal music and with instruments like Veena, Sarod, Santoor, Sitar, Esraj, Saarangi, Violin, Bansuri, Shehnai, Tabla, Pakhawaj etc. The main genres of Indian classical music are:


Oldest and strictest classical genre and will follow two strict expositions- alap (exposition section) and bandish (fixed composition).


Same as Dhrupad, with a different time cycle and a little more freedom.


One of the most popular forms of classical music, comes from a Persian word meaning “imagination.” One of the most liberal forms of Indian classical music and is also divided into alap and bandish. The genre covers a host of topics like praise of kings and priests, divine love, life of Lord Krishna and separation of lovers etc.


Characterised by singing in fast tempo fairly similar to the khayal genre with few significant differences. Tarana has no poem in it, but, creates rhythmic patterns with words and requires extreme skill and specialization in manipulating rhythms.


A semi classical genre with two parts; alap and bandish in its redition,  Thumri usually deals with the simple, often a blend of several ragas and are composed mainly in Brij Bhasha- a dialect of Hindi. The literary content encompasses life of Lord Krishna and themes similar to separation of lovers.


Vocal genre with quick and short phrases, the lyrics are generally composed in Punjabi language. It is a semi classical flexible style which was taken from the camel drivers from North Western states of India.


Another form of semi classical music similar to Thumri and sung again in Brij Bhasha with similar themes like in Thumri.

Music has the soul stirring capability to enthrall, enlighten and bring spirituality to life. Indian classical music and has been practiced by spiritual masters for centuries now. The purely grammatical composition of different Ragas, its time and style of singing, all make Indian classical music an academic discipline undertaken by students from within India and all over the world. Like Vedas and many other traditional spiritual disciplines, classical music too follows an oral tradition, a “Guru-Shishya parampara” which runs through generations, with families dedicating themselves in the meditating on this form of art.

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