Indian Music

Indian Music

In India, there is a vast profusion of folk music which varies according to the locality. Though folk songs also follow the same base, classical music requires immense training & practice. In Indian music, musical sound is called nada & nada is considered as Brahman or Divine Reality itself.

Classical Indian music can be classified into two distinct categories, the North Indian or Hindustani & the South Indian or Carnatic music. The essential features & basis of both the styles are the same, in the sense that both are spiritualistic in nature. Foreign influences due to invasions by Persians, Arabs,.. are more evident in the Hindustani form. There has been a constant intermingling & the styles that have evolved are the products of these various currents.

Carnatic Music:

Carnatic music originated in the fertile plains of the Cauvery delta and flourished through the ages.  Vaggeyakaras are the persons who composed many songs which are rendered in their original form to date.

The other notable composers are Patnam Subramaniya Iyer, Papanasam Sivan, Raja Swathi Thirunal, Annamacharyar, Purandaradasar.

The subject matter of the songs mainly dealt with the various Gods and Goddesses, extolling their lives, their virtues, reflecting the varied moods of humans like happiness, gratitude, fear, sorrow.  Though Composers have also dealt with subjects like patriotism, natural bounty, etc., their soul and heart were to a very great extent limited to the deities they considered prime. Music was also looked upon as a means of attaining Moksha ( Salvation ).

Sa Re Ga Ma Pha Dha Nee are the seven basic notations called the Sapthaswaras. The swaras Sa & Pa help select the sruthi/pitch of the singer. Re (Rishaba) & Gha (Ghandaram) are of three types each, Ma (Madhyamam) of 2 types, Dha (Dhaivatham) and Nee (Nishadham) of three types each and when grouped together these variations (6,2,6) combined to form the 72 main ragas, the Melakarthas. The Melakarthas are divided as Suddha Madhyama and Prathi Madhyama ragas based on their madhyama (ma) variations by Venkata Mahi Venkata Mahi Chakra.

Ragas born from Melakartha Ragas are aptly termed as Janya Ragas. Janya Ragas are classified into three categories viz., Sampoornam – seven swaras, Shadavam – six awards, and Oudavam – 5 swaras. Janya ragas follow the Kartha raga ie., they contain the same swaras of the original raga in various permutations and 483 variations become apparent to form 34,766 Janya Ragas.

The Janya Ragas gets further subdivided as Upanga Raga, Bhasanga Raga, and Vakra Raga. Upanga Raga allows for deletions and additions of swaras. Bhasanga Raga has swaras in addition to swaras from its original raga and the Vakra Raga has swaras in a non-sequential order.

The Ragas either follow an ascending order, ” Aarohanam” or a descending order of the “Avarohanam” and the composers took great care to adhere to the various rules when composing a song.

The song composed is set to thala depending on the number of beats. The thalas are divided into Thisra – three, Misra – four, Kanda – five, Sadhusra – seven, Sankeernam – nine, and the song composed fits into one of the above. Aadhi, Rupakam and Chapu are some of the Thalas.

The confluence of the Ragas and the Thalas has from early times been providing us with melodious patterns which when rendered with Bhava (feeling) is an experience that has to be had to be believed.

Music is an ocean and I am singing praises of it but from the shore. We are sure that maestros will join us to lead us through this ocean to glean the richness and beauty of this timeless traditional art that lives with us from the days of the Vedas.

Hindustani music (North Indian Music):

The music of India is one of the oldest unbroken musical traditions in the world.  It is said that the origins of this system go back to the Vedas (ancient scripts of the Hindus). Many different legends have grown up concerning the origins and development of Indian classical music. Such legends go a long way in showing the importance that music has in defining Indian culture.

However, the advent of modern historical and cultural research has also given us a good perspective on the field.  This has shown that Indian music has developed within a very complex interaction between different peoples of different races and cultures.  It appears that the ethnic diversity of present-day India has been there from the earliest of times.

The basis for Indian music is “sangeet”.  Sangeet is a combination of three art forms: vocal music, instrumental music, and dance. Although these three artforms were originally derived from the single field of stagecraft.  Today these three forms have differentiated into complex and highly refined individual art forms.

The present system of Indian music is based upon two important pillars: rag and tal.  Rag is the melodic form while tal is rhythmic.

Rag may be roughly equated with the Western term mode or scale.  There is a system of seven notes which are arranged in a means, not unlike Western scales.  However, when we look closely we see that it is quite different from what we are familiar with.

The tal (rhythmic forms) are also very complex.  Many common rhythmic patterns exist.  They revolve around repeating patterns of beats.

The interpretation of the rag and the tal is not the same all over India.  Today there are two major traditions of classical music. There is the north Indian and the south Indian tradition. The North Indian tradition is known as Hindustani Sangeet and the south Indian is called Carnatic Sangeet. Both systems are fundamentally similar but differ in nomenclature and performance practice.

Many musical instruments are peculiar to India.  The most famous are the sitar and tabla.  However, there are many more than the average person may not be familiar with.

All of this makes up the complex and exciting field of Indian classical music. Its understanding easily consumes an entire lifetime.

The music of India includes multiple varieties of folk, popular, pop, and classical music. India’s classical music tradition, including Carnatic and Hindustani music, has a history spanning millennia and, developed over several eras, remains fundamental to the lives of Indians today as sources of religious inspiration, cultural expression, and pure entertainment. India is made up of several dozen ethnic groups, speaking their own languages and dialects. Alongside distinctly subcontinental forms there are major influences from Persian, Arab, and British music. Indian genres like filmi and bhangra have become popular throughout the United Kingdom, South and East Asia, and around
the world.

Indian pop stars now sell records in many countries, while world music fans listen to the roots music of India’s diverse nations. American soul, rock, and hip-hop have also made a large impact, primarily on Indian pop and film music. Other highly popular forms are ghazal, qawwali, thumri, dhrupad, Dadra, bhajan, kirtan, shabad, and Gurbani.

In India, however, music is most commonly associated with film music. Popular Indian films, whether in Hindi, Tamil, or any of the other Indian languages, are most often described and understood in the West as “musicals”, as they are seldom without songs, though they by no means constitute a genre as did American musicals.

 Folk music


Bhavageete (literally ‘devotional song’) is a form of expressionist poetry and light music. Notable Bhavageete performers include P. Kalinga Rao, Mysore Ananthaswamy, C. Aswath, Shimoga Subbanna, Archana Udupa, Raju Ananthaswamy, etc.


Bhangra is a form of dance-oriented folk music that has become a pop sensation in the United Kingdom and North America. The present musical style is derived from the traditional musical accompaniment to the folk dance of Punjab called by the same name, bhangra.


Lavani is a popular folk form of Maharashtra. Traditionally, the songs are sung by female artists, but male artists may occasionally sing Lavanis. The dance format associated with Lavani is known as Tamasha.


Dandiya is a form of dance-oriented folk music that has also been adapted for pop music worldwide. The present musical style is derived from the traditional musical accompaniment to the folk dance of Dandiya called by the same name, dandiya. (DANDIYA means small sticks and are used in place of swords to train and practice the martial art in form of dance by tribal in interior Gujarat in India. it is believed to be in practice since the days when Lord Krishna migrated from Mathura to Dwaraka.)


Rajasthani has a very diverse cultural collection of musician castes, including Langas, Sapera, Bhopa, Jogi, and Manganiyar. Rajasthan Diary quotes it as soulful, full-throated music with Harmonious diversity. The haunting melody of Rajasthan evokes a variety of delightfully primitive-looking instruments. The stringed variety includes the Sarangi, Rawanhattha, Kamayacha, Morsing, and Ektara. Percussion instruments come in all shapes and sizes from the huge Nagaras and Dhols to the tiny Damrus. The Daf and Chang are a big favorite of the Holi (the festival of Colors) revelers. Flutes and bagpipers come in local flavors such as Shehnai, Poongi, Algoza, Tarpi, Been, and Bankia.

The essence of Rajasthani Music is derived from the creative symphony of string instruments, percussion instruments, and wind instruments accompanied by melodious renditions of folk singers. It enjoys a respectable presence in Bollywood (Indian Film Fraternity) Music as well.


The Bauls of Bengal were a mystical order of musicians in 18th, 19th, and early 20th century India who played a form of music using a khamak, ektara, and dotara. The word Baul comes from Sanskrit batul meaning divinely inspired insanity. They are a group of mystic minstrels. They are thought to have been influenced greatly by the Hindu tantric sect of the Kartabhajas as well as by Sufi sects. Bauls travel in search of the internal ideal, Maner Manush (Man of the Heart).


Qawwali is a Sufi form of devotional music based on the principles of Hindustani classical. It is performed with one or two lead singers, several chorus singers, harmonium, tabla, and dholak.

Rabindra Sangeet

A towering figure of Indian music was Rabindranath Tagore. Writing in Bengali, he created a library of over 2,000 songs now known by Bengalis as Rabindra sangeet whose form is primarily influenced by Hindustani classical thumri style. Many singers in West Bengal proudly base their entire careers on the singing of Tagore musical masterpieces.

Pop music

The biggest form of Indian pop music is filmi or songs from Indian musical films. The Film industry of India supported music by according reverence to classical music while utilizing western orchestration to support Indian melodies.

Avatar for Simmi Kamboj

Simmi Kamboj

Simmi Kamboj is the Founder and Administrator of Ritiriwaz, your one-stop guide to Indian Culture and Tradition. She had a passion for writing about India's lifestyle, culture, tradition, travel, and is trying to cover all Indian Cultural aspects of Daily Life.