Indian Classical Music

Indian Classical Music

Indian Classical Music

Indian classical music has an appreciative audience worldwide, with enthusiasts and practitioners in various countries. The mesmerizing melodies, intricate rhythms, and profound emotional expression of Indian classical music have inspired musicians, composers, and music lovers from diverse cultural backgrounds. Its influence can be seen in genres such as world music, fusion, and new-age music, where elements of Indian classical music are incorporated to create unique blends of sounds.

Indian classical music originates in the ancient Vedic scriptures of India, particularly in the Samaveda, one of the four Vedas. The Vedas are a collection of ancient texts considered the oldest sacred scriptures of Hinduism, dating back thousands of years. The Samaveda, specifically, is associated with music and contains hymns chanted during religious rituals and ceremonies. These hymns, known as Sama Veda, were sung by priests called Samavedins, who were trained in the intricate melodic patterns and intonations prescribed in the Vedic texts.

The musical aspects of the Samaveda were notated using a system called swara, which represented the seven primary musical notes (Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni). The swara notation system formed the basis for developing the melodic framework in Indian classical music, known as ragas. Over time, the melodic patterns and hymns from the Samaveda formed the foundation for developing Indian classical music. The melody, rhythm, and improvisation principles were expanded and refined, giving rise to various regional styles and gharanas (schools).

While the Vedic period provided the early foundations, the subsequent centuries saw the development of the two main branches of Indian classical music: Hindustani classical music in North India and Carnatic classical music in South India. These traditions further evolved through the contributions of various scholars, musicians, and composers over the centuries. It is important to note that the Vedic chants and hymns were originally transmitted orally from teacher to student, emphasizing the purity and authenticity of the melodic structures. It was much later, around the medieval period, that written musical compositions began to emerge.

In Indian classical music, two fundamental elements are crucial in shaping and defining its structure and aesthetics: raga and tala.


Raga is the melodic framework that forms the foundation of a composition or performance in Indian classical music. Each raga is characterized by a specific set of ascending and descending notes (swaras) and a unique arrangement of musical phrases, ornamentations, and melodic gestures. Ragas are designed to evoke specific emotions, moods, and atmospheres and serve as the basis for improvisation and creative exploration by musicians.

Arohana and Avarohana refer to the ascending and descending sequences of notes in a raga, respectively. They define the melodic scope of the raga and are often presented at the beginning of a performance. Vadi is the most prominent note of a raga, while Samvadi is the second-most important note. These notes provide a tonal focus within the raga and are often emphasized during the improvisational sections.

The pakad is a distinctive musical phrase or motif that encapsulates the essence of a raga. It acts as a signature element that helps identify the raga and provides a starting point for improvisation. Certain ragas are associated with specific times of the day or seasons, and they evoke a particular mood or atmosphere associated with those times. For example, the raga Malkauns is traditionally performed late at night, while the raga Bhairavi is associated with the early morning.

Each raga has its own emotional and aesthetic appeal. Some ragas evoke serenity and tranquility, while others may convey playfulness, devotion, pathos, or grandeur. Combining notes, melodic phrases, and ornamentations in a raga creates a unique emotional experience for the listener.


Tala refers to the rhythmic framework in Indian classical music. A cyclic pattern or meter provides the rhythmic structure and framework for a composition or performance. Talas are created through a combination of beats, represented by hand gestures or mnemonic syllables, and they define the rhythmic organization and flow of the music.

Matra refers to the basic time unit or beats in a tala. Each tala comprises a specific number of matras evenly divided within the rhythmic cycle. The tala is divided into distinct rhythmic sections called vibhag, and the completion of one rhythmic cycle is known as an avartan. The avartan provides a sense of completion and serves as a reference point for the musicians.

Theka is the basic rhythmic pattern or framework associated with a particular tala. It defines the sequence and arrangement of beats within the tala and provides a rhythmic foundation for the composition or improvisation. Tali and khali are specific beats or hand gestures that mark the strong and weak beats within the tala cycle. They provide rhythmic accents and help maintain the rhythmic structure and integrity of the tala.

Layakari refers to rhythmic improvisation and embellishments within the framework of the tala. Musicians engage in intricate rhythmic patterns, syncopations, and variations, showcasing their virtuosity and creativity while staying within the boundaries of the tala.

Mastering raga and tala is a lifelong pursuit for musicians, and it requires a deep understanding of the nuances and intricacies of Indian classical music.

Gharanas and styles play a significant role in Indian classical music, contributing to the art form’s richness, diversity, and evolution. They represent distinct lineages of musical traditions, each characterized by its unique approach, aesthetic sensibilities, and performance techniques. Here is an elaboration on gharanas and styles in Indian classical music:

Gharanas of Indian Classical Music

Gharanas are musical schools, or lineages passed down through generations of musicians. Each Gharana has its musical principles, repertoire, and stylistic nuances. The Gharana system originated as a way for musicians to preserve and transmit their unique musical knowledge and approach.

Gharanas are built on the foundation of the guru-shishya parampara (teacher-disciple tradition). Knowledge and skills are transmitted through direct and intimate training between the guru (teacher) and shishya (disciple). Gharanas focus on the holistic development of a musician, encompassing aspects such as technique, repertoire, improvisation, and musical aesthetics. Training within a gharana often involves a rigorous and disciplined approach to learning.

Gharanas are distinguished by their specific approach to raga rendition, ornamentation, phrasing, rhythmic patterns, and improvisation. They may have distinct compositions, techniques, or vocal/instrumental styles that set them apart from other gharanas. Gharanas are often associated with specific geographic regions or cultural centers. For example, the Kirana gharana is linked to the region of Kirana in North India, while the Patiala gharana hails from Punjab. Regional influences shape the musical aesthetics, repertoire, and flavors of the gharanas.

Styles in Indian classical music refer to broader categorizations encompassing various gharanas and musical approaches within a particular region or tradition. While gharanas focus on lineage and specific teacher-disciple relationships, styles are broader classifications that represent shared musical characteristics across multiple gharanas.


Hindustani classical music encompasses various gharanas and styles from North India. Styles like the Gwalior, Agra, Jaipur, Kirana, and Patiala represent distinct musical approaches and aesthetics within Hindustani classical music.

Carnatic classical music is the classical music tradition of South India. It encompasses styles associated with prominent composers and musicians such as Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar, and Syama Sastri, as well as different regional styles within South India.

Dhrupad and Khayal are two prominent vocal styles in Hindustani classical music. Dhrupad is known for its ancient origins, devotional themes, and focus on exploring the nuances of ragas. Khayal emerged later and is characterized by its emotive expression, improvisation, and intricate melodic ornamentation.

Various instrumental styles have developed within Indian classical music, such as the sitar style of Vilayat Khan or the sarod style of Ali Akbar Khan. These styles reflect the individual aesthetics and technical innovations of accomplished instrumentalists.

While gharanas and styles provide frameworks for understanding and categorizing the diversity within Indian classical music, the boundaries between gharanas can sometimes blur, and musicians often incorporate elements from multiple gharanas or styles in their performances.

Indian classical music’s global role extends beyond its artistic and cultural significance. It serves as a medium for cross-cultural understanding, fostering dialogue and appreciation for the diverse musical traditions of the world. As the global community continues to embrace and explore different musical expressions, Indian classical music remains a cherished and influential part of the global music landscape.