Have you always wanted to know more about Indian classical music? Here is an introduction to its basic concepts.
Many of us have, at some time or the other, been mesmerised by the magic of Indian classical music. The sheer grandeur of Ustad Vilayat Khan performing the Darbari raga, or the sublime beauty of Kishori Amonkar's rendition of Megh Malhar is enough to transport us into another world. And yet, for the uninitiated amongst us, Indian classical music also often comes across as esoteric and impregnable. Here is a basic introduction to this great art form.
Indian classicalmusic is believed to have originated from the Vedas, the oldest of scriptures of Hinduism.
It mainly evolved as an aid to self realisation and its original
principles were expounded in the Samaveda, one of the four Vedas.
Difference between Indian and Western Classical Music
Over the years, Indian classical music has evolved into a complex musical system. It has some main points of difference from Western music. Western music is polyphonic, which means that it depends on the resonance of multiple musical notes occurring together. In contrast, Indian classical music
is essentially monophonic. Here, a melody or sequence of individual
notes is developed and improvised upon, against a repetitive rhythm.
Again, in Western classical music, a performer strictly abides by a written composition. In contrast, in Indian classical music
it is common to have the performer improvise on the composition he is
rendering, similar to the way a jazz musician does in the West.
Many of us often confuse Indian classical music with Hindustani classical music. In fact, Indian classical music can be divided into two distinct streams, Hindustani and Carnatic.
Hindustani classical music mainly evolved in North India
around the 13th and 14th centuries A.D. It owed its development to the
religious music, as well as popular and folk music, of the time. A very
important aspect that differentiates it from Carnatic music is the deep Persian influence imparted by the Mughals to it.
Carnatic music, also known as Karnataka sangitam, developed in South India around the 15th and 16th
centuries. It drew on existing popular forms of music and probably also
retained the influence of ancient Tamil music. This can be seen in its
use of the 'Pann', a melodic mode, which was earlier used in Tamil
As mentioned earlier, Indian classical music
is mainly melodic rather than harmonic. It consists of a basic melodic
line sung or played against complex pattern of rhythm. The melody is
usually based on a raga, while the rhythm is called tala.
A raga is a series of five or more musical notes. Ragas (Sanskrit for colour or passion), are supposed to evoke
various moods in the listener. In Hindustani music in particular,
certain ragas are specific to different seasons or times of the day.
The monsoon ragas, belonging to the Malhar group, are mainly performed
during the rains, while morning ragas, such as Bibhas and Bhairavi, or
night ragas, such as Kedar, Malkauns, or Naika Kanhra, are performed at
specific times of the day.
The Hindustani and Carnatic systems usually have
different ragas. There are some ragas which are similar but use
different names in both systems. Others have similar names, but differ
in the actual form. Also, Hindustani music classifies ragas into ten thaats
or parent ragas, as organised by Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande in the early
1900s. The Carnatic system, on the other hand, depends on an older
classification having 72 parent ragas. The melodic composition is sung
or played, against a musical
drone provided by the tanpura, a string instrument. The strings of the
tanpura are played in a regular pattern based on the base or tonic note
of the raga to provide a rich harmonic drone to the performance.
Tala or taal is literally a 'clap'. It roughly corresponds to the 'metre' in western music, but is different from it. The tala is the rhythm provided by the percussionist in the form of a cyclic pattern. Most talas can be played
at various speeds. While some talas are very commonly employed, others
are rarely used.
While the raga forms the basic melodic structure, the Hindustani or Carnatic music performer renders a composition based on the raga
he is performing.
The common forms of composition in Hindustani classical music are
dhrupad, khayal, and thumri. Some of the other forms include dhamar,
tarana, trivat, chaiti, kajari, and tappa.
Common forms of compositions used in Carnatic music
include geetham, swarajati, varnam, taana varnam, pada varnam, padajati
varnam, keerthana, kriti, padam, javali, thillana, and virutham.
Students and performers of Hindustani classical music
belong to different gharanas or schools. Gharanas have their origins in
different traditional musical styles. A gharana is usually begun by an exceptional musician
whose students incorporate and popularise his innovative approach to
interpretation or performance. Gwalior, Agra, Kirana, and Jaipur are
some of the famous gharanas of Hindustani classical music.
Both, Hindustani and Carnatic music,
include either vocal or instrumental performances. Instruments commonly
used in Hindustani music include the sitar, sarod, bansuri, sarangi,
violin, and shehnai. Instruments typically used in Carnatic music
include the veena, gottuvadyam, or violin. Often, the main singer or
player may be accompanied by a harmonium, sarangi, or violin. The most
commonly used percussion instrument in Hindustani music is the tabla, though sometimes another type of drum called the pakhavaj is used. Mridangam, ghatam, kanjira, and morsing are the percussion instruments used in Carnatic music.