Indian Classical Music

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Indian Classical Music

The origins of Indian classical music can be found in the Vedas, which are the oldest scriptures in the Hindu tradition. Indian classical music has also been significantly influenced by, or syncretised with, Indian folk music and Persian music. The Samaveda, one of the four Vedas, describes music at length. The Samaveda was derived from the Rigveda so that its hymns could be sung as Samagana.

Principles of Hindustani Music

The rhythmic organization is based on rhythmic patterns called tala. The melodic foundations are called ragas. One possible classification of ragas is into “melodic modes” or “parent scales”, known as thaats, under which most ragas can be classified based on the notes they use.

Thats may consist of up to seven scale degrees, or swara. Hindustani musicians name these pitches using a system called Sargam, the equivalent of the Western movable do solfege :

  • Sa ( Shadaj ) = Do
  • Re ( Rishab ) = Re

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  • Ga (  Gandhar) = Mi
  • Ma (Madhyam) = Fa
  • Pa ( Pancham ) = So
  • Dha ( Dhaivat ) = La
  • Ni ( Nishad ) = Ti
  • Sa ( Shadaj ) = Do

Both systems repeat at the octave. The difference between sargam and solfege is that re, ga, ma, dha, and ni can refer to either “Natural” ( shuddha ) or altered “Flat” ( komal ) or “Sharp” ( tivra ) versions of their respective scale degrees. As with movable do solfege, the notes are heard relative to an arbitrary tonic that varies from performance to performance, rather than to fixed frequencies, as on a xylophone.

The fine Internationale differences between different instances of the same swara are called srutis. The three primary registers of Indian classical music are mandra ( lower ), madhya ( middle ) and taar ( upper ). Since the octave location is not fixed, it is also possible to use provenances in mid – register (such as mandra-madhya or madhya – taar ) for certain ragas.

A typical rendition of Hindustani Raga involves Two Stages :


A rhythmically free improvisation on the rules for the raga in order to give life to the raga and flesh out its characteristics. The alap is followed by a long slow – tempo improvisation in vocal music, or by the jod and jhala in instrumental music.


The text is romantic or devotional in nature, and usually revolves around a girl’s love for Krishna. The lyrics are usually in Uttar Pradesh dialects of Hindi called Awadhi and Brij Bhasha. Thumri is characterized by its sensuality, and by a greater flexibility with the raga.

Thumri is also used as a generic name for some other, even lighter, forms such as Dadra, Hori, Kajari, Saavan, Jhoola, and Chaiti, even though each of them has its own structure and content — either lyrical or musical or both — and so the exposition of these forms vary. Like Indian classical music itself, some of these forms have their origin in folk literature and music.

Types of Thumri

Bandisa Thumri

This is the third pattern of thumri where the composition has high musical value. Here, the text is longer having a literary charm, and the composition may be in a raaga and the rendering restricted to it. Kathaks are better reputed to know this type of thumri.

This third type is practiced less frequently nowadays. The reason for this appears to be the fact that bhajana, gita, pada and other such fare, called light music, offer nearly everything that a Bandisa Thumri may have to offer musically.
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Bola Banao Thumri

It is known as artha – bhava. Artha means meaning and bhava means emotions. The bola – banao thumri is performed at a much slower tempo than the bandisa thumri. In the choreographic context, this form was appropriate for dance formats devoid of fast or intricate footwork. By the early twentieth – century, it stabilized at a rendition tempo approximately twice the beat – density of the contemporary bada khayal.

Tappa is a form of Indian semi – classical vocal music whose specialty is its rolling pace based on fast, subtle, knotty construction. It originated from the folk songs of the camel riders of Punjab and was developed as a form of classical music by Mian Ghulam Nabi Shori or Shori Mian, a court singer for Asaf – Ud – Dowlah, the Nawab of Awadh. “Nidhubabur Tappa”, or tappas sung by Nidhu Babu were very popular in 18th and 19th – century Bengal. Among the living performers of this style are Laxmanrao Pandit, Shamma Khurana, Manvalkar, Girija Devi, Ishwarchandra Karkare, and Jayant Khot.

 Indian Classical Music Form


Tappa is catchy to the ear, due to its unusual aspect of bounce and re – bounce of musical notes. Tappa, understood to have been the staple diction of the erstwhile camel drivers, has since come to a ripened age, by being nurtured in the hands of some of the legendary masters in this genre. The word tappa stands for jumping, bouncing and skipping, implying the extraordinary rule of unremitting attempts made by a singer on the musical notes, not stopping or taking a pause for once.

This outstanding formation is unique to tappa only, absent in the other Hindustani classical forms. It is thus composed of rhythmic and r apid notes, and such a style calls for immense and extreme hold over the singing diction. A contrary to which can damage the whole recital. Tappa is very unlike khayal rendition, crisp and highly volatile in its nature. And the few exponents like Ghulam Nabi, Pt. Bholanath Bhatt or Girija Devi have thus become legends in their own right.


The ghazal is a poetic form consisting of rhyming couplets and a refrain, with each line sharing the same meter. A ghazal may be understood as a poetic expression of both the pain of loss or separation and the beauty of love in spite of that pain. The form is ancient, originating in 6th – century Arabic verse. It is derived from the Arabian panegyric qasida.
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The structural requirements of the ghazal are similar in stringency to those of the Petrarchan sonnet. In style and content it is a genre that has proved capable of an extraordinary variety of expression around its central themes of love and separation. It is one of the principal poetic forms which the Indo – Perso – Arabic civilization offered to the eastern Islamic world.

The ghazal spread into South Asia in the 12th century due to the influence of Sufi mystics and the courts of the new Islamic Sultanate. Although the ghazal is most prominently a form of Dari poetry and Urdu poetry, today it is found in the poetry of many languages of the Indian sub-continent.

Sufi Music

Sufi music is a form of music prevailing in northern India. The meaning of Sufi music is the music that links with the heart. It envisages linking to god with out any religious limitations. Singers like the Abida Parveen and late Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan from Pakistan are reputed Sufi singers.

Sufi music emerged in the early 14th century and is having high content of spirituality in it. Sufism is a philosophy that glorifies every religion as a way to virtue. Sufism gives precedence to love for humanity. Sufi music has helped a lot to spread the ideas of Sufism to many parts of the world. There are variations for Sufi music in different religions. Sufi music was spread by the Fakirs who travel through different parts of the country.

Avadh, Rajasthan and Kashmir have developed their own singing style for Sufi music. Iran has been the global cradle for Sufi music. Sufi music is also popular in Turkey, Sudan and even Israel. Today the great Iranian Sufi saint and poet Roomi is the most noted, renowned and largest moving authors in America.

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Tarana is a type of composition in Hindustani classical vocal music in which certain words and syllables ( Example : “odani”, “todani”, “tadeem” and “yalali” ) based on Persian and Arabic phonemes are rendered at a medium ( madhya ) or fast ( drut ) pace (laya). It was invented by Amir Khusro and is similar to the Qalbana form of Sufi poetry.

Another vocal form, taranas are medium- to fast-paced songs that are used to convey a mood of elation and are usually performed towards the end of a concert. They consist of a few lines of poetry with soft syllables or bols set to a tune. The singer uses these few lines as a basis for fast improvisation. The tillana of Carnatic music is based on the tarana, although the former is primarily associated with dance.

Khyal is a Hindustani form of vocal music, adopted from medieval Persian music and based on Dhrupad. Khyal, literally meaning “thought” or “imagination” in Hindi – Urdu, is unusual as it is based on improvising and expressing emotion. A Khyal is a two – to eight – line lyric set to a melody. The lyric is of an emotional account possibly from poetic observation .Khyals are also popular for depicting the emotions between two lovers, situations of ethological significance in Hinduism and Islam, or other situations evoking intense feelings.

The importance of the Khyal’s content is for the singer to depict, through music in the set raga, the emotional significance of the Khyal. The singer improvises and finds inspiration within the raga to depict the Khyal.

Khyal Gharana

The gharana system in khyal was rooted in the guru – shishya tradition and was similar to the Dhrupad Bani system. The gharana system was greatly influenced by the gradual fall of the Mughal Empire, which forced musicians to move from Delhi to princely states such as Gwalior, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Patiala and Rampur.

The gharanas have distinct styles of presenting the khyal — how much to emphasize and how to enunciate the words of the composition, when to sing the sthayi and antara, whether to sing an unmetered alap in the beginning, what kinds of improvisations to use, how much importance to give to the rhythmic aspect, and so on. However, an individual performer from a gharana may choose to borrow appealing stylistic aspects of another gharana in his or her gayaki.


Dhrupad is an old style of singing, traditionally performed by male singers. It is performed with a tambura and a pakhawaj as instrumental accompaniments. The lyrics, some of which were written in Sanskrit centuries ago, are presently often sung in brajbhasha, a medieval form of North and East Indian languages that was spoken in Eastern India. The rudra veena, an ancient string instrument, is used in instrumental music in dhrupad.

Dhrupad music is primarily devotional in theme and content. It contains recitals in praise of particular deities. Dhrupad compositions begin with a relatively long and acyclic alap, where the syllables of the following mantra is recited.

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