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Indian Music


Raga , also spelled rag or ragam , in the classical music of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. It is a melodic framework for improvisation and composition.

A raga is based on a scale with a given set of notes, a typical order in which they appear in melodies, and characteristic musical motifs. The basic components of a raga can be written down in the form of a scale. By using only these notes, by emphasizing certain degrees of the scale, and by going from note to note in ways characteristic to the raga, the performer sets out to create a mood or atmosphere. There are several hundred ragas in present use, and thousands are possible in theory.

Characteristics of Ragas

The Raga is the most important concept that any student of Indian music should understand.   A rag may be thought of as an acoustic method of colouring the mind of the listener with an emotion.  It is not a tune, melody, scale, mode, or any concept for which an English word exists.  The characteristics of a Raga are:

  1. There must be the notes of the rag.  They are called the swar.  This concept is similar to the Western solfege.
  2. There must also be a modal structure.  This is called that in North Indian music and mela in carnatic music.
  3. There is also the jati.  Jati is the number of notes used in the rag.
  4. There must also be the ascending and descending structure.  This is called arohana /avarohana.
  5. Another characteristic is that the various notes do not have the same level of significance.  Some are important and others less so.  The important notes are called vadi and samavadi
  6. There are often characteristic movements to the rag.  This is called either pakad or swarup.

In addition to the main characteristics of a raga, there are some other less important ones.  For instance rags have traditionally been attributed to particular times of the day.  There is a tendency to downgrade the importance of these aspects due to their irrational and unscientific nature.


A Tala is the term used in Indian classical music to refer to a musical meter, that is, any rhythmic beat or strike that measures musical time. The measure is typically established by hand clapping, waving, touching fingers on thigh or the other hand, verbally, striking of small cymbals, or a percussion instrument in the South Asian traditions. Along with raga which forms the fabric of a melodic structure, the tala forms the time cycle and thereby constitutes one of the two foundational elements of Indian music.

Tala is an ancient music concept traceable to Vedic era texts of Hinduism, such as the Samaveda and methods for singing the Vedic hymns.

The music traditions of the North and South India, particularly the raga and tala systems, were not considered as distinct till about the 16th century. The tala system of the north is called Hindustani, while the south is called Carnatic.

Tala in the Indian tradition embraces the time dimension of music, the means by which musical rhythm and form were guided and expressed. While a tala carries the musical meter, it does not necessarily imply a regularly recurring pattern. In the major classical Indian music traditions, the beats are hierarchically arranged based on how the music piece is to performed.

The most widely used tala in the South Indian system is adi tala. In the North Indian system, the most common tala is teental.

Forms of Indian Music

Right from ancient times, Indian musical forms have been divided into two broad categories. These were the anibaddhaand the nibaddha sangeeta. The first may be called the open or free form and the second as the closed or bound form. Anibaddha sangeeta is one which is not restricted by meaningful words and tala. It is a free improvisation. The finest form is the alap.

Of the nibaddha variety, there are many. The earliest about which some knowledge is available is the prabandha giti. Prabandha is often used as a generic term to indicate any nibaddha song or musical composition. Of all known prabandhas those of Jayadeva are the best known. This poet lived in Bengal in the 12th century and composed his Gita Govinda, a Sanskrit work with songs and verses. The songs are ashtapadis: that is, each song has eight couplets. Today, the songs have spread throughout the country and each region has its own style. As a matter of fact, singers have taken the liberty of giving the prabandhas their own tunes. In the face of this, it is impossible to determine the original tunes of the ashtapadis.


Swami Haridas

Swami Haridas was not only the nurturer of creative talents in music like Tansen and Vaiju Bawra but also the greatest saint of all time based in Nidhivan, Vrindavan. Whatever he witnessed, he sang about it in trance; documented in ‘Kelimal’s 110 stanzas. Besides, he wrote eighteen verses on the core wisdom of all philosophies ‘Ashtadas siddhant ke pad’. He was the originator of ‘Sakhi Samprday’


Considered as the greatest musician in India, Tansen (1506 – 1589) is instrumental in the creation of the classical music that dominates the north of India. He was considered as one of the Navaratnas (Nine Gems) in the court of Emperor Akbar. Tansen was born in a Hindu family in a place called Gwalior located in Madhya Pradesh. Tansen was named Tannu Mishra when he was born.

As a young boy, Tansen learnt music from Haridas Swamy. He was considered to be a legendary teacher of that time. It is said that Tansen has no equal apart from his teacher. Such was his passion for music that he is said to have performed astonishing miracles merely by singing. He could bring rain by singing in a particular Raag known as Megh Malhar. Similarly he could start a fire by singing in Raag Deepak. He has also composed several Ragas that have been the foundation of classical music like Bhairav, Darbari Todi, Darbari Kanada, Malhar, Sarang and Rageshwari.


Khayal, also spelled khyal or kayal, in Hindustani music, a musical form based on a Hindi song in two parts that recur between expanding cycles of melodic and rhythmic improvisation. In a standard performance a slow (vilambit) khayal is followed by a shorter, fast (drut) khayal in the same raga (melodic framework).

The khayal is related to the longer melodic form known as the dhrupad but has fewer restrictions. It is usually accompanied by a tabla (pair of drums) and a tambura (lute) in a variety of talas (metric cycles).

Khayal is ordinarily performed by a vocalist. The rhythm of the melodic performance is nonmetric, but the percussion accompaniment is cast in a tala, and the time cycle is shaped by the repeated pattern (theka) performed by the accompanist.


The Thumri is one more form of presenting Ragas. On the other hand, this very fashionable, light classical form of Indian music, is restricted to particular Ragas whose chief importance is on the words of its poetry and eroticism. These Ragas are Bhairavi, Gara and Pilu. A successful lyrics typically portrays a Thumree. It is primarily linked with folk songs of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, and so the Thumri lyrics are in Hindi dialects.


Tappa is an Indian semi-classical vocal music, with its specialty of rapid, delicate and complex arrangement. ‘Tappa’ means leaping, springing up and hopping. In Tappa singing also, the singer uses an astonishing rule of constant efforts not to stop while singing.

Poetry full of expressions of love and physical intimacy is the salient feature of Tappa. Murkee, Meend, Taan with Gamak are used in this brand of singing that is sung in Jalad Laya (fast). Khamaaj, Kafee, Bhairavee, Pilu are Raagas that are chiefly employed in this style of singing.

It is believed that Tappa was derived from folk music of Punjab and Sindh. It was the folk song of camel-drivers in that region and was developed as a form of classical music by Mian Gulam Nabi Shori or Shori Mian, who was a court singer for the Nawab of Awadh, Asaf-Ud-Dowlah. Therefore, it has Punjabi words in it.


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

In modern times, the tarana is most commonly associated with the singer Amir Khan, who helped popularize it and researched its origins and the syllables used. Tarana was also used by Sikh tenth Guru Sri Guru Gobind Singh in his compositions like “jagardang nagardang bagardang”

Light Classical Music


The ghazal is a poetic form with rhyming couplets and a refrain, 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 Arabic poetry in Arabia long before the birth of Islam. It is derived from the Arabian panegyric qasida. 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.

The ghazal spread into South Asia in the 12th century by the influence of Sufi mystics and the courts of the new Islamic sultanates. Although the ghazal is most prominently a form of Dari and Urdu poetry, it is now found in the poetry of many languages on the Indian Subcontine


Qawwali is a form of Sufi devotional music originted from South Asia. It is popular in the Punjab and Sindh regions of Pakistan, in many parts of India including Hyderabad and Delhi, and many parts of Bangladesh. It is part of a musical tradition that stretches back for more than 700 years.

Originally performed at Sufi shrines or dargahs throughout South Asia, it gained mainstream popularity in the late 20th century. Qawwali music received international exposure through the work of the late Pakistani singers Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Sabri Brothers. Other famous Qawwali singers include Pakistan’s Amjad Farid Sabri, Fareed Ayyaz & Abu Muhammad, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Badar Maindad, Rizwan & Moazzam Duo, Bahauddin Qutbuddin and Aziz Mian.


Keertan Or ” Kirtan ” is an art of spiritual teaching through story-telling. It is typically performed by one or two main performers, called Keertankar, accompanied by Harmonium and Tabla musicians. It involves singing, acting, dancing, and story-telling, However it is unlike any other performing art as it is basically pure glorification of god and godly acts. Based on the format and subjects, Keertan / Kirtan has been classified into several types.

Rabindra Sangeet

Rabindra Sangeet, also known as Tagore Songs, are songs written and composed by Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore was a prolific composer, with around 2,230 songs to his credit.

The songs have distinctive characteristics in the music of Bengal, popular in India and Bangladesh.It is characterised by its distinctive rendition while singing which includes a significant amount of ornamentation like meend, murki, etc. and is filled with expressions of romanticism. The music is mostly based on Hindustani classical music and folk music of Bengal.


A bhajan refers to any song with religious theme or spiritual ideas, in a regional Indian language. A Bhajan has no prescribed form, or set rules, is in free form, normally lyrical and based on melodic ragas. It belongs to a genre of music and arts that developed with the Bhakti movement. It is found in the various traditions of Hinduism but particularly in Vaishnavism, in Jainism, and as Shabad Kirtan form in Sikhism.

Ideas from scriptures, legendary epics, the teachings of saints and loving devotion to a deity are the typical subjects of bhajans. It is usually a group event, with one or more lead singers, accompanied with music, and sometimes dancing. A bhajan may be sung in a temple, in a home, under a tree in open, near a river bank or a place of historic significance.


In Hindustani music, a gharānā is a system of social organization linking musicians or dancers by lineage or apprenticeship, and by adherence to a particular musical style.

A gharana also indicates a comprehensive musicological ideology. This ideology sometimes changes substantially from one gharana to another. It directly affects the thinking, teaching, performance and appreciation of music.

The word gharana comes from the Hindi word ‘ghar’ which is derived from Sanskrit for Griha, which means ‘house’. It typically refers to the place where the musical ideology originated; for example, some of the gharanas well known for singing khyals are: Agra, Gwalior, Indore, Jaipur, Kirana, and Patiala.

Khyal gharanas

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.

Gwalior Gharana

Bol-baant, bol-taan, no sargam, wide range in taans, alankarik taans, descending sapaat taans, roughly similar emphasis on melody and rhythm, preference for simple (as opposed to compound) ragas, repertoire of bandishes, variety of tans are the features of this gharana.

Agra Gharana

Its features are closer to dhrupad with nom-tom type alap and other elements, rhythmic play, frequent use of tisra jati in teentaal, emphasis on voice culture to achieve wide range and powerful throw of voice, bol-baant, bol-taan, rare use of sargam, slower taans, use of jabda taan, repertoire of traditional and self-composed bandishes

Kirana Gharana

Slow-tempo raga development, emphasis on melody, long and sustained pitches, usually traditional ragas, use of sargam, very little bol-baant, clarity of text pronunciation, use of some Carnatic ragas and raga features, emphasis on vocal as opposed to instrumental form are its characteristics.

Bhendi Bazaar Gharana

It lays emphasis on breath control to be able to sing long passages in a single breath, use of merukhand for extended alaps, use of gamak taan and sargam and use of some Carnatic ragas.

Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana

It has repertoire of rare and complex ragas, based on Agra gharana, use of aakaar for badhat, heavy use of teentaal, rupak, jhaptaal and ada-chautaal, rhythmic play, use of bol-baant and bol-taan, rippling tans and heavy emphasis on tans.

Indore Gharana

It is characterized by slow-tempo raga development, improvisation mostly in lower and middle octaves, tendency towards serious and expansive ragas, emphasis on melody, judicious use of pause between improvisations, bol alap and sargam using merukhand patterns, sparing application of murki, use of kan swaras in all parts of performance, controlled use of embellishments to preserve introspective quality, rare use of tihai, careful enunciation of text, may or may not include antara, multiple laya jatis in a single taan, mixture of taan types in a single taan, known for ruba’idar tarana (considered similar to chhota khyal).

Carnatic Music

Carnatic music is considered one of the oldest systems of music in the world. Carnatic music is a very complex system of music that requires much thought, both artistically and technically.

The basis of Carnatic music is the system of ragas (melodic scales) and talas (rhythmic cycles). There are seven rhythmic cycles and 72 fundamental ragas. All other ragas are considered to have originated from these. An elaborate pattern exists for identifying these scales, known as the 72 Melakarta Raagas.

Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Shastri, the three saint composers of the 19th century, have composed thousands of krithis that remain fresh among musicians and rasikas. The most important specialty of Karnatic music is its highly devotional element. The concept of the compositions are set entirely against a devotional outline. The notes of Carnatic music is “sa-ri-gaa-ma-pa-da-ni”. These are abbreviations of the real names of swaras which are Shadjam, Rishabham, Gandharam, Madhyamam, Panchamam, Dhaivatam and Nishaadam.

Each note of the pattern (the swaraa) will have up to three varieties. The only exceptions for this are the two base notes shadjam and panchamam, sa & pa which have only one form, and madhyamam, the middle swara, which has only two notes. Spirituality has always been the prominent content of Carnatic music. The beautiful blending of the beauty and devotional element has made it extraordinary and divine.

Among the saints as well, Narada and tumburu are found as Vainika-Gayaka (experts in music and Vina). Nandi, the holy bull of Siva, is the master of Laya. Demi-Gods like Yakshas, Gandharvas and Kinnaras are all proficient in music and musical instruments. In Hindu scriptures, music is known as Gandharva Vidyaa. Hanuman was proficient in the instrument Hanumad Veena and this is the first form of the present day Chitraveena.

The growth and development of Carnatic music through the centuries is a testimony to the greatness of the Indian mind. It needs to be taken to the international arena parallel to any other classical art form. This can be achieved if we understand it in the right perspective and do not lose it to religion, for this mission we have this music website.

Carnatic music is the representation of a rich cultural heritage of south India, the essence of spirituality evolved out of the heart and brain of the pious ones and the gurus of the past.

Dr. M Balamurali Krishna

Dr. Mangalampally Balamurali Krishna, is one among the very few Carnatic music singers / vocalists to reach great heights in the field of classical music with little formal initiation.

He was not only a carnatic music composer and master of vocal music but was proficient in the viola, violin, mridangam and kanjira.

In 1939, he did a concert programme for the All India Radio. It is a tribute to his exceptional skills as a violinist that he has accompanied stalwarts such as Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Ayyangar, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar and G. N. Balasubramaniam.
He made a great contribution to the classical and semi-classical music programmes of All India Radio and Doordarshan as carnatic music singer and producer. He is also the author of 72 melakartha-raga based songs in Telugu and Sanskrit bearing Murali as his mudra.

Lalgudi Jayaraman

Among contemporary Carnatic music composers, Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman started his musical career as a carnatic music artist at the early age of 12 as an accompanying violinist.

Being endowed with rich thoughts, quick reflex, and an uncommon ability for adapting to the individual styles of the leading maestros in Carnatic music while accompanying them in their concerts, he reached the forefront. This rich concert experience he thus gained, coupled with the strong urge to give original expression to the musical ideas surging in him, culminated in his emergence as a solo violinist of rare brilliance. He has made his mark also as a unique and extraordinary composer having to his credit several thillanas and varnams which are a scintillating blend of raga, bhava, rhythm and lyrical beauty. He established himself as carnatic music composer with various krithis that he contributed to the carnatic music field. As a carnatic music composer, he has a set of brilliant thillanas to his credit as well.


Trippunitura Narayanan Krishnan, the prominent carnatic music composer and violinist was born on October 6, 1928 into a family of musicians celebrated in the Carnatic and Hindustani traditions of Indian classical music. He became an acclaimed carnatic music expert.

Karaikudi R.Mani

Karaikudi R.Mani is India’s one of the top ranking player on the “Miridangam”, the most popular South Indian drum. He has established a unique style of his own in playing Mridangam. He is a Mridangist who has beautifully blended Sound, Scholarship, Sense and Silence. He has set several intricate and Scholarly rhythmic combinations which have had great impact on both musicians and music lovers, creating a vast audience for his music.

Dr. L. Subramaniam

Sree L. Subramaniam is a Carnatic music composer and an eminent Indian violin maestro well versed in south Indian Carnatic music tradition. He is also well acquainted in various other branches and styles of world music. He has collaborated with Stéphane Grappelli, Yehudi Menuhin and others and has to his credit, works for orchestra and film music as well, and has also written numerous books on Carnatic music.

M.S. Gopalakrishnan

Shree M.S. Gopalakrishnan was born on 10th June 1931. MSG has been in the music arena for over fifty years playing both Hindustani and Carnatic Music. Shree M.S. Gopalakrishnan has done vast research on violin playing techniques. He has developed a new unique style called the ” Parur style “. Shree M.S. Gopalakrishnan has won numerous awards including the Padma Sri, Kalaimamani, Sangeetha Kalanidhi and the Sangeet Natak Akademi award.

Comparison of Hindustani and Carnatic music

Hindustani and Carnatic are types of music that are not only different, they reflect the North South divide which is already apparent in all walks of life.

It is a common perception that Hindustani music has had a lot of influences from Persian music because of hundreds of years of Islamic rule in North India. But if one were to take into account a large Muslim population in south India, especially in Kerala, it appears that this is not a valid point to justify differences in the two styles of music that have become known as north and south India divide in the music world.

While both Hindustani and Carnatic styles of music are monophonic and make use of a tanpura to maintain the melody. The raga used in the composition is maintained using definite scales but in Carnatic music there are semitones (shrutis) to create a raga which is why we find a larger number of ragas in Carnatic music than Hindustani music. Not only ragas are different, their names are also different in the two styles of music. However, one can find some ragas with the same scale in both styles such as Hindolam comparable to Malkauns in Hindustani, and Shankarabharnam being same as raga Bilawal in Hindustani. Even if ragas are same, they can be rendered in totally contrasting styles in Hindustani or Carnatic music.

Carnatic music can be considered more rigid than Hindustani music as there is a prescribed style of singing. On the other hand, there is more than a single style of singing in Hindustani music known as gharanas in Hindustani music. Two of the most famous styles of singing are the Jaipur gharana and Gwalior gharana.

The source of Hindustani music is considered to be Sangita Ratnakara of Sarangdeva while Carnatic music has influences from various musical stalwarts like Purandaradasa, Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri.

Musical Instruments

The Violin

The violin used in Indian classical music is similar to the one used in Western classical traditions. In Carnatic music, the tuning is the same. The tuning is slightly modified for the Hindustani violin, but the playing style remains the same.

The Veena

The veena is among the oldest of Indian musical instruments. From the references to Vedic writings, it can date back to around the first millennium B.C. Temple sculptures from the 2nd century B.C. show a type of veena being played.

The Udukkai

The udukkai is an hourglass shaped, membranous drum used in devotional and folk music throughout India. The udukkai is played with the hand and the pitch may be altered by tightening the lacing in the middle.

The Thavil

The thavil is a percussion instrument used for accompanying the nadaswaram, a wind instrument used in Hidu religious music and as a solo instrument in Carnatic music. It consists of a barrel shaped drum carved out of jackfruit wood.

The Tar Shehnai

The Tar Shehnai is an esraj (bowed string instrument) with an added mechanical amplifier. This amplifier fixed to the sound board of the instrument is modeled on the gramophone sound box to project a stronger, more directional sound.

The Tanpura

The tanpura is an instrument that acts as the reference chord in Indian classical music. It has a resonator and 4 strings, but no frets, as the notes are always played whole. The name is derived from “tana”.

The Tabla

The tabla is the percussion instrument most commonly used in north Indian classical music. The instrument consists of two drums, called bayan (left) and dayan (right) as per the hand they are most commonly played with.

The Swarmandal

The swarmandal is a harp like instrument that is most commonly used as an accompaniment to Hindustani vocal music. The name originates frim ‘swara’ (note) and mandal (group), an indicator of the large number of notes it can produce.

The Sursringar

The sursringar is a rare string instrument that is used as a Hindustani solo instrument. It was used in Dhrupad music in the 19th century, and is regarded as a descendent of the Rabab.

The Sitar

The sitar, a stringed instrument played by plucking, is one of the most well known Indian musical instruments. It has gained popularity both in India and the west over the past few decades.

The Shankha

The shankha is a conch shell primarily used in religious music of Hinduism and Buddhism. The shell is got from the shell of a large predatory sea snail, the Turbinella Pyrum that lives in the Indian ocean.

The Sarod

The sarod is a lute like instrument that has connections with the lute like instruments of the Christian era, the rudra veena and the Afghan rabab. It is made of a single block of wood.

The Sarangi

The Sarangi is a fretless, bowed string instrument used in Hindustani classical music and folk traditions of north India. Although precise information about the Sarangi is missing, it may have come to India from Central Asia as the bowed Rabab.

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