Indian Classical Music – The Backbone of Indian Music

Indian classical music is the backbone of Indian music. It is the foundation on which all other genres are built. Indian classical music is characterized by its intricate ragas and talas, and its use of improvisation.

What is Indian Classical Music?

Indian Classical Music is the backbone of Indian music. It is a genre of music that has been around for thousands of years and has its roots in the Vedic texts. Indian Classical Music is based on the ragas, which are melodic scales that provide the framework for a composition.

The Origins of Indian Classical Music

Indian classical music is one of the oldest musical traditions in the world. It can be traced back to the Vedic period, when the Rig Veda, one of the four ancient Hindu scriptures, was first composed. This sacred text contains hymns that praising the gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon.

The Vedic period was followed by the Epic period, during which noble warriors and heroic deeds were celebrated in poetry and song. The most famous epic from this time is the Mahabharata, which tells the story of a civil war between two branches of a royal family. The Hindu god Krishna is a central figure in this epic poem, and his divine love for the warrior princess Radha is one of the most popular themes in Indian classical music.

The third major period in the history of Indian music is known as the Classical period. This was a time when courtly patronage helped to develop and refine this art form.During this period, two main schools of thought emerged – Hindustani and Carnatic – which are still followed by musicians today.

The main difference between these two styles is that Hindustani music places more emphasis on melody, while Carnatic music focuses on systematic improvisation within set patterns. India’s classical music tradition has also been influenced by Muslim and Persian traditions, as well as by European classical music.

One of the most important features of Indian classical music is its use of ragas – melodic scales that provide a framework for improvisation. Each raga has its own unique mood or feeling, which is evoked in listeners through the use of specific note sequences, embellishments and embellishments rhythms.

Indian classical music is traditionally performed on a variety of instruments, including sitars, sarods, tablas, pakhavajs, shehnai and harmoniums. Today it enjoys great popularity both within India and abroad, thanks to world-renowned musicians such as Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan

The Three Main Gharanas of Indian Classical Music

Indian classical music is built on a foundation of different “gharanas”, or schools, which have their own unique styles. The three main gharanas of Indian classical music are the Gwalior gharana, the Agra-Atrauli gharana, and the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana.

The Gwalior gharana is one of the oldest and most well-known schools of Indian classical music. It is known for its unique style of vocal music, which uses a lot of ornamentation and embellishment. The Gwalior gharana is also known for its distinct compositions, which often make use of complex rhythms and interesting melodic patterns.

The Agra-Atrauli gharana is another well-known school of Indian classical music. This gharana is known for its Khayal style of vocal music, which uses a lot of improvisation and intricate melodic patterns. The Agra-Atrauli gharana is also known for its use of Drone notes, which give the music a very calming and meditative quality.

The Jaipur-Atrauli gharana is a relatively new school of Indian classical music, but it has quickly gained popularity due to its unique style of vocal music. The Jaipur-Atrauli style uses a lot of ornamentation and improvisation, and often employs very fast tempo changes. This gharana is also known for its use of “tala”, or rhythmic cycles, which give the music a very energetic quality.

The Different Types of Indian Classical Music

Indian classical music is the backbone of Indian music. It is a complex and rich tradition that has its roots in the Vedas, the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism. There are two main types of Indian classical music: Carnatic and Hindustani. Both types are based on the same foundation, but each has its own unique style and characteristics.


Dhrupad is a form of North Indian classical music that dates back to the 13th century. It is usually performed by a group of four musicians, consisting of two vocalists, a pakhawaj player (a large drum), and a string instrument player. The music is very slow and meditative, and the focus is on the purity of the notes being sung. Dhrupad was traditionally sung in temples as part of religious ceremonies, but it is now also performed in concert halls and festivals.


Khyal is the most popular form of Indian classical music. It is a vocal genre that originated in the 13th century, and is still performed today. The word “khyal” comes from the Arabic word for “imagination” or “thought.” Khyal music is characterized by its use of improvisation and its focus on the beauty of the voice. Khyal singers often use metaphors and similes in their lyrics to create a picture in the listener’s mind.


Tappa is a fast-paced and rhythmically intoxicating type of North Indian classical vocal music. The word ‘tappa’ comes from the Hindustani verb tapp, meaning “to strike.” Tappa is characterized by its use of gamakas (ornaments), which are rhythmic variations on the notes of the scale that are sung with rapid changes in intonation. These gamakas create an eerie, edge-of-your-seat tension that is released only when the singer finally resolves to the tonic note. Because of its use of microtones (notes that fall between the notes of the chromatic scale), tappa is particularly well-suited to expressing moods of longing and yearning.


Tarana is a type of fast-paced singing in which the singer employs meaningless but beautiful words, called “bols”, to create an ethereal, dreamy atmosphere. The words are repeated over and over again in a rapid-fire manner, with each repetition becoming shorter. Tarana is often used as a means of catharsis, to help the singer break free from the limitations of language.

The Instruments Used in Indian Classical Music

Indian classical music is one of the oldest musics in the world. It is the original music of India, and it is the backbone of all Indian music. Indian classical music is based on the concept of Raga. A Raga is a specific melodic structure that is used as the basis for a composition.

The Sitar

The sitar is a stringed instrument played with a plectrum worn on the right forefinger. It is used in Hindustani classical music and shares many features with the plucked lutes of other regions. The sitar arrived at its current form in 18th-century India, and achieved wide popularity in the 19th century. Siteswari or Misir Khan (1720–1790) is generally credited as the inventor of the modern sitar.

The sitar’s six main strings are tuned in intervals of whole notes, while the 13 sympathetic strings are tuned to drone notes usually an octave below one of the main strings. Each sympathetic string can be tuned to produce a different note, effectively giving the sitar an extra octave on top of its two and a half octaves of main notes. The sympathetic strings are plucked whenever their corresponding main string is playable, resonating sympathetically along with it to produce a deeper sound. This gives the instrument its characteristic sound, which has been likened to “a beautiful woman singing”.

The player presses down on one of the main strings with their left hand while plucking selected strings with their right hand to produce various musical phrases; this is known as meend (glissando). The player may use their left hand to stop (dampen) selected strings from vibrating by lightly pressing them against the frets; this technique is known as khani baazi (stopping). The player may also slide (portamento) up or down the length of a string while it is being played simultaneously on another string; this created sustained “slurs” and quarter-tone “bends”.

The Sarod

The Sarod is a string instrument used in Indian classical music. It is similar to the Western lute or guitar, but has a much richer sound and a more complex history. The Sarod is believed to have originated in India in the 16th century, and it has been used in Hindustani music since the 19th century. The Sarod is played with a bow, and it has a wide range of notes that can be produced by the different strings. The Sarod is an important part of Indian classical music, and it is often used in solo performances.

The Santoor

The santoor is a trapezoid-shaped hammered dulcimer with two rows of bridges, each housing 3 to 5 copper wires strung with sympathetic unison strings. The santoor is primarily used in the classical music of India and Pakistan, as well as in Hindu devotional music known as bhajans and Sufi music. The santoor is also popular in Iran and Kurdistan, where it is known as the Santur.

The Shehnai

The shehnai is a type of oboe that is commonly used in Indian classical music. It is considered to be one of the most important instruments in this genre of music, and is often used to provide the main melody in a piece. The shehnai has a very distinctive sound that is created by its unique construction.

The instrument is made from a hollowed out piece of wood that has a conical bore. There are six holes located on the front of the instrument, and these are covered with palm leaf or metal plates. The player blows into a reed that is fitted into the top of the shehnai, and this vibrates to produce the sound.

The shehnai is traditionally used in wedding ceremonies and other special occasions, as it is thought to bring good luck. It has a very important role in Indian classical music, and can often be heard providing the main melody in a piece.

The Different Forms of Indian Classical Music

Indian classical music is the backbone of Indian music. It is the foundation on which the Hindustani and Carnatic music traditions stand. The different forms of Indian classical music include the following:


Alap is the first section of a composition and serves as an introduction to the raga. It is completely improvised and is meant to set the mood of the piece. The alap is usually performed by the soloist accompanied by a drone (a continuous harmonic sound).


Jor (pronounced “johr”) is the second form of Indian classical music, and is a melodic invocation of the night. Jor literally means “coupling” or “joining”, and is characterized by a slow, measured tempo and long, sustained notes. Jor is typically played on the sarangi, a bowed string instrument.

As with alap, jor begins with a solo performance by the sarangi player. The other instruments join in one by one, typically starting with the tabla (a type of percussion instrument). The tempo gradually increases as the piece progresses, reaching a peak in the last section before concluding with a slow coda.

As with alap, jor does not have a strict rhythmic structure – instead, it relies on the improvisational skills of the performers to provide rhythmic interest. This makes jor particularly challenging to play, and requires a high level of skill from both the soloist and accompanists.

Despite its technical difficulty, jor is an essential part of Indian classical music and provides a crucial link between the slow meditative alap and the faster, more upbeat gat.


Jhala is the concluding section of a sitar or sarod performance in Hindustani music. It is characterized by fast play, with rapid bowing on the Sarangi or rapid strikes on the Sitard’Aja’ strokes, and can last for several minutes. There is no fixed metre, and the main focus is on the rhythmic aspect of the music. The Jhala section usually occurs after theAlap andGat sections.

The Great Masters of Indian Classical Music

Indian classical music is the backbone of Indian music. It is a genre of South Asian music that has its roots in the Vedas, the ancient Hindu scriptures. Indian classical music is also influenced by the Persian music of the Mughals. The great masters of Indian classical music include Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande.

Ustad Vilayat Khan

Ustad Vilayat Khan (born 1928) is an Indian classical musician, who plays the sitar. He is considered one of the greatest sitar players of the 20th century.[1][2] He was born into a family of musicians tracing back six generations to the court musicians of the Mughal rulers. He received his training from his father, Ustad Inayat Hussain Khan, and his uncle, Ustad Imdad Khan.

Khan’s music was deeply influenced by his father’s style as well as that of Ravi Shankar. He is credited with using some novel techniques such as using meend (gliding up and down the scale) on frets other than those traditionally used, and bringing new sounds out of the instrument by playing close to the bridge. He also popularized the use of zakir (embellishments) in Indian classical music.

Khan was also a renowned composer, and his taranas and behag-based compositions are widely performed by classical singers. He was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1975, followed by the Padma Bhushan in 1992 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2001.

Pt. Ravi Shankar

One of the most distinguished classical musicians of the 20th century, Pt. Ravi Shankar was born into a Bengali Brahmin family in Varanasi, India. He began his musical training at the age of seven under his brother Uday Shankar, a world-renowned choreographer and dancer. In 1938, he went to Maihar in Madhya Pradesh to study under the legendary guru Baba Allauddin Khan. For the next seven years, he remained a strict disciple of his guru, living and breathing music.

Pt. Ravi Shankar’s mastery over the sitar and his incomparable style of playing, which combined the best of northern and southern Indian traditions, made him one of the most celebrated musicians of his generation. He honed his skills over the years and became known for his virtuosity and impeccable technique. He also composed numerous ragas and talas, which are now performed by sitar players all over the world.

Pt. Ravi Shankar’s contributions to Indian classical music were immense. He popularized Indian music in the West through his performances at prestigious international events such as the Newport Jazz Festival and the Monterey Pop Festival, and through his collaborations with Western artists like George Harrison and Yehudi Menuhin. He also founded several institutions to promote Indian music, including the Kinnara School of Music in Mumbai and the Ravi Shankar Institute of Music and Performing Arts in Delhi.

Pt. Ravi Shankar was conferred many honors during his lifetime, including four Grammy Awards, India’s highest civilian award -the Bharat Ratna- and Japan’s highest honor for a foreigner -the Order of Culture-. He was also nominated for an Academy Award for his work on the movie Gandhi. Pt. Ravi Shankar passed away in 2012 at the age of 92.

Ustad Bismillah Khan

Ustad Bismillah Khan, born in Bihar in 1916, was one of the greatest shehnai players India has ever seen. He was a struggler in his early days, but with his sheer talent and hard work, he went on to become one of the most celebrated classical musicians in the country. He was conferred with the Padma Shri in 1951, the Padma Bhushan in 1968 and the Padma Vibhushan in 1980, India’s highest civilian honors. He also received numerous other awards and accolades. Ustad Bismillah Khan passed away in 2006 at the age of 90.

Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia

Hariprasad Chaurasia is an Indian classical flutist and one of the exponents of the Bansuri, (Bamboo Flute). He was born in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh on 1st July, 1938 in a village called Naihati. It was here that he spent his childhood and learnt music from his guru, Allauddin Khan. Pt. Chaurasia’s main instrument is the transverse flute in the Hindustani classical tradition. He plays in the bass and tenor registers. He has also popularized use of breathy tone and ‘gamakas’ (note-bends), among other things.

The Gorakhpur gharana to which Pt. Chaurasa belongs, stresses ‘Sur’ (musical pitch), ‘Laya’ (rhythm) and ‘Tone Colour or Baaj’ (timbre), over the more usual melody-centric approach of other gharanas. In addition to being a performer, Pt. Chaurasia is also a music composer and has composed several soundtracks for films including Silsila, Srishti, Parampara, and Kundan. In 1968 he collaborated with Jani Babu Qawwal and released an album titled Call of the Valley which is regarded as a milestone album in Indian classical music. Some of his notable disciples include RakeshChaurasia , Manoj George ,Ronu Majumdar , Shashank Katti , Atul Raninga , Arnab Chakrabarty , Sachin Limaye & Kundan Lal Saigal .

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