What is India’s Folk Music?

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


India has a rich and diverse musical heritage. Folk music is an important part of this heritage. In this blog post, we explore the origins and different styles of India’s folk music.


India is a land of diversity, and this is reflected in its music as well. There are various genres of music, ranging from classical to folk, and each one has its own distinct style. India’s folk music is particularly rich and varied, with different regions having their own unique musical traditions.

Some of the most popular genres of Indian folk music include Bhangra, Rajasthani, Sufi, and Punjabi. Each of these styles has its own characteristic sound and rhythms, which make them instantly recognizable. Bhangra, for instance, is a high-energy form of dance music that originated in the Punjab region of India. It is characterized by fast-paced rhythms and catchy melodies, and is often accompanied by traditional dance movements. Rajasthani music, on the other hand, is typically slower and includes enhancing the mood of the listeners through the use of instrumentals.

Sufi music is a more spiritual form of folk music that often includes devotional lyrics dedicated to Allah or the Prophet Muhammad. Punjabi music, meanwhile, is known for its lively beats and festive lyrics. No matter what your taste in music may be, you are sure to find something to enjoy in India’s rich tradition of folk music!

What is Folk Music?

Folk music is a music that is typically created by the people of a culture or country. It is usually passed down from generation to generation and is used to express the daily life or history of the people. Folk music is often very simple and catchy, and can be played on any type of instrument. India’s folk music is extremely diverse, as there are many different cultures and traditions within the country.

Characteristics of Folk Music

Folk music is the traditional music of a group of people. It is passed down orally (by singing or playing instruments) and is meant to be performed, not just listened to. Folk music is usually connected to a particular region or culture. It often tells the stories of the people who sing it, and it can be a way for them to remember their heritage.

Folk music usually has a simple musical structure and is easy to sing or play. The words of folk songs are often about everyday life, love, and work. Many folk songs have been passed down for hundreds of years, and some even date back to medieval times!

India’s Folk Music
India has a rich tradition of folk music. The different types of folk music vary from region to region, but all of them are deeply rooted in the culture and heritage of the people who sing them.

Some common themes in Indian folk songs include nature, love, religion, and social issues. The melodies are often repetitive andsimple, making them easy to remember and sing along to. Indian folk songs are often accompanied by traditional instruments such as the sitar, tabla, sarangi, and harmonium.

Types of Folk Music

Folk music is a genre of music that is often passed down orally from generation to generation. It is typically associated with rural communities and traditional culture. Folk music may feature simple acoustic instruments such as guitars, banjos, and harmonicas, or it may be more complex with multiple instruments and harmonies. The lyrics of folk songs often deal with everyday life themes such as love, work, and death.

There are many different types of folk music from around the world. India’s folk music includes a wide variety of regional styles. Some of the most popular genres include Baul (a type of devotional music), Dadra (a slow-paced duet), Bhangra (a high-energy dance), Jhula Jhule (a type of ballad), and Filmi (a type of popular filmi).

The History of Folk Music in India

India’s folk music is a rich and varied tradition that dates back centuries. The music is steeped in the country’s history and culture, and has been passed down from generation to generation. Folk music is an important part of India’s musical heritage, and it continues to be popular today.

The Vedic Period

The Vedic period is the earliest of the four periods in Indian history. It is named after the Vedas, which are a collection of sacred texts that were composed between 1500 and 500 BCE. The Vedas are the oldest surviving texts in any Indo-European language and contains hymns, incantations, and rituals that were used by ancient Hindus.

During the Vedic period, music was used largely for religious purposes. The Rigveda, which is the earliest of the Vedas, contains references to musical instruments such as the viina and the tala (a kind of percussion instrument). Other Vedic texts mention the use of music for healing purposes and for taming animals.

The music of the Vedic period was probably based on a system of modal scales (similar to modern Western blues scales), which consisted of three principal notes (such as do-re-mi) and two auxiliary notes (such as fa-so-la). These modal scales were then embellished with additional notes to create a more complex melody.

The melodies of the Vedic period were probably chanted or sung in a monotone, without any harmony or accompaniment. This type of singing is known as drone singing, and it is still used in some traditional Hindu ceremonies today.

The Classical Period

India’s classical music tradition, including Hindustani music and Carnatic, has a history spanning millennia and developed over several areas. Conquest and political change led to the further integration of Musical traditions from Persians, Turks, Afghans and Central Asians. India’s classical music is based on two main types of melody: the raga and the tala.

The Modern Period

The modern history of folk music in India can be traced back to the onset of the nationalist movement in the late nineteenth century. Indian intellectuals and artists began to look to the country’s folklore for evidence of a shared national culture that could be mobilized to resist British colonial rule. Rabindranath Tagore, India’s most celebrated writer and thinker, was one of the first to embark on this project of cultural renewal. In 1901, he founded an experimental school in Shantiniketan where traditional Indian arts and crafts were taught alongside Western disciplines such as science and philosophy. It was at Shantiniketan that Tagore began to collect and transcribe Bengali folk songs, which he published in a series of volumes under the title Folk Songs of Bengal (1903-1914).

Other regional movements soon followed suit. In Maharashtra, for instance, musical societies were established in the 1920s with the express purpose of collecting and popularizing Marathi folk songs. The most prominent of these was the Gana Mandal, founded by Annasaheb Kirloskar, which went on to become one of the largest and most influential musical organizations in India. Similarly, in Tamil Nadu, E.V. Ramasamy (popularly known as “Periyar”) set up a network of rural schools where students were taught Tamil folk songs along with their regular academic curriculum.

The establishment of All India Radio (AIR) in 1936 was a watershed moment in the history of Indian folk music. AIR gave musicians from all over the country a static-free platform to reach a national audience. In Bengal, for instance, radio programmes featuring Baul singers became hugely popular; other regions soon followed suit, with sounds from all corners of India finding their way onto the airwaves.

Folk music continued to flourish in post-independence India, finding new patrons and practitioners alike. In 1957, Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande – often credited as the father of Hindustani classical music – published his seminal work Folk Songs of Northern India, which did much to raise awareness about the richness and diversity of India’s musical traditions. The 1960s also saw a number of important government initiatives aimed at preserving and promoting folk music; perhaps the most significant among these was Pandit Ravi Shankar’s formation of the Folk Music Wing within AIR in 1963.

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in folk music among young Indians who are seeking alternative forms of expression outside the confines of mainstream Bollywood pop music. This has led to a surge in popularity for traditional genres such as Rajasthani mangalicampto mawalawhich enjoyed something of a renaissance in the early 21st century thanks largely to artistes such as Manganiyarcode Kunjiraman Nair and his son Mangalampuzha Chandran


In conclusion, India’s folk music is a rich and varied tradition that has something to offer everyone. From the catchy and upbeat rhythms of Bollywood to the more relaxed and reflective sounds of the ghazal, there is sure to be something to suit every taste. So why not try something new and explore India’s folk music today?

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