The Origin of Indian Classical Music


Nature has created us all in such a way that even our bodies are living, breathing musical instruments. Everything that happens in nature, be it the chirping of birds, the sound of thunder, flowing water or the sound of wind, and many other sounds present in nature, form the very basis of music. For example, a human heart beats 72 times every minute and if you close your eyes and listen carefully, you will hear the musical composition that your body sings. What is amazing is that we are all born musicians. If we talk more technically, every sound you make or create using musical instruments, and when arranged in rhythm, forms a musical composition.

A die oldest forms of music is Indian classical music, which is believed to have originated in the Vedic era, and its first mentions can be found in the 6000 years Vedic scriptures. Vedic chants and prayers developed a system of musical notes and rhythmic cycles forming the basis of Indian classical music.

There are two types of ancient Indian music, one is North Indian music or popularly known as Hindustani music, and South Indian music or Carnatic music. There is no evidence to prove exactly when Hindustani music originated, as it is believed to have emerged from the Vedic scriptures and, according to others, it was introduced to India by the Aryans during their invasion of northern India. The Carnatics or “Karnatik“Music was made popular by a sage namely”Purandara Dasa” also called “the grandfather of Carnatic music”, at the beginning of the 16e century, in Hampi of the Vijayanagara Empire. The sage studied Indian classical music intensively and systematized music learning practices by developing exercises for musicians to perfect their craft. He traveled to places in South India and Maharashtra to share his teachings and ideas and influenced many musicians from Bhakti Movement.

Hindustani music is mainly practiced in North India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. It’s more voice-centric and is based on Raga system made up of basic seven Remarks “Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni“. It has four main forms, namely Dhrupad, Khayal, Tarana and Thumri. Dhrupad is the oldest form with mentions even in “Natyasashtra(200 BC-200 AD). It evolved into Khyal, which later evolved into Thumri. Hindustani music is a combination of elements from ancient Hindu tradition, Vedic philosophy and Persian tradition. The main musical instruments used in this form are Tabla, Sarangi, Sitar, Santoor, Flute and Violin.Hindustani music was made popular by the world famous musician”Tansen“during his stay in the court of the Mughal Emperor, Akbar, himself a lover of art and music. For the first sixty years, Tansen devoted his life to the study of music and the introduction of musical innovations under the patronage of the Hindu King Ram Chand of Gwalior, before performing at Akbar’s court. Many musicians regard Tansen as the “Father of Hindustani Music“. Some of the other best known contributors to Hindustani music are Ustad Bismillah Khan (Legendary Shehnai Player), Pandit Ravi Shankar (Magnificent Tabla Player), Hariprasad Chaurasia (Phenomenal Flautist), Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Renowned Santoor Player) , AR Rahman (legendary music composer of modern times), and the list goes on.

Carnatic music is mainly practiced in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka. It’s more rhythmically intensive and structure compared to Hindustani music. Even today, Carnatic music is performed in its original form as it was during the time of Purandara Dasa in the 16e century. It has remained untouched by outside influences and has a seamless Indian musical tradition. He improvised music forms such as Alapana, Niraval, Kalpnaswaram and Ragam Thana Pallavi. It is a more spiritual and intellectual form of classical music and involves the worship of gods, which makes it closer to early Indian classical music. The main elements of Carnatic music are Sruti (musical pitch), Swara (tonality assigned to specific musical notes), Raga (formulas for musical notes) and Taala (predetermined pattern of musical notes). The main instruments used are the tamboori, the mridanga, the violin, the harmonium, the flute, the ghatam and the veena. Besides Purandara Dasa, there have been many other great names in Carnatic music, like Tyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar, who were outstanding composers of Kritis, and Syama Sastri, together they were known as the “musical trinity“. Then there are modern legends of Carnatic music like Aruna Sairam (Padmashri Prize Winner), Mr. Balamuralikrishna (more than 400 musical compositions), Mrs. Subbulakshmi (Bharat Ratna and Ramon Magsaysay Award Winner), Nithyasree Mahadevan (Indian singer with over 500 albums published in his name), and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer (“Piatamha” of modern carnatic music).

The history of Indian classical music is so intriguing and profound that one has to dive into this ocean of music to understand it.


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