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The origin of Indian music is said to be rooted in the Vedas.

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Types of Indian Music

Classical Indian music is mainly divided into two branches, North and South. The South Indian music is called Carnatic, in reference of the Southern State of Karnataka, and the northern branch, Hindustani, in reference of the Hindi speaking region going to North-West Frontier and to Poorab, the East.

Hindustani : North Indian music is popularly known as Hindustani music. Hindustani Music has never been really unified, many styles and genres have been developed and encouraged by a family system called Gharana or Family.  The names of the gharanas are almost always derived from a geographical location.   The word "Gharana" literally means "house" and it implies the house of the teacher. Each Gharana has preserved its own tradition of music and the musical compositions. Each Gharana has got a particular discipline, system and style. The gharanas were entrusted with the duty of maintaining a certain standard of musicianship. 

Carnatic : South Indian Music is called Carnatic music. This "temple music", whether vocal or instrumental, is always directed to a Hindu god. Being also the music of religious dance, it has needed rhythms both light and complex. Carnatic music is nearly totally unified and the different schools are based on the same ragas (about 300 different ragas), same solo instruments, mainly the veena, flute, violin and same rhythm instrument, the mridangam and the ghatam.
Carnatic music is more an achievement of individual styles rather than a music from schools, such as can be found in the North.

Folk: Folk music, on the other hand, has different forms depending on the region it belongs to. With flexibility in its expression, it is not bound by laws or any set pattern. Folk music has its peculiar expressions and emotions and has established a tradition of its own.


The Indian Musical Scale

The 7 notes or "Swar" of the scale are Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni. 

Shadj = Sa
Rishabh = Re
Gandhara = Ga
Madhyam = Ma
Pancham = Pa
Dhaivat = Dha
Nishad = Ni. 

The scale sounds similar to "Do Re Me Fa So La Te". In western classical Piano one octave consists of 12 notes, whereas in Indian classical music the same consists of 22 notes or shrutis. "Swar" is generally defined as a note whereas a shruti is the microtonal intervals between two swaras.

The two most important elements of Indian Classical Music are "Raag" and Taal". 



Raag is the basis of classical music. The Hindi/Urdu word "raag" is derived from the Sanskrit "raaga" which means "color, or passion" Therefore raag may be thought of as an acoustic method of coloring the mind of the listener with an emotion with a "combination of a set of notes".  It is the melody. Raagas are made of different combinations of sapta swara or seven notes.  

Tradition ascribes certain raags to be sung/played at particular times of the day, seasons, or holidays; this is called "Samay" or time. A number of raagas express certain moods or emotions, and some are believed to personify gods, ascetics, or devotees. The object of a raaga is to express a certain emotional mood and sentiment.

Regardless of whether the raaga performance is vocal or instrumental, a drone (a sustained tone of fixed pitch) is invariably heard in the background. Improvisation is an essential feature of Indian music, depending upon the imagination and the creativity of an artist; a great artist can communicate and instill in his listener the mood of the Raaga.

There are a limited number of raagas in Hindustani music; as the use of a "KING" note and a "QUEEN" note restricts to a great extent, the creation of new raagas. The raaga forms the backbone of Indian music, and the laws laid down for the raagas have to be carefully observed to preserve and safeguard their integrity. The following points are required in the construction of a Raaga --

  1. Thaats or sequence of notes,

  2. Jaatis or classification

  3. "King" and "Queen" relation of the notes, i.e. Vadi and Samvadi

  4. The Ascent and Descent of the raag, i.e. Aroha and Avaroha

  5. Important cluster of notes

  6. Pitch

  7. Speed.

All the raagas are divided into two groups -- Poorva Raagas and Uttar Raagas. The Poorva Raagas are sung between 12 noon and 12 midnight. The Uttar Raagas are sung between 12 midnight and 12 noon.


The Elements of a Raag

"Alap" is the first movement of the Raaga. It is a slow, serene movement acting as an invocation and it gradually develops the Raaga.

"Jor" begins with the added element of rhythm which (combining with the weaving of innumerable melodic patterns) gradually grains in tempo and brings the raaga to the final movement.

"Jhala" is the final movement and climax. It is played with a very fast action of the plectrum which is worn on the right index finger.

"Gat"is the fixed composition. A gat can be in any Taala and can be spread over from 2 to 16 of its rhythmic cycles in any tempo, slow, medium or fast.

A Gat (for a fixed composition), whether vocal or instrumentaal, has generally two sections. The first part is called "pallavi" - South Indian term - or "asthayi" - North Indian term - which opens the composition and is generally confined to the lower and middle octaves. The following part of the composition is called the "anupallavi" (or antara) which usually extends from the middle to upper octaves. In South Indian music further melodic sections called "charana" follows the "anupallavi."



The other basic element of Indian music is the Taal.  It is a rhythmic cycle containing a fixed number of beats. 'Taala' is the second important factor in Indian music. These are rhythmic cycles ranging from 3 to 108 beats. Taalas give the rhythmic foundation of the melodic structure and are performed on drums. The sequence of beats serves as a framework on which the drummer plays rhythmic patterns associated with a particular taala. The taala is divided into subsections, which can be equal or unequal in length. As a rule, the first beat of a section receives an accent. The most important accent occurs on the very first beat of the taala cycle; at this point the soloist sings or plays an important tone of the raaga, and the drummer accents this with an appropriate drum stroke. 


The Importance of a "Guru" in learning Indian Music

" Guru - Shishya Tradition"  

"Guru" - the teacher, the preceptor, the seer and guide. The word Guru is made up of two syllables "gu" and "ru". Etymologically, "gu" stands for darkness and "ru" stands for one who dispels the darkness. 

Shishiya is the student.

In the Indian musical tradition, the transmission of music from is primarily "oral" in the sense that the teaching takes place in a scenario of the Guru singing (or playing an instrument) and the sisya or student learning by listening. 

Typically, even in the recent past, the sisya would leave his parents' home and stay with, serve and learn from his chosen Guru, in the pursuit of musical knowledge. In this kind of learning, the student sisya is almost always in a continuous state of learning - while listening to his Guru practice or while he teaches other sisyas, while accompanying him on the tambura during a concert and while listening to the Guru taalk about and discuss musical nuances (theoretical and performative) with various other people. This methodology of teaching, which is unique to this country, is what is called sampradaya and has been coming down the ages being handed over from teacher to student in an unbroken tradition. The method is predominantly one of assimilation by listening, conditioning, repetition, practice, intuition and contemplation. Finally after all the teaching it was up to the student to "discover" the raag for himself. 


Terms used in Indian Music 

  • Achal - Fixed
  • Arohi - Ascending movement a. k. a. Arohana; Aroh
  • Avirbhav - To make visible the original raga form
  • Abhoga - Closing movement in a composition
  • Alaap - Unmetered Raga introduction and expansion; prelude
  • Andolan - Undulating vibrato
  • Alankar - Ornaments, exercises
  • Antara - 2nd Movement in a composition with the melodic progression generally in the uttarang region of the octave and above
  • Antya - Ending on
  • Anuvadi - Assonant note
  • Asthai - 1st movement in a composition with the melodic progression generally in the poorvang region of the octave and below
  • Asthan - Region; area: as in Mandar Asthan-lower octave region
  • Audava - Five notes; pentatonic
  • Avarohi - Descending movement a. k. a. Avarohana; Avaroh
  • Bol /s - Sound sylabel /s. as in Tabla Bols
  • Chakra - S. I. Melakarta raga classification. There are 12 Chakras of six ragas each, giving the 72 Melas. See Mela Chart.
  • Chalan - A systematic raga expansion
  • Chautalaa - 14 Beatr Cycle
  • Dadra Tal - Six beat cycle
  • Deepchandi Tal - Fourteen beat cycle
  • Dhamar Tal - Fourteen beat cycle
  • Dhaivata - Sixth musical note (Dha)
  • Drut - Fast
  • Ek Tal - Twelve beat cycle
  • Gandhar - Third musical note (Ga)
  • Grama - Ancient music scales- Shadaja, Madhyama, and Gandhar Gramas
  • Jati - Tonal classification
  • Jhaptal - Ten beat cycle
  • Jhumra Tal - Fourteen beat cycle
  • Kan - Grace, as in grace note
  • Keharwa Tal - Eight beat cycle
  • Komal - Flat
  • Kriti - Classical composition (used in S. I. music system)
  • Lakshan - Introduction, definitive principles, or rules
  • Laya - Tempo
  • Madhya Saptak - Middle octave region; middle pitch register
  • Madhya Laya - Medium Tempo
  • Madhyama - Fourth musical note (Ma)
  • Mandar - Lower octave region; low pitch register
  • Manjari - Collection, bouquet
  • Meend - Slide or glissando
  • Mela - S. I. Parent mode; 72 in all; See Mela chart
  • Mishra - Mixed
  • Nada - Sound in general; but applies more to musical sound or else it is considered noise. Nada is of two types: Ahata (struck) and Unahata (un-struck)
  • Nada Brahma - This universe is sound
  • Nyasa - Closing note; cadence
  • Nishadha - Seventh musical note (Ni)
  • Pakar - Characteristic musical catch phrase of a raga
  • Panchama - Fifth Musical note (Pa)
  • Poorvang - Lower tetrachord-Sa Re Ga Ma / modified to Sa Re Ga Ma Pa
  • Prati - Sharp (a. k. a. Tivar)
  • Raga - Modal scale
  • Rasa - Emotional state. In music there are nine: Shringaar (sensual), Raudra (anger), Hasya (happy), Vibhatsaya (disgust), Veera(heroic), Karuna (sympathy), Bhayanak (fear), Adabhuta (wonder), and Shanta (peace)
  • Rishabha - Second musical note (Re)
  • Rupak Tal - Seven beat cycle
  • Sanchari - Third movement in a composition encompassing all the regions of the octave; Sanchari means wandering
  • Sampooran - Seven note; heptatonic
  • Samvadi - Subsonant, the second most important note in a raga
  • Sandhi Prakash - Sunrise or sunset time periods
  • Saptak - Octave (Sapt means seven. Indian music does not count repeated notes as a part of the same octave. But saptak and octave basically imply the same meaning)
  • Sargam - Indian solfegio; derived from the first four notes Sa, Re, Ga, Ma
  • Shadaja - First musical note (Sa). A. k. a. Kharaja
  • Shastra - Treatise
  • Shaudava - Six note; hexatonic
  • Shruti - Musical microtone; pitch; intonation
  • Shudha - A pure or a natural note
  • Swara - Musical note
  • Swaroop - Image
  • Tal - Rhythm cycle
  • Tan - An improvised vocal or instrumental musical phrase
  • Tar - Upper octave region; upper pitch register
  • Thaat - Parent scale, parent mode; Thaat means to tie down as in frets
  • Thumri - Vocal or instrumental song style
  • Tintal - Sixteen beat cycle
  • Tirobhav - Deviating or camouflaging from the original. Concealment
  • Tivar - Sharp
  • Uttarang - Upper tetrachord-Pa Dha Ni Sa / modified to Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa
  • Vadi - Sonant. The most important note in a raga
  • Vakra - Zigzag, indirect, or crooked
  • Varana - Embellishment, note group
  • Varjit - Omitted, deleted or avoided note
  • Vikrit - Modified
  • Vilambit - Slow
  • Vivadi - Dissonant note

Indian Musical Instruments


Esraj is played with a bow and has many strings. It is one of the major instruments of North India.


Sitar is the most popular stringed instrument of India and has been in use for about 700 years. It is fashioned from a seasoned gourd and teakwood and has twenty mentaal frets with six or seven playing strings and nineteen sympathetic strings below. It is played with a plectrum worn on the finger. Sitar has a long and complex heritage; its origin goes back to the ancient Veena. In the 13th century, Amir Khusru, in order to make the instrument more flexible, reversed the order of the strings and made the frets moveable. 

Ravi Shankar, the great musician-artist brought changes and a new perspective.




Sarod is another popular stringed instrument. The body is carved from a single piece of well-seasoned teakwood and the belly covered with goat skin. There are four main strings, six rhythm and drone strings and fifteen sympathetic strings, all made of metaal. These are played by striking with a plectrum made of a coconut shell. The Sarod has no frets. Sarod as been found in carvings of the 1st century in Champa temple and also in paintings in the Ajanta caves. It also has a similarity with the Rabab of Afghanistan and Kashmir. The instrument was modified by Amir Khusru in the 13th century. A definite change was made by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan in shape of the instrument for improving the tonal quality.


The name derives from Sau Rangi meaning 100 colors. Sarangi is played with a bow and has four main strings and as many as forty resonant strings. It is generally used to accompany singers but can also be a solo instrument.


Tanpura is a four or five stringed instrument which gives the essential drone background to all Indian music.


Santoor is a North Indian instrument originating from Kashmir. It has more than a hundred strings which run across a hollow rectangular box and the strings are struck by a pair of slim carved walnut mallets.



Vichitra Veena is a comparatively recent addition to the Veena family. It is a fretless stringed instrument with four main strings, three drone and rhythm strings and eleven to thirteen resonating strings. The strings are plucked by a plectrum on the index or middle finger of the right hand.




Violin was introduced to India about 300 years ago and is a very important string instrument in the South of India. It is played in a sitting position and is held between the right foot and the left shoulder.


Tabla is the overall term for two drums, which are played as accompaniment to North Indian music and dance. The musician uses the base of the palm as well as the fingers to produce great variations in sounds. The right hand drum is tuned to the tonic dominant or sub-dominant and the left-hand drum acts as the base.


Pakhawaj is a long bodied wooden drum with both ends covered in skin and is the most traditional drum of North India. Played horizontally with the fingers and palms of both hands, the right hand surface is tuned to the pitch required and the left hand surface provides the base.


Mridangam is similar in appearance to the Pakhawaj but the ends have a different texture. It is the most used drum in South Indian music.


Dholak is a side drum, cylindrical in shape, bored out of solid wood. Its pitch is variable and is an essential accompaniment for folk music of North India.


Jal Tarang is essentially a water-xylophone. It is made up of a series of china bowls of varying sizes and they are filled with varying levels of water. These are then played with two light sticks.


Pung is a long bodied drum with both ends covered in skin and plays an important role in Manipuri dancing when it is played by men and women, either in a sitting position or standing position.


Flute is found in every part of India, carved from bamboo it is made in every possible size. It is usually played in a vertical position.


Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, the internationally renowned artist of the bansuri or bamboo flute




Shehnai is a double reeded wind instrument with a widening tube towards the lower end. There are eight or nine holes, the upper seven for playing, the lower ones for tuning. The Shehnai is considered auspicious and is played on all festive occasions in India.

Bismillah Khan - Rag Multani : Shehnai wizard Bismillah Khan, who introduced the humble north Indian reed pipe to the concert stage, died in his home city of Benaras on August 21, 2006. He was 91.

Indian Pop Music

When 'Idols', the hugely popular worldwide phenomenon, was brought to India as 'Indian Idol'. The contest is held in Mumbai, contestants perform one song to the panel of judges. The deliberations limit the contender pool to 28 hopefuls. The 28 semifinalists are split up into four groups of seven each; two girl groups, two boy groups. From each group three finalists are chosen by the public who go on to form the final 12. One contestant is eliminated each week by viewer votes. 

The winner signs a contract worth ten million rupees with Sony Entertainment Television (India) along with a chance to record an album. The winner also receives a car & in the second season Sandeep Acharya also got a guitar signed by Abhijeet Sawant, who was the very first Indian Idol. 

Indian Bollywood Music

Indian Bollywood movies are a big part of Indian life. The Bollywood music has grown from classical to pop and everything in between. 

The Bollywood yester year stars like Lata Mangeshkar, Muhamad Raffi, Kishore Kumar are surely icons but today there is a new breed of Indian musicians and singers. All of the Bollywood songs are sung by professional singers and the actors lip synch to them so well that is is hard to tell that they are just lip-synching. The songs are rhythmic and melodious. The new generation of Bollywood songs have even rap. The songs are played in many Indian night clubs and even during weddings.  

Woh Pehli Baar - from the movie PYAAR MEIN KABHI KABHI


Woh pehli baar jab hum mile 
Haathon mein haath jab hum chale 
Ho gaya ye dil deewana 
Hota hai pyaar kya isne jaana 
Teri aankhon mein jannat basake chala 
Teri zulfon ki chhaaon mein chalta chala 
Tere neinon mein chein tere labh pe khushi 
Tujhko hi main mohabbat bana ke chala
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Chaiya Chaiya....Eight years ago, perhaps two million people heard the song Chaiyya Chaiyya in movie theatres while watching the film Dil Se. By Sunday, at least 18 million movie fans will have heard the song, not once but twice, in more than 3,000 theatres in over a dozen countries including America, Canada, Britain and Italy, after watching the hit film Inside Man. The movie is in
its fourth week. With more countries to be added, the thriller starring Denzel Washington and directed by Spike Lee will soon have many more millions listening to the song at the very start of the film. And at its end.

The song has nothing to do with the film's theme, except that it caught Spike Lee's attention when the musical Bombay Dreams with A R Rahman's music was on Broadway over a year ago. Chaiyya Chaiyya was one of its highlights. The song sequence also received applause in the London version where, unlike on Broadway, the show was is big hit.




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