the ages, man has sought to express
the stirrings of his soul, the
search for something beyond the mundane
through the medium of the arts.
evolution of poetry, painting and
other visual arts has been preserved
on stone, leaves and paper but
music being auditory, no such evidence
exists. As such it is not possible
to listen today to the music of the
of such a variety of cultural interactions,
our music has remained
essentially melodic. In melody, one
note follows the other, making for
a continued unity of effect, whereas
in harmony musical sounds are superimposed
on one another. Our classical music
has retained its melodic quality.
we recognise two systems of classical
music: the Hindustani and the Carnatic.
Carnatic music is confined
to Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil
Nadu and Kerala. The classical
of the rest of the country
goes under the name, Hindustani Classical
Music. Of course. there are some
areas in Karnataka and Andhra where
the Hindustani Classical system is
also practiced. Karnataka has given
us in the recent past some very distinguished
musicians of the Hindustani style.
is generally believed that the music
of India was more or less uniform
before the 13th century. Later it
bifurcated into the two musical systems.
present Indian music has grown
from ancient times. Almost every
tribe or people have lent their own
share in this growth. What therefore,
we now call a raga might
have started as a tribal or
is usual to begin the history
of Indian music with the melodic
patterns of vedic chanting.
The oldest music, which possessed
a grammar was the vedic.
Of course, the Rig-Veda is
said to be the oldest: nearly
5000 years old. The psalms
of the Rig-Veda were
called the richas.
The Yajur Veda was
also a religious chant. But
actual music in Northern or
Southern India, of those bygone
days could not have only been
of this kind. There were non-Aryan
people with their own art.
For instance, Santhal music
from the Eastern region of
India may have been passed
down from them. While the differences
are obvious, there is no doubt
that such music of the people
contributed to the formation
of what we now call Hindustani
Shastra of Bharata is
another important landmark in the history
Indian music. It is supposed to have
been written sometime
between the 2nd century B.C.
and the 2nd century A.D. Some scholars
are even doubtful whether it is the work
of one author and the work might well
have been a compendium - at least, the
version which is available to us. The
Natya Shastra is a comprehensive work
mainly dealing with dramaturgy. But a
few chapters of this deal with music.
Therein we get information on scales,
melodic forms, tala and musical instruments.
The then contemporary music recognized
two standard scales. These were called gramas.
The word grama is
itself perhaps derivable from the idea
of group or sect: a village, for instance.
This probably lead to a set of svaras or
notes being called grama.
This could roughly be translated as scales.
There were then two gramas prevalent.
One was called the Shadja
grama, the other one was
grama. The difference between
the two was only in one note, the panchama.
speak more accurately. we say that the panchama in madhyama
grama was one sruti lower
than the panchama in shadja
The sruti thus
is the unit of measure or small difference
between the various consecutive pitches
within a grama or a scale. For all
practical purposes they are said
to be twenty two. This is only as
far as practical enumeration is concerned.
just as we would say that there are
seven notes in an octave or saptak -
from Sa to upper Sa. But in reality
the number of srutis employed
in Indian music is infinite.
Getting back to gramas in Bharata's time, there were two, with
seven notes each. Bharata also mentions two other note: these were
the antara gandhara and kakali
from each grama subsidiary scales
are derived. These are called moorcchanas.
The notes are played or sung in a
descending manner. There are seven
basic notes in a scale, hence there
can be seven moorcchanas.
There were two gramas and each had
seven standard notes and two auxiliary
ones, as was mentioned. Since each
note could give a moorcchana,
numerous such subsidiary scales could
be obtained. It is possible to show
that there could be sixty-four moorcchanas derivable
from two gramas.
The process gave different tonal
orders within which could be grouped
or from which could be evolved, all
known classical melodies of those
days. This condition remained for
many centuries. In approximately
the 13th century A.D. Sarangadeva
- whose forefathers hailed from Kashmir
- settled in South India and wrote
his monumental Sangeeta
Ratankara. He also
described technical terms such as gramas and
moorcchanas. The standard scales
were still the same. But whereas
Bharata mentions two auxiliary svaras,
the number and definition of these
were very different in medieval times.
The whole scheme, what is often called
the modal music, seems so strange to
us now. But there is no doubting the
fact that it was a very highly advanced
and a scientific one.
about the 11th century, music from
Central and West Asia began to influence
our music tradition. Gradually this influence
took a deeper root and many changes
took place. Of these, an important one
is the disappearance of gramas and moorcchanas.
Sometime around about the 15th century,
this process of change became manifest,
the grama system
became obsolete. The concept of mela or thata takes
its place. In this there is only one
standard scale. All known notes are referred
to a common note Sa.
By about the 18th century even the standard
or shuddha svara in
Hindustani music becomes different. The
following is the current one, accepted
from the 18th century.
re ga ma pa dha ni
This is the mela aaroh of the modern raga
Bilaval. Besides these seven shuddha notes
or svaras there are five variants, making
in all twelve notes to a saptak.
re re ga ga ma ma pa dha dha ni ni
There are, of course, finer
variations: these are the shrutis,
It is better, therefore, to call these 12
tonal regions rather than notes.
known ragas are
grouped within this twelve tone scale.
Indeed. it was a Carnatic musicologist
- Venkatmukhi of the 17th century,
who gave a system of 72 melas formed
out of these twelve tones. Later
on, in the 20th century, Pt. Bhatkhande,
chose 10 out of the 72 to classify
So far we have been speaking of scales:
the grama, moorcchana and mela.
These are obviously concepts developed
after melodies were born. No folk singer
thinks of a grama or
a mela. The
tribal and folk songs existed and still
exist without a conscious grammar. It
is the musicologist who later classifies
melodies or ragas into
shall now turn our attention to the
melodic structures. Again it is to the
Vedas that we must turn for the first
codified melody. In the Natya
Bharata are found descriptions of melodic
forms called jati.
How they were sung or played, we have
no idea; but some salient points can
be called from Natya Shastra and
later commentaries. Every one of
these jatis could
be put in some moorcchana or the other.
They were distinguished by characteristics
like the graha (starting
note) nyasa (note
on which a phrase stops). the range of
notes - from low pitch to high - and
so on. Many scholars are of the opinion
that the concept of raga which
is so basic to our music, was born and
developed out of jati.
The major work dealing with the raga is
the Brihaddesi of Matanga. The work is
dated around the 6th century, A.D.
By this time, the idea of the raga as
a melodic scheme had become clear and
well defined. Matanga was from the
southern areas of India, to be specific
he was from Carnatic. This shows that
up to this era, at least, the grammar
of Indian music was more or less one
throughout the country. Secondly, what
he deals with is desi music.
That is why he had titled the work Brihaddesi.
A characteristic contribution of India
to musical rhythm is the tala. Tala is
a cyclic arrangement of time units. The
basic units of time division are laghu,
guru, and pluta. These
are actually derived from poetic prosody. Laghu comprises
one syllable,guru two,
and pluta three.
There are also larger units. Bharata's
Natya Shastra gives details of construction
of tala out
of various time units, how they should
be played and so on. Later authors developed
a scheme of 108 talas.
Besides some ancient talas new
ones, as for example, Firdost, seem to
have entered Hindustani music. The most
important aspect of playing the tala in
the Hindustani system has been the development
of the ideas of theka. This technique
is characteristic of Hindustani music.
A theka is the definition of a tala by
the stroke of a tabla. Each stroke on
the drum has a name called a bol or syllable.
For instance, dha, ta, ghe. etc.
In any language one can have an epic,
a sonnet, a lyric, a short story and
so on. Similarly, given a raga and
a tala, various
musical forms have been created. Right
from ancient times, musical forms can
be divided into two broad categories.
These were the anibaddha and
the nibaddha sangeeta.
The first may be called the open or free
form and the second as the closed or
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. Indeed,prabandha is
often used as a generic term to indicate
any nibaddha song
or musical composition. We have little
evidence of these closed forms, except
that they were set to definite ragas and talas.
Of all known prabandhas those
of Jayadeva are
the best known. This poet might have also lived in Bengal. Recent researches indicate that poet Jayadeva was born in Odisha in the 12th century, he 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.
popularity of Jayadeva's Gita Govinda
is due to many reasons. The first,
naturally is the intrinsic poetic
beauty of the work almost unequalled.
It also lent itself to dance and
any conceivable style of music. Again,
it was in Sanskrit, thus transcending
many linguistic barriers. Besides
all this, the greatest significant
force sustaining it is bhakti.
Bhakti or adoration is as old as
man. It really is a state of mind
beseeching the Lord.
the Godhead takes on many forms to
as Shiva or as Parabrahma - the Bhagavata,
as the story of the ten avataras of
Sri Vishnu, has captured the Indian mind.
Round this were woven songs and hymns,
preachings and psalms of these two travelled
in waves to North India to give us singer
saints like Jayadeva ,Chaitanya, Sankardeva,
Kabir, Tulsi, Meera, Tukaram, Eknath,
Narsi and Nanak. This bhakti movement
engulfed all religions and classes including
the sufis. It has given us numerous devotional
forms such as abhangas, kirtans,
bhajans, baul songs.
next great formal aspect in Nibaddha Sangeet
is met within the Dhrupad. It is believed
to have been a further elaboration of
the prabandha structure.
While it might have had an impetus for
popularity even by the 14th century,
it finds a blossoming period from 15th
century onwards to about the 18th century.
During these centuries we meet the most
respected and renowned singers and patrons
of this form. There was Man Singh Tomar,
the Maharaja of Gwalior. It was he who
was mainly responsible for the enormous
vogue of dhrupad. There were Baiju, Bakshu
and others. Swami Haridasa a hermit of
Brindavan was not only a dhrupadiya, but
one of the most central figures in the
Bhakti cult in the Northern areas of
India. By tradition he was the guru of
Tansen, one of the best known dhrupad
singers and one of the nine jewels of
Emperor Akbar's court.
structure dhrupad has two parts, the anibaddha section
and the sanchari dhrupad proper.
The first is free alap. The dhrupad proper
is a song in four parts: the asthayee,
the Sanchari and the abhoga.
The essential quality of the dhrupadic
approach is its sombre atmosphere and
emphasis on rhythm.
were four schools or vanis of
singing the dhrupad. The Gauhar vani
developed the raga or
unadorned melodic figures. The Dagar vani emphasized
melodic curves and graces. The Khandar
vani specialised in quick ornamentation
of the notes. Nauhar vani was
known for its broad musical leaps and
jumps. These vanis 'are now indistinguishable.
The dhrupad is
even now highly respected and can be
heard on the concert platform but more
often in temples of North India. The dhrupad has
somewhat receded to the background and
is not so popular with the masses. The
Been and Pakhawaj which were closely
associated with the dhrupad also do not
find much patronage these days.
the pride of place in classical Hindustani
Music is occupied by the Khyal. We
are really not sure about the beginning
of the Khyal. The word is alien and
means 'imagination'. And as you will
find when you hear it is more lyrical
than the dhrupad.
But whether the musical form itself
is foreign. is a matter of doubt.
Some scholars are of the opinion
that in fact, it has its roots in
the ancient Indian roopaka alaps.
It is also said that Amir Khusrou
of the 13th century gave it an impetus.
Sultan Mohammed Sharkhi of the 15th
century is credited with encouraging
this form. However, it attained its
maturity at the hands of Niyamat
Khan Sadarang and Adarang of the
As sung today, the khyal has two varieties:
the slow or vilambit khyal
and the fast or drut khyal.
In form both are similar, they have two
sections - the asthayee and
The vilambit is
sung in slow tempo and the drut at a
faster speed. In technique. the exposition
is less grave than the dhrupad.
There are more delicate gamkas and
types of khyals have
two sections. The asthayee and
The asthayee mostly
confines itself to the low and middle
octaves. The antara generally
moves in the middle and upper octaves. Together asthayee and antara make
one song, a composition, or bandish, 'cheez'
as it is called. As a total work it reveals
the essence of the raga in which it is
Comparable to the vanis of
we have gharanas,
in the khyal.
These are schools of singing founded
or developed by various individuals or
patrons such as kings or noblemen.
oldest of these is the Gwalior gharana.
The father of this school was one Nathan
Peerbaksh, who settled down in Gwalior,
and hence the name. He had two grandsons
Haddu Khan and Hassu Khan who lived in
the 19th century and were regarded as
great masters of this style. The qualities
of this gharana are
an open voice clear enunciation of words,
a comprehensive attention to raga.
svara and tala. Some
of the prominent musicians of this gharana are Krishna Rao Shankar Pandit, Raja
Bhaiya Poonchwale etc.
Agra Gharana is
said to have been founded by one Khuda
Baksh of Agra. He had studied with Nathan
Peerbaksh of Gwalior, but developed his
own style. Here again the voice is open
and clear, a speciality of this gharana is
its bol taan:
that is, a fast or medium layakari passage
using the bols or words of the song.
itself is rendered in medium tempo. Of
the most well known musicians of this
gharana in recent times are Vilayat Hussain
Khan and Fayyaz Khan.
Jaipur Atroli gharana is
said to take off directly from dhrupad.
It is associated with Alladiya Khan
of the 19th-20th century. The khyal is
always in medium speed. The words
are pronounced clearly and in an
open and clear voice. The distinguishing
characters are the passages which
are primarily based on alankars -
that is. repetitive melodic motifs
- and an almost metronomic insistence
of tala division.
Some of the prominent musicians of
recent times are Mallikarjun Mansur,
Kishori Amonkar etc.
we come to the Rampur Saheswan gharana.
Since the earlier singers came from Rampur
in Uttar Pradesh, this school has come
to be called so. The slow and fast Khayals usually
are followed by a Tarana.
The style is very lyrical and full of finer
tonal embroidery. Nisar Hussain Khan, Rashid
Khan are the two prominent musicians of
recent times belonging to this gharana.
Thumri and Tappa are
popular types heard in concerts.
The thumri is
very lyrical in its structure and
presentation. These forms are termed
as 'semi' or 'light' classical. Thumri
is a love song and hence the textual
beauty is very important. This is
closely coordinated with the musical
rendition. And keeping in mind its
mood a thumri is
usually set to ragas like
Khamaj, Kaphi, Bhairavi and so on
and the musical grammar is not strictly
adered to. There are
two styles of thumri singing: the
Poorab or Banaras which is fairly
slow and staid and the Punjab style
which is more
mercurial. Rasoolan Devi, Siddheshwari Devi are prominent musicians
of this style.
The Tappa consists
of the song uttered in fast note patterns.
It is a difficult composition and needs
much practice. Both the Thumri and Tappa require
special training as do the Dhrupad and Khyal forms
of singing. Ragas in
which Tappa compositions
are set remain same as in Thumri style.
Pt. L.K. Pandit, Malini Rajurkar are names
who specialize this form of singing.