Indian Music : Origin and Evolution

Indian Music

India has got one of the oldest musical traditions and heritages in the world. One can finds its origin in the Vedas(ancient scripts). Known as ‘sangeet’ in India, the nation’s music has got a unique and varied style as compared to other music forms in the world.

‘Sangeet’ is a combination of three art forms namely vocal music(gayana), instrumental(vadana) and dance(nritya). These are again based on two important aspects, ‘Taal'(rhythym) and

The Earlier Days of ‘Sangeet’

In the earlier days, when Indian music was just coming of age, the music was devotional in nature. It was restricted only to temples and used for ritualistic purposes. It is said that the sound that pervades the whole universe, i.e. Nadabrahma, itself represents the divinity. Organized Indian music owes its origin to the Samaveda. The Veda has all the seven notes of the raga karaharpriya in the descending order. The earliest Raga is speculated to be ‘Sama Raga’. Theories and treatises began to be written, how the primitive sound ‘Om’ gave rise to the various notes.

Then later on forms like ‘Prabandh Sangeet’, which was in sanskrit, and ‘dhruvapad’, in hindi became popular. With the coming of the Gupta era, which is considered as the golden era in the development of Indian music, the music treatises like ‘Natya Shastra’ and ‘Brihaddeshi’ were written.

The Persian Influence – Sufism

The ‘sufi’ influence in the hindustani music during the medieval period were fused with ideas from Persian music, particularly through the influence of sufi composers like Amir Khusru and Tansen. However, Amir Khusru is erroneously referred to as the inventor of the sitar and tabla and numerous musical forms which were not developed until many centuries after his death.

He symbolizes a crucial turning point in the development of Indian music. Amir Khusru is an icon representing a growing Persian influence on the music. This influence was felt to a greater extent in the North than in the South. The consequence of this differing degree of influence ultimately resulted in the bifurcation of Indian music into two distinct systems; the ‘Hindustani sangeet’ of the North and the ‘Carnatic sangeet’ of the South.

‘Hindustani’ Music

Indian music got divided after the 14th century. Hindustani music seems to have been profusely influenced by the music of Persia and Arabia. It emphasizes on the musical structure and the possibilities of improvisation in it. The main architect of the existing system of Hindustani music was Pandit V N Bhatkhande, who was responsible for the classification of the Ragas into the 10 ‘thats’. Hindustani music has a number of embellishments and ornamentations or Gamaks like Meend, Kana, Murki, etc. which enhances its aesthetic appeal. The tabla plays a very important role in maintaining the rhythm during a Hindustani concert. There are a number of Tals like Ek-Tal, Jhap-Tal, Dadra, Teen-Tal and so on. Each Tal has its own characteristics.

Dhrupad is the oldest and perhaps the grandest form of Hindustani vocal music. It is said to have descended from an older form called the prabandha (nonexistant today) and adapted for court performance during the reign of Raja Man Singh Tomar of Gwalior. Dhrupad has been on the decline since the 18th century.

Khayal is the most prominent genre of Hindustani (vocal) music. Its origins are a mystery. Some people trace its origins to “Sadarang” Nyaamat Khan – a beenkaar in the Mughal court of Muhammad Shah “Rangila”.

Thumree originated from Lucknow and Banaras in the 19th century. This genre is considered to be “light classical” music. Thumrees are composed in lighter raagas and have simpler taalas. There is no aalaap-type improvisation in this genre.

Daadra is another genre of “light classical” music. It bears a close resemblance to the Thumree.

‘Carnatic’ Music

Carnatic music is ‘kriti’ based and ‘saahitya’ (lyric) oriented. It is said to have maintained the pure form of Classical music based on ‘ragas’ and ‘taalas’ retaining the traditional octave. Spiritualism has always been the prominent content of Carnatic music. One of the greatest influences in the development of Karnatic music was that of the immortal bard, Purandara Dasa. He composed the ‘Swaravali'(simple exercises based on the Scale), ‘Alankaras'(exercises based on the seven basic Talas) and ‘Gitams'(simple melodic compositions in praise of the various deities). He also created the musical form, ‘Kriti’ which was later perfected by the great composer ‘Thyagaraja’.

Carnatic music is not based on logarithmic division but on rational division. An octave is based on the ratio 1:2, Pa is located through the ratio 2:3. Similar definitions exist for all the twelve ‘swarasthanas’. A few centuries ago, Western classical music too was based on rational division (the resulting scale was called as the natural scale), but this has given way to the equally tempered (also called chromatic) scale produced by logarithmic division.

Carnatic music is one of the very few musical forms in the world that have not lost their traditional character due to the influence of Western culture. On the contrary, Carnatic music has enhanced its traditional character by borrowing good things from other systems of music. The introduction of the violin is a very good example of a positive influence.

Instruments of Indian Music

Being monophonician in nature,Indian classical music is based around a single melody line. The performance of a composition begins with the performers coming out in a ritualized order — drone instruments, then the soloist, then accompanists and percussionists. The musicians begin by tuning their instruments. This process often blends naturally into the beginning of the music. Indian musical instruments used in classical music include veena, mridangam, tabla, kanjira, tambura, flute, sitar, gottuvadyam, violin and sarangi.

Folk Music

People think that folk music is same as tribal music. Folk music is a mere rustic reflection of the larger Indian society, whereas tribal music often represents cultures that are very different. Some of these tribal cultures are throwbacks to cultural conditions as they were thousands of years ago. Folk music is not taught in the same way that Indian classical music is taught. There is no formal period of apprenticeship where the student is able to devote their entire life to learning the music, the economics of rural life does not permit this sort of thing. The musical practitioners must still attend to their normal duties of hunting, agriculture or whatever their chosen profession is.

Music in the villages is learned almost by osmosis. From childhood the music is heard and imbibed along with ones mother’s milk. There are numerous public activities that allow the villagers to practice and hone their skills. These are the normal functions which synchronize village life with the universe.

The music is an indispensable component of functions such as weddings, engagements, and births. There is a plethora of songs for such occasions. There are also many songs associated with planting and harvesting. In these activities the villagers routinely sing of their hopes, fears and aspirations.

Musical Instruments

Musical instruments are often different from those found in classical music. Although instruments like the tabla may sometimes be found it is more likely that cruder drums such as daf, dholak, or nal will be used. The sitar and sarod which are so common in the classical genre are absent in the folk music. One often finds instruments such as the ektar, dotar, saringda, rabab, and santur. Quite often they will not even be called these names, but may be named according to their local dialect. There are also instruments which are used only in particular folk styles in particular regions. These instruments are innumerable.