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History of Indian Music

North Indian classical music had already been exposed to elements of Arabic and other Islamic music from the eleventh century onwards. Similar to the raga-that systems of Indian music, the Arabic system contained the twelve scales called Makamat that gave rise to melodies which were considered appropriate for certain times of day. Amir Khusro, the Persian poet and musician, is credited with bringing about a fusion of the two, and the creation of many ragas, such as Yaman and Zilaph. Sufi mysticism inspired the Qaul form leading in turn to the Qawwali and the Tarana genres. Music flourished under Mughal patronage but with the emperor Aurangzeb and then the British at the helm, Indian classical music shifted base, as it were. It came under the patronage of the feudal lords, surfacing in the Mughal courts under Bahadur Shah the First (1707-1712) and later Mohammad Shah 'Rangila' (1719-1748).

The late nineteenth and early twentieth century saw a vigorous attempt to classify Hindustani music. Pandit Bhatkhande, writing under cover of the pseudonym Chatura Pandit, wrote the Shrimal Lakshasangitam. This was published in 1910. In 1932, he published the four volumes of his Marathi work, Hindustani Sangit Paddhati. Between 1920 and 1937, Pandit Bhatkhande published the six volumes of Karmik Pustak Malika. He has, apart from discussing a hundred and eighty ragas, presented extensions for the notes comprising these ragas. Plus, he collected more than two thousand compositions from different gharanas (here the word means schools, technically - households). Pandit Bhatkhande's efforts at compiling theory and musical practice are vital and continue to provide an important base for Hindustani music. The rules and the concepts governing thats and the raga form are derived from his works.


The word sruti refers to both the philosophical context of 'that which is revealed through the oral tradition i.e. the Upanishads and other great texts and also 'sound that is heard without reverberation'. There are believed to be twenty-two srutis in an octave, a sruti being a micro-tone (smaller than a semi-tone).

At the heart of classical music are the seven notes (swaras) comprising the Saptak: Shadja (Sa) with four srutis, Rishab (Re or Ri) with three srutis, Gandhar (Ga), with two srutis, Madhyam (Ma) with four srutis, Pancham (Pa) with four srutis, Dhaivat (Dha) with three srutis, and Nishad (Ni) with two srutis. The eighth note is known as the tar shadja - it repeats the sound of the first note at a different octave, and is denoted by S?. This system applies to the other notes as well. These are the shuddha (pure) notes.

According to the Sangita Ratnakar, the pitch of the seven notes resembles the calls of certain birds and animals. Sa resembles the peafowl's cry; Re (or Ri), the cataka bird's cry; Ga, the goat's sound; Ma, the kraunka bird's call; Pa, the woodpecker's call; Dha resembles the call of a frog in love, and Ni, the sound made by an elephant when it is hit with the mahaut's (elephant handler/driver) hook.

Vikrit (altered) notes are interpolations: softer versions of some pure notes that, on a musical key, would be placed in the space between them. Sa and Pa are known as achal (fixed) notes; i.e. they do not have vikrit forms.

Shuddha swaras (pure notes) Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni

Vikrit swaras (altered notes) Re Ga M?Dha

Ni Achal swaras (fixed notes) Sa Pa

The altered forms (Vikrit swara) of Rishab, Gandhara, Dhaivat and Nishad are known as komal swaras (soft/flat notes) to distinguish them from the pure form that is known also as the tivra (sharp) form. An exception is the pure form of Madhyam - it is not known as tivra because the pure form itself can move from its position on the scale.

The note Sa corresponds to the C of western music, and is regarded as the tonic (there may well be another note as tonic, but Sa is usually so). Other notes are considered in light of their relationship with it. Ma and Pa are seen as being perfectly compatible with it, while Dha and Ga are much less compatible with Sa. Re, Ni, Dha and Ma are least compatible with it.


The mela of Carnatic music.Th?
It refers to the parent scale i.e. basic arrangement of the saptaki from which ragas are derived. The aroha (ascending pattern, from Sa to Ni) and the avaroha (descending pattern, from Ni to Sa) of ragas are based on the parent scale. Th? can be considered a classification that permits several ragas to be grouped together. One of the many ragas of a particular parent-scale will always bear the name of that parent-scale. Ragas usually drop at last one note of the parent-scale, and have a clear aroha and avaroha pattern, a feature absent in a th?. However, the saptaki must be in the correct order in a th?, although both pure and altered forms of a note may be included in an arrangement. This last would be an unusual feature in a raga. According to Pandit Bhatkhande's listing, there are ten th?s.

1. Bilawal - all seven notes in there pure forms, that are arranged in sequence. The tar shadja is included in the eighth position. In Carnatic music, this th? is known as the melakarta Shankarabharaman.
Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni S*a

2. Kalyan - all seven notes in their pure form, and a tivra madhyam.
Sa Re Ga M?Pa Dha Ni S*a

3. Khamaj - Nishad in its komal form, the others in their pure forms.
Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni S*a

4. Bhairav - Rishab and dhaivat as komal notes.
Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni S*a

5. Purvi - Rishab and dhaivat as komal notes and the madhyam as tivra.
Sa Re Ga M Pa Dha Ni S*a

6. Marwa - Rishab in its komal form and a tivra madhyam.
Sa Re Ga M?Pa Dha Ni S*a

7. Bhairavi - Shadja, pancham and madhyam in their shuddha forms, and the others in their komal forms. This is the melakarta Hanumantodi of Carnatic music.
Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni S*a

8. Asavari - with gandhara, dhaivat and nishad in their komal forms.
Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni S*a

9. Kafi - gandhara and nishad as komal swaras, all the rest in their pure forms.
Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni S*a

10. Todi - Rishab, gandhara and dhaivat as komal notes, and madhyam as tivra.
Sa Re Ga M Pa Dha Ni S*a


The term Raga refers to both the musical melody and the abstract personification of the spirit of a raga. The two must and do merge so as to allow the individual characteristics of a raga to emerge through the notes.

Certain technicalities impart to the raga form its complex harmony. Four kinds of melodic movements (varna) are recognized: Sthayi (stable): the continuous holding of one note; Aroha: ascending notes, from Sa to Ni; Avaroha: descending notes, from Ni to Sa; Sanchari: the meandering of the notes.

Raag, in the Sanskrit dictionary, is defined as "the act of coloring or dyeing" (the mind in this context) and "any feeling or passion especially love, affection, sympathy, vehement desire, interest, joy, or delight". In music, these descriptions apply to the impressions of melodic sounds on both the artist(s) and listener(s). A raag consists of required and optional rules governing the melodic movements of notes within a performance.

The rules of a raag can be defined by

The list of specific notes that can be used during playing of the raag.

The manner in which the notes are used, i.e. specific ways of ornamenting notes or emphasizing/de-emphasizing them.

Manner in which the scale is ascended or descended.

Optional or required musical phrases, the way in which to reveal these phrases, and/or combine them.

The octave or frequency range to emphasize.

The relative pacing between the notes.

The time of day and/or season when the raag may be performed so as to invoke the emotions of the raag for maximum impact on the mental and emotional state of the performer and listener.

Observance of these rules during the performance of a raag does not aspire to be purely a technical or intellectual exercise, but also to evoke the rasa or bhava (the experience, mood, emotion, or feeling) of the raag in both the artist and the listener. A raag is best experienced rather than analyzed. Theoretically, there is no limit to the number of raags, but only a few hundred are documented, and designated by specific names. Of these, only a small percentage are usually performed in concerts.

The melodic performer utilizes a raag as the foundation for improvisation. A recital explores a raag in an non-metered form and/or within the confines of a cyclical rhythmic structure, using intricate ornamentation of notes. First the raag is introduced with a note or group of notes, and then the improvisation progresses to a more melodically and rhythmically complex form.

The manner in which raags originate is a fascinating subject. Many raags are polished forms of a family of regional folk melodies while others have been created through the imagination of musicians. Some of the latter are raags with their own distinct characteristics whereas other creations are a combination of one or more existing raags. The names of some established raags have changed with time and the characteristics/ definitions of raags also are not as rigid as claimed in theory.

Pandit Bhatkhande ruled certain qualifying features for a raga: For one, a raga needs to be composed of at least five notes, one of which needs necessarily be Shadja (Sa. Either pancham or madhyam must also be present. Further, the ascending scale (aroha) or the descending scale (avaroha) cannot carry both the sharp/pure and altered forms of the same note; however, different forms of a note can be present on different scales within a raga.

Ranade reiterated this by insisting that Sa be the tonic (or sonant) for all ragas and the latter must use the full range of an octave and be aesthetically pleasing. Also, that madhyam or pancham be one of the other notes.

In practical terms however, the dominant note or sonant (vadi) can vary and the consonant (samavadi) is always the fifth note from the vadi. The consonant works to complement the vadi. Other notes, insignificant, are known as anuvadi, and those that do not belong to the raga or have been positioned in violation of rules, maybe for purposes of contrast, are known as vivadi. The process of shifting the sonant and therefore the consonant to create new melodies is known as murchhana. The key lies in maintaining the sonant - consonant ratio.

The names of ragas are determined by a host of factors. Many are named after the deities associated with their origin, for instance Kedar, Shankara, Bhairav, Duraga, and Saraswati. Tribal names abound because their melodies have provided the basis for ragas like Asavari, Ahiri, and Gurjari. Ragas like the Malwa, Jaunpuri, Pahari are so named because of the association with the melodies of those places. Composers often lend their names to ragas such as Miyan-ki-Malhar (named after Tansen, the great musician of the Mughal emperor Akbar's court), and Miyan-ki-Todi (named after Vilaskhani Todi). Some raga names reflect their mixed origins - Bhupali-Todi, Ahir-Bhairav.

Whatever the reasons for their nomenclature, a famous and intrinsic part of ragas is the mood they seek to express and evoke. The skills and dedication required may lead to an unusual experience as well, as in the case of raga Dipak. This raga is believed capable of lighting up lamps and of setting the singer aflame! Legend has it that Gopala Naik, a renowned musician, immersed himself in water before commencing on the raga, but nonetheless could not save himself from being consumed by fire. Tansen was more fortunate during his rendition of the raga because his wife began singing raga Malhar (to bring down the rains).

Ragas in Practice
The ragas have their seasons and times of day as well. Summer is regarded as the corresponding season for raga Dipak, Monsoon for raga Megh, Autumn for raga Bhairav, Winter for raga Malkauns, and the Spring for raga Hindol. In Carnatic music, however, there is no such connection of season or time, although some ragas are considered appropriate to certain hours.

The correct time of day and night for a few ragas

6-9 a.m. Ragas of Bilawal th?, such as Alahya Bilawal, Shuddh Bilawal, Devgiri Bilawal, Shukla Bilawal, Kukubh Bilawal; Gunakali and Sarpada; Ragas of Bhairav th?, such as Ahir-Bhairav; Ramkali, Jogiya Bhairav-Bahar; Ragas of Bhairavi th?, such as Bhairavi, Bhupali-Todi, Bilaskhani Todi; Ragas of Kalyan th?, such as Hindol; 9 a.m. - 12 noon.Ragas of Todi th?, such as Gurjari Todi, Miyan-ki-Todi; Asavari th?: ragas such as Asavari, Komal Re Asavari, Sindh Bhairavi; Ragas of Kafi th?, such as Sugharai, Sur Malhar; Ragas of Bilawal th?, such as Deshkar.Noon - 3 p.m.Ragas of Kafi th?, such as Bridabani Sarang, Shuddh Sarang, Bhimpalasi, Pilu; Ragas of Kalyan th?, such as Gaud-Sarang.3 - 6 p.m.Ragas of Purvi th?, such as Purvi, Purya-Dhanashri, Shri, Triveni; Ragas of Marwa th?, such as Marwa, Purya; Ragas of Todi th?, such as Multani; of Kafi th?, such as Pat-Manjari. 6-9 p.m.Ragas of Kalyan th?, such as Yaman, Bhupali, Hamir, Shuddh Kalyan, Chhay-Nata; Ragas of Bilawal th?, such as Hansadhwani. 9 p.m. - midnight.Ragas of Bilawal th?, such as Shankara, Durga, Nand, Maluha Kedar, Bihag and its forms; Ragas of Khamaj th?, such as Khamaj, Jaijaiwanti, Regeshwari, Bhainna Shadja, Gara; Ragas of Kafi th?, such as Kafi, Malhar and its forms, Bageshwari.Midnight - a.m. Ragas of Kafi th?, such as Bahar, Nayaki Kanada; Ragas of Asavari th?, such as Darbari Kanada, Shahana Kanada; Ragas of Bhairavi th?, such as Malkauns.3-6 a.m.Ragas of Purvi th?, such as Basant, Paraj; Ragas of Marwa th?, such as Sohoni, Lalit; Ragas of Bhairav th?, such as Kalingda.Those ragas that are meant to be played at sunset or sunrise are called Sandhiprakash. There are others that can be played at any and all times, for instance ragas Mand (regarded also as an evening raga), Sindhura, and Dhani.

These stipulations of time are governed by the notes and their pitch. Pandit Bhatkhande held that ragas performed at night or at sunset should contain the tivra madhyam (M?, whereas daytime ragas must not contain the tivra madhyam. Ragas which emphasize the lower pitch are to be performed during the evening or early night; ragas emphasizing the higher pitch are appropriate for late night and early morning. Undoubtedly, there are exceptions to these stringent guidelines.

The TaaI :

Just as the "note" is the basis of the melodic component of music, the bol (pronounced bowl) is the foundation for taal. Bol literally means speech or syllables. The vocal bols sound very similar to bols played on the percussive instrument. The most common tabla bols are Dha, Dhi/Dhin, Ti/Tin, Ra, Ki, Ta, Na, Tin, and Te. Different schools of percussion may pronounce the same bol differently. Several bols structured in a specific manner and arranged in sub-divisions are called thekas.

Each bol usually takes up one, halt or quarter of a beat (matra) in a theka. The first beat of a theka is called the sam (pronounced sum). It plays a crucial role in the improvisation structure during a recital -- since it becomes a point of convergence for both the melodic and percussive improvisation. A theka also consists of layers of accents or voids in the first beat of a sub-division. A degree of symmetry, with an elegant manner of the theka leading to the sam, is quite common in the arrangement of the bols in a theka. A theka (also referred to as tool) can theoretically contain between two and 108 beats, although in reality there is no limit.

While bols have existed in the percussion repertoire for a long time, thekas are probably a recent phenomenon (perhaps only around 600 years old ) The commonly heard thekas are dadra (6 beats), roopak (7 beats), keherwa (8 beats), jhaptaal (10 beats), ektaal (12 beats), chautal (12 beats), dhamar, deepchandi, jhumra (all 14 beats but with different bols and sub-divisions), and teentaal (16 beats). Although thekas are usually standard, bols of thekas can vary slightly, depending on the musical school or individual style of the tabla player. The bols and sub divisions of the common taal-s are listed below:

EktaalDhin Dhin(2)DhaGeTiRaKiTa (2)TuNa(2)Ka Ta(2)


TeentaalDhaDhinDhinDha (4)DhaDhinDhinDha (4)DhaTinTinTa(4)


JhaptaalDhin Na(2)DhiDhinNa(3)TiNa(2)DhiDhinNa(3)

RupakTinTinNa(3)DhinNa(2)DhriNa(2)* Bolded bols are accents (tali), italicized bols are voids (khali)

The tabla player strikes the theka repeatedly at a pace set by the melodic performer, thus providing the rhythmic foundation for the melodic improvisation. A cycle of theka of 12 beats may take as long as sixty to ninety seconds in a vocal recital and half as much in an instrumental one. The percussionist may improvise or follow at certain points of the performance, but eventually must return to the sam and continue the repetition. The role of the percussionist in a vocal recital is smaller and serves to keep the rhythm.

However, the drummer has leeway to create subtle improvisations while filling in the beats of the theka. Additionally, the control over the instrument adds considerably to the ambiance of a vocal performance.

The role of tabla players is more significant during an instrumental recital since percussionists here are expected to complement the melodic and rhythmic performance of the instrumentalist rather than just playing plain theka as in vocal performances. The interaction between the tabla player and melodic performer can be exciting, as the percussionist imitates the rhythmic patterns created by the melodic performer, and the two artists synchronize their approach to the sam after an improvised phrase, especially a tihai (a pattern repeated three times).

A Brief History of Dhrupad and Khyal

Dhrupad derives from the word dhruv, which literally means fixed, and pada literally verse/text. Dhrupad refers to both a type of composition (hence the name) (in chautaal or sooltaaI) as well as a genre in North Indian classical music. The discussion here focuses on the genre.

Dhrupad probably evolved from a family of musical styles called prabhand that flourished during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The bhakti (devotional) movement of the Vaishnavas and Shivites also substantially contributed to the format and composition styles of dhrupad performed in the courts of Raja Man Singh Tomar of Gwalior and other courts in Delhi, Rajasthan, Punjab, and Gujarat in the fifteenth century. The popularity of dhrupad arose when it entered the court of Emperor Akbar's court in the sixteenth century. Tansen, a legendary musician in Akbar's court, is considered to be the father of the current form of classical dhrupad and most classical performers trace their tradition to him.

In his book "Sitar Technique in Nibbadh Forms", Dr. Stephen Slawek summarizes the history of the Seni gharana (Tansen's lineage): "The Seni gharana consisted of two schools: (1) descendants of Tansen's son, Bilas Khan, who were known as rababiyas (rabab players), and (2) descendants of Tansen's son-in-law, Misri Singh, who were known as binkars (bin players). The rababiyas branch gradually lost favor because of limitations inherent in the instrument. The binkar gharana, however, incorporated many of the techniques of the rababiyas and flourished. The binkars, a tightly knit family taking pride in their ancestry, were very reluctant to pass the technique of their instrument on to anyone other than blood relatives. According to most Indian scholars, the binkars began to use the sitar and surbahar (an instrument similar to kachua sitar in shape but larger) to teach music to students not belonging to their family. On surbahar, they taught anibaddh sangit (music not bound to taI) such as alap and jor-alap. On sitar, they taught compositions that were based on popular vocal genres of the time."

Dhrupad itself has evolved considerably since Tansen's time. Since North Indian classical tradition is transmitted orally, the music heard today is probably different from what listeners experienced five centuries ago. Khyal is a more recent style of music that evolved from dhrupad and crystallized in the seventeenth century. Khyal, (literally meaning imagination) combines facets of dhrupad styles, techniques, and structure. A wider variety of ornamentation is used in khyal, and the improvisation takes place within the confines of a taal. The structure of a performance is less restricted and the artist has a wider latitude in structuring and improvising the performance. Due to its open nature, khyal has become far more popular than dhrupad ever was and has eclipsed its predecessor.

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