There are many types of music prevalent in the Indian subcontinent that belongs to different categories. Some are closer to the classical bent and some are experimenting with the global music. Recently, there has been a trend to create a fusion of the classical heritage with newer musical strands like pop, jazz, etc. and this is garnering the attention of the masses. The classification of Indian music is as follows:

Classical Music of India

Classical Music of India

Indian classical music is the classical music of the Indian subcontinent. It is generally described using terms like Marg Sangeet and Shastriya Sangeet. Over time, The two distinct schools of Indian classical music evolved:

  1. Hindustani music practiced in the northern parts of India.
  2. Carnatic music practiced in the southern parts of India.

Hindustani Classical Music

  • While the historical roots of both the music types belong to the Bharata’s Natyashastra, they diverged in the 14th century. The Hindustani branch of music focuses more on the musical structure and the possibilities of improvisation in it. The Hindustani branch adopted a scale of Shudha Swara Saptaka or the ‘Octave of Natural notes’.
  • In Hindustani music, there are 10 main forms of styles of singing and compositions: Dhrupad, Dhamar, Hori, Khayal, Tappa, Chaturang, Ragasagar, Tarana, Sargam and Thumri.


  • The word ‘Dhrupad’ is derived from ‘Dhruva’ meaning fixed and ‘pada’ meaning words or song. Therefore, the term dhrupad means “the literal rendering of verse into music” and so the songs have a particularly potent impact. Dhrupad is the oldest and perhaps the grandest form of Hindustani vocal music.
  • Dhrupad was essentially devotional in essence.
  • Dhrupad reached its pinnacle of glory during Akbar’s reign when stalwarts like Swami Haridas, Baba Gopal Das, Tansen and Baiju Bawra performed it.
  • It was adapted for court performance during the reign of Raja Man Singh Tomar (1486-1517) of Gwalior.
  • Dhrupad is essentially a poetic form that is incorporated into an extended presentation style that is marked by precise and overt elaboration of a raga.
  • Dhrupad starts with Alap which is sung without words. The tempo rises gradually, and it is the major part of the performance. The alap evokes a mood in the audience that coincides with the mood of the raga that is chosen. Alap is a pure music without distraction of words. Then after some time, Dhrupad begins and Pakhawaj is played.
  • Dhrupad includes use of sanskrit syllables and is of temple origin. Dhrupad compositions usually have 4 to 5 stanzas and are performed by a duo. Generally two male vocalists perform Dhrupad style of performances. Tanpura and Pakhawaj usually accompany them.
  • There are four forms of Dhrupad singing on the basis of vanis or banis that they perform: Dagar Bani, Khandaar Bani, Nauhar Bani and Gauhar Bani.
  • Dagari Gharana:
    • The Dagar family sings in Dagar Vani. This style puts great emphasis on alap.
    • For several generations, men of their family have trained and performed in pairs. Dagars are generally Muslims but usually sing Hindu texts of Gods and Goddesses.
    • A prominent duo of Dagari Gharana in this generation are Gundecha Brothers.
  • Darbhanga Gharana:
    • They sing the Khandar Vani and the Gauhar Vani. They emphasise on the raga alap as well as composed songs over an improvised alap.
    • They improvise it by incorporating a variety of layakari.
    • The leading exponents of this school are the Mallik family. Currently, the performing members include Ram Chatur Mallik, Prem Kumar Mallik and Siyaram Tewari.
  • Bettiah Gharana:
    • They perform the Nauhar and Khandar vani styles with some unique techniques that only those trained within the families know.
    • The famous family who expounds this gharana are the Mishras. The living member who performs regularly is Indra Kishore Mishra.
    • Furthermore, the form of Dhrupad prevalent in the Bettiah and Darbhanga schools is known as the Haveli style.
  • Talwandi Gharana:
    • They sing the Khandar vani but as it is based in Pakistan, it has become difficult to keep that within the system of Indian music.
Gharana System
  • In Hindustani music, a gharana is a system of social organization linking musicians or dancers by lineage or apprenticeship, and by adherence to a particular musical style.
  • The word gharana comes from the Hindi word ‘ghar’ which is derived from Sanskrit for Griha, which means ‘house’. It typically refers to the place where the musical ideology originated.
  • A gharana also indicates a comprehensive musicological ideology. This ideology sometimes changes substantially from one gharana to another.
  • The concept of a Guru-Shishya leads to the development of Gharanas. It directly affects the thinking, teaching, performance and appreciation of music.
  • The main area of difference between Gharanas is the manner in which the notes are sung.
  • Some of the Gharanas well known for singing Hindustani classical music are: Agra, Gwalior, Indore, Jaipur, Kirana, and Patiala.


  • Khyal/Khayal literally means ‘a stray thought ‘an imagination’. This is the most prominent genre of Hindustani vocal music depicting a romantic style of singing. The origin of this style was attributed to Amir Khusrau.
  • Hussain Shah (a Sharqi ruler of Jaunpur Sultanate) gave the biggest patronage to Khyal in the 15th century. Khayal originated as a popular form of music in the 18th century CE and was ultimate in the blending of Hindu and Persian cultures.
  • The most important features of a Khayal are ‘Tans’ or the running glides over notes and ‘Bol-tans’ which distinguish it from Dhrupad.
  • Khayal bases itself on a repertoire of short songs (two to eight lines); a khyal song is called a bandish.
    • Every singer generally renders the same bandish differently, with only the text and the raga remaining the same.
    • Usually, the theme for these Khyal bandish is romantic in nature. They sing about love, even if they are related to the divine creatures. It may be praising God or a particular king. Exceptional Khyal compositions are composed in the praise of Lord Krishna.
  • A typical khayal performance uses two songs:
    • Bada Khyal- sung in slow tempo (vilambit laya) and it comprises most of the performance.
    • Chhota Khyal– sung in fast tempo (drut laya) and it is used as a finale.

The main gharanas in khayal are:

  • Gwalior Gharana
    • The Gwalior Gharana is the oldest Khayal Gharana. The rise of the Gwalior Gharana started with the reign of the great Mughal emperor Akbar (1542-1605).
    • A distinguishing feature of the gharana is its simplicity, and one means to this is the selection of well-known ragas so that the listener is saved the effort of trying to identify the raga.
    • It is rigorous in its approach as there is equal emphasis laid on melody and rhythm. The khayal singer includes “Raga Vistar”(melodic expansion) and “Alankar”(melodic ornamentation) to enhance the beauty and meaning of the raga.
    • The most popular expounders of this Gharana are Nathu Khan, Vishnu Palushkar and Gururao Deshpande.
  • Kirana Gharana
    • The name of this school of music derives from Kirana or Kairana, a town in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
    • Nayak Gopal founded it but the real credit of making this popular lies with Abdul Karim Khan and Abdul Wahid Khan in the early 20th century. The Kirana Gharana is famous for their concern
      towards precise tuning and expression of notes.
    • The Kirana gharana is better known for their mastery over the slow tempo ragas. They emphasise much more on the melody of the composition and the clarity on the pronunciation of the text in the song. They also prefer the use of traditional ragas.
    • They have had a long line of great singers but the most famous are Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Gangubai Hangal.
    • The Carnatic exponents from the border regions of Maharashtra and Karnataka are well associated with Kirana Gharana.
  • Agra Gharana
    • Historians argue that Khuda Baksh established this Gharana in the 19th century but the musicologists argue that Haji Sujan Khan founded it.
    • Faiyaaz Khan revived the gharana by giving it a fresh and lyrical touch. Since then it has been renamed as Rangeela Gharana.
    • The gayaki of the Agra Gharana is a blend of Khayal gayaki and Dhrupad-Dhamar style. The artists give special emphasis to Bandish in the composition.
    • The major expounders of this Gharana are Mohsin Khan Niazi, C.R. Vyas and Vijay Kitchlu.
  • Patiala Gharana
    • The founders of this gharana were the brothers Ali Baksh and Fateh Ali, popularly known as ‘Aliya-Fattu’. It received initial sponsorship by the Maharaja of Patiala in Punjab.
    • They soon gathered a reputation for ghazal, thumri and khyal. They focus on the greater use of rhythm. As their compositions stress on emotions they tend to use ornamentation or alankars in their music.
    • The Patiala style achieved its all-round distinction and excellence in the hands of its greatest genius, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.
    • It emphasis on the correct enunciation of swaras, thus giving the style a sensuously aesthetic touch.
    • The use of the catchy and intricate tappa singing style is evident in fast figures, as are the use of swift and voluted sargam patterns.
    • The Patiala taans are extremely enthralling, given the briskness and vigour with which they are executed. In fact, it has been called a taan-bazi style, because it uses a variety of fast figures and ornamentation for the sake of appeal.
    • Equal emphasis is given to swara and laya.
  • Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana
    • Ustad Alladiya Khan is the founder of this Gharana.
    • The gharana is known for its unique laykari and rich repertoire of ragas, especially Jod-Raags and Sankeerna Raags.
    • This gharana tends to use traditional ‘bandishes’ (compositions) and does not lay as much emphasis on the lyrical content of the bandish as much as it lays on the raga notes within the composition.
    • There is an integrated movement and progression of swara and laya. Complex note patterns are rendered with precision and spontaneity within the framework of a steady medium tempo.
  • Bhendibazaar Gharana
    • Bhendi Bazaar gharana is named after the famous Bhendi Bazaar in Bombay which is next to Nall Bazaar and Imam Bada.
    • Chhajju Khan, Nazir Khan and Khadim Hussain Khan founded it in the 19th century. It gained popularity and fame as the singers were trained to control their breath for a long period. Using this technique, these artists could sing long passages in a single breath. Furthermore, their uniqueness lies in using some of the Carnatic ragas in their envious repertoire.

Tarana Style

  • Tarana is a style consisting of peculiar syllables woven into rhythmical patterns as a song. It is usually sung in faster tempo.
  • Tarana is known to have evolved from the patient and earnest efforts of Amir Khusro.
  • Tarana relies solely on rhythm, tabla bols and tries to maintain a balanced pattern. It can thus be understood that the tempo or laya is bound to be fast, and not slow like khayal bandishes.
  • While khayal uses ameaningful verbal text or bandish to elaborate a raaga, tarana wholly relies on rhythmically set ‘meaningless’ bols to develop a raaga.
  • The tradition of using meaningless bols to create music is not new to Indian musical traditions, given that a form similar to tarana, called Thillana in the Carnatic tradition.
  • Currently, the World’s fastest tarana singer is Pandit Rattan Mohan Sharma of the Mewati Gharana. The audience at Pandit Motiram Sangeet Samaroh in Hyderabad gave him the title of “Tarana ke Baadshah” (King of Tarana).

Semi Classical Style of Hindustani Music

  • Semi-classical style of music is also based on swara (note). However, they slightly deviate from the standard structure of the raga in the way that lighter version of ragas like Bhoopali or Malkaush are used.
  • They employ lighter version of tala and use madhyam or dhrut laya, i.e., they are faster in tempo. They emphasise more on bhava and lyrics than alap-jor-jhala.
  • Some of the prominent semi-classical styles like Thumri, Tappa and Ghazal, Bhajan, etc are discussed below:


  • Thumri originated in the Eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, mainly in Lucknow and Benares, around the 18th century CE. Thumri was developed by the famous musician Sadiq Ali Shah.
  • It is believed to have been influenced by hori, kajri and dadra, popular in Eastern Uttar Pradesh.
  • Thumri is supposed to be a romantic and erotic style of singing and is very lyrical in its structure and presentation, thus also called “the lyric of Indian classical music”.
  • This was inspired by the Bhakti movement so much that the text usually revolves around a girl’s love for Krishna. The language of the composition is usually Hindi in Braj Bhasha dialect.
  • The song compositions are mostly of love, separation and devotion. Its most distinct feature is the erotic subject matter picturesquely portraying the various episodes from the lives of Lord Krishna and Radha.
  • Depending on the mood a thumri is usually set to ragas like Khamaj, Kaphi, Bhairavi and so on and the musical grammar is not strictly adhered to.
  • The compositions are usually sung in a female voice. This is different than the other forms as thumri is characterised by its inherent sensuality. It also allows the singer to improvise during the performance and so they have greater flexibility with the use of raga. Thumri is also used as a generic name for some other, even lighter, forms such as Dadra, Hori, Kajari, Saavan, Jhoola, and Chaiti.
  • Thumri is linked to classical dance Kathak.
  • There are two main types of Thumri:
    1. Purbi Thumri: It is sung in the slower tempo.
    2. Punjabi Thumri: It is sung in the fast and lively tempo.
  • There are three main gharanas of thumri – Benaras, Lucknow and Patiala.
  • Rasoolan Devi, Siddheshwari Devi are prominent musicians of this style. Another very famous proponent of Thumri was Girija Devi of Purab Ang of Benaras Gharana.

Tappa Style

  • The tappa is said to have developed in the late 18th Century CE from the folk songs of camel riders of North-West India. The credit for its development goes to Shorey Mian or Ghulam Nabi of Multan.
  • Tappa literally means ‘jump’ in Persian.
  • They are essentially folklore of love and passion and are written in Punjabi.
  • The Tappa consists of the song uttered in fast note patterns. Its beauty lies in the quick and intricate display of various permutations and combinations of notes.
  • One of its most striking features is the singer’s use of an unrelenting cascade of jumpy and zig-zag taans called zamzama.
  • It is highly unpredictable style and the singer has to persistently hop from one note to the next improvising as he or she goes along using varieties of tans.
  • Tappas are composed mainly in Thumri raagas, such as Bhairavi, Khamaja, Desa, Kafi, Jhinjhoti, Pilu, Barwa.
  • The compositions are very short and are based on Shringara Rasa.
  • Varanasi and Gwalior are the strongholds of Tappa.
  • Famous exponents of this style are Mian Sodi, Pandit Laxman Rao of Gwalior and Shanno Khurana.

Dhamar-Hori Style

  • These compositions are similar to Dhrupad but are chiefly associated with the festival of Holi.
  • Here the compositions are specifically in praise of Lord Krishna. This music, sung in the dhamar tala, is chiefly used in festivals like Janmashthami, Ramnavami and Holi.
  • Hori is a type of dhrupad sung on the festival of Holi. The compositions here describe the spring season. These compositions are mainly based on the love pranks of Radha-Krishna.


  • The ghazal is mainly a poetic form than a musical form, but it is more song-like than the thumri. The ghazal is described as the “pride of Urdu poetry”.
  • The ghazal originated in Iran in the 10th Century CE. It grew out of the Persian qasida, a poem written in praise of a king, a benefactor or a nobleman.
  • The ghazal is a collection of couplets (called sher). It never exceeds 12 shers and on an average, ghazals usually have about 7 shers.
  • Even though ghazal began with Amir Khusro in northern India, Deccan in the south was its home in the early stages. It developed and evolved in the courts of Golconda and Bijapur under the patronage of Muslim rulers.
  • Every ghazal has a single themeLove and more specifically unattainable love. The subcontinental ghazals have an influence of Islamic Mysticism and the subject of love can usually be interpreted as a spiritual love.
  • The 18th and 19th centuries are regarded as the golden period of the ghazal with Delhi and Lucknow being its main centres.
  • As years passed, the ghazal has undergone some simplification in terms of words and phrasings, which helps it to reach a larger audience around the world. Most of the ghazals are now sung in styles that are not limited to khyal, thumri and other classical and light classical genres.
  • Some of the famous persons associated with Ghazal are Muhammad Iqbal, Mirza Ghalib, Rumi (13th century), Hafez (14th century), Kazi Nazrul Islam, etc.


  • Bhajan comes from the word ‘bhaj’ which means to worship. The basis of music has always been devotion and spirituality. The Gandharva music, or the marga music was composed to sing the praises of God.
  • Gandharva marg led to the Dhrupad tradition that went on to become the very foundation of classical music in India. And as music evolved further, the devotional expressions also changed from staunch classical renditions to light classical music that dwelled more in the unbound love and devoutness of the devotee.    
  • Bhajan, as a musical form, came into prominence during the Bhakti movement. There is no stringent rule book for light classical music as it is there for classical music. And the same applies to Bhajans. 
  • Bhajans emphasize majorly on its lyrics and a melodious raga that complements that. The words used to compose the lyrics rake devotional feeling (bhakti ras) in the minds of the listeners. 
  • Sung in religious gatherings, Bhajans are accompanied with instruments like Harmonium, Tambourine, Tabla, and Dholak. 
  • The closest analog of Bhajan is Kirtan, a more high-paced and energetic form of music that involves multiple performers singing and dancing at the same time. In contrast, Bhajan involves solo renditions and is characterized by medium to slow-paced melodious compositions.  
  • Some of the most celebrated Bhajan singers include Anup Jolata, Anuradha Podwal, and Manna De among many others.


  • Chaturang denotes four colours or a composition of a song in four parts: Fast Khayal, Tarana, Sargam and a “Paran” of Tabla or Pakhwaj.


  • Dadra bears a close resemblance to the Thumri. The texts are as amorous as those of Thumris.
  • The major difference is that dadras have more than one antara and are in dadra tala.
  • Singers usually sing a dadra after a thumri.


  • Ragasagar consists of different parts of musical passages in different ragas as one song composition.
  • These compositions have 8 to 12 different ragas and the lyrics indicate the change of the ragas.
  • The peculiarity of this style depends on how smoothly the musical passages change along with the change of ragas.

Carnatic Music

  • Carnatic music is confined to Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In Carnatic music there is a very highly developed theoretical system.
  • It is based upon a complex system of Ragam (Raga) and Thalam (Tala).
  • Purandardas (1480-1564) is considered to be the father of Carnatic music as he codified the method of Carnatic music. He is also credited with creation of several thousand songs. Another great name associated with Carnatic music is that of Venkat Mukhi Swami. He is regarded as the grand theorist of Carnatic music. He also developed “Melankara”, the system for classifying south Indian ragas.
  • It was in the 18th century that Carnatic music acquired its present form. This was the period that saw the “trinity” of Carnatic music; Thyagaraja, Shama Shastri and Muthuswami Dikshitar compile their famous compositions.
  • Every composition in carnatic style has several parts to it:
    • Pallavi:
      • The first two lines of the song are called Pallavi. They occur over and over, especially after each stanza. This is considered to be the “Piece de Resistance’ or the best part of the Carnatic composition called ‘Rangam Thanam Pallavi’ where the artist has great scope for improvisation.
    • Anu Pallavi:
      • Usually the Pallavi is followed by two more lines or sometimes just one more. This portion is called Anu Pallavi. This is sung at the beginning for sure, but sometimes even during the end of the song, but not necessarily after each stanza. The stanzas of a song are called
    • Varnam:
      • It is a composition usually sung or played at the beginning of a recital and reveals the general form of the Raga.
      • The Varnam is made up of two parts –
        • Purvanga or first half
        • Uttaranga or second half
    • Kriti: It is a highly evolved musical song set to a certain raga and fixed tala or rhythmic cycle.
    • Ragam: It is a melodic improvisation in free rhythm played without mridangam accompaniment.
    • Tanam: It is another style of melodic improvisation in free rhythm.
    • Trikalam: It is the section where the Pallavi is played in three tempi keeping the Tala constant.
    • Swara-Kalpana: It is the improvised section performed with the drummer in medium and fast speeds.
    • Ragamalika: This is the final part of the Pallavi where the soloist improvises freely and comes
      back to the original theme at the end.

Comparision of Hindustani Classical Music and Carnatic Classical Music

DimensionsHinsutani Classical MusicCarnatic Classical Music
InfluenceArab, Persian, AfghanIndigenous
FreedomScope for artists to improvise. Hence scope for variations.No freedom to improvise
Sub-stylesThere are several sub-styles which led to emergence of ‘Gharanas’Only one particular prescribed style of singing
Need for instrumentsEqually important as vocalsMore emphasis on vocal music
Ragas6 major ragas72 ragas
TimeAdheres to timeDoesn’t adhere to any time
InstrumentsTable, Sarangi, Sitar and SantoorVeena, Mrindangum and Mandolin
Association to Parts of IndiaNorth IndiaSouth India
CommonalityFlute and Violin

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Buddhadeb Maiti

A bird’s eye view of Indian classical music. Very useful.

L. Gopinath

A brief introduction to Indian classical music. Well compiled. In reality there is not much of a difference between Hindustani and carnatic styles of nusic. They are two branches of the same tree. When the Persians came to India, they liked Indian classical music and they learnt it from the Indians. Hindustani music is essentially indian.Only the compositions are in hindi. Other than that there’s no foreign influence in Hindustani music. Both Hindustani and carnatic are basically one and the same, since the moola or foundations are common.