Music is the soul of any culture and India has had a long tradition of musical ingenuity. It is said that Narada Muni (sage) introduced the art of music to earth. He also taught the inhabitants about the sound that pervades the whole universe called Nada Brahma.

A musical instrument, seven-holed flute have been recovered from the sites of Indus Valley Civilisation. Another instrument Ravanahatha is believed to be originated from Hela Civilisation of Sri lanka and is one of the oldest in world history.

Literary traces of music can be found for the first time two thousand years ago in the Vedic times. All the seven notes of the raga Kharaharapriya can be found in the descending order in Sama Veda. The science of music called the Gandharva Veda is an Upaveda of the Sama Veda. The parts of the instrument Veena are mentioned in Aitareya Aranyaka. The Jaiminiya Brahmana speaks collectively of dance and music. Musicologists purport theories about the word Om being the source of all ragas and notes. Panini in 4th century BC made the first proper reference to the art of making music but the first reference to musical theory was discussed in Bharata’s Natyashastra written and compiled between 200 BC and 200 AD.

Performing Arts

“In India, various facets of performing arts are all pervading bringing colour and joy to numerous festivals and ceremonies, and reaffirming the faith of the people in their heritage. These facets have been responsible for sustaining the long continuities of ancient traditions.

Concept Of Performing Arts

  • Art: Meaning“Art is an expression of all characteristics of the human mind aesthetically”. These characteristics, i.e. the varied human emotions, are known as ‘ras’. In Hindi, ‘ras’ literally means a sugary juice. It signifies the ultimate satisfaction of ‘aanand’.
  • Human emotions can be categorized into nine sub-headings or ‘navras’. They are:
    1. Hasya : Laughter
    2. Bhayanak : Evil Shringar — Aesthetics
    3. Rudra : Chivalrous
    4. Karun : Pathos
    5. Vir : Courage
    6. Adbhut : Astonishing
    7. Vibhatsa : Terrifying glory
    8. Shaanti : Peace
    9. Shringaar : Decorating one’s self
  • Art reflects human emotions and human beings spontaneously express their frame of mind through various art forms. Thus the intellectual mind merges with the artistic streak, giving birth to art.
  • The expression is reflected in various styles like singing, dancing, drawing, painting, acting, sculpture. Some of these are expressed through live performances and others through visual arts. Sketching, painting, sculpture are visual arts. Singing, dancing, acting are attributes of performing arts.

Origin and History of Indian Music

  • Indian music has a very long, unbroken tradition and is an accumulated heritage of centuries. It is believed that sage Narada introduced the art of music to the earth and the sound that pervades the whole universe, i.e. ‘Nadabrahma’, itself represents the divinity.
  • The origin of music is at least two thousand years old going back to the Vedic times. The ‘Samaveda’ is believed to contain all the seven notes of the raga ‘karaharapriya’.
  • Bharata’s ‘Natya Shastra’ contains several chapters on music and it is probably the first work that clearly elaborated the octave and divided it into twenty two keys. Saranga Deva in his work ‘Sangeeta Ratnakara’ defined almost 264 ragas and described the various ‘microtones’. The other significant works on Indian music include Matanga’s ‘Brihaddesi’ (9th century CE), Narada’s ‘Sangeeta Makaranda’ (11th century CE), Ramamatya’s ‘Swaramela-kalanidhi’ (16th century CE) and Venkatamakhi’s ‘Chaturdandi-prakssika’ (17th century CE).
  • During the ancient and early medieval period, evidences can be found on the existence of Gurukuls where students lived with the teacher in order to become a master in the art of music.
  • It took several centuries for music to evolve from purely ritualistic form to its modern form. During the late Vedic period a form of music called ‘Samgana’ was prevalent which involved chanting of verses set to musical patterns.
  • Various forms of music like ‘Jatigan’ were evolved to narrate the epics. During 2nd-7th centuries CE a form of music called ‘Prabandh Sangeet’, which was written in Sanskrit, became very popular. This form gave way to a simpler form called ‘dhruvapad’, which used Hindi as the medium. The Gupta Period is considered as the golden era in the development of Indian music.
  • Among the foreign influences on Indian music, the most profound influence has been that of the Persian music, which was instrumental in bringing about changes in the perspectives of the Northern Indian style of music.
  • Several genres of singing were introduced in the Indian Music, which include the ‘dhrupad’ (an evolved form of the devotional ‘dhruvapad’) and ‘khayal’.
  • Gradually two different styles of classical music emerged in India, the ‘Hindustani Style’ in the north and the ‘Carnatic Style’ in the South, both based on the music traditions laid down in Bharata’s ‘Natya Shastra’.
Gurukul System
  • It is also known as Ashram (hermitage system) and it embodied the Guru-shishya tradition, i.e. the teacher and student relationship was very close.
  • In ancient period, the teachers or masters were sages and the students had to live in the hermitage for 12 years and get the knowledge by serving the master.
  • Hermitage was given patronage by the kings and wealthy persons of the society.
  • Life in the hermitage was rigorous, pensive and full of knowledge through direct experience.
  • All students, whether a prince or a commoner, were meted out with the same treatment and there was no discrimination.

Pillars of Indian Music

Swara, Raaga and Tala are considered the three pillars of Indian Music.


  • Swar means a note in the octave. The seven basic notes of the scale (swaras), in Indian music are named shadja, rishabh, gandhar, madhyam, pancham, dhaivat and nishad, and are shortened to Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, and Ni.
  • It is believed that primitive sound Oum gave birth to Swar.
  • Swar is also called “sur”. At a fundamental level they are similar to the solfa of Western music. Two of the swar are noteworthy in that they are immutably fixed. These two notes are shadja (Sa) and pancham (Pa) and are referred to as “achala swar”. These two swar form the tonal foundation for all the Indian classical music. The other notes have alternate forms and are called “chala swar”.
  • The swar have special relationships with each other. Although there are only seven notes they repeat in the upper and lower directions. Therefore, when ascending the scale when one reaches Ni, then the scales starts over with Sa, Re, Ga, etc. This is the upper register. By the same token when one is decsending the scale, it does not stop at Sa but continues down as Ni, Dha, etc.; this is the lower register.


  • The word ‘raga’ comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Ranj’, which literally means to delight or to be happy and satisfy a person.
  • In the Indian Classical Music, Raga is the basis of melody. Each melodic structure of Raga has something akin to a distinct personality subject and to a prevailing mood.
  • Important elements:
    • The first element is sound (metaphysical and physical), which is referred to as Nada. There are two types of nada, anahata nada or un-struck sound and ahata nada or struck sound.
    • The next element of raga is pitch, relegated into swara (whole and half tones), and sruti (microtones).
    • Raga also involves the production of emotional effects in the performer and listener, which are known as rasa. There are nine rasas: Love (Shringar), Humour (Hasya), Pathos (Karuna), Anger (Rudra), Heroism (Vir), Terror (Bhayanaka), Disgust (Veebhatsa) and Wonder (Adbhuta).
    • Raga is based on the principle of a combination of notes selected out the 22 note intervals of the octave. There are 72 ‘melas’, or parent scales, on which Ragas are based.
  • Three categories of Raga:
    • (a) Audav/Odava or pentatonic, a composition of five notes
    • (b) Shadava or hexatonic, a composition of six notes
    • (c) Sampoorna or heptatonic, a composition of seven notes
  • Every Raga must have at least five notes, starting at Sa, one principal note, a second important note and a few helping notes.
  • The speed of a raga is divided into three parts: Vilambit (slow), Madhya (Medium) and Drut (fast).
    Ragas are classified under six principal categories: Hindol, Deepak, Megh, Shree, Malkauns and Bhairav.
HindolDawanSpringEvokes sweetness of a young couple
MeghMid-day/ AfternoonRainyCourage
MalkaunsMidnightWinterYouthful love
  • Other ragas are derived from these six ragas. The first derivatives of the ragas are called raginis, and each of the six ragas has five raginis under them. All the ragas are supposed to have been derived from their thaats. Every raga has a fixed number of komal (soft) or teevra (sharp) notes from which the thaat can be recognized.
  • Ragas in the Carnatic music fall into two categories, the base or melakarta ragas and the derived or janya ragas. The 16 swaras form the basis for the melakarta scheme. Melakarta ragas have a formal structure and follow a fairly rigid scheme of scientific organization whereas the janya ragas are rooted in usage and are liable to evolve with the music.


  • Tala is the basis of rhythm. Tala is the rhythmical groupings of beats. These rhythmic cycles range from 3 to 108 beats. It is the theory of time measure and has the same principle in Hindustani and Carnatic music, though the names and styles differ.
    • Tala is independent of the music it accompanies and has its own divisions.
    • Different talas are recognised like Dadra, Rupak, Jhaptal, Ektal, Adha-Chautal and Teen-Tal.
    • There are over a 100 Talas, but only 30 Talas are known and only about 10-12 talas are actually used.
    • The most commonly encountered one is the one with sixteen beats called the Teentaal.
  • The Laya is the tempo, which keeps the uniformity of time span. The Matra is the smallest unit of the tala. Carnatic music has a rigid thala structure. The thalas are defined on the basis of intricate arithmetic calculations. The thalas are made up of three basic units, namely, laghu, drutam and anu drutam. The most common thala is the Adi thala, which consists of a repeating measure of 8 beats.
    • Alap: Alap is the first movement of the Raga. It is a slow, serene movement acting as an invocation and it gradually develops the Raga.
    • Jor: Jor begins with the added element of rhythm which, combining with the weaving of innumerable melodic patterns, gradually grains in tempo and brings the raga to the final movement.
    • Jhala: Jhala is the final movement and climax. It is played with a very fast action of the plectrum that is worn on the right index finger.
    • Gat: It is the fixed composition. A gat can be in any tala and can be spread over from 2 to 16 of its rhythmic cycles in any tempo, slow, medium or fast.


  • Thaat is a system of classification of ragas in different groups. Presently under Hindustani classical music, 10-Thaat classification is been adopted.
  • According to V.N Bhatkhande, one of the most important musicologists in the field of North Indian classical music, each one of the several traditional ragas is based on, or is a variation of 10 basic thaats or musical scales or frameworks. A thaat can only be sung in aarohi as the notes are composed in the ascending order.
  • A thaat should have seven notes out of the 12 notes (Seven Suddha Swaras and Five Vikrit Swaras) and they should necessarily be placed in an ascending order. The 10 thaats are: Bilawal, Khamaj, Kafi, Asavari, Bhairavi, Bhairav, Kalyan, Marwa, Poorvi and Todi.
  • Thaat has no emotional quality unlike raga and it is not sung. The ragas produced from the thaat are sung.

Other Components of Raga

  • The gradual exposition of the raga that emphasises on Vaadi, Samvaadi and other silent features of the raga in slow tempo is called an Alap. It is sung in the beginning of the raga at the time of the performance typically in North Indian classical music. It is usually sung in the Aakaar, i.e., without pronouncing any syllables, only using the sound ‘aa’ of the vowels.
  • Secondly, the musical composition can be divided into two parts under Hindustani classical music:
    • Sthayee/Mukhda – First part of the composition (maximum used)
    • Antara – Second part of the composition.
  • Thirdly, the basic notes in a fast tempo are called taan. These are very technical and show the training, practice and dexterity in weaving complicated pattern of the notes with variations in rhythm. Speed is an important factor in singing taans. Some particular taans are sung in the aakaar notes. Within the corpus of taans, a short taan of three or four notes is called Murki. These are sung very fast and require considerable musical skill from the singer.
  • Lastly, during the composition of a musical piece, ornamentation is required in the form of Alankar’. It is a specific melodic presentation in succession in which a pattern is followed. For example, the combination of notes ‘Sa re ga’, ‘ga ma pa’, ‘ma pa dha’, etc. In these combinations we see an alankar in which three notes in succession are used each time.


  • Each raga has a specific time at which it is performed. This is because those notes are considered to be more effective at that particular time. The 24 hours of the day can be divided into two parts:
    • From 12 AM to 12 PM: called the Poorva Bhaag and the ragas sung in this period are called Poorva raga.
    • From 12 PM to 12 AM: called the Uttar Bhaag and the ragas sung in this time frame are called Uttar raga.
  • Furthermore, the saptak also changes according to the period of the day. For example, in the Poorvang period, the saptak is from Sa to Ma (Sa, re, ga, ma). On the contrary, in the Uttarang period, the saptak is from Pa to Sa (pa, dha, ni, sa).
Basis of DifferenceThaatRaga
OriginThese are scales which are produced from 12 swara (notes).Ragas belong to the genre of thaats.
Number of NotesThaat must have seven notes in it.Raga must have atleast five notes in it.
Types of NotesIt only has Aaroha or ascending notes.It has Aaroha and Avaroha notes.
MelodyIt is not necessary for thaat to be melodious as they are not sung.Ragas are sung and hence they are melodious.
Important NotesThaats don’t have vaadi and samvaadi.Ragas have vaadi and samvaadi.
NamingThaats are named after the popular ragas.Ragas are named after the emotion they evoke.

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