Show Summary Details

Page of
PRINTED FROM Oxford Music Online. © Oxford University Press, 2019. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single article in Oxford Music Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

India, subcontinent offree

  • Regula Qureshi,
  • Harold S. Powers,
  • Jonathan Katz,
  • Richard Widdess,
  • Gordon Geekie,
  • Alastair Dick,
  • Devdan Sen,
  • Nazir A. Jairazbhoy,
  • Peter Manuel,
  • Robert Simon,
  • Joseph J. Palackal,
  • Soniya K. Brar,
  • M. Whitney Kelting,
  • Edward O. Henry,
  • Maria Lord,
  • Alison Arnold,
  • Warren Pinckney,
  • Kapila Vatsyayan
  •  and Bonnie C. Wade

Cultural region of South Asia. The present Republic of India (Hind. Bharat) has an area (excluding the Pakistan- and China-occupied areas of Jammu and Kashmir) of 3,165,569 km² and an estimated population of one billion people. Before Independence and Partition in 1947, the name ‘India’ referred to the larger region that now includes the nation-states of India, Pakistan, Islamic Republic of and Bangladesh (see Bengali music), also known, along with the nation-states of Bhutan, Nepal, Kingdom of and Sri Lanka, Democratic Socialist Republic of, as South Asia or the Indian subcontinent. In addition to reflecting imperfectly the cultural diversity of South Asia, the modern political boundaries obscure the equally important continuities manifested throughout the region as much in music as in other areas of culture. This article addresses ‘India’ as both a cultural and political entity, and while it focusses on the state of India, much of its content is relevant to the region as a whole. The musical cultures of the other nation-states, and the regions of Kashmir and Bengal, are separately described under their own names.

I. The region: cultural context and musical categories.

  • Regula Qureshi

1. Land and people.

South Asia comprises three broad physical regions: the valleys and plains of the Indus and Ganges river systems, separated from each other by the Thar desert; south India with its heartland of the Deccan plateau, surrounded by coastal regions and including the island of Sri Lanka; and the encompassing ring of mountains that separates South Asia from West, Central, and South-east Asia (fig.1).

Physical map of South Asia

View large

South Asia’s geographical position gives rise to a climate that has three main annual divisions: winter, summer, and the monsoon. These may be further divided, and the resulting seasons have played a prominent role in literature and song, particularly the coming of spring, the onset of the monsoon, and, to a lesser extent, the end of the rains.

Although the surrounding mountain ranges and seas have confined and defined South Asia and its populations, people have migrated through the passes and valleys of the north-western mountains and hills for thousands of years. These migrations include the arrival of the Vedic Aryans (c1500 bce), the invasion of Alexander the Great (327–324 bce), and that of Nadir Shah (1739 ce). After Vasco da Gama’s arrival at Kozhikode in 1498, however, the sea became the main medium for the passage of goods, people, and ideas into South Asia. By the time of Nadir Shah’s land invasion in 1739, European colonial powers and institutions had established themselves along the coast and in the Ganges delta.

The major movements of populations and cultures in South Asia are reflected in the distribution of languages, peoples, and religions, and in the broad outlines of South Asian political history. In the west and north-east the languages and populations reflect those of neighbouring peoples. Baluchi and Pushto, spoken in western Pakistan, are Indo-Iranian languages; the languages of the north-east are Tibeto-Burman. Within South Asia, principally in the central and eastern hills dividing north from south India, remnants of Ādivāsī (‘indigenous’) groups survive, e.g. the Santāls. They have their own religions and speak Austro-Asiatic languages known collectively as Muṇḍā. The Muṇḍā speakers are probably part of the aboriginal population of South Asia, driven into the hills by later migrations of Dravidian-speaking peoples.

Dravidian languages are spoken in south India. Kanada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu are the state languages of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh respectively (fig.2). Another Dravidian language is Gondi. Once widely spoken, this is now restricted to small groups of hill peoples. Dravidian languages probably once dominated South Asia, but north of the Vindhyas the only remnant of (and the strongest evidence for) a once widespread Dravidian population are the Brahui in Baluchistan.

Political map of India

View large

In north India most languages belong to the South Asian branch of the Indo-European group. The most widely spoken language is Hindi, used from Delhi to Varanasi. The closely related and Persianized language Urdu is spoken across Pakistan and by many Muslims in India. Punjabi and Rajasthani are closely related to Hindi, and several languages in Bihar (Bhojpuri, Maithili, and Magadhi) are usually considered dialects of Hindi. Bengali is spoken in West Bengal and Bangladesh. In western India the languages of Gujarat and Maharashtra are Gujarati and Marathi respectively. Sanskrit is an ancient Indo-European literary and ritual language.

The culturally dominant religions of South Asia are Hinduism and Islam. Although substantial Buddhist populations now remain only in Sri Lanka and the Himalayan region, Buddhism originated in South Asia and, along with Jainism, was dominant there between c500 bce and c500 ce. Around 600 ce Hinduism, driven by the bhakti philosophy of the Tamil Āḻvār (Saivite) and Nāyanmār (Vaisnaivite) saints, underwent a great reformation and revival. By the 10th century ce Buddhism was already declining in South Asia when a series of invasions from Afghanistan and Turkestan brought Islam to the north. By the 13th and 14th centuries the Delhi Sultanate had established a pattern that remained unchanged until 1947, despite a long succession of political changes: throughout north India a small, predominantly Muslim ruling class governed a mixed population of Hindus and Muslim converts.

In south India the patterns were rather different. By the 14th century the Tughluk sultans of Delhi had established Muslim rule in the north and west of the Deccan plateau, governing an overwhelmingly Hindu population. In the southern Deccan the Hindu population was ruled by the Hindu Vijayanagar kings (mid-14th to mid-16th century), with Hindu governors and a Hindu landed class. Even when Vijayanagar power was finally broken, predominantly by the Muslim states of Bijapur and Golconda, there were areas further south, such as Thanjavur and Travancore, which came under only nominal Muslim rule for no more than a few years, if at all.

These patterns were disrupted by the partition of South Asia in 1947. Independence from British rule meant the creation of the nation-states of India, a secular republic, and East and West Pakistan (since 1973 Bangladesh and Pakistan), an Islamic state. The mass exchange of populations that followed, with Hindu and Sikh refugees fleeing to India and Muslims to Pakistan, altered the religious demography of north India and, in particular, that of Pakistan.

South Asia’s climate and geography combine to create extremely fertile agricultural regions, producing surplus economies that have sustained large populations, feudal rulers, and non-producing specialists, including musicians. Industrialization has added to this long-established system of production, which principally served an élite and produced an elaborate culture. Mass production, technology and urban expansion have led to an increase of the urban working and middle class, with business élites joining or replacing a landed ruling class.

A highly stratified social order has served to articulate and regulate economic, gender, and power relations through group endogamy and through an asymmetry of status relations, where dominance and deference exist between patron and client, resource owner and producer, senior and junior, male and female. Marriages take place largely within the same caste, class, or hereditary group, thus maintaining its relative status and preserving the transmission of heritage, including musical skills. Within extended families the asymmetrical principle of seniority permeates kinship relations. Life-cycle music plays a major role in negotiating these relations, performed by women who are the traditional managers of the domestic sphere. Complementary gender roles run throughout the social order, resulting in gendered music-making for both men and women. However, gender may intersect with many other aspects of social identity. Women are often perceived in terms of their relationship with and to male members of their family, including their husband. This private identity has traditionally clashed with the public identity of professional female performers, from temple dancers to courtesans.

This system of social stratification draws on Hindu Vedic thought. At its heart lies the idea that any number of population groups could be accommodated together in vertical and horizontal hierarchies, provided that the groups had separate and clearly defined obligations to society as a whole. Furthermore it was necessary that (in principle at least) such groups were endogamous, so that the membership of a group was purely hereditary. Individuals could leave the group or be expelled from it, or even become the nucleus of a new group, but they could not become members of another group. Such a group is a jāti or caste. Each jāti had its proper duties and forms of behaviour, its own dharma. If what was required was onerous or degrading, an escape was available through the doctrine of rebirth. Faithful performance of dharma (performing rituals, trading, disposing of polluting wastes, etc.) would ensure a higher status in the next life.

In practice, the doctrine of social identification and articulation through separate castes or sub-castes enabled invading groups and conquered groups, successful groups and depressed groups, to be accommodated easily into a larger society. Successful invaders could be seen as a warrior sub-caste high in status; a group of forest-dwelling Ādivāsīs absorbed as a low sub-caste. Other religious communities have adapted themselves to this system. Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians have distinct endogamous groups, especially among artisans and musicians, albeit with some degree of social mobility.

Around 70% of the population of South Asia lives in socially interlinked regional networks of agricultural villages. Urban centres have also been important from the early Indus valley civilizations onwards. Some cities, such as Trivandrum or Varanasi, grew up around pilgrimage sites or important temples. Others developed as political centres, either because of their strategic location, such as Delhi or Gwalior, or as centres of administration, such as Lucknow or Thanjavur. Cities also grew as market towns or trading centres, including Madras (Chennai), Bombay (Mumbai), and Calcutta, which developed as port cities under British rule. These functions are not mutually exclusive, and many cities have developed in multiple ways; Bombay is now as famous for its film industry as its stock exchange. Often, however, a traditional speciality, of religion, politics, or trade (mirroring those of the three twice-born Hindu castes (varṇa), Brahman, Ksatriya, and Vaisya), may still be discerned.

2. Music and musicians.

(i) The South Asian musical realm.

South Asia may be seen as a ‘linguistic area’, with certain phonetic and syntactic features found only in South Asian members of the Indo-European language family in the north and shared by them with the Dravidian languages of the south. Anthropologists have come to consider the special articulation and role of social hierarchies to be characteristic of South Asian societies, pointing to, among other things, the existence of caste among Muslims as well as Hindus. South Asian civilization has also accepted, assimilated, and ultimately transformed whatever musical elements have come into its embrace.

The modern South Asian musical realm shares with West Asia an emphasis, at most socio-musical levels, on plucked string instruments and on melodic lines in conjunct motion. A practice shared with South-east Asia is the use of idiophones – cymbals, clappers, or gongs – to mark off the spans of musical time cycles.

Another characteristic of the South Asian musical realm is a special emphasis, distinctive both in degree and kind, on drumming. Drummers in South Asia have been free to develop traditions of independence and virtuosity. As in South-east Asia, they are released from having to keep time, as that primary function is assigned elsewhere: in South Asia hand-clapping and hand-waving, cymbals, and even cyclically repeating melodic phrases are also available to control the metric cycles. At the same time the South Asian drummer, as in West Asia and unlike in South-east Asia, is associated with only one melodic line at a time.

In the South Asian border regions musical styles, like languages and social practices, are likely to reflect certain features of neighbouring musical practice. Kashmiri singers use a vocal quality similar to that of Persian classical singers, and the plucked sehtār and the mallet-struck santūr are both played with the rapid repeated-note rīz characteristic of West Asian string-instrument technique. The songs of the Sherpas in eastern Nepal use segments of the anhemitonic pentatonic systems common to neighbouring Chinese regions. The Gonds of the hills of eastern south India also use similar systems. However, the more such peoples mix with the settled agricultural populations of the northern plains or south India, the more their song styles are assimilated with or even replaced by those of their neighbours.

Music in South Asian villages is richly diverse, especially in domestic and community song and dance genres bound to both the seasons and life-cycle events. Often linked to agricultural cycles, village music also influences, and is influenced by, urban and art music styles. A distinction may be made between art and non-art musics, with the category of ‘art’ or ‘classical’ music being distinct from those of ‘folk’ or ‘popular’. The Sanskritic tradition recognizes this in the terms mārga (‘way, path [to salvation]’), which implies both the universal and salvific, and deśī (‘provincial, of the country’), implying localized to a region and a community. During the 20th century, decades of recording and broadcasting generated other pan-South Asian musical categories: devotional song, both Hindu and Muslim; popular song, especially film music; and ‘folk’ music in standardized versions of local traditions.

Classical or art music is identifiable not only by its highly regularized systems and rich aesthetic, but also by its patronage by dominant élites. These range from the historical temple and court establishments that included the Moghuls and regional rulers of all religions (e.g. Hindu Vijayanagar and Thanjavur, Muslim Lucknow, and Sikh Amritsar), to a coalition that evolved during the 20th century among landed, commercial, professional, and government élites across South Asia (e.g. Baroda, Kathmandu, Rampur, Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras). The resulting ‘public culture’ of a cosmopolitan bourgeois art music rests on a normative synthesis of musical principles and practices that today define Indian classical music as a cultural and sonic system. Based on the cumulative work of Indian musicologists from V.N. Bhatkhande to the contributors to the current Indian Musicological Journal, this normative conception of an Indian art music is articulated in teaching and performance by music academies in large urban centres (e.g. the Music Academy, Madras, and the Sangeet Research Academy, Calcutta); it also forms the basis for the teaching of South Asian music internationally.

(ii) Art music.
(a) Legitimizing criteria.

In South Asia the concept of art music is based on an amalgam of scriptural foundation and oral transmission. Authoritative theoretical doctrine and a disciplined oral tradition of performance extending back over several generations are the two complementary criteria that serve to legitimize Indian art music and its theoretical and historical foundation.

The Sanskrit term śāstra means either a text containing an authoritative exposition of doctrine in a particular field, or the body of doctrine itself. A field of knowledge or an art must be embodied in a śāstra to be fully legitimate; nāṯya-śāstra is the theory of dramaturgy, and its junior branch, saṅgīta-śāstra, is the theory of vocal music, instrumental music, and dance. Nāṯya-śāstra now generally pertains only to representational performance, including dance, and saṅgīta-śāstra governs only vocal and instrumental music.

Varying aspects of śāstra may have varying degrees of relevance to practice, or no relevance at all, but for South Asian art music the legitimizing agent is śāstra. For music theory and practice there is one aspect of the traditions of saṅgīta-śāstra that must be represented for a performance tradition to be deemed ‘classical’: melodic configurations must be governed by one or another rāga. Rāga is usually translated as ‘mode’ or, more accurately, ‘melody type’ (see §III, 2 below; see also Mode, §V, 3). In Hindi the formal expression for ‘classical music’ (besides the English) is śāstrīya-saṅgīt, but the common equivalent for ‘classical’ is simply rāgdār (‘having a rāga’). Most widely used in the oral tradition of hereditary musicians is the term pakkā (‘mature’, ‘cooked’, ‘perfected’). A generic term for classical music, it is always applied to vocal music, as in pakkā gānā.

The terms used to refer to the second legitimizing criterion of authenticated performing practice are sampradāya (‘tradition’) and paramparā (‘succession’). These criteria and the Sanskrit terms associated with them are valid for all South Asian ‘classical’ traditions, Muslim and Hindu alike, with differences only in balance or emphasis. A ‘pure tradition’ (śuddha sampradāya) authenticated by a reputable ‘master-disciple succession’ (guru-śiṣya paramparā) may be considered to denote that musicians performing classical music should have a ‘professional’ standing; however, such a standing need not be confined to those who practise their art as a means of livelihood. The standing of an artist is determined by discipulary pedigree, by a reputation for devotion to the art, and by what the artist knows, as well as by his or her skill as a performer.

It is essential not only for an artist to have learnt from a master but also that the master have a reputable artistic pedigree. Sometimes (particularly in Muslim musical traditions) the art is a hereditary family property, and in the past the most revered items or techniques were sometimes given only to the eldest son. Usually in Hindu musical traditions, and often in Muslim traditions also, the succession from master to disciple is outside the family. However, the ideal relationship requires the disciple to live in the teacher’s house and serve him devotedly, as though a member of the guru’s household (guru-kula). Although this requirement is often necessarily abrogated, it is still followed to whatever extent may be possible. Important is the religiously sanctioned tie (both Hindu and Muslim) that binds teacher to disciple, as expressed in the gaṇḍā bandhan (thread tying) or shāgirdī (discipleship) ceremony.

Honour to one’s teacher and a reputation for concentrated hard practice extending over many student years (Sanskrit: sādhanā; Persian: riāz) are two of the main proofs of an artist’s devotion to the artistic heritage. Another aspect is devotion of a purely spiritual kind. Although most musicians earn a living by their art, both the years of discipline and the resultant knowledge and skill would in an ideal world be a devotional act.

Finally, of course, high professional standing as a ‘classical’ artist entails a minimum standard of performance, and many classical artists are technically very highly skilled. Knowledge and control of a large repertory of musical items not otherwise widely known, but recognized as part of a reputable tradition, are also particularly esteemed.

(b) Northern and southern styles.

In South Asia there are two traditions of art music. Hindustani (or north Indian) classical music represents the region where Indo-European languages are spoken (including Pakistan and Bangladesh). In the Dravidian-speaking areas (i.e. most of south India) the tradition is that of Karnatak (or south Indian) classical music. Hindustani and Karnatak music are the same in essential abstract features but different in detail. The basic structure of typical ensembles is common to both: in addition to a drone there are three separate and independent musical roles, assigned to three classes of medium. The primary melodic material is traditionally carried by a singer, a plucked string instrument or a reed instrument. Antiphonal or accompanying melodic material is sometimes provided by a bowed instrument (with the singer) or a second reed instrument; bowed instruments and transverse flutes are now used as solo melodic instruments. Drums provide an independent rhythmic stratum, from simple configurative cyclic patterns to complex virtuoso passages. Rhythmic and melodic parts in ensemble are held together on a third level, provided by idiophones or hand-clapping or both, marking out the time cycles. This threefold melodic, rhythmic, and metric distinction of role is not only common to both South Asian classical styles but is relevant for non-classical ensembles as well. However, the specific characteristics of these three basic roles differ, and even vocal production is strikingly dissimilar in the two styles.

Likewise an adherence to rāga and tāla (time cycle) and their basic principles is common to the two styles, and many rāga and tāla names are identical, although the actual pitch content of the rāga and the measures of the tāla are usually different. In similar fashion, fundamental categories of performing practice are nearly the same, but the preferred expository techniques, ornamental styles and use of tempo are different and differently apportioned. The two musical styles are in essence very similar but not mutually intelligible.

A parallel set of observations can be made with respect to the socio-musical features of the recent past, still reflected in many aspects of the current scene. Hindustani classical musicians from the 17th to the 19th century were mostly Muslim, largely associated with courts, normally considered fairly low in the caste hierarchy, and concerned less with śāstra (doctrine) than with guarding their sampradāya (oral traditions); the common pair of terms for ‘master-disciple’ was the Persian ustād-shāgird, which carries the connotation of master craftsman and apprentice. In the south the Sanskrit equivalent guru-śiṣya has a cultural connotation nearer that of spiritual teacher and disciple, and the musicians were almost entirely Hindus, certain of the melodic sub-categories, even being dominated by high-caste Brahmans. Art music was strongly associated with temples and with more individualized religious devotion, as well as with courts.

From the 17th to the 19th century the stylistic distinction between Karnatak and Hindustani can be closely correlated with the more general South Asian dichotomy between Hindu and Muslim, and there is a corresponding contrast between Sanskrit and Persian words in much of the technical terminology of practising musicians, particularly with reference to instruments. From this it has been almost universally inferred that the differences in the two art music styles are a result of Muslim influences and importations in the north that caused an originally unified tradition to divide into a northern, foreign-influenced branch and a southern branch that was more conservative and truer to its ancient heritage. This is true only if the categorical types are confounded: two general classes of sampradāya and one accepted tradition of śāstra. The two kinds of classical music are demonstrably quite separate and distinct from one another from at least the 16th century onwards and probably were for some time before that, yet both are equally distant from what is reported in the 13th-century treatise Saṅgīta-ratnākara by Śārṅgadeva.

3. Musical categories.

The considerable diversity in local and regional musical practices in South Asia and the variety of contexts in which music plays an essential role may be distinguished in terms of purpose, setting, and medium. Purpose refers to a continuum extending from entertainment to ritual and devotion, and usually incorporating aspects of both. Setting denotes in general outside versus inside, village versus temple (or shrine) and court, and city street versus concert auditorium. Medium is not concerned with only purely musical performance but also associated arts; its three basic varieties may be designated as vocal, instrumental, and representational. These categories are based on the three branches ascribed to saṅgīta (‘music’) in the oldest stage of śāstra, namely, gīta (‘song’), vādya (‘instruments’), and nṛtta (‘dance’). Vocal music is linked with a verbal text; instrumental music may exist independently or accompany vocal music; representational music may be vocal, instrumental, or both, and it accompanies visual representation of one sort or another. These categories interact: the voice sometimes sings no meaningful text or is otherwise treated as an instrument, and in certain kinds of representational musical performance the entire burden of evoking specific images may rest on the vividness of a spoken or sung narration.

(i) Ritual and ceremonial music.

Some purely ritual music falls outside the normative domain of music; the oldest ritual music of this type is Vedic recitation. In one Sanskrit source, the Nāradīya śikṣā, the pitch names used for singing the Sāmaveda are equated with classical note names; the first half of this work is in fact a summary treatise on music theory incorporated into what is primarily a manual adjunct to the Veda. On this authority modern writers often begin historically orientated discussions of Indian classical music by referring to or discussing the chanting of the Ṛgveda and the elaborate transformation of some of its hymns in the gāna (singing or chanting) of the Sāmaveda through interpolated syllables and an expansion of the pitches. However, saṅgīta-śāstra (musical theory) does not discuss Vedic recitation or singing beyond giving the equivalent note names, nor are Vedic specialists considered musicians, by themselves or by others (see §V, 2 below).

Certain quasi-musical aspects of temple ritual are also not normally considered music, such as the sounding of bells during temple pūjā (worship). Similarly, the blowing of the conch-shell (śaṅkha) is normally a ritual, not a musical, event, although the conch is also used evocatively in a musical event, for example to symbolize divine intervention in performances of kathakaḷi in Kerala. On the other hand, such special instrumental practices as the accompaniment of temple ritual with the pañca-mukha-vādyam (five-faced pot drum) and maḍḍaḷam (drum) in the temple at Tiruvarur (in the Kaveri delta) are well within the domain of music, since drums as a class are by no means exclusively ritual instruments, unlike large bells or the conch.

Also associated with south Indian temples is the processional periya meḻam (‘major ensemble’), comprising double-reed nāgasvaram (shawm), the tavil (drum), and tāḷam (cymbals). The cinna meḻam (‘minor ensemble’) accompanies the temple and formerly court dance now called bharata-nāṭyam. The music of both ensembles is Karnatak. The Hindustani equivalents of the periya meḻam are based on the somewhat smaller double-reed śahnāī (shawm), used formerly in the ceremonial naubat ensembles of Muslim courts and shrines, and in most Hindu temples (see §III, 6 below). Musicians of all these ensembles belong to low-status castes; in the north they are also normally Muslims, even those employed at Hindu temples.

(ii) Representational music.

The nucleus of most traditional entertainment is story-telling. Narrative in its broadest sense ranges from verbal exposition of a tale to its presentation with pictures, puppets, acting, costume, make-up or dance, in any combination, accompanied by recitation, singing, and instruments. Since in South Asia the Islamic prohibition against human depiction (apart from manuscript illustration) has considerable force, representational music is almost entirely Hindu.

The Chitrakars of West Bengal paint scrolls illustrating scenes of stories from the Hindu epics and travel about telling the stories in song as the scrolls are unrolled to show the individual pictures. The same is done by travelling groups in south-western Rajasthan. Shadow-puppet theatre is found in four areas of southern India – Orissa and Andhra Pradesh to the north-east, Karnataka and Kerala to the south-west – and puppet shows are seen in Thanjavur, Orissa, Rajasthan, and elsewhere. In Rajasthan the puppeteer’s wife sings and plays the drum; the shadow puppets of the Andhra tolu bom-malāṭṭam are accompanied by singing, flute and drums.

Varying relationships with Karnatak music are well illustrated by an interlocking complex of traditional genres of musical representation with human actors in south India. In 16th-century Vijayanagar there was a genre called yakṣagāna, which consisted of a long narrative poem in Telegu to be sung and acted. Several varieties of yakṣagāna still survive, and in all cases the performing practice calls for an ensemble that includes one or more singers who sing the narrative verses freely, using traditional melodic types, and who also sing a number of set pieces. Instruments provide melodic, rhythmic, and time-keeping accompaniment. In some varieties of the genre the actors too may sing, or even speak, in amplification of the text, but their main function is to enact the text in the coded performance called abhinaya.

Two forms of yakṣagāna in the south-east are the dance-drama from the village of Kuchipudi in the Krishna-Godavari delta and the bhāgavata-melanāṭakam (‘devotee-singers’ group-drama’) from Melattur village, inland from the Kaveri delta. Both are in principle associated with temples. The performers are male Brahmans whose ancestors were endowed with property so that they and their descendants might continue performing yakṣagāna on Hindu religious myths. All three fundamental musical functions are represented in the Kuchipudi ensemble of flute (melodic accompaniment), mṛdaṅgam (rhythmic drumming), and cymbals (time-keeping), which are played by the leader (who also represents the most important secondary character). The musical procedures, rāgas and vocal production are those of Karnatak music.

The yakṣagāna of Karnataka is performed by travelling troupes. Its affinity with Karnatak music is hardly less than that of the Kuchipudi and Melattur traditions. In its musical ensemble it has a strong affinity with Kerala, in that there is no melodic accompanying instrument for the singer, the two drums are Keralan types, and the time is sometimes kept by a flat gong as well as by cymbals. Also reminiscent of Kerala is the fact that many of the male characters have elaborate stylized head-dresses.

The ensemble that accompanies the kathakaḷi dance-drama of Kerala comprises two singers, maḍḍaḷam (barrel drum),ceṇṭā (cylindrical drum), iṭekka (hourglass drum), ceṅṅalam (flat gong), and iḷatāḷam (cymbals). The system and the tālas in kathakaḷi music are not those of Karnatak music, although each individual tāla has a parallel in the Karnatak system. Most of the rāgas, however, have become largely assimilated as Karnatak rāgas, and few kathakaḷi rāgas have different names.

Similar kinds of partial affinity with art music traditions may be observed in all other areas of South Asia. An example is the evolution of Marathi musical theatre after the 1840s from a form in which narrative and songs were sung by one person throughout in a single style, while actors handled only dialogue, to a complex musical genre using singers specializing in different styles for different roles, and incorporating not only stylistic influences but also rāgas and actual tunes from Hindustani classical and semi-classical music.

(iii) Devotional songs and musical form.
(a) Tamil: the oldest songs.

The oldest surviving poetry is in Tamil and dates from the 7th century to the 10th. The poems were assembled c1000 into two great collections: the Tēvāram, which contains songs to Śiva, and the Nālāyirativviyappirapantam, which is devoted to Viṣṇu. Hymns from these collections are still sung in temples of the respective sects in Tamil Nadu. The Saivite Tēvāram are sung only in temples, by a class of temple singer called oḍuvār; they are grouped according to melodic types called paṇ and specific tunes called kaṭṭaḷai. Most of the paṇ now correspond quite precisely to melody types in the current canonical roster. Songs from the Vaiṣṇava Nālāyirativviyappirapantam are sung not only in Vaisnava temples (such as the Ranganāthan temple at Srirangam) but also in private devotions and in concerts; tunes in Karnatak rāgas are used. Modern tunes in Karnatak rāgas are also used for singing the 15th-century Tiruppukaḻ (‘blessed praises’) of Aruṇakiriyār, a devotee of the god Murukaṉ, very popular in Tamil Nadu; the rhythms, however, are usually sung to follow the complex metres of Aruṇakiriyār’s verse.

(b) Gīta-govinda: the model form.

Sung throughout India, Jayadeva’s 12th-century Sanskrit poem Gīta-govinda is a sequential series of 24 songs set in a matrix of verses concerning the love of Kṛṣṇa for his mistress-consort Rādhā. The Gīta-govinda has flourished alongside later devotional songs in other languages, and songs from it may still be heard in many areas in India, rendered in many different ways. Its content, saturated with mādhurya bhāva, the ‘tender emotion’ of erotic love, is perhaps no more than an intensification of the emotional theism of the Bhāgavata purāṇa; in its form, however, the Gīta-govinda is a departure from the traditional conventions of Sanskrit poetry and gives a clear illustration of new aspects of devotional song, ranging from syllabically sung nāmāvali (lists of divine names) to the complex vocal performance traditions of Hindustani and Karnatak music.

The narrative verses of the Gīta-govinda are set in conventional classical Sanskrit metres, each line with a fixed number and distribution of long (–) and short (⊓) syllables (⊓ + ⊓ = –). The songs, however, use metres based on the number of short syllables to a line. The most common is the four-unit catur-mātrā (– –, – ⊓⊓, ⊓⊓ –, ⊓⊓⊓⊓ and, with some restriction, ⊓ – ⊓), but the five-unit pañca-mātrā (–⊓–, ⊓⊓⊓–, –⊓⊓⊓, ⊓⊓⊓⊓⊓ and, with some restriction, – –⊓ and ⊓– –) is used in several songs. Metres of this kind play a minor role in Sanskrit but are essential to poetry meant to be sung.

Classical Sanskrit poetry uses consecutive four-line stanzas; the songs in the Gīta-govinda, conversely, are closed refrain forms. Each of the 24 songs comprises a refrain (dhruvā) and eight stanzas, called pada; hence the common designation aṣṭa-padī (‘having eight stanzas’) for a Gīta-govinda song. After each stanza the refrain is sung, and the text is structured semantically and often grammatically so that the independent refrain is also a logical or even a necessary completion of the stanza. In the performance of bhajans (devotional songs) a leader and a group normally sing the stanzas and refrain alternately. There is a musical as well as textual contrast between the theme of the refrain and the theme of the verse, and there is usually a musical and a textual end-rhyme common to refrain and verse. These three textually determined features – leading back, contrast of refrain and verse, and musical rhyme – are fundamental to the performing practice not only of bhajan singing but also of Hindustani and Karnatak music. The very structure of rāgas, quite apart from their embodiment in performance, has to be seen in terms of these same three features: connections in line, contrast in registers, and parallelism in melodic motifs.

(c) Devotional poetry in north India.

Each of the 24 aṣṭa-padī of the Gīta-govinda is designated in the manuscript sources as to be sung in a specific rāga and tāla. In no part of India is it sung with the varying rāgas and tālas prescribed in manuscript sources, but it is often locally associated with series of rāgas and tālas; the common current south Indian traditional settings are said to date from the 17th century. Later devotional songs in the vernacular, such as the Sūr sāgar of Sūr Dās, are also frequently found with rāgas (not tālas) specified in manuscript sources. The sacred book of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sāhib, is a compilation completed in 1604 of devotional songs not only by the founder of the sect, Guru Nānak, but also by other 15th- and 16th-century devotional poets, especially Kabīr. The main body of the collection is divided into 30 sections called ‘rāga’ (the 31st was added later), each named after a specific rāga.

Devotional songs from the 15th and 16th centuries in Indo-European languages, like the 12th-century aṣṭa-padī songs of Jayadeva, are now not usually sung in the rāgas ascribed to them in manuscript sources, and usually not in a rāga at all.

(d) Kanada and Telugu devotional songs.

The oldest repertory of Dravidian-language devotional songs to extend throughout south India are the Kanada kīrtana of Purandara Dasa (d 1564); although their actual melodic tradition is now effectively lost, they were (and still are) sung in rāgas and tālas. Purandara Dasa was active in the area of the Deccan where the imperial court of Vijayanagar was located and died just a year before the battle in which that court was destroyed and the remnants of the imperial family fled southwards. The tradition of bhakti (devotional) song in Kanada declined after his death and was revived in the 17th century.

Two important Telugu bhaktas (devotees) from Andhra in the 17th century were Kṣetrayya from the Krishna-Godavari delta and Rāma Dāsa from Bhadracala (in the then Muslim sultanate of Golconda, later Hyderabad). Bhadracala Rāma Dāsa’s songs are sung only by bhajan groups, but the songs (padam) of Kṣetrayya devoted to Kṛṣṇa became a basic element of the temple dance of the cinna meḻam and an essential part of the south Indian musical repertory. Kṣetrayya spent some time at the court of Vijayaraghava Nāyak of Thanjavur (reigned 1634–73), for whom he composed several laudatory songs, but most of his padam compositions concern Muvva-gopāla, the image of Kṛṣṇa in the temple of his native village.

In the latter part of the 18th century the most important modern south Indian procedures of devotional bhajan (or kīrtanam) were devised, and the musical repertory assembled or provided, by devotional poets Bodhendra, Ayyavaḷ, and Sadgurusvāmi. At this time Tyāgarāja (1767–1847) was undergoing his musical and spiritual training. Tyāgarāja is now esteemed as the foremost composer of the modern south Indian tradition of classical music. Early in his life he became a devotee of Rāma, who (like Kṛṣṇa) is believed to be an avatar (incarnation) of Viṣṇu. The characteristic devotional attitude of the Kṛṣṇa cult is mādhurya bhāva (‘attitude of sexual love’), exemplified by the gopī (‘milkmaids’) and especially Rādhā; the devotees of Rāma, conversely, tend to favour the dāsya-bhāva (‘attitude of devoted service’), as exemplified by Rāma’s brother Lakṣmaṇa and especially by the monkey prince Hanūmān. In Tyāgarāja in the early 19th century two major streams of south Indian musical tradition were fully united: Vaisnava devotional song and the tradition of the Thanjavur court musicians. Tyāgarāja’s kriti compositions are now part of the central repertory of Karnatak music, yet the songs he made for his own bhajan s also play a major role in any organized session of devotional singing.

(e) Muslim devotional music.

For Hindus music was and is an integral part of worship, temple and private alike, while for Muslims even ‘secular’ music was frequently subjected to orthodox attack, and in principle no music was used for public worship, even the most artful cantillation of the Qu’ran being defined as non-musical reading. Thus, for Muslims, devotional music and classical music at court were necessarily much more distinct from one another than they were for Hindus. Nonetheless, there are some connections.

The most important type of Muslim devotional music is qavvālī, sung at the shrine of a Sufi pīr (‘saint’), especially at the saint’s anniversary, and traditionally performed by specialist musicians called Qavvāl. There is now no necessary connection with classical music, but in the 18th and 19th centuries Qavvāl-bacce sang the khayāl (a classical song form) and were among its important exponents. Some items of the traditional repertory of compositions for Hindustani music were drawn from qavvālī. A number of traditional khayāl dating from the 18th century, which are still sung, honour important pīr of the Chishtī order. These khayāl texts on Sufi saints differ from other khayāl texts only in vocabulary.

Another Muslim devotional practice that has some connection to classical Hindustani court music is the music used by Shi‘a Muslim groups in the month of Muharram, lamenting the martyrdom of Hasan and Husayn. One of the songs used is called mariy□ā, and some classical musicians used to specialize in mariy□ā singing. Singers of Shi‘a mourning hymns like sōz and mar□iyā still use classical rāgas.

4. Social change.

Distinct musical categories are traditionally associated with distinct performing communities consisting of specialist performers who are linked to particular patrons and musical associations. Bismillah Khan playing śahnāī for temple rituals in Varanasi, Sufi Qavvāls at Delhi’s Nizamuddin Sufi shrine, musicians at the Jaipur court, mendicant singers in north Indian villages, or hereditary dancer-singers, both male and female, among the Muṇḍā in Bihar, have all provided appropriate music and dance for quasi-feudal patrons. However, urbanization and the waning of feudalism have also generated opportunities for social mobility among hereditary performers. Among the Barot, many Gujarati genealogist-musicians who by birth are attached to minor feudal patrons have moved into better paying urban métiers, leaving less endowed non-Barots to replace them and take on their caste name.

Among Muslims, social mobility has long been demonstrated by the Mīrāsīs’ rise from Punjabi village entertainers to court musicians, and today to higher education and international stardom. Most remarkable has been the middle class initiative across the country to become classical performers, a move that has fundamentally altered the social structure of music-making by replacing hereditary professional identity with bourgeois professionalism. This movement has, however, also profoundly damaged the musical standing and livelihood of lower-status hereditary musicians, especially women who as courtesans or devadāsīs (temple dancers) have been stigmatized by the now dominant Indian middle class.

After 50 years of independence the established musical conservatism and categories generated by nationalist agendas are beginning to give way to questions and innovations under the influence of new sound technologies that have enabled local control of musical production as well as the international dissemination of and participation in all kinds of South Asian musics.

II. History of classical music

1. Introduction.

  • Harold S. Powers and Jonathan Katz

For South Asian classical music the primary historical sources are the same as the legitimizing agents: authoritative traditions (sampradāya) of existing musical practice (prayoga) and canonical theory (śāstra; see §I, 2(ii)(a) above). Because the two ‘classical’ performing traditions were until modern times transmitted entirely orally, evidence documenting musical details of actual past practices is sparse. Doctrine, however, has been transmitted through manuscripts for centuries.

Divisions in South Asian music history, therefore, are primarily determined by the nature of the sources, which are then correlated as much as possible with more general political and cultural history. Considered in this light, there are three major epochs in music history: up to the mid-13th century; from the mid-13th century to the mid-16th; and from the mid-16th century onwards. They may be termed ancient, medieval, and modern respectively.

No existing sampradāya of classical music has any direct connection with the ancient period, whose sources for music history are only textual and iconographic. Textual sources are technical discussions in Sanskrit treatises and passing references in literature, mainly in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and Tamil. Iconographic sources consist of numerous sculptures of musicians and their instruments. Both types of source suggest regional diversity as well as historical change, but the absence of immediately apprehendable evidence of incompatible musical practices and the use of Sanskrit as the language of discourse have encouraged a monolithic view of ancient music. This attitude is furthered by the monumental Saṅgīta-ratnākara, a treatise on music composed between 1210 and 1247 in Devagiri (modern Daulatabad), in the north-west of the Deccan, by Śārṅgadeva, a Brahman of Kashmiri descent. This work is a watershed in South Asian music history. It contains a vast amount of older doctrine and lore, organized in seven coherent sections. The substance of ancient śāstra was transmitted to later writers through the Saṅgīta-ratnākara, whose form determined the categories of South Asian music theory from then on.

Between the clearly marked end of the ancient period in the 13th century and the earliest documentation of prototypes of modern classical practices in the 16th century lies what is here called the medieval period. During these centuries the attempted southern expansion of the Delhi sultanate took place, followed by its fragmentation after Timur’s invasion of 1398 and ultimately the reconquest of the fragments by Akbar. The Deccan Muslim courts and the Hindu empire of Vijayanagar in peninsular India were also established during this period. Although direct connections from these centuries to the present traditions of music cannot be firmly proved, the outlines of the modern period are unmistakable. Historical sources (although from a much later period) abound in anecdotes about historical personages and music, and some of the musical traditions reported may well be sources for those we know directly. From this period it is already possible to infer a distinction between northern and southern musical regions, a distinction that is historical and ultimately geographical in its origins. Anecdotes show that musicians moved back and forth with the shifting fortunes of the various Muslim and Rājpūt courts in the Indo-Gangetic plain and similarly between the closely neighbouring Muslim and Vijayanagar courts in the peninsula. Musical exchanges across the Vindhyas, on the other hand, are reported only as a consequence of major military excursions. The familiar equation of Hindustani–Karnatak with Muslim–Hindu, thence hybrid–pure, and ultimately foreign–native, is a result of the fact that the radial centres of the latest phases of the two styles were Muslim Delhi and Hindu Thanjavur. However, before the shift of the centre of gravity of Karnatak music from Vijayanagar in the Deccan to the Kaveri delta in the far south in the late 16th century, the Hindu and Muslim courts in the peninsula had been as close as the Hindu and Muslim courts of the Rājpūts and the Ganges-Yamuna Doab, and for almost as long.

Devotional theism had its most phenomenal development during the period from 1300 to 1600. The deep connection of not only its content but also its form with the underlying bases of the modern classical musical practices has been outlined above. Where both practices and historical anecdotes of the medieval period appear to look forward to the modern period, Sanskrit theoretical writings on music contain only fragmentary (though very interesting) foreshadowings of practices and ideas that take on a familiar look in both theory and practice only in the late 16th century.

The third period of music history is dominated by the history of sampradāya as embodied in the canonical traditions of Hindustani and Karnatak music. Both traditions can establish a claim to 16th-century roots, of which something demonstrably still survives. Dhrupad compositions of Akbar’s court musician Tānsen are known, and many existing musical lineages are traced to Tānsen’s family and immediate successors at the Mughal court. In the south the elementary teaching system for Karnatak music is attributed to Purandaradāsa (c1484–1564), although the padam compositions of Kṣētrayya (fl 1635–59) constitute the oldest repertory whose actual performance tradition is reasonably certain to be continuous. From succeeding centuries evidence for the continuity of northern and southern traditions becomes more plentiful and more consistently dependable, and by the mid-19th century, names are known and practices confirmed that belong wholly to the modern era. In addition, some regional traditions of religious, devotional, or dramatic music have been formalized with theoretical and procedural terminologies. In Bengal there are well-developed traditions of kīrtan performance, and attempts have been made to secure for Orissan music a canonical status analogous to Hindustani and Karnatak music.

The beginning of the modern period is even more clearly marked by the abrupt appearance of new theoretical work. Between 1550 and 1800 many technical treatises were written that are recognizably connected with practices musically ancestral to the present performance traditions. These treatises, by their attempts to incorporate or refute the doctrines of the Saṅgīta-ratnākara, often show that their understanding of the written remnants from the ancient period was no better than ours. During the 19th century, however, little theoretical work was produced, and almost none in Sanskrit; important new theory appeared only in the 20th century.

Before 1250, South Asian musical historiography is concerned with icons, literature, and especially treatises. So little can be inferred of actual musical practices that it is practicable, even desirable, to consider the subcontinent as a whole. After 1250, and particularly after 1550, treatises continue to play a major role in musical historiography until the 19th century, but they now have to be considered from several angles. The history of saṅgīta-śāstra (‘musical doctrines’) can still be studied in its own right, but treatises should also be examined carefully for the considerable light they shed on ever more recognizable features of modern canonical performance traditions. Furthermore, the sources after 1550 generally have clear affinities to either northern or southern musics, affinities that must be established and discriminated as closely as possible. Nijenhuis (1977) made a survey of the Sanskrit works then printed, and several treasties have been published since then.

2. To the mid-16th century.

  • Harold S. Powers and Jonathan Katz
(i) The ancient period.
(a) Treatises.

Because of the nature of the sources, the ancient period can be divided further, in terms of music theory, at the 8th century. The first part of the period comprises material contained only in the Nāṯyaśāstra, whose musical portions probably belong to the Gupta period (4th and 5th centuries). New theoretical material in the Bṛhad-deśī from the 8th or 9th century, and from later treatises up to and including the Saṅgīta-ratnākara (13th century), belongs to the second part of the ancient period.

The Nāṯyaśāstra (‘dramaturgy’) is the earliest surviving source not only of dramatic theory but also of musical theory, poetics, metrics, and general aesthetics. Although parts of the treatise had been summarized, verses from it quoted, and Bharata, its traditional author, regularly cited and revered, when the rediscovery of the Nāṯyaśāstra began in 1865 it had in fact been many centuries since the work had been known as a whole. Furthermore, although the Nāṯyaśāstra has now been published several times, a properly critical edition is still a remote prospect, with numerous problems of textual transmission and recension. One of the major obstacles to such an edition is the music section, which is full of technical discussions and long lists of terms, most of which have not been understood or used for more than a millennium.

Musical doctrine was originally included in dramaturgy because music was (and still is) an essential part of theatre. It was an element of production, along with gesture, movement, level of language, vocal inflection, costume, and make-up, all of which were highly stylized. In the Nāṭyaśāstra (chaps.1–27) important references to music occasionally appear in connection with other elements of production technique; other parts of it are devoted exclusively to music. There is a discussion of instrumental music in general, dealing with tunings, scales, modal patterns (jāti, which may or may not be melody types), and modal functions (chap.28). There is one chapter on each of the four classes of instrument: strings, wind, idiophones, and drums. The sections on strings (chap.29) and drums (chap.33 or 34) include discussions of playing technique, manner of accompaniment for songs, and how the instruments are used in connection with the actions and the sentiments of the drama. The discussion of idiophones (chap.31) deals not with the instruments themselves but with their function, which was marking off the time cycle (tāla). The flute section (chap.30) is very brief. There is a discussion of dhruva, the kinds of song with which a play was ornamented in production, their texts and character, and their dramatic applications (chap.32). An extra chapter in the Baroda edition lists the good and bad points in singing and the playing of instruments. Another interesting text surviving probably from this early period is the Dattilam, ascribed to the sage Dattila. This is more restricted in scope than the Nāṯyaśāstra, and if we are to assume that it has survived in its entirety and was intended by its author to be self-sufficient, it appears to deal with gāndharva (music), defined as a discrete form or body of forms of music different in nature and function from the later saṅgīta. It seems that the repertory of music it describes was that of the ritual preliminaries (pūrva-raṅga) of Sanskrit drama, while the Nāṯyaśāstra was concerned with the drama as a whole.

A later important work or compilation, originating in part perhaps as early as the 8th or 9th century, is the Bṛhad-deśī attributed to Mataṅga. The first published edition of this work was based on two incomplete manuscripts from the same place in Kerala. No other primary sources for the work have yet been found, but the new edition (1992 etc.) takes into account the frequent and sometimes lengthy paraphrases and quotations from the Bṛhad-deśī in later works. The surviving portions of the Bṛhad-deśī reproduce, augment, and supplement material in the Nāṯyaśāstra and incorporate lengthy passages from otherwise unknown early works, along with original material. On two counts the Bṛhad-deśī marks a turning-point in South Asian music theory. Firstly, theories of sound based on the metaphysical and physiological theories of Tantric yoga are propounded for the first time and argued with standard logical techniques, for the Bṛhad-deśī is a work of learning, not a practical manual. Secondly, the term rāga is introduced and defined, with the specific observation that it had not been discussed ‘by Bharata and others’. In the Nāṯyaśāstra the closest equivalent to rāga is jāti. This term and its doctrine continued to be carried in the later treatises as part of the inherited śāstra. It is generally assumed that an evolutionary process is indicated by the addition of the new term rāga to the old one jāti, but it seems more likely that two different traditions are represented. In the Bṛhad-deśī much of what is reported about rāgas and related entities called bhāṣā is attributed to other named writers as well as to its own author, Mataṅga. In any case, the Bṛhad-deśī supplies for its rāgas and bhāṣā the kinds of names, and many of the actual names, which still designate rāgas, sometimes exactly, as with Varāṭī, Hindola, and Gurjarī, sometimes in slightly different forms, such as Sauvīrī (Sāverī), Saurāṣtrī (Soraṭh, Sūraṭī, also Saurāṣṭram), and Mālava-kaiśika (Mālkoś). For both the old jāti and the newly reported bhāṣā and rāgas not only are modal functions and dramatic applications reported, but musical illustrations in scale degree letters are given as well. These reappear in the corresponding portions of the Saṅgīta-ratnākara and some later medieval works.

Additional evidence for early Indian tonal and melodic systems is found in the 7th- or 8th-century rock inscription beside the temple at the fort of the hill of Kuḍumiyāmalai in Tamil Nadu. Recent work on the notated musical examples of this inscription suggests that they relate to actual melodic practice and may represent a didactic tradition reflected also in the conservative music examples found in the considerably later Saṅgīta-ratnākara. In the late 11th or early 12th century, Nānyadeva, ruler of Tirhut in north India, wrote or commissioned a commentary called Sarasvatī-hṛdayālaṅkāra or, more simply, Bharata-bhāṣyam, on the Nāṯyaśāstra. In addition to its explanation of theoretical and technical matters, this contains some valuable early notated musical examples of song compositions (see Widdess, 1981 and 1995).

More is added to the store of ancient doctrine by Abhinavagupta’s commentary on the Nāṯyaśāstra, which includes another long list of rāgas with their dramatic applications from another ancient writer. Much of both the Bṛhad-deśī and Abhinavagupta’s Abhinava-bhārati̱ is incorporated bodily into the highly syncretic Saṅgīta-ratnākara. In this work all the threads of ancient doctrine are woven into a complex but systematic pattern. It is divided into seven large chapters, hence its frequent sobriquet saptādhyāyī. The first chapter discusses sound, including its generation, microtones and intervals, scales and scale degree patterns, and the jāti (ancient modal patterns). The second chapter discusses rāga (melody type), both doctrinal and current. The third chapter is miscellaneous, dealing largely with performing practice, including ornaments, improvisation, and ensembles. The fourth chapter is on composition (vocal) and includes discussions of metres, form, and songs in vernaculars. The fifth chapter deals with tāla (time cycle), both doctrinal and current. The sixth chapter discusses instruments (strings, wind, drums, and idiophones) and includes lists of rāgas with a few of their characteristics for the kinnarī-vīṇā and the flute, plus playing techniques for strings (both doctrinal and current) and for drums, along with drum syllable patterns. The seventh chapter is on dance.

(b) Instruments in iconography.

Paralleling the distinction of older and newer layers of content in the treatises is a very significant change in the type of string instrument depicted in sculpture. Iconographic remains from the 2nd century bce to the 8th century ce, the era when Buddhism was still dominant in South Asia, abound in bow harps and short-necked ovoid lutes. From the 7th century ce to the 13th and after, these two string instruments disappear from sculpture and are replaced by stick zithers with one or more strings and often with bowl-shaped resonators or supports. These instruments are direct ancestors of the modern bīn of Hindustani music.

In the Nāṯyaśāstra (chap.29) the two principal types of vīṇā are called vipañcī and citrā. They correspond to the bow harp and the ovoid lute, respectively, of iconography. The names of these instruments continue to appear in later treatises, including the Saṅgīta-ratnākara (they are a part of inherited śāstra), but to them are added descriptions of several varieties of the later stick zither vīṇā. Furthermore, one passage in the Nāṯyaśāstra (chap.29, 95–100 in the Ghosh edition) describes playing techniques for the vīṇā. Although the variety of vīṇā is not specified, some of the techniques clearly refer to an instrument with open strings, plucked with the left hand as well as the right, such as a harp.

The Saṅgīta-ratnākara reports this by then purely historical material, but it also describes in some detail a very different playing technique for the one-string eka-tantrī vīṇā, a variety of stick zither. Furthermore, the technique is declared applicable to all instruments of the class. It is based on a separation of the functions of left and right hands. The right hand has nine modes of plucking, whereas the left hand, while holding a stick against the string, can produce either a shake or a slide; 13 special two-hand techniques are also described.

Whenever a priori pitch relationships have been important in South Asian music theory, the instrument of reference has always been the current form of vīṇā. A radical change in string instrument types and their techniques, therefore, should be correlated in some way with an equally radical change in the underlying concept of pitch relationships. On open-string instruments (such as the bow harp) the basic pitch collection has to be tuned in advance. Any pitch is potentially as important as any other, and in different musical contexts different pitches will assume the central role.

A stopped-string instrument differs in that all the stopped pitches can easily be conceived as a function of the pitch of the open string, and ultimately as subordinate to it. That a conceptual change moving towards the notion of a single system tonic had occurred is explicitly confirmed early in the medieval period, but it may have been well under way during the last centuries of the ancient period.

(c) References in general literature.

There are many references to music and musical instruments in Sanskrit, Pali, and Prakrit (e.g. the Vāsudevahiṇḍī) literature (see Jain, 1977). On the whole they confirm the technical terminology and names and descriptions of instruments available from the treatises and iconography, but they also provide some further context and several entertaining anecdotes. Śrīvāstav (1967) located and discussed musical references in Sanskrit literature from the Vedas to the end of the 6th century, including references in Kālidāsa and other classical playwrights. For a wider sweep, of both literary and other early Indian sources, see Premalatha (1983). Many secondary studies and commentaries on classical works and authors have examined musical references among other cultural areas, but much remains to be discovered and systematically discussed. An important source for the music of southern India in the early centuries ce is the extensive section on music theory in the Tamil narrative work Cilappatikāram. It is even possible that some of the origins of later Sanskrit theory may be identifiable in this work and in the tradition it represents.

(ii) The medieval period.
(a) Treatises.

There are few musical treatises available between the Saṅgīta-ratnākara and the new theory that appeared in the later 16th century. Of those considered here the most influential are the two commentaries on the Saṅgīta-ratnākara. There are also two historically important works by Jain authors, a large-scale compendium of music theory of 1428 and a single enormous treatise from Rajasthan. The commentaries on the Saṅgīta-ratnākara are Siṃhabhūpāla’s Sudhākara (c1330) and Kallinātha’s Kalānidhi (c1450), both written in peninsular India. The earlier one quotes extensively from the first of the two Jain treatises, Pārśvadeva’s Saṅgīta-samaya-sāra, which makes the latter nearly contemporaneous with the Saṅgīta-ratnākara, or possibly earlier. The later Jain treatise is the Saṅgītopaniṣat-sāroddhāra by Sudhākalaśa. It is from Gujarat and was completed in 1350. The Saṅgīta-śiromaṇi (1428) was compiled at the behest of Sultan Malik Shah of Kaḍa (near present-day Allahabad) by a circle of scholars who used, and to some extent commented on, a large number of earlier Sanskrit works. The treatise from Rajasthan, which quotes from the Saṅgīta-śiromaṇi, is the Saṅgīta-rāja, written under the direction of King Kumbhakarṇa of Mewar and dated 1453.

The Jain treatises may well represent a tradition of śāstra independent of the Saṅgīta-ratnākara. The Saṅgīta-samaya-sāra covers material similar to the Saṅgīta-ratnākara, but with many differences of detail. The great importance of the Saṅgītopaniṣat-sāroddhāra is as a link between ancient and modern phenomena. Firstly, in its chapter on tāla (time cycle), both the arrangement (by length of time cycle) and the association of a particular configurative drum pattern with each particular tāla point towards modern Hindustani usage. Secondly, the rāga chapter provides the oldest known set of verse iconographies for melody types. Six rāgas, each with five sub-types called bhāṣā, are depicted as quasi-Tantric images, in several cases many-armed, holding various emblems, each with an associated animal (vāhana). Nawab (1956) contains a set of paintings, a rāga-mālā, representing these melody type icons.

These are the only known rāga icons of this Tantric type, the various later traditions all having a basis in secular poetics. The historical significance of this material is heightened by the fact that most of the individual iconographies of the system in the Saṅgītopaniṣat-sāroddhāra appear again in the Saṅgīta-rāja, but not as part of a symmetrical classification system. The Saṅgīta-rāja is on the whole simply an enormous collection of lore. It follows the categories of the Saṅgīta-ratnākara in principle and often paraphrases its descriptions. The iconographic rāga verses are simply attached where appropriate, usually with the observation ‘according to some’. These are the most striking materials in the portions of the Saṅgīta-rāja so far published, but the very size of the work implies the inclusion of a number of miscellaneous details not available elsewhere.

Of the commentaries on the Saṅgīta-ratnākara, Kallinātha’s Kalānidhi in particular is a tantalizing link between ancient and modern music. Kallinātha expanded considerably on the material in the Saṅgīta-ratnākara, in several places identifying 15th-century equivalents of its rāgas by names still in use, and he clarified the important section on improvisation. In one passage he confirmed and illustrated a fundamental contradiction (virodha) between ancient doctrines and practices he himself knew in 15th-century Vijayanagar (Saṅgīta-ratnākara ii, 114ff; see also Bṛhaspati, 1969, pp.20ff). Part of this passage speaks of ‘the same formation being in all the rāgas’ due to the ‘immobility of the 5th’, and of the scales of rāgas in the old system as ‘done in the [modern] practice as though [all] beginnings were at the middle ṣaḍja’, ṣaḍja being the degree that evidently had already become the single permanent system tonic that is now familiar. In another place, Kallinātha seems to have referred quite explicitly to a common tonic, saying ‘Thus in regional [rāgas] those beginning with niṣāda [degree 7] are fixed on the place of middle ṣaḍja [degree 1], and so then in all [rāgas] there is a common primary [degree]’ (Saṅgīta-ratnākara iii, 298–9). He had introduced the matter as an explanation for Śārṅgadeva’s mention of ‘[coming] from a common primacy’, and thus implied that the system tonic was already prevalent in the early 13th century, at the end of the ancient period. Siṃhabhūpāla’s Sudhākara is less helpful as a guide to the transition which had been and was still taking place, but like Kallinātha he supplied much useful material from earlier sources.

(b) Traditions.

One of the major cultural consequences of the Muslim hegemony in the Indo-Gangetic plain and northern peninsular India was the introduction of the written chronicles of Muslim historians, with their regular use of dates, names, and places. It is largely for this reason that medieval predecessors of the modern performing traditions seem somewhat more discernible for the Indo-Gangetic plain and Hindustani music than they are for Karnatak music. Most of the accounts, however, come from sources dating from the mid-16th century to the mid-18th, thus in some cases considerably later than the period in question.

In the decades before and after 1300 the outstanding Indo-Persian poet Amir Khusrau was at the court of the sultans of Delhi. Most of the stories about his connections with music are found in late sources, and many are apocryphal, but of his knowledge of and devotion to Indian music there can be no doubt. Whether or not he invented the devotional qavvālī singing of the Sufi orders and introduced the singing of ghazal, he certainly established and legitimized them as South Asian musical items. He was also a friend and disciple of the great Chishtī saint Nizām-ud-dīn Auliyā, who successfully argued the propriety of using music for Sufi devotions, taking the case against the Muslim divines to the sultan in the early 1320s.

Timur’s sack of Delhi in 1398 scattered the court, and during the 15th century the effectively independent rulers of Bengal, Jaunpur, Gujarat, and Gwalior were the chief patrons of music. Sultan Husain ‘Sharqī’ of Jaunpur, who reigned from 1458 until his principality was reabsorbed by the sultanate of Delhi in 1477, is often credited with the invention or revival of a number of rāgas and of the musical form khayāl. The Hindu king of Gwalior, Man Singh Tomar (who reigned from 1486 to 1516), is lauded as a great patron, and the names of several of his musicians are recorded. Tānsen, the leading musician of Akbar’s court and the paramount figure at the source of the most respected of the Hindustani music traditions, came from Gwalior and was first trained there.

The earliest Persian treatises on Indian music are largely dependent on Sanskrit sources. The Ghunyat-ul-munya (1374–5) also contains, however, some interpretative comment on both theory and observed practice. The Delhi court itself became a musical centre once more during the reign of the Afghan king Sikandar Lodi (who reigned from 1489 to 1517). Later historians list the sultan’s favourite rāgas. According to the earliest two accounts (1572), these were Kānaḍā, Kalyāṇ, Gauḍ, and the Western Asian maqām called Husainī, which is listed simply as a rāga in later 16th-century peninsular Sanskrit treatises. The Lahjat-i-sikandar-shāhi̱, dedicated to the sultan, follows the seven-chapter plan of the Saṅgīta-ratnākara without deviation, using the commentaries along with their citations from other sources such as the Saṅgīta-samaya-sāra and the Bṛhad-deśī (Delvoye, ‘Indo-Persian Literature’ (1994), pp.101–2; Lal, 1963, pp.242–3; Ahmad, 1954).

About professional musicians and their patrons in southern India there is less specific information, although devotional poems survive with their composers’ names and sometimes also names of rāgas. An exceptional survival is the set of copper plates from Tirupati containing texts and rāga names for kīrtanam by the 15th-century Tāllapākam composers (Sambamoorthy, 1952–71, ii, p.367 and plates 21 and 22).

The fountain-head of modern Karnatak music was the Vijayanagar empire. Several passing anecdotal references in Muslim and Portuguese chronicles suggest that the fundamentals of musical practices in the Hindu Vijayanagar court and in the Muslim Bahmani court and its successors were not substantially different. In addition, Kallinātha’s testimony (cited above) that the system had changed shows that in the Deccan some sort of syncretism of old and new practice had taken place that was as much a departure from ancient lore as that occurring north of the Vindhyas in the same period.

3. Music and theory after the 16th century.

  • Harold S. Powers and Jonathan Katz

The modern period of South Asian art music may be thought of in two main divisions, separated by the second half of the 18th century. For Hindustani music, the dominance of the Mughal musical establishment for nearly two centuries characterizes the first division. In 1562 the Emperor Akbar took personal control of his government and in the same year brought Tānsen from the court of Reva to his own court. The Mughal musical establishment endured, supplying and taking from smaller courts, until the period following the last years of Muhammad Shah (reigned 1719–48).

The second division begins in the years after Muhammad Shah, when many of the Delhi musicians dispersed to regional centres of semi-independent power, as their predecessors had done in the 15th century. The most important patronage outside Delhi was at Lucknow, the court of the nawabs of Avadh, but other princely states and the newly rich tax-farmers and businessmen in Calcutta also patronized musicians. Traditions from the mid-19th century onwards are then securely traceable up to Independence in 1947 and beyond.

In south India the modern period begins from the last years of Vijayanagar in the mid-16th century. During the next two centuries musical predominance became concentrated in the former Vijayanagar viceroyalty of Thanjavur, first under the rule of independent Nāyak viceroys until 1673. After 1675 Thanjavur was ruled by Maratha kings who maintained and enlarged the existing cultural traditions until the death of Tukojī II in 1736. Following his death the principality of Thanjavur was in turmoil for several decades. Patronage revived under Amar Singh, who reigned from 1787 to 1798. Śarabhojī Serfoji II (reigned 1798–1832) signed away his ruling prerogative to the British in 1799 in exchange for the preservation of his court and his royal dignity. He was then left free to devote himself to developing, among other luxuries, the musical establishment inherited from his predecessors. The three Brahman musician-devotees whom Karnatak musicians credit with the modern transformation of their heritage – Tyāgarāja,Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar, and Śyāma Śāstri– also flourished during his reign.

In 1855 the royal succession in Thanjavur lapsed, but by then other south Indian courts and wealthy landed proprietors were supporting Thanjavur-trained musicians. In the second half of the 19th century a number of professional musicians learnt the kīrtanam compositions of Tyāgarāja from his immediate disciples and began singing and elaborating them as concert pieces. They were established by these musicians and those of the early 20th century as the nucleus of the present concert style. During this same period the support for musicians provided by the princes, wealthy landlords, and temples began to be supplemented by saṅgīta sabhā (‘music societies’) in Madras and elsewhere, formed by Brahmans and others in business, government, and the professions who had an interest in music.

(i) History of music theory in the modern period.

Beginning in 1550 a great many new treatises appeared, attempting to rationalize aspects of current practice and sometimes to reconcile it with inherited doctrine. In most cases these works come to terms with the Saṅgīta-ratnākara. As a rule, much of the old material is retained, often in the old seven-chapter format (see §2(i)(a) above). The novelties in the new works are largely confined to the general categories of tonal system, rāga (melody-type), and instruments. Many of the works in fact deal only with rāga, touching on the tonal system and on the vīṇā as an instrument of reference only to the extent necessary to elucidate their rāgas.

There are three diagnostic variables for the new theoretical works: first, whether they introduce a new tonal system based on the fretted stick zither (vīṇā) and try to reconcile it with the tonal material of the Saṅgīta-ratnākara, or merely reproduce it; second, whether the classifications of the rāgas are open-ended and based on scale-type, or closed and symmetrical and not based on any clearly discernible musical criteria; and third, whether individual rāgas are associated with iconographic verses describing people in poetic situations, or are discussed only as musical entities.

Looked at in this way, it can be said that treatises clearly associated both geographically and in terms of content with the modern Karnatak tradition introduce a new tonal system, classify rāgas by scale-type, and treat them as purely musical entities: Rāmāmātya’s Svaramelakalānidhi (c1550) belongs to this tradition. Treatises most closely connected with Hindustani music, above all Dāmodara’s Saṅgīta-darpaṇa (c1625), do not concern themselves with precise tonal relationships in practice but classify rāgas according to symmetrical schemes based on a fixed number of main rāgas (usually six), each with the same number and patterning of subordinate types, and attempt to correlate the classification with traditional poetic icons for each individual rāga.

There are also treatises that combine features of both groups: scale-type classifications with verse iconographies (Somanātha’s Rāga-vibodha of 1609) and symmetrical rāga systems whose rāga scales are clearly described (Puṇḍarīka Viṭṭhala’s Rāga-mālā in the late 16th century). These originated in north-west peninsular India or in western India. Finally, there is one main treatise, the Saṅgīta-pārijāta by Ahobala Paṇḍita, in which a tonal system is uniquely described (by string divisions) but whose rāgas are merely listed, neither classified nor associated with poetic icons.

(ii) South Indian sources for mela (scale-type).

The oldest surviving treatise of the modern period is Rāmāmātya’s Svaramelakalānidhi, composed about 1550 in the court of Vijayanagar, 15 years before the capital was destroyed. This is the only independent theoretical work surviving from the Vijayanagar period and at the same time the first of the modern southern treatises. Its distinguishing theoretical feature is the description and grouping of rāgas according to the number of scale-types necessary to accommodate the varying intervallic structure of rāgas in current practice. This feature appears for the first time in the Svaramelakalānidhi and is still central to the purely southern group of treatises and to theory in Karnatak music. Scale-type description and classification could not have been newly invented by Rāmāmātya, however, and in the first of a series of later treatises from Thanjavur, the scale-type approach is credited to the sage Vidyāraṇya (the brother of the Vedic commentator Sāyaṇa), who is traditionally associated with the foundation of Vijayanagar itself in the mid-14th century. This first Thanjavur treatise is Govinda Dīkṣitar’s Saṅgīta-sudhā, produced in the early 17th century by the great chief minister of Raghunātha Nāyaka of Thanjavur. It follows the seven-chapter plan of the Saṅgīta-ratnākara, although the last three chapters are lost. It chiefly recasts the material of the Saṅgīta-ratnākara in a different metre, but in the last two-thirds of the rāga chapter new rāgas and scale-types are presented, the doctrine being attributed to Vidyāraṇya, and there are several passing criticisms of Rāmāmātya’s Svaramelakalānidhi.

A treatise developing scale-types into a closed system is the Caturdaṇḍī-prakāśikā by Govinda Dīkṣitar’s son Veṅkaṭamakhin, who showed how the semitonal scale of pitches produced by the Vīṇā with fixed frets could be systematically permuted to produce 72 seven-degree scale-types with fixed tonic and 5th and five variable degrees. Included among these 72 were the 19 that Veṅkaṭamakhin recognized as necessary for the rāgas of his time. However, any rāgas with new scales that might develop in the future could readily find a scale-type available in the system.

The third of the ‘Thanjavur treatises’ is Saṅgīta-sārāmṛta composed under the direction of Tukojī II (reigned 1728–36). This work is based to some extent on its predecessors, yet its musical substance is quite recognizably a predecessor of the Karnatak music of today. After this, no significant new treatise on Karnatak music appeared in south India until the publication of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar’s monumental Telugu work, Saṅgīta-sampradāya-pradarśinī, in 1904. This includes hundreds of kīrtanam and other compositions in letter notation (mostly from the Dīkṣitar family tradition), as well as biographical sketches of many important 18th- and 19th-century musicians; it is a basic historical source. Dīkṣitar also dealt seriously and fundamentally with the problem of notation and ornamentation in Karnatak music. In this he was influenced by his friend and adviser A.M. Chinnaswamy Mudaliar, compiler of Oriental Music in Staff Notation (Madras, 1892).

(iii) 16th- and 17th-century rāga-rāgiṇī treatises.

Until the appearance of V.N. Bhatkhande’s work in the early 20th century, the traditional theoretical classifications for Hindustani rāgas (rāg) were symmetrical systems comprising a small number of rāgas (usually six), to each of which was assigned an equal number of what came to be called in Sanskrit rāgiṇī and in Hindi rāginī (usually five for each rāga, making 36 in the whole system). In some systems a second sub-set of rāgas was added to each of the groups, and since rāgas and rāgiṇī were mainly personified as lords and their ladies, the supplementary sub-sets were personified as putra (‘sons’).

Symmetrical rāga classifications are known from a large number of treatises. After 1600 they are generally accompanied by verse iconographies as well. Symmetrical rāga systems with iconographies also occur in the structured sets of miniature paintings called rāga-mālā. Curiously, there is no known musical treatise expounding the particular symmetrically structured set found in most painted rāga-mālā. For several centuries this ‘painters’ system’ of rāgas and rāgiṇī led a quite independent existence. (Individual rāgas with their iconographies, painted or versified, were in principle quite independent of classification systems. Not only do they wander from system to system but there are also important works giving iconographies that do not use a rāga-rāgiṇī symmetrical classification at all, such as Somanātha’s Rāga-vibodha of 1609.)

Apart from the unique mid-14th-century Tantric system of rāgas and bhāṣā in the Saṅgītopaniṣat-sāroddhāra by Sudhākalaśa, the oldest treatises in which symmetrical systems and verbal iconographies are found together are Puṇḍarīka Viṭṭhala’s Rāga-mālā (1576) and Śubhaṅkara’s Saṅgīta-dāmodara (c1500) from eastern India. Puṇḍarīka used a symmetrical six-rāga system with a pattern of its own. Śubhaṅkara provided two sets of 36 rāga names (many in common), of which one is a symmetrical rāga-rāgiṇī set without iconographies, the other an unordered list, but with an iconography for each rāga.

In the third part of the Ā’īn-i akbarī (1597), the chronicle of Akbar by Abul Fazl, there is a summary of Indian music theory as it was evidently understood in Delhi and Agra at that time. It follows the seven-chapter plan of the Saṅgīta-ratnākara but with important replacements of the contents in a number of places, the whole being set forth in an abridged form. The new material is in the sections on rāga (to which are added regional song types), instruments, and various classes of performers. Rāga names are provided for three different symmetrical sets (including the ‘painters’ system’), but nothing is said of iconographies.

The Saṅgīta-darpaṇa of Dāmodara (c1625) is the first source for the ‘Hanūmān doctrine’, a rāga-rāgiṇī system of 36 which by 1800 had become standard. The Saṅgīta-darpaṇa is in seven chapters, of which all but the chapter dealing with rāga are summaries of the corresponding chapters of the Saṅgīta-ratnākara. The chapter on rāga sets forth three rāga-rāgiṇī schemes, two older ones and the hanuman-mata (the system of the Hanūmān doctrine), which is the only one exposed in detail. For each entity of the Hanūmān doctrine the scale degrees are given, specifying whether the scale has five, six, or seven of them. The three modal functions (initial, medial, and final) are also designated. The precise intervals, however, cannot be determined, since only names of scales, taken over verbatim from the Saṅgīta-ratnākara, are given. Each rāga and rāgiṇī of the Hanūmān doctrine is accompanied by an iconographic verse. Most of these verses are known from earlier sources, such as the Saṅgīta-dāmodara or rāga-mālā paintings.

(iv) Deccani and western Indian treatises.

The characteristic feature of the north-west peninsular and western Indian group of treatises of the 16th and 17th centuries is classification by scale-type combined with an interest in the rāgas as individual visual icons.

Śrīkaṇṭha’s Rasa-kaumudī was composed c1575 in Gujarat and comprises two five-chapter divisions, the first of which is devoted to music. Most of the musical material is taken directly from the Saṅgīta-ratnākara, but two extensive passages in the chapter on rāga are not. One of these passages is a description of the new forms of vīṇā and an outline of the general tonal system based on its tuning and fretting. It is the tonal system described in Rāmāmātya’s Svaramelakalānidhi and other southern treatises, yet it is actually taken over from a treatise by Puṇḍarīka Viṭṭhala, the Sadrāgacandrodaya. The other novel passage of the Rasa-kaumudī is the description of the rāgas, which are grouped according to a system of 11 mela (scale-types) in the southern fashion. To each, however, is added a verse iconography like those found with northern rāga-rāgiṇī schemes, and not only the contents but also the wording are often like verses of the Saṅgīta-dāmodara and the Saṅgīta-darpaṇa.

Even more curious than the mélange of lore from the Saṅgīta-ratnākara, the iconographic verses, and the scale-types found in Śrīkaṇṭha’s Rasa-kaumudī is the work of the author Puṇḍarīka Viṭṭhala, from whom the vīṇā material in Rasa-kaumudī is largely borrowed. The rāgas in Puṇḍarīka’s Sadrāgacandrodaya are arranged entirely on the southern plan, by whatever scale-types were needed, with neither the symmetry of overall system nor the individual iconographic personifications characteristic of the northern works. Conversely, the Rāga-mālā (late 16th century) presents a symmetrical scheme of rāgas, rāgiṇī, and even putra (‘sons’, see §(iii) above), although unlike the characteristic northern treatises it does not blindly reproduce the interval and scale material of the Saṅgīta-ratnākara. Although the tonal system in the Rāga-mālā is not described according to vīṇā fretting, Puṇḍarīka did set up an interval description of his own that is precise enough to be interpreted. Evidently as Puṇḍarīka wrote for his different patrons, he adapted his discussions to the local mode of theory. Taking his works as a whole, and notably the Rāga-mālā and Sadrāgacandrodaya, he is one of only two available theorists who dealt with all three new aspects of South Asian music theory from the 16th century to the 18th, writing on interval and mela (scale-type), dhyāna (iconographic verses) for melody types, and rāga-rāgiṇī systems (symmetrical schemes of classification). The other such theorist is Locana, whose Rāga-taraṅgiṇī (eastern Ganges valley, c1675) recounts rāga-rāgiṇī material and sets forth a system of mela.

The most interesting of the Deccani works providing both precise scalar intervals and pictorial iconographies for the rāgas is Somanātha’s Rāga-vibodha (1609). Somanātha was the only writer to provide a theoretical foundation for the association of rāgas and pictorial content. He proposed that each rāga has two forms: nāda-rūpa (‘sound-form’ or audible shape, which is variable according to performance) and devatā-rūpa (‘icon-form’ or contemplative or expressive shape, which is permanent and unchanging). His unique notations (each of which is only one among many possible manifestations of the nāda-rūpa of a rāga) are made as precise as possible in an effort to evoke in writing as much clarity of outline and vividness in colour for the mind’s ear in the realm of sound as can be evoked for the mind’s eye by a written evocation of the shape and colour of a visible entity or scene.

(v) Eastern Indian treatises.

From eastern India a number of saṅgīta texts of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries survive. Their purpose, apart from representing the śāstric theoretical tradition as such, seems to be to embrace the eastern (Bengali and Orissan) regional forms of music, especially devotional kīrtana-type compositional forms, within the main śāstric corpus. The Saṅgīta-nārāyaṇa, probably a 17th-century work by Puruṣottama Miśra (though attributed to his royal patron Nārāyaṇadeva of Parlakimidi), quotes from a number of earlier eastern texts and contains some valuable information on local musical, especially compositional and metric-rhythmic, practice. It also offers additional rāga-rāgiṇī material, with both classification systems and dhyāna verses.

(vi) Treatises leading to modern Hindustani theory.

In one group of 17th-century works a new way of specifying intervals appears: numerical string-length measurements are specified for fixing the position of frets on the vīṇā, leading to a directly measured general scale of 12 untempered semitones. Several of these treatises are described in Bhatkhande (1930). They include short works by Hṛdaya-nārāyaṇa and Bhāva Bhaṭṭa (an important source for dhrupad song texts (Delvoye, ‘Dhrupad Songs’ (1994), pp.407–8)), and the major work, the Saṅgīta-pārijāta by Ahobala Paṇḍita, with its successor, Śrīnivāsa’s Rāga-tattva-vibodha. Hṛdaya-nārāyaṇa was from the Jabalpur area of Central India, Bhāva Bhaṭṭa from Bikaner in western Rajasthan. The geographical origin of the Saṅgīta-pārijāta is unknown. The author’s name is southern, and there is an important religious centre called Ahobilam in Andhra Pradesh. Furthermore, there are many passing references to rāga names and to musical forms that only a southern Indian pandit would have known. The work and its contents are distributed in the north, however, and the characteristic string division technique and its resulting scale (see §III, 1(ii)(d) below) have no connection with south Indian interval and scale systems or the tuning and fretting method used to derive them. The Saṅgīta-pārijāta was probably written in the north by someone from the peninsula, in a similar way to the Deccani Puṇḍarīka Viṭṭhala, who wrote his Rāga-mālā on a rāga-rāgiṇī basis for a northern patron. The Saṅgīta-pārijāta is an important source. It follows the overall divisions of the Saṅgīta-ratnākara (without the last chapter on dance), but the content of the chapters on rāga and on instruments is completely replaced, and there is other extensive new material throughout. The work was translated into Persian in 1724.

An important Persian source in its own right is Mīrzā Khān’s Tuḥfat al-hind (third quarter of the 17th century). The Tuḥfat al-hind is an enormous compilation of what were held to be the chief Indian artistic sciences, those dealing with language, poetics, music, and erotics. The section on music (book 5) is a compilation of the theoretical lore then current (including what was still being transmitted from the Saṅgīta-ratnākara) and stories about Hindustani music and its patrons in the medieval period. Several rāga-rāgiṇī systems are described (including the Hanūmān doctrine), and there is a chapter on Persian maqām and their subdivisions. The work was read and quoted by Sir William Jones (1792; see §6 below). This and other Persian sources from the 17th and 18th centuries show some interest in the actual practice of music and its technical terminology as used by musicians as well as theoreticians. Valuable studies of these sources are N.P. Ahmad (1984) and Delvoye, ‘Indo-Persian Literature’ (1994).

At the end of the 18th century the maharaja of Jaipur, Pratāp Singh (reigned 1779–1804), had an enormous compilation called the Saṅgīt-sār written in Rajasthani. It is structurally an amalgam of the Saṅgīta-ratnākara and the Saṅgīta-pārijāta, but there is a great deal of important supplementary material giving extensive musical illustrations for both rāga and tāla, as well as names of modern instruments as equivalents for Sanskrit instrument names.

In 1813 in Patna the first north Indian classification system based on purely musical affinities was produced. The Nāghmāt-i āsafi of Muhammad Reza presents a closed rāga-rāgiṇī system, but one in which there are genuine musical affinities (often as much melodic as scalar) between each rāgiṇī and the main rāga.Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande published the rāga-rāgiṇī system from Reza’s Nāghmāt-i āsafi in translation and paraphrase, with music examples.

Bhatkhande’s Hindustānī-saṅgīta-paddhati appeared from 1910 to 1932 in Marathi. In the 1950s it was made available to a wider public through a Hindi translation; it is the product of decades of travel, repertory collection, and research. Bhatkhande followed the principles of his predecessors in trying to reconcile theoretical sources with current practice. He found that written sources from the first part of the modern period (1550–1750), several of which he himself discovered and had published, were of both historical and theoretical relevance to current Hindustani practice, but that the traditional material carried on from the Saṅgīta-ratnākara and other ancient works was useless for his purposes. Without wishing to detract from either the historical value or the immense cultural prestige of the Nātyaśāstra and Saṅgīta-ratnākara, he dropped them forthwith as sources of musical theory for Hindustani music.

Bhatkhande went to south India in 1904 and met Subbarāma Dīkṣitar in Ettayapuram (near Madurai in Tamil Nadu). After studying the southern mela system as propounded in Dīkṣitar’s manuscript of Veṅkaṭamakhin’s Caturdaṇḍī-prakāśikā (see §(ii) above), and in the light of other southern rāga-systems based on scales, he set about devising a scale-type classification for Hindustani rāgas. He based his scheme on the settings of movable frets used by Sitār players for the different rāgas, called ṭhāṭ. One scheme probably current in Bhatkhande’s youth is a set of 12 ṭhāṭ published in Safdar Husain Khān’s Qānūn-i sitār (Delhi, 1870). Bhatkhande’s own scheme comprised ten ṭhāṭ named for ten important Hindustani rāgas. All other rāgas are assigned to one or another of the ṭhāṭ, making use of accidentals where necessary. Aspects of Hindustani musical practice other than rāga are touched on rarely and in passing in Bhatkhande’s writings on theory. However, between 1916 and 1937 he published, for pedagogical purposes, the multi-volume Kramik pustak-mālikā series, which included hundreds of vocal (many of them dhrupad) compositions arranged under rāga headings. Very many were collected by him from oral tradition, but unfortunately he gave no precise details concerning the exact provenance or the authenticity of transcription of the individual songs.

Bhatkhande’s ṭhāṭ classification theory and a number of his decisions about the designation of the predominant modal degrees for each rāga have been criticized as arbitrary and over-systematized. In fact, Bhatkhande was not dogmatic about his results, but there are grounds for concern about the inevitable over-simplifications resulting from their widespread use in elementary music education and in the analysis of rāgas. The most cogent criticisms are in Omkarnath Thakur’s Saṅgītāñjalī (1938–62). Thakur, one of the great singers and music educators of the 20th century, rejected the idea of scale-type classification altogether and preferred to deal with each rāga individually.

4. Oral traditions after the 16th century.

  • Harold S. Powers and Jonathan Katz

South Asian classical music is regarded as pre-eminently vocal. Instrumental music, whether as an accompaniment to the voice, an imitation or extension of the voice, or a tradition parallel to the vocal tradition, is regarded as secondary. Hence the paramparā (succession) in sampradāya (performing traditions) is traced primarily through its most prestigious carriers, the poet-composers and singers of Karnatak music and Hindustani music; instrumental traditions are normally deemed ancillary.

(i) The Karnatak tradition.

Tamil is the mother tongue of most of the leading carriers of the modern Karnatak music tradition, and Madras is its cultural centre. However, many song texts and writings are in Telugu, because the existing tradition is to a great extent an outgrowth of the musical life of the principality of Thanjavur in the Kaveri delta. Thanjavur was the heart of the Tamil empire of the Chola dynasty (from the 9th century to the 13th), but in the second quarter of the 16th century a Nāyak viceroy was appointed by the emperor at Vijayanagar, thus establishing a court whose language was Telugu.

After the destruction of Vijayanagar in 1565 the royal house was re-established farther south, but during the next century formerly tributary rulers (such as the Wodeyars of Mysore) and the direct imperial viceroys (the Nāyaks at Thanjavur, Madurai, and other provincial capitals or forts) established themselves as rulers of independent states, although Thanjavur observed a nominal loyalty to the ruling house until well into the 17th century.

As a consequence of the Nāyak viceroyalties and of further stimulation by the turmoil of the later 16th century, large numbers of Telugu-speaking functionaries and learned persons settled in Tamil Nadu, particularly in Thanjavur. Consequently the Telugu-speaking ruling group was culturally buttressed by a large educated class of Telugus, most of whom were niyogī Brahmans, that is administrators, scholars, poets, etc.

During the time of Raghunātha Nāyak (reigned 1614–34) the principal vehicles for music were yakṣagāna (originating from Vijayanagar) and other forms involving dance as well as song, such as the padam. The treatise Saṅgīta-sudhā dates from Raghunātha’s reign. Kṣētrayya, the composer of padam, visited the court under Vijayarāghava Nāyak (reigned 1634–73). After his reign Thanjavur came under the rule of Marathi kings, of whom Ekojī Bhonsle (brother of the Maratha leader Śivājī) was the first. The new dynasty fully supported and patronized the cultural patterns established during the Nāyak period, and alongside the growth of Marathi literary forms, Telugu and Sanskrit continued to be the languages of culture and learning respectively.

During the successive reigns of Ekojī’s three sons the outlines of modern traditions became clearly discernible. Śahājī (reigned 1684–1712) was an enthusiastic patron of music and letters; among those whom he endowed with land was Śrīdhara Vēṅkaṭeśa (Ayyavaḷ), who originated the tradition of devotional Kṛṣṇa bhajan (song) followed to this day. Girirāja Kavi, a composer of devotional songs and yakṣagāna, and the paternal grandfather of Tyāgarāja, was a court poet. Śahājī instructed his musical scholars to assemble a number of manuscripts in letter notation containing typical samples of the current methods for the vocal and instrumental elaboration of many rāgas, a few of which have been published. From these, taken in conjunction with the Saṅgīta-sudhā, one can see that the present rāgas and improvisatory techniques of Karnatak music reach back at least to 17th-century Thanjavur.

In the succeeding reigns of Śahājī’s two younger brothers, Thanjavur continued as a musical centre. The treatise Saṅgīta-sārāmṛta is accredited to the youngest, Tuḷajā, or Tukojī (reigned 1728–36). In the third quarter of the 18th century the leading court musicians were Soṇṭi Vēṅkaṭasubbayya and Pachimiḻiam Ādiyappayya. The former was the teacher of Tyāgarāja’s teacher, Soṇṭi Vēṅkaṭaramaṇayya. Another of his disciples, Paidāla Gurumūrti Śāstri, was one of the first Karnatak musicians to settle in Madras. Ādiyappayya was the composer of a varṇam (an advanced study piece) in Bhairavī rāga beginning ‘Viriboni’, which every music student must still learn. He was also the teacher of several important musicians of the next generation, including Pallavi Gopālayya (several of whose compositions are still in the repertory), and Śyāma Śāstri was also his student for a time. Another Thanjavur court musician in the third quarter of the 18th century was the vīṇā player Kalahastri Śāstri, believed to be Tyāgarāja’s maternal grandfather.

The three great names of Karnatak music –Śyāma Śāstri,Tyāgarāja and Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar – were never directly patronized by the court establishment, but their teachers or forebears, or both, had been. Although the Indian ideal of a musician who sings for divinity instead of royalty is embodied in them, and particularly in Tyāgarāja, they are nonetheless part of the general musical tradition of the Thanjavur establishment. Śyāma Śāstri’s son and principal disciple Subbarāya Śāstri (1803–62) was one of the central figures of mid-19th-century Karnatak music. His compositions are widely sung, and his discipular line includes not only his adopted son but also Sundaramma, whose mother had been a Thanjavur court dancer and whose daughter was the great vīṇā artist Veena Dhanam (1867–1938). Another student of Subbarāya Śāstri was the teacher of Taccūru Siṅgarācāryulu (1834–92), whose Gāyaka-locana was the first printed book of Karnatak music in (letter) notation. Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar’s most important disciple was his youngest brother Bālasvāmi Dīkṣitar (1786–1858), who was one of the first musicians to adapt the European violin to Karnatak music. He was the chief musician at the small court of Ettayapuram (near Madurai) and grandfather of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar (1839–1908), author of the Saṅgīta-sampradāya-pradarśinī.

Most prominent modern Karnatak musicians claim to be in some way part of Tyāgarāja’s guru-śiṣya-paramparā (‘master-disciple succession’). Tyāgarāja’s enormous prestige both as singer-composer and as saintly devotee make him the pivotal figure of the Karnatak tradition. Two outstanding musicians of the generation after him, Subbarāya Śāstri and Vīṇā Kuppayyar, are said to have learnt from Tyāgarāja, but the transmission of most of Tyāgarāja’s compositions up to the late 20th century was not through them. Most of Tyāgarāja’s students were in fact devotees rather than active professional musicians, and the modern concert renderings of Tyāgarāja’s Kriti compositions originated from the professionals of the second generation after Tyāgarāja. For instance, both Mahāvaidyanātha Ayyar (1844–97) and Patnam Subrahmanya Ayyar (1845–1902) learnt Tyāgarāja’s compositions (from his disciple Mānambucāvaḍi Vēnkaṭasubbayya) as fully trained professional musicians. Mahāvaidyanātha Ayyar’s father and grandfather were musicians, and he and his elder brother were trained by a former Thanjavur court musician. Among the few people he and his brother taught were Sabheśa Ayyar (1872–1948), who was the great-grandson of the Thaṅjavur court vīṇā player Pallavi Doraisvāmi Ayyar (1752–1816) and the principal teacher of several important 20th-century performers, among them Musiri Subrahmanya Ayyar (1899–1974). Patnam Subrahmanya Ayyar passed Tyāgarāja’s kriti on to Rāmnād Śrīnivāsa Ayyaṅgār (1860–1919), the principal teacher of Ariyakuḍi Rāmānuja Ayyaṅgār (1890–1967).

An artist of a still later era, Kumbhakonam ‘Nayana’ Pillai (1887–1934) learnt many of Tyāgarāja’s compositions from the descendants of Tyāgarāja’s disciples from Walajapet. One cannot now know for certain to what extent the later 19th- and 20th-century renderings of Tyāgarāja’s kriti may reflect the need of professional musicians of two and more generations after Tyāgarāja to have compositions that reflect both the aura of sanctity and the complexity or bravura of concert performance. The underlying melodic configurations of pieces in known traditional rāgas and traditional rhythmic conformations, along with patterned transformations of simple text rhythms and the principle of saṅgati (increasingly varied melodic elaboration) for the simple melodic lines, are fundamental and must be Tyāgarāja’s genuine and original contribution. But specific melodic variations of a given line, or the actual tunes of small pieces in rāgas hitherto and elsewhere unheard of, are probably not his.

The spread of the classical Karnatak style of Thanjavur to other parts of south India began in the latter part of the 18th century. During the unsettled period of the mid-18th century, culminating in the occupation of Thanjavur by the nawab of the Karnatak (1773–6) and Haidar Ali’s second raid (1781), a number of Thanjavur musicians had found refuge in the state of Travancore (now southern Kerala). The chief minister of the ruler Svati Tirunal (reigned 1829–47) was from Thanjavur, and Thanjavur musicians were prominent at the court. The young ruler was himself an expert musician and is regarded in south India as one of the great composers. Among other important Thanjavur musicians in Trivandrum were a vīṇā player who was a grandson of Pachimiḻiam Ādiyappayya, and Vaḍivelu, one of the most important mid-19th-century musicians. Vaḍivelu was an expert in court dance, had been a disciple of Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar and was another early exponent of the violin. Until modern times the Travancore royal family continued to be outstanding patrons of Karnatak music, and Trivandrum is still a major centre of Karnatak music, quite apart from the indigenous music of Kerala such as kathakaḷi music and the drum ensembles of tayambakam and pañcavādyam.

The court of Mysore was also a centre for Karnatak music originally brought in from Thanjavur. After the defeat of Tipu Sultan in 1799 the family of the Wodeyar chiefs who had ruled Mysore in the 17th century was installed as a ruling dynasty by the British. During the minority of the first king, the former chief minister and regent Pūrṇayya brought in Vīṇā Vēṅkaṭasubbayya (d 1838) from Thanjavur as the prince’s music teacher. Vēṅkaṭasubbayya’s grandson Subbaṇṇa (1855–1938) and grand-nephew Śēṣaṇṇa (1852–1926) brought the (by now) Mysore tradition of vīṇā playing into the 20th century. The Tyāgarāja paramparā (‘succession’) was first represented in Mysore by Sadāśiva Rao (1802–82), who had studied with one of Tyāgarāja’s Walajapet pupils. The vīṇā players Śēṣaṇṇa and Subbaṇṇa in turn learnt compositions from Sadāśiva Rao.

Small princely states as well as large ones played a vital role in the spread of Karnatak music or in its preservation and transmission to the late 20th century. An example is the estate of Vizianagaram in north-east Andhra Pradesh. Around 1800 Guruvācāryulu, a vīṇā player from Thanjavur, was invited to the Vizianagaram court and began a tradition of vīṇā playing that was brought into the 20th century by his great-grandson, Vēṅkaṭaramaṇa Das (1866–1948). Another estate in the same region was Bobbili, whose vīṇā player, Saṅgameśvara Śāstri, was the teacher of the older brother and teacher of the violin virtuoso Dwaram Venkataswami Naidu (1900–64).

A very small estate that played a large role in Karnatak music was Ettayapuram, associated with the Dīkṣitar family. The ruling family of Telugu-speaking Nāyaks came south after the destruction of Vijayanagar and established itself as a subordinate house to the Nāyaks of Madurai. In the last years of the 18th century the pāḷaiyakārar (‘poligar’) of Ettayapuram made himself conspicuously useful to the British and in 1803 was permanently confirmed in his estate. From then on he and his successors cultivated the arts, particularly music.

(ii) Hindustani traditions from the 17th century to the mid-19th.

The contribution that Tyāgarāja made to Karnatak music was paralleled by that of Tānsen to Hindustani music. He was respected as the legendary supreme artist and the ultimate starting-point claimed for most highly esteemed master-disciple successions. Tānsen’s musical roots are universally said to be in Gwalior under the reign of Man Singh Tomar (1486–1516) and his son (1516–26). The genre called dhrupad developed in Gwalior, and in the 17th century a manuscript collection of the dhrupad of the earlier Gwalior court musician Nāyak Bakhśū was made under the title Sahas-ras (‘The thousand delights’). Tānsen was born about 1500 and was a professional musician. There is no evidence that he was a Brahman or that he ever became a Muslim, although some of his immediate family of the next generation did (by the end of the 17th century most Hindustani musicians were Muslims). When Tānsen was brought from Reva to Akbar’s court musical establishment in 1562 he was probably already over 60. His fame as musician and poet (the dhrupad song texts were composed in literary forms of Braj-bhāṣā) became legendary, and in written and oral traditions numerous songs are attributed to him (cf. Bṛhaspati, 1979; Delvoye, ‘Dhrupad Songs’ (1994)).

The contemporary source for music in Akbar’s time is the court chronicle Ā’in-i akbarī (1597) of Abul Fazl. Between the section on music itself, which is based on the ‘seven-chapter’ form, and the list of the imperial musicians, it is possible to get a good impression of the classes and nationalities of musicians and of their repertories. Most significantly, the vocal musicians are without exception South Asian. There are four Ḍhāṛhī with Muslim names and 15 musicians from Gwalior with wholly or partly Hindu names, Tānsen and one of his sons being among them; there is also a singer from Agra and the deposed usurper of Malwa, Bāz Bahādur. The instruments associated with the Gwalior singers are the bīn and the surmaṇḍal; one Ḍhāṛhī plays the karnā, a trumpet of the naubat (a processional band). Otherwise the instrumentalists (all Muslim) are either from outside Hindustan (Khorāsān or Central Asia) or are of unspecified origin.

After referring to dance as the seventh and last ‘chapter’, Abul Fazl describes about a dozen categories of musicians and entertainments, but only two – Ḍhāṛhī and Kalāvant – can be connected with the list of court musicians. Ḍhāṛhī are specifically mentioned as singers of Punjabi songs in praise of heroes, accompanying themselves on a small drum and on a two-string plucked instrument (smaller than a bīn). In the list of genres in his second ‘chapter’ Abul Fazl referred to heroic songs called karkhā and sādrā, in various languages. Imam wrote in 1857 that the Ḍhāṛhī were said to be the oldest of the musician communities, and that they were originally Rājpūts who sang karkhā. In his list of entertainers Abul Fazl described the class called Kalāvant as singers of dhrupad. In the second ‘chapter’ dhrupad is said to belong to the region including Gwalior, Agra, and Bari. Between Abul Fazl’s list of musicians and two of his music ‘chapters’, then, one can confirm a category, a locality, and a repertory for two classes: Kalāvant from Gwalior, including Tānsen, sang dhrupad (and some played the bīn); Ḍhāṛhī from the Punjab sang heroic songs to the accompaniment of a small drum and string instrument.

The third musician class of continuing significance that is mentioned in Abul Fazl’s seventh music ‘chapter’ are the Qavvāl, who are said to be of the same class as the Ḍhāṛhī but to sing Delhi songs (and Persian songs in the same way). In the second music ‘chapter’ Delhi songs are identified as qaūl and tarānā and are said to have originated with Amir Khusrau. Amir Khusrau’s ghazal (couplets) were sung both at the Sufi gatherings of Nizām-ud-dīn Auliya and at Sultan Alā-ud-dīn Khiljī’s court. The characteristic semantic ambiguity of the ghazal (a secular love song to which an allegorically devotional interpretation can be given) made it ‘an oblique cultural link between the Sufi hospice and the court’ (Ahmad, 1969). The Qavvāl, then, were connected with but outside the range of purely court musicians, so that no Qavvāl appear on Abul Fazl’s list of court singers. Nonetheless, it may be inferred from Abul Fazl that the Qavvāl were in some sort of close contact with the Ḍhāṛhī in the 16th century.

In later sources it is said that four bānī (styles) of dhrupad descended from four Kalāvant musicians of Akbar’s court. Of these, two are of particular interest, partly because of secondary associations with instruments. Firstly, a line of bīn players is believed to have begun from the marriage of Tānsen’s daughter Saraswati to Misra Singh, the son of Tānsen’s colleague, Sammokhan Singh. Historically the most important representative from this line was Niyāmat Khān (Sadāraṅg), of the court of Muhammad Shah (reigned 1719–48). Secondly, Tānsen himself is supposed to have played the plucked Rabāb, and his son Vilās Khān founded a line of rabābiyā. The important 18th-century musician Masit Khan is believed by some to have been a descendant in this line; others have him in Sammokhan Singh’s line.

Niyāmat Khān, known as Sadāraṅg, and Masit Khan are traditionally said to have devised what are now the two most widespread representatives of Hindustani music: the vocal khayāl and the modern form and basic playing style of the Indian Sitār. The origins of khayāl have long been a matter of debate. It is reputed to have its roots in 15th-century Jaunpur or earlier, but the oldest examples in the repertory are Sadāraṅg’s compositions. The genre appears to have been in existence already in the 17th century, but it is particularly associated with the Kalāvant dhrupad singer Sadāraṅg and his family and their taking over certain special features from the Qavvāl musicians. Since their family heritage was dhrupad, Sadāraṅg and his nephew Adāraṅg perhaps did not themselves commonly perform khayāl, but they could teach it to others, in particular to disciples who were not their own sons.

An illuminating source for the cultural life of Muhammad Shah’s Delhi is the contemporary Persian account, Muraqqa‘-i Delhī, of Dargah Quli Khān (b 1710), who resided in the capital between 1737 and 1740. He recorded a wide range of musical and artistic practices and genres, and described the apparently happy co-existence of different forms; Niyāmat Khān, he tells us (without mentioning the name Sadāraṅg), was indeed a distinguished singer of khayāl as well as a bīn player (Blake, 1991, pp.156–7; Delvoye, ‘Indo-Persian Literature’ (1994), p.116; Lath, 1988, pp.9–10).

During the latter part of the 18th century the collapse of the Mughal Empire and the establishment or re-establishment of other centres of power resulted in the dispersal of Muhammad Shah’s musicians and dancing girls. An early attraction was the court of Faizabad in Avadh, which had achieved a reputation for prosperity and patronage under the nawab Shuja-ud-Daula.

Many went to small courts in Rajasthan, to the west. As the Maratha Wars gradually drew to a close in the first two decades of the 19th century, other small states were reconstituted or devised under the Pax Britannica, and they developed court musical establishments. Among them were three musically important states, ruled by Maratha dynasties descended from soldiers of fortune: Indore, Baroda, and the old state of Gwalior. The gradual drift of professional musicians to wealthy Bengali patrons, both landlord and merchant, in Calcutta also began in the early 19th century, and Varanasi has always supported musicians. The largest number of musicians, however, went to Lucknow, to the court of the nawabs of Avadh and to the employ of wealthy courtiers there, many of whom became accomplished and recognized artists in their own right, although on an amateur basis. For about 75 years Lucknow was the premier centre of art music of north India. Its hegemony ended only with the deposition of Nawab Wājid Alī Shāh in 1856 and the war of 1857. In these two years Hakīm Muhammad Karam Imam wrote his Ma’danu’l-mūsīqī, a vivid account of music at Lucknow and elsewhere in north India in the first half of the 19th century (Willard, 1834).

Courtesans (tawāif) are also known to have played an important role in the musical life of north Indian urban centres, especially Lucknow, from the late 18th century and into the 20th. There were women who were highly trained in khayāl and perhaps even dhrupad (as well as in the lighter, and increasingly popular, ṭhumrī and ghazal), as represented for example in the Urdu novel Umrāo jān adā (1899) by Mirzā Muhammad Rusvā.

During the 260 years between the composition of Abul Fazl’s Ā’īn-i akbarī (1597) and Ḥakīm Imam’s Ma’danu’l-mūsīqī (1857), Kalāvant, Qavvāl, and Ḍhāṛhī, the three chief categories of musician, continued to form the socio-musical basis of Hindustani music, but both status and repertory altered somewhat. Some Kalāvant traditions now included khayāl as well as dhrupad, although the Qavvāl too were still important as khayāliyā. Between Kalāvant and Qavvāl, however, there were substantial differences in the manner of rendition. Imam reported that

… the singing of Khayāl has been prevalent among Qavvals but they do not have Ālāp [introductory exposition of rāga without text, metre, or pulse]. Instead they begin with words of Tarānā that are in Persian and after exercising these words for some time they straight come to Khayāl, etc., and quickly create a highly colourful effect. So much so, that the people who practice Ālāp appear inferior before them. But to Kalavants, however, the primary thing is Ālāp.

Qavvāl also continued to sing Sufi devotional music such as qaūl, and they did not sing dhrupad.

All musician communities had lost status, but the Ḍhāṛhī community, regardless of where it had stood in the 16th century, had lost the most. The Ḍhāṛhī still accompanied with drum and a small string instrument, but most were now reduced to earning their living by accompanying dancing-girls. Indeed most, though not all, of the musicians identified by Imam as Ḍhāṛhī played the Sāraṅgī (then and until modern times closely associated with courtesan singers tawāif or bāī) and the Tablā, both used to accompany khayāl as well as ṭhumrī but not to accompany dhrupad.

For the whole of this period a hitherto little used historical resource is found in iconography and miniature painting. The Mughal and provincial courts provided patronage for painters, who alongside portraiture and literary themes richly represented scenes of court life in their work, including many details of musical activity. From the numerous published collections and catalogues much may be learnt about musical life and its organization as well as the nature of musical instruments and their playing methods.

(iii) Hindustani traditions from the mid-19th century to the 20th.

The process of shifting repertories and categories continued rapidly after 1857. The Ḍhāṛhī lost their group identity as professional musicians; their role as sāraṅgī accompanists for singing-girls (and later for khayāliyā) was taken over by a formerly rural community called Mirāsī and by Kathaks. The Qavvāl continued to interact professionally and to intermarry with Kalāvant until they were effectively absorbed by the latter in their secular professional capacities; Qavvāl today are only a category of specialists in qavvālī (Muslim devotional music). The Kalāvant community meanwhile added khayāl to dhrupad in vocal music, and the sitar and later sarod (both plucked string instruments) to those that were already part of their heritage (the bīn and rabāb, and a now obsolete derivative of the latter called sur-śṛṅgār). The term ‘Kalāvant’ now usually has the sense of any professional vocalist (other than a singing-girl).

The sampradāya (‘traditions’) of Hindustani music were strongly family-orientated, and by the end of the 19th century Hindustani sampradāya were being called gharānā (‘family’). In almost all circumstances non-family disciples could also associate themselves with a gharānā, but some musicians would reserve part of what they knew for their sons alone. The gharānā were named after the place of their origin.

(a) Discipular gharānā: Agra and Gwalior.

One of the two or three most admired musicians of modern times was Faiyaz Khan, who was chief musician of the Gaekwar of Baroda from about 1915 until his death. Faiyaz Khan’s paternal grandfather and father belonged to the so-called Sikandra (or Rangīle)gharānā, but because of the early death of his father, Faiyaz Khan was trained by his maternal grandfather, Ghulam Abbas Khan, a representative of the Agra gharānā. Ghulam Abbas Khan was the eldest son of Ghagghe Khudā Bakhsh (c1800–c1855), who in turn was the youngest son of one Śyāmaraṅga, about whom little more is reported than that he was a descendant of Sujān Singh, said to have been a musician of Akbar’s court. Ghagghe Khudā Bakhsh, the founder of the Agra gharānā, learnt dhrupad from his father and uncle, but owing to his ghigghu (‘choked-up’) voice they gave him little encouragement. Hence he set out for Gwalior to learn khayāl from Nathan Khān and Pīr Bakhsh, hoping they would be able to clear up his vocal problem. The two men agreed to take him as a student, and in exchange, Ghagghe Khudā Bakhsh taught them dhrupad belonging to his own family tradition. As a result of this contact both the Agra gharānā and the Gwalior gharānā have reflected something of an admixture of dhrupad improvisatory techniques in their rendition of khayāl.

Another important representative of the Agra gharānā was Vilāyat Husain Khān (1895–1962), whose Saṅgīt-jñō saṃsmaraṇ (New Delhi, 1959) is a basic source for information on the family and discipular successions that formed modern Hindustani music.

The Gwalior gharānā is one of the oldest of the recognized modern sampradāya and the one most generally significant for Hindustani music in the 20th century. The first remembered names are two brothers who are said to have come from somewhere near Delhi in about 1800 and to have spent their entire careers in the service of the Scindia (Maratha) ruler of Gwalior. Beyond the fact that the brothers were only khayāl singers, nothing is known of their antecedents. The next generation was represented by Nathan Khān and Pīr Bakhsh. As mentioned above, they learnt dhrupad from Ghagghe Khudā Bakhsh of Agra. The following generation was represented by Haddū Khān (dc1870) and Hassū Khān, who are considered the founders of the gharānā. The characteristic eclecticism of the Gwalior gharānā is illustrated by the way in which they absorbed yet another tradition. The Gwalior ruler Jhankojī II (reigned 1827–43) heard the great Qavvāl musician Muhammad Khān (dc1840), who was at the court of Reva. Jhankojī determined that his musicians Haddū and Hassū Khān should acquire Muhammad Khān’s repertory and above all his style. Muhammad Khān was the son of Qavvāl Shakkar Khān and the grandson of the 18th-century Lucknow Qavvāl musician Ghulām Rasūl. In addition he had himself developed a brilliant new style of passage-work, which none so far had succeeded in imitating. Over a period of years the Gwalior ruler invited Muhammad Khān for long stays and frequent performances, during which Haddū and Hassū Khān, hiding behind a curtain, gradually picked up Muhammad Khān’s repertory and worked out his technique.

The ways in which the earliest generations of the Gwalior gharānā built up their stock of compositions, styles and techniques (by inheritance from their own relatively obscure forebears, by barter with a Kalāvant musician and by theft from a Qavvāl musician) indicate how music and musicianship were regarded as something to be treasured, as the private property of the family and the ultimate foundation of its prosperity. Haddū Khān and his brother, however, were as generous in sharing their musical wealth as they and their father and uncle had been zealous in acquiring it. The gharānā was represented by family descendants and disciples, but the enormous impact of the Gwalior gharānā on Hindustani music today has been through musicians from Maharashtra. The Gwalior ruling house being Maharashtrian, a number of Maharashtrians became resident there; among them was Joshi Bua (Vāsudeva Buvā Jośī), a senior disciple of Haddū Khān and a court musician. Balakrishna Bua (Bālakṛṣṇa Buvā; 1849–1926) came to Joshi Bua for musical studies from a small estate in Maharashtra called Ichalkaranji. Balakrishna Bua too became a distinguished disciple of the Gwalior gharānā, accepted as full colleague and equal by Haddū Khān’s sons Muhammad Khān and Rahīmat Khān (c1860–1922).

Balakrishna Bua’s disciple Vishnu Digambar Paluskar probably did more than any other single person to bring Hindustani classical music into the 20th century from the 19th-century world of princely courts, high artistic secrets, and low social status. In 1897 he gave what was probably the first concert of Hindustani classical music where admission was by public ticket sale rather than private invitation. In 1901 in Lahore he opened the first public music school, the Gandharva Mahāvidyālaya. In later years his best disciples and their disciples opened branches in other cities. Vishnu Digambar was a convinced nationalist and linked Hindustani music (as an indigenous high art neither stifled nor adulterated by European rule) with the nationalist movement. He helped to make Hindustani music respectable by enabling students of middle-class families to perform publicly under the auspices of the music school. In a comparable stratagem of a purely musical sort, he took the beautiful and supple rāgas used for ṭhumrī, with their associations with courtesans, and made tunes in them for the favourite devotional songs of the medieval Hindi poets, thus making those rāgas also respectable.

Vishnu Digambar’s own great musicianship and his popular appeal as a performer made his propaganda for classical music ultimately successful. However, in addition to training thousands of future supporters of music through the Gandharva Mahāvidyālaya, he trained his own professional disciples as rigorously as he had himself been trained, and more systematically. A senior disciple, Vinayak Rao Patwardhan, in turn taught Vishnu Digambar’s only son, D.V. Paluskar (1921–55).

Vishnu Digambar’s most successful disciple was Omkarnath Thakur, who added a strong emotional element to what he received from the Gwalior tradition. After a brilliant public career of over 30 years, Omkarnath Thakur accepted an invitation to institute a college for music as part of Banaras Hindu University. For the degree courses he provided, with the assistance of two of his students, a six-volume textbook, Saṅgītāñjalī, which is the fullest existing source of Hindustani classical music in notation, providing complete typical improvisatory elaborations as well as compositions. Two further volumes remain in manuscript.

(b) Court gharānā: Jaipur and Rampur.

The word gharānā is also sometimes applied solecistically to a particularly brilliant local assemblage of musicians, not necessarily otherwise connected by blood or training. During the latter part of the 19th century princely houses that had chosen the winning side in the 1857 war were in a position to build up their musical establishments rapidly if they so chose, and one that did was Jaipur. Two of the last generation of concert musicians identified as Qavvāl came there in 1870 from the state of Alwar, which had been put under a regency council by the British. One was the son of that Qavvāl Muhammad Khān from whom Haddū and Hassū Khān of Gwalior had stolen the secret of his passage-work. The other was his nephew, who was also the son-in-law of Haddū Khān.

Also at Jaipur was the sitāriyā Imrat Sen (1813–93), who inherited the masītkhānī sitār tradition on both sides of his family. His father, Rahīm Sen, had been taught by his maternal grandfather, Dulhe Khān, and both were descendants of Masīt Khān. Yet another Jaipur line springs from the dhrupadiyā Bahrām Khān of the so-called Saharanpur gharānā. Through his brother’s grandchildren Bahrām Khān was the musical progenitor of the musicians who now have the surname Dagar and who are the best-known of the few remaining representatives of dhrupad singing and Hindustani bīn playing (see §(c) below).

Another lineage at Jaipur is historically important for its connection with Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande. The ancestors of the Jaipur musicians Isḥāq Alī Khān (d 1915) and his father Muhammad Alī Khān came from Faruqābād (where an important modern tradition of the tablā also originated). About 1900 Isḥāq Alī Khān, hard-pressed financially, agreed to teach khayāl to V.N. Bhatkhande for a few months on a monthly stipend. Because of his fluency in using his own (letter) notation Bhatkhande could collect not a few but a few hundred compositions, many of which were ultimately published in his Kramik pustak-mālikā (see §3(vi) above).

The musical establishment at the court of Rampur was Bhatkhande’s other major source of repertory, and according to K.C.D. Bṛhaspati (1966), it was also a source of his notion of basing a rāga classification on ten scale-type ṭhāṭ. The Rampur establishment was founded by Nawab Yūsuf Alī Khān (reigned 1840–64), who brought a number of musicians to Rampur from Lucknow after the last nawab of Avadh was deposed in 1856. The next nawab’s younger brother Haidar Alī Khān (1846–c1905) was one of the enthusiastic noble amateurs not uncommon in princely India and the foremost disciple of two important musicians of the court. Haidar Alī Khān is said to have given one of these musicians 100,000 rupees for 307 compositions belonging to the Tānsen tradition. Haidar Alī Khān was himself the teacher of the bīn player Wazīr Khān (1863–1926). After the death of the latter’s father he also taught his own son, known as Chamman Sahib (1879–1922). Chamman Sahib was in turn one of Bhatkhande’s principal collaborators in his work at Rampur after 1917. The other, reluctantly, was Wazīr Khān. Bhatkhande made himself a formal disciple of the then reigning nawab, who thereupon required Wazīr Khān to teach the repertory handed down in oral tradition from Tānsen, lest it be lost, and the Tānsen dhrupad published in the Kramik pustak-mālikā were thus obtained from Wazīr Khān.

Wazīr Khān also had distinguished disciples of a more traditional sort; one was the sarod player Hafiz Alī Khān (d 1972). Hafiz Alī Khān’s great-grandfather, who played the (plucked) rabāb, came from Afghanistan and took service at the court of Reva, learning classical Hindustani music there. Hafiz Alī Khān’s grandfather Ghulām Alī Khān went to Gwalior after 1857 and is supposed to have developed the modern sarod from the rabāb. After his father died Hafiz Alī Khān went to Rampur to learn from Wazīr Khān. Wazīr Khān’s best-known disciple was Allauddin Khan, who came to Rampur from what is now Bangladesh. Allauddin Khan’s son Ali Akbar Khan and his son-in-law and disciple Ravi Shankar are now artists with international reputations.

(c) Other gharānā and the later 20th century.

Vastly improved communications and widened public patronage (see §5 below) have brought numerous performers, including those of the earlier days of broadcasting and performing, to popular and even international fame. Performers of the Gwalior and Agra gharānā, the Kirana gharānā (Abdul Karim Khan, Hirabai Barodekar, Gangubai Hangal, Bhimsen Joshi), the Patiala gharānā (Bade Ghulam Ali Khan), the ‘Alladiya Khan’ or Jaipur gharānā (Mallikarjun Mansur, Kesarbai Kerkar, Mogubai Kurdikar, Kishori Amonkar), the Sahaswan/Rampur gharānā (Mushtaq Hussein Khan, Nisar Hussein Khan), the Mewar gharānā (Pandit Jasraj), and others like Kumar Gandharva and the Indore singer Amir Khan, whose formative influences were more diverse, strengthened the position of khayāl as the leading classical Hindustani vocal genre of the century. Some (Abdul Karim Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, and others) were also noted ṭhumrī singers. Ṭhumrī has also been prominently performed and recorded by specialist singers such as Siddheswari Devi and Girija Devi of Banāras (now Varanasi). The same widening of access and patronage has more recently come to reduce the emphasis on gharānā as such, while some singers (Bhimsen Joshi, Kishori Amonkar, and most notably Kumar Gandharva) extended their gāyakī (vocal styles) deliberately and experimentally. In the meantime dhrupad, which for much of the 20th century was in relative obscurity or decline, has in the last quarter of the century seen a revival of interest and patronage, first through the work (performing and teaching) of the vocalists and bīn players of the Dagar family and their pupils, and latterly at functions in north India arranged to revitalize the many lesser known regional and familial traditions (Widdess, 1994). Hindustani instrumental music has particularly flourished, enjoying as it does a greater independence from vocal music than in the Karnatak tradition, and here again, changing (including international) patronage has played a role. Certain instruments (śahnāī, bānsurī,sāraṅgī, etc.) have emerged as solo performers from a previously more subordinate function, while others (sitār, sarod) have longer histories as solo instruments. In the case of the tablā even a decline in solo demand is sometimes noted (Miner, 1993; Kippen, 1988, p.100).

5. Classical music, the state and the middle class.

  • Harold S. Powers and Jonathan Katz

During the 19th century the source of patronage for Indian art music was the princely court (in south India the temple as well). By the mid-19th century older courts and newly established ones alike had come under British control. The British rulers themselves, controlling more than half the subcontinent directly, did nothing for music. Nor was this just a matter of deliberate non-interference in indigenous affairs, for they involved themselves in areas such as archaeology and philology. However, unlike the Mughals whom they succeeded, the British rulers were generally hostile to Indian art music, at best seeing it as the decadent legacy of a golden past. Only a few, outstanding among them Augustus Willard, seem to have been able to hear and come to understand it in its own terms (see §6 below).

The new clerical and professional middle class that founded the All-India National Congress in 1885 was also becoming a new source of patronage for musicians. The Gāyan Samāj was established in Pune in 1874, a branch was started in British Madras in 1883, and from 1895, many saṅgīta sabhā (‘music societies’) were established. In British Bengal the pioneering researches and creative achievements of Sourindro Mohun Tagore (who like the south Indian musicologist Chinnasvami Mudaliyar became centrally involved in the debate over the appropriateness of Bengali and Western notation to Indian music; cf Capwell, 1986, 1991; Farrell, 1997) and Rabindranath Tagore contributed to this growing awareness, as did the scholarly and artistic example and the promotional activities of V.N. Bhatkhande and Vishnu Digambar in British Bombay. When the Indian National Congress met in Madras in 1927–8, national independence was declared for the first time to be the goal of the movement, and it is symbolic that surplus funds from the congress were used to found the Madras Music Academy for the research, teaching, and sponsorship of Indian classical music.

When independence came in 1947 it was the beginning of profound changes in the patronage of the performing arts. All-India Radio (AIR), established in British days, was made the medium for state patronage of classical music as a matter of deliberate policy by B.V. Keskar during his tenure as Minister for Information and Broadcasting. While some professional musicians subsist through teaching and concerts as well as broadcasts, for most AIR provides a reasonably steady income, depending on the connection and the status that the artist has. Both ‘staff artists’ in the regular employ of AIR and ‘casual artists’ who give occasional broadcasts are graded, and salaries or fees for broadcast performances are adjusted accordingly. A few top-ranking musicians are ungraded. Performing artists are among those who teach in schools and music colleges as well as taking private pupils. Classical music is commonly cultivated by the urban middle class as a worthwhile educational pursuit.

In 1916 the first All-India Music Conference was convened under the guidance of V.N. Bhatkhande and sponsored by the Gaekwar of Baroda. Both performers and scholars were invited. In subsequent decades the expression ‘music conference’ has come to mean a concert series. Such series constitute a principal venue for classical music in north India. In south India the annual Music Academy conferences have been the model for other conferences, and the patronage of the numerous saṅgīta-sabhā continues, but with an ever-increasing proportion of non-musical events.

Important patronage has also been provided by commercial recording companies. Within the first decade of the 20th century the Gramophone Company (later called HMV) and its sister companies in Calcutta, Lahore, Varanasi, and elsewhere had made a large number of recordings. Other companies came into being in the 1930s, and shortly after independence foreign companies began to record Indian artists, thus promoting interest in Indian music abroad. From the 1980s audio cassettes began to supplant vinyl discs, and in the 1990s CDs, though still a luxury in India, appeared in rising numbers there and abroad. The repertory recorded is vast and widening, and there are inevitable consequences in both the professional and the public perception of a music that was formerly largely dependent on single, unrepeated, and open-ended performances. As a promoter of music, the power of recording is beyond dispute (see also §VIII, 2 below).

6. Indian music and the West.

  • Jonathan Katz

In the 20th century Indian classical music enjoyed some prestige outside the subcontinent itself. Hindustani practice and theory exerted considerable influence in the higher musical culture of Afghanistan, and Indian communities around the world have to varying degrees fostered their cultural traditions. The roots of Western awareness of Indian music (never extensive before the late years of British rule) may be found in the late 18th century. Until then, apart from some rather random observations (mainly of dancers) by travellers, there was little serious interest among Europeans. A few brief accounts or comments of greater value are exceptions, such as those by the 17th-century Italian Pietro della Valle (including a description of a string instrument, apparently a vīṇā, and its player), Marin Mersenne in his Harmonie universelle of 1636–7 (also observations, some misunderstood, on instruments that had found their way into European collections), the German-born Danish missionary Bartholemaeus Ziegenbalg, whose Malabarisches Heidenthum of 1711 contained a substantial pioneering account of Indian musical theory and instruments, and the French traveller Pierre Sonnerat, whose Voyages aux Indes Orientales et à la Chine, published in 1782, again contained information on musical instruments.

In the 1780s a small group of prominent English women resident in Calcutta began to take an interest in Indian music and to employ musicians to play melodies which they then transcribed, sang, and played on the harpsichord, and eventually published in part. The ‘Hindostannie Air’ was promoted especially by Sophia Plowden (wife of an East India Company employee), whose friends Margaret Fowke and her brother Francis supplied her with songs collected in Banāras (where Francis Fowke was Govenor). Sophia Plowden was able herself to collect material from Lucknow. In 1789 a collection of ‘airs’ transcribed for harpsichord was published in Calcutta as The Oriental Miscellany: being a Collection of the most Favourite Airs of Hindoostan by the musician William Hamilton Bird. Around 1795 a further collection appeared, compiled by Charles Trinks, and this was followed by others in London. An important further manuscript collection, also containing depictions of instruments, is in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. The melodies, many of them apparently of ‘light’ musical forms in simple metres like dādrā, and many of which seem to have been considerably ‘adapted’ despite an aim to maintain authenticity, proved to be of some passing interest to composers in England in the early 19th century, who even based some compositions on them.

It appears to have been such collecting that first attracted the English Oriental scholar Sir William Jones (founder of the Asiatic Society of Bengal) to the study of Indian music. Together with the Governor-General Warren Hastings he helped Margaret Fowke in her collecting of songs, and in the first volume of the Society’s Asiatick Researchers (1788) he published a detailed letter on the vīṇā by Francis Fowke. Through Fowke he was able to hear a vīṇā player, probably Jivan Shah of Banāras, and in 1784 he wrote his treatise On the Musical Modes of the Hindoos, which he published in the third volume of the Asiatick Researches in 1792. Such interest as followed was largely due to Jones’s impetus, though his pioneering essay was before long superseded. Captain N. Augustus Willard’s remarkable 1834 Treatise on the Music of Hindoostan shows a more direct acquaintance with actual musical practice than Jones’s work, which relied more on what he could determine of ancient theoretical precepts.

A valuable pictorial resource is the systematic portrayal of musical instruments and players made by the Flemish artist François Balthazar Solvyns (1760–1824) in the 1790s. He made a collection of drawings depicting many areas of life in Bengal, and in the second volume of the later edition (Paris, 1810) 35 plates of musicians and one of a nautch (dance) are introduced and accompanied by detailed notes. Some 19th-century works of universal and comparative musicology (William C. Stafford: A History of Music, 1830; François Joseph Fétis: Histoire générale de la musique, ii, 1869; J. Adrien de la Fage: Histoire générale de la musique et de la danse, 1844) and works by Carl Engel, Meadows Taylor, Alexander Ellis, and others, show a gradual (if somewhat haphazard and often exoticist) increase of European interest in, and awareness of, Indian as well as other non-Western musics.

Fresh impetus came from S.M. Tagore, who corresponded and met with Western scholars, published many works on music himself (including a still useful anthology of writings by Jones, Willard, Fowke, and others), and sent collections of Indian instruments, some of them fanciful hybrids, abroad to leading scholarly and musical institutions. These collections were studied by Western scholars including Curt Sachs and Joanny Grosset. Grosset’s major article in the Encyclopédie de la musique et dictionnaire du Conservatoire (Paris, 1913) may be counted the beginning of modern interest in Indian music in the French-speaking world, as were, for the English, C.H. Day’s The Music and Musical Instruments of Southern India and the Deccan (1891) and A.H. Fox Strangways’s The Music of Hindostan (1914; see §X below). The emphasis on music as it was practised, rather than as reflecting classical theory, was a departure from much of the Western writing of the 19th century.

Hardly any performances of Indian classical music were heard in the West before the end of the 19th century, though there is some evidence of migrant Indians active in the late Victorian popular culture of London. Day refers to a Jaipur bīn player in London in 1886, and some other instrumentalists and dancers subsequently performed at international exhibitions in Britain and in Europe, affording composers like Debussy and Holst some limited contact with Asian music. Certainly Debussy met the musician and Sufi Hazrat Inayat Khan, who was on a European tour with a troupe of performers in 1912–14 and who enjoyed a somewhat more enthusiastic, though equally uninformed, response in France than in England. In Moscow, Inayat Khan impressed Sergei Tolstoy and others with his attempts to blend Eastern and Western music, and well into the 1920s, until his return to India, he continued to propagate Indian music and Eastern philosophy in England, Europe, and America.

Inayat Khan’s Western experience was partly a missionary venture, and the following he found among his audience combined religious and artistic interests. Rabindranath Tagore first visited England in 1880 and returned to the West many times, exerting some influence as a philosopher and educationist. His meeting with the Englishman Leonard Elmhirst in New York in 1921 resulted in the establishment of the school, college, and theatre at Dartington Hall in Devonshire, England. Dartington developed as an important centre for Indian arts, where Indian music continued to be studied with Western and with visiting Indian artists and teachers up to the early 1990s.

The dancer Uday Shankar worked with the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881–1931) in London in the 1920s, and in collaboration they produced a number of dance productions that mixed Indian and Western forms. In the later 1930s Shankar, with a troupe of musicians, presented to American and European audiences concerts of Indian music somewhat tailored to Western requirements. Among those they presented for the first time in the West were the sarod player Allāuddin Khān (d 1972) and his pupil Ravi Shankar (b 1920), younger brother of Uday Shankar. From the 1950s Ravi Shankar, the sarod player Ali Akbar Khan and the tablā players Chatur Lal and Alla Rakha (1919–2000) became the best known and most influential of an increasing number of Hindustani instrumentalists touring the West. In the later 1960s a brief period of exoticism in Western popular music made some of the sounds of Hindustani music superficially familiar, but at the same time Ravi Shankar and others were also beginning to play to large audiences in concert halls and to record with major Western companies. Some syncretistic experiments followed as a result of encounters between Indian and Western composers and jazz musicians. It would be hard to claim that many of these have stood the test of time, but Indian music in its own right has increasingly prospered in the West. From the 1970s international interest became engaged with vocal and with Karnatak performances, and practical teaching and academic research (see §X below) in Indian music have gradually established a footing in European and American institutions.

III. Theory and practice of classical music.

This section addresses the styles and structures of Indian classical music as it is performed today and as it has been described over centuries in the theoretical works introduced in §II above. While practice has always moved ahead of theory, theory has articulated the underlying concepts and provided a technical vocabulary that is still used by musicians today. Study of the theoretical sources reveals how Indian music has constantly changed and developed while remaining faithful to certain underlying principles.

The science of music (saṅgīta) is traditionally divided into vocal music (gīta), instrumental music (vādya) and dance (nṛtya). This sequence underlies the highly influential treatise Saṅgīta-ratnākara by the 13th-century writer Śārṅgadeva. Śārṅgadeva further divided his account of vocal music into (1) tonal systems; (2) rāga; (3) melodic elaboration and (vocal) ensembles; (4) compositions; (5) tāla (as articulated by rhythmic instruments); (6) instruments and instrumental music; (7) dance. This sequence is followed in the present section, except that the topic ‘Rhythm and tāla’ (§4 below), which applies to both vocal and instrumental music, precedes ‘Compositions, genres, and performance of vocal music’ (§5 below).

1. Tonal systems.

  • Harold S. Powers
  • , revised by Richard Widdess
(i) Svara.

Svara can have two senses: an abstract pitch class, a scale degree; or a melodic element, a scale degree in a melodic context. The names of the seven svara and the syllables by which they are solmized in teaching and performance are set out in Table 1. The syllables can function as an oral and a written notation. Three octave registers (sthāna ‘position’ or saptak ‘group of 7’) called mandra (‘soft’, ‘low’), madhya (‘medium’), and tāra (‘carrying’, ‘high’) are associated with the chest, throat, and head registers of the voice respectively. Additional lower and higher octaves (atimandra, atitāra) are encountered in instrumental music.

Table 1

View large

Table 1

Since the 16th century the first scale degree, ṣaḍja, has functioned as a universal reference-pitch or tonic for all rāgas and is sustained or reiterated as a drone accompaniment (khaṛaj, sur,śruti). The svara refer to relative pitches, not to a common pitch standard, since each soloist fixes the ṣaḍja at a pitch to suit his or her voice or instrument. The chosen pitch may be defined with reference to the keys of the harmonium: kālī ek ‘first black [key]’ (C♯), safed do ‘second white’ (D) etc. In Western writings, and in this article, ṣaḍja is equated by convention with C. In most rāgas, either the perfect fourth or the perfect fifth degree, madhyama or pañcama, is also structurally important and is usually included in the drone. The functions and pitches of the remaining svara vary from rāga to rāga.

Svara can be construed as scale degrees, defined in terms of the 22 microtones (śruti) of ancient theory or the 12 pitch positions (svarasthāna) of modern practice. In addition there are particular ways of treating each scale degree in specific musical contexts, referred to as gamaka (‘ornament’),lāg (‘way of taking’), uccār (‘pronunciation’), etc. Sometimes the way of treating a svara is designated by reference to a well-known rāga: Kānaḍā ga or Toḍī ga, Aḍānā ni or Bhairavī ni etc. A pitch becomes a svara by virtue of a particular mode of approach, prolongation, and release (see §3(i) below).

Svara are also defined in terms of intervallic relationships. Theory from the Nāṯyaśāstra onwards identifies three such relationships: ‘consonant’ (saṃvādī), perfect 4ths and 5ths; ‘dissonant’ (vivādī), minor 2nds and major 7ths; and ‘assonant’ (anuvādī), all other intervals. Consonance (saṃvāda) is required between the predominant note of a rāga (called the aṃśa or vādī) and its companion a 4th or 5th distant, the samvādī. It also obtains between other notes, melodic motifs, and registers (see §2(iii)–(iv) below). Therefore it is an important factor in the structure and evolution of scales, rāgas, and melodies, especially in Hindustani music. Intervallic relationships are important not only between the successive pitches of a melody, but also between each individual svara and the ever-present drone.

(ii) History of tonal systems.

The history of Indian tonal systems shows a gradual change, (1) from a microtonal to a semitonal division of the octave; (2) from a variable tonic system, where each svara can serve as the ground-note of scales and modes, to the use of sa as a universal system-tonic; and (3) from a system in which only three svara are of variable relative pitch to systems in which all are variable except sa and pa. The relationship of modern practice to older systems, and of each to Pythagorean and other tonal theories, has been the subject of intense debate among Western and Indian scholars. The theoretical primacy of heptatonic scales may reflect distant links with other Asian systems of antiquity, but hexatonic and especially pentatonic structures have been equally important. Scales with augmented 2nds appear in theory from the 16th century onwards and presumably reflect the arrival at Indian courts of musicians from Islamic Central Asia and Iran.

(a) Ancient Indian terms: grāma, śruti, mūrcchanā.

In chapter 28 of the Nāṯyaśāstra the svara are arranged in two scales, or rather pitch-collections (grāma), named ṣaḍja-grāma and madhyama-grāma after their starting pitches. The grāmas are defined in terms of 22 equal microtonal intervals (śruti) and in terms of consonant intervals (saṃvāda) between specified svara. Each svara is considered to comprise both the pitch of the note itself and the interval of two, three, or four śrutis separating the note from its lower neighbour (see Table 2). Representation in Western notation can only be approximate, because the grāmas included three sizes of scale-step, measuring two, three, and four śruti. In practice the three śruti steps (ri and dha in ṣaḍja-grāma, pa and ri in madhyama-grāma) may have been rendered as undulating rather than as steady pitches, at least by singers and flute-players.

India, subcontinent of III. Theory and practice of classical music. 1. Tonal systems. (ii) History of tonal systems. (a) Ancient Indian terms: grāma, śruti, mūrcchanā.: Table 2

View large

Table 2

The consonant intervals are defined as measuring nine śruti (perfect 4th) and 13 śruti (perfect 5th); 4ths of ten or 5ths of twelve śruti were not considered consonant. Thus in the ṣaḍja-grāma,pa is consonant with sa but not with ri, but vice versa in the madhyama-grāma. Each grāma may be conceived of as chains of consonant 4ths or 5ths. In the ṣaḍja-grāma, these are pasamaniga plus ridha; in the madhyama-grāma,samaniga and paridha. However, the interval mani, though measuring nine śruti in both grāma, is not listed as a consonance in the Nāṯyaśāstra, perhaps because these two svara are of unequal size (four and two śruti respectively) and therefore occur in different melodic contexts.

In the grāma system only three svara (ga, ni, and pa) were of variable pitch relative to the others. In all other instances the śruti between the svara were not recognized as scale degrees. Ga and ni could each be raised by two śruti to serve as sharpened leading-notes to ma and sa. The raised pitches are called antara ga and kākalī ni. The process of pitch alteration is called svara-sādhāraṇa (‘overlapping of pitches’).

Pa is consonant with sa in the ṣaḍja-grāma and ri in the madhyama-grāma. Consequently it is one śruti lower, relative to its neighbours, in the madhyama-grāma than it is in the ṣaḍja-grāma. This difference, as demonstrated in the Nāṯyaśāstra by a hypothetical experiment with the tuning of two vīṇās (here referring to harps), is the pramāṇa-śruti (the ‘measuring’ śruti), the unit of measurement by which all other intervals were theoretically defined.

A seven-string bow harp (vipañcī-vīṇā) could be tuned in either grāma with any of the seven scale degrees as its lowest pitch. Each of the resulting scales, seven in each grāma, was called a mūrcchanā and was a specific scale-type. However, the ancient mūrcchanā, with their different ground-notes, have been replaced in modern theory by scales with a common ground-note (melā and ṭhāṭ: see §(iv) below). A hexa- or pentatonic mūrcchanā was called a tāna; this term has survived in modern usage, but with different meanings. In Hindustani music tān means a phrase of a rāga, or rapid passage-work in khayāl (see §5(iii)(b) below). Tānam in Karnatak music refers to a pulsed but unmeasured improvisatory style (see §5(iv) below).

(b) The tonal system of the Saṅgīta-ratnākara.

By the 13th century the grāma-śruti system of the Nāṯyaśāstra was almost certainly defunct in practice, though still of fundamental importance to theory. One result was the re-interpretation of the system in metaphysical terms, another was the recognition of ‘modified’ (vikṛta) pitches in addition to the primary or ‘pure’ (śuddha) pitches of the ṣaḍja-grāma. The process begins in the Bṛhad-deśī of Mataṅga (perhaps 8th or 9th century), which restates the grāma-śruti system and discusses the nature and number of śruti and their ontological relationship to svara. It also presents theories of sound (nāda) based on Tantric metaphysics and physiology. In the Saṅgīta-ratnākara of Śārṅgadeva these two strands are combined, so that an existential reality is ascribed to the 22 śruti. When Desire brings the of Breath and the da of Fire together to form nāda (sound), that primordial nāda passes upwards through the body until it reaches the lowest cakra at which sound becomes material enough actually to be heard: the heart; this corresponds to the chest register of music. Here there are 22 channels from which the 22 śruti are produced. The 22 śruti in the two higher registers are produced in the throat and head. The reality of the 22 śruti is then supposedly demonstrated through the hypothetical tuning of two vīṇā, each with 22 strings.

Table 3a shows how Śārṅgadeva expanded the grāma system of the Nāṯyaśāstra by introducing 12 ‘modified’ (vikṛta) pitches. The impetus for this development may have been a trend in practice towards a 12-semitone scale. However, Śārṅgadeva’s system provides additional pitch positions only in the regions gama and nisa, where there were already the alternative notes antara ga and kākalī ni in the Nāṯyaśāstra system (Table 3c). In Śārṅgadeva’s system, furthermore, wherever one svara is transformed by being on other than its own proper śruti, the svara immediately above it is also transformed, even if it has not moved, since it now no longer has the proper number of śruti below it. Table 3a, line (i), for instance, shows the reduction of pa by one śruti that produces the madhyama-grāma. Pa is now a vikṛta svara because it has been lowered, but dha is also vikṛta since it now has four śruti (‘catuś-śruti’) instead of its proper three śruti. The sa and ma in line (ii) are also vikṛta because they now have only two śruti, even though they are ‘not fallen’ (acyuta) from their proper positions.

Table 3

View large

Table 3

Another curious feature of Śārṅgadeva’s system (Table 3a, line (iii)) is the introduction of a ‘fallen’ (cyuta)sa, perhaps by analogy with the lowered pa of the madhyama-grāma, and similarly a ‘fallen’ ma. Unfortunately Śārṅgadeva does not explain the practical application of any of these new modified pitches. He gives only the musica ficta-like rules for using antara ga and kākalī ni, in direct or indirect returns to ma and sa respectively, and only these two vikṛta are mentioned in rāga definitions.

(c) The development of the Karnatak general scale.

Whether intentionally or not, Śārṅgadeva provided the first step towards theoretical recognition and definition of the 12-step general scale that is now the basis of Karnatak music. The process was completed in south India by Rāmāmātya, whose stated purpose in writing his treatise Svaramelakalānidhi (c1550) was to reconcile outdated theory with current practice. He did so by a radical reinterpretation of the grāma system as previously modified by Śārṅgadeva. The illusion of continuity was maintained by the retention of much of the traditional terminology. His system, which forms the basis of the modern Karnatak rāga classification, is represented in Table 3b. Four changes to Śārṅgadeva’s tonal system were made. (1) The pitches sa and pa were fixed at śruti numbers 4 and 17 respectively, with no modifications allowed; these pitches were by this time provided with drone strings on the vīṇā, as they are on many string instruments today. (2) Śārṅgadeva’s ‘fallen’ sa and ma are now treated as raised variants of ni and ga respectively, which consequently now have four pitch values each. Śārṅgadeva’s names for all these pitch values are preserved. Similarly, the lowered pa of the madhyama-grāma is now considered a raised ma. (3) Rāmāmātya eliminates those four of Śārṅgadeva’s modified svara that are at the same śruti positions as primary svara. (4) Ri and dha are each given two additional higher positions, called ‘five-śruti’ (pañcaśruti) and ‘six-śruti’ (ṣaṭśruti). These coincide, however, with the two lowest positions of ga and ni respectively. They do not introduce any new pitch positions into the system but merely provide alternative names.

Thus far Rāmāmātya’s changes appear relatively superficial. The scale still comprises 14 pitch positions, located at the same śruti as in Śārṅgadeva’s system. However, he then proceeds to locate these pitch positions on the vīṇā, which was by this time no longer an arched harp as in the Nāṯyaśāstra, but a long-necked, fretted zither resembling the modern Hindustani bīn (see §6 below). This had four melody strings tuned to sapasama (C–G–c–f). In doing so he reduces the 14 theoretical pitch positions to 12 by allocating a single fret to two of the positions of ni (kākalī and cyuta-ṣaḍja), and a single fret to two of the positions of ga (antara and cyuta-madhyama), on the grounds that the pitch differences thereby eliminated are negligible. Rāmāmātya’s fretting yields a 12-semitone division of the octave as shown in Table 3c. With small changes of terminology this remains the general scale used in Karnatak music today (Table 3d).

Table 4a shows Rāmāmātya’s placement of the frets on the vīṇā. Rāmāmātya states emphatically that their positions are predetermined (svayambhū, ‘self-existent’), not open to choice. He demonstrates how the frets are fixed by two sets of octave or unison equivalence, as shown in Table 4b. Fret 2 must be positioned so that the pa (g) on string IV at that fret is an octave above the open string II. Assuming that the frets are at right-angles to the strings, this also determines the pitches at the same fret on strings I to III. Of these, śuddha ni (A ♮) on string II fret 2 provides the pitch for fixing the octave higher on string IV fret 4. This in turn fixes kākalī ni (B ♮) (string II fret 4) from which the octave (string IV fret 6) can be positioned. A similar but descending sequence, beginning with open string III equals string II fret 5 (or IV open equals III fret 5), fixes the positions of the remaining frets (5, 3, and 1). The resulting pitches on fret 1 are out of tune with their namesakes at fret 6, but two of the latter were not used, being available on the next higher strings.Cyuta-pañcama (f ♯) on fret 1 is also out of tune with kākalī ni (B/b ♮) on frets 4 and 6. These discrepancies may not have been significant in practice.

Table 4

View large

Table 4

As this system is presented by Rāmāmātya the original grāma system of the Nāṯyaśāstra appears to be intact: all the svara of that system are still present and allocated to the same śruti positions. But in practice Rāmāmātya’s system exhibits three fundamental differences: (1) the actual intervals of the scale now bear little relation to the theoretical śruti positions (compare Table 3b and c); (2) all scales and modes are now transposed to a common tonic, sa, which requires all other svara (apart from pa) to become movable; (3) Rāmāmātya’s system makes it possible, for the first time in the Indian tradition, to express the interval of an augmented 2nd (e.g. between śuddha ri (d♭) and antara ga (e ♮)). Scales featuring this interval are prominent in his classification of rāgas, and it is possible that the influence of West or Central Asian musical systems played a part in this development.

(d) The development of the Hindustani general scale.

A different approach to reconciling the 22 śruti with the semitonal scale of the stick zither vīṇā is followed in another group of treatises, of which the Saṅgīta-pārijāta by Ahobala-paṇdịta is the most extensive, and probably the oldest. Like the Svaramelakalānidhi, it retains the traditional positions of the seven primary (śuddha) svara on the 22-śruti scale, at śruti nos.4, 7, 9, 13, 17, 20 and 22 (Table 5a). Thereafter it differs, first in that downward as well as upward alterations are proposed, second in that the designations for all the ‘modified’ (vikṛta) svara are new.

Table 5

Sa and pa are unalterable, as in Rāmāmātya’s system. Every other svara may be raised from its primary position to one or two higher positions on the śruti scale, up to and including the śruti where it becomes equivalent to the next higher primary svara, except that sa and pa have no equivalents. Every variable svara except ma may also be altered downwards along the śruti scale in the same way, and with the same avoidance of sa and pa. The terminology for higher and lower modified positions is the same for every svara: two śrutis lower is pūrva (first); one lower is komala (soft); the primary position is śuddha (pure); one śruti higher is tīvra (sharp); two higher is tīvratara (sharper); three higher is tīvratama (very sharp); four higher is ati-tīvratama (extremely sharp).

No single svara uses all these terms, but every term is used somewhere, as seen in Table 5a. Except for ati-tīvratama ga, the pattern is the same as in Table 3b and 3c. There is a general scale of 12 pitch positions, with an unalterable sa and pa and a natural and a raised ma. The svara pairs ridha and gani have three varieties for each svara, in overlapping sets such that only the lowest ri and dha and the highest ga and ni do not have equivalents.

The Saṅgīta-pārijāta’s equation of ati-tīvratama ga with śuddha ma plays no role in either modern Indian tonal system. It was not merely a theoretical construction, however, but rather accounted for a still important feature of rāgas of the Sārang type. (What is now described as śuddha ma in both Hindustani and Karnatak Sārang rāgas was then called ati-tīvratama ga.)

The pitch positions in the Saṅgīta-pārijāta (like those in the Svaramelakalānidhi) are demonstrated instrumentally. Rather than by consonant cross-fretting, however, a monochord-like method is used, based on divisions of a single string of the vīṇā. The procedure is shown in Table 6. The basic principle is extremely simple. Every division must be made either in halves or in thirds, and of course the length to be divided must already be established. Dividing the whole string from bridge to mid-point establishes the system tonic (sa) and its upper octave. Half of that (a quarter of the whole) produces śuddha ma (f), and a third of the whole gives the immovable pa (g). The remaining intervals are determined by successively subdividing intervals already established (see Table 6). The śuddha dha (a) seems improbable (it is a quarter-tone higher than the harmonic major 6th, 5/3, and an eighth-tone higher even than the Pythagorean major 6th). The komala dha also appears roughly a quarter-tone too high. But the approximation to natural intervals produced by this method is good in the lower half of the octave. Ahobala-paṇdịta adds that even if the division method were used at first, the resulting positions should then be adjusted by ear.

Table 6

View large

Table 6

Here, as in the Svaramelakalānidhi, it is clear that a general scale of 12 semitones has been adopted and that its connection with the 22-śruti scale is tenuous. The Saṅgīta-pārijāta’s reconciliation works better on the whole. Even so, both diatonic semitones and diatonic tones can be reckoned as three-śruti intervals (see Table 5a), and there are other anomalies.

The transition from the tonal system of the Saṅgīta-pārijāta to the modern Hindustani terminology was a little more complex than the corresponding transition in south India, since further changes took place. Firstly, the alternative names for equivalent pitches disappeared altogether; secondly, there were shifts of usage in the designation of the five variable svara, particularly in the use of the term śuddha (see Table 5b).

In the treatise Nag̱ẖmāt-i āsafi, whose author, Muhammad Reza, claimed he was associated with Lucknow musicians at the court of Nawab Āṣaf-ud-daula (reigned 1775–97), only sa,pa, and ma are regularly referred to as śuddha (Table 5b). The higher variety of ga is twice referred to in passing as śuddha, but normally the higher ga is called tīvra, and the lower variety komal. The svara ri, dha, and ni are always called either tīvra or komal (ri is once called ati-komal), never śuddha. The higher ma is usually called tīvratama, as in the Saṅgīta-pārijāta. It is also included in lists of tīvra svara, and is once or twice called tīvratara. It is clear from the frequent use of the expression ‘both ma’ for rāgas such as Lalit, however, that the author was thinking in terms of only two pitch positions for ma. The lower ma is usually called śuddha, but it is also included in lists of komal svara. Only one of the Saṅgīta-pārijāta’s alternative names for equivalent pitches survives: [ati ]-tīvratama ga is equated with komal ma in the description of the rāga Sārang.

Table 5

View large

The traditional distinction between a set of seven ‘pure’ (śuddha)svara and some number of ‘modified’ (vikṛta)svara has effectively disappeared in the Nāg̱ẖmāt-i āsafi. The word śuddha is used mainly to designate the invariant system tonic sa and its unalterable 5th pa. Each of the remaining scale degrees has two equally valid pitch positions. This is more clearly shown in the terminology used for the music examples in the chapter on rāga of the Rajasthani treatise Saṅgīt-sār, compiled by Pratāp Singh in about 1800. The fixed sa and pa are aslī (a colloquial Perso-Arabic synonym for śuddha). Each of the five variable svara must be either utarī (‘lowered’) or caṛhī (‘raised’), a notion quite different from that of ‘pure’ as opposed to ‘modified’ (see Table 5b). There is no basic scale of seven from which others deviate; rather, there is a general scale of 12, from which seven are chosen with certain restrictions.

In modern times the notion of seven śuddha svara has been revived. However, the śuddha svara are now the degrees of the major scale; vikṛta svara are komal re, ga, dha, and ni, and tīvra ma (Table 5b). The pre-modern opposition of komal and tīvra is still in occasional use, however, and there is no reason either in theory or in practice for the major scale to be considered more ‘pure’ (śuddha) than any other.

(iii) Scale-types in modern theory.

Just as the grāma system of the Nāṯyaśāstra was the basis of the mūrcchanās, so the modern tonal systems generate a number of derived scale-types. Each scale-type is a selection of seven svara from the general scale of 12 pitch positions (svarasthāna). A given scale-type may be common to several rāgas, so scale-types are an aspect of the general tonal system.

The south Indian system of 72 scale-types (melakarta or mela) is produced by a systematic permutation of the variable svara positions shown in Table 3c. The invariable sa and pa are common to all 72. The octave is divided into two tetrachords, sama and pasa. Within each tetrachord the variable svarari and ga or dha and ni – are systematically rotated through all possible combinations, as shown in Table 7. Scale-types 1–36 are formed by combining each of the six lower tetrachords, having śuddha ma (F) as the fourth degree, with each of the upper tetrachords in turn. By substituting prati ma (F♯) for the natural fourth degree, a second, otherwise identical set of 36 scale-types is formed, nos.37–72. This system includes scale-types with augmented seconds and scale-types with consecutive semitones.

Table 7

When Veṅkaṭamakhin outlined the scheme of 72 melakarta in the Caturdaṇḍī-prakāśikā he gave names only to those 19 scale-types that were needed for rāgas in use in 17th-century Thanjavur. He named each of these scale-types after the most prominent rāga belonging to it. Subsequently, the remaining scale-types have also been named, and there are now rāgas and compositions in every scale-type. Some have acquired important constituent rāgas as composers and performers have found musically effective ways of exploiting the scale. Nevertheless, there are still no more than a couple of dozen scale-types of real musical significance, having either a large number of constituent rāgas (such as scale-type 28) or one important rāga (such as Nāṭa rāga from scale-type 36).

The melakarta system has become endowed with a complex nomenclature intended to render it memorable. Each of the 12 lower tetrachords defines a set or ‘circle’ (cakra) of six scales, each consisting of combinations of the lower tetrachord with six different upper tetrachords. Each set has a name denoting its serial number in the system (thus ‘Moon’ is one, ‘Eye’ is two, ‘Veda’ is four etc.). Each individual scale-type also has a name, sometimes derived from that of a prominent rāga belonging to it. The name also bears a two-syllable prefix that encodes in reverse the serial number of the scale-type (thus scale-type 28 is Hari-kāmbhojī, where ‘ri’ is two and ‘ha’ is eight).

An alternative term for scale-type, ṭhāṭa, first appears in the southern Rāga-vibodha of Somanātha (1609), but it has subsequently been adopted in place of melakarta in the Hindustani tradition. It was used in the 19th century by sitār players to denote the ‘setting’ or positioning of the movable frets on the neck of a sitār necessary to produce the intervals required by particular rāgas. Six ṭhāṭ are listed by Day (1891), who states that they ‘have no names, but are usually known from the rāgas that are commonly played upon them’. Because the sitār has more than seven frets to the octave, each of these settings can be used to produce more than one heptatonic scale-type, or rāgas that require more than seven pitch positions. Subsequently the term ṭhāṭ was adopted by V.N. Bhatkhande for his system of ten heptatonic scale-types, which he named after prominent Hindustani rāgas (Table 8). This system lacks the logical rigour of the Karnatak melakarta system, but it does not include any scale-types that are not in common use. As shown in Table 8, it is an interrupted sequence of six diatonic scales with progressively more ‘flats’ (nos.1–3 and 7–9), plus four scale-types with augmented seconds (nos.4–6 and 10). The ordering is based on what Bhatkhande deemed significant degree relationships: the natural second, third and sixth in 1–3, the flattened second with natural third and seventh in 4–6, the flattened third and seventh in 7–9, and Toḍī ṭhāṭ in a class by itself.

Table 8

View large

Table 8

Despite their pragmatic convenience for classifying rāgas, the melakarta and ṭhāṭ systems suffer from a number of limitations, as Hindustani musicians in particular are wont to point out. Pentatonic or hexatonic rāgas can only be allocated to heptatonic scale-types on the sometimes arbitrary assumption that particular pitches are omitted. The scale-types make no allowances for variations in intonation of the svara, they separate into different categories rāgas that are closely related by melodic movement (see §2(iii) below), and they bring together rāgas that have no melodic features in common beyond their basic pitches.

(iv) The 22 śruti in modern theory.

The ‘microtonal scale’ of Indian classical music has attracted much attention both in South Asia and internationally, particularly since the discovery and publication of chapter 28 of the Nāṯyaśāstra. It has been claimed that the śruti are evidence for the existence of complex mathematical acoustics in ancient India, or that they are evidence of nearly superhuman pitch discrimination and control on the part of performers. What can and cannot be inferred about the 22 śruti in the ancient period was made plain by Bhandarkar in 1912. The proposition of an unusually consistent microtonal control, advanced by Daniélou (1954) and others, has been experimentally refuted by Jairazbhoy (1963) and others. It is true that the numerous inflections of svara in musical contexts cannot be described fully in terms of a system of 12 pitch positions. But to say that particular shadings of pitch are essential in a particular musical context is not to say that those shadings are best described in terms of a microtonal scale.

Modern South Asian uses of the 22 śruti have usually built from the existing 12-position general scale and the system tonic. The fixed svara sa and pa provide two pitch positions and the five variable svara, each in two positions (komal and tīvra), provide ten more. Then the five komal svara are given five lower variants called ati-komal, the five tīvra svara five higher (ati-tīvra) variants. This generation of a scheme of 22 has nothing to do with either the Nāṯyaśāstra or Saṅgīta-ratnākara, but it is neat and suggestive.

Sometimes precise frequencies are proposed, based on a Pythagorean and a just intonation for each pitch position other than sa and pa. However, this supposed precision not only disregards the flexible realities of intonations but in seeking to explain ancient schemes in modern terms fails to account for them.

2. Rāga.

  • Harold S. Powers
  • , revised by Richard Widdess
(i) The concept.
(a) Rāga as melody type.

The central element of South Asian classical music is rāga. A rāga is not a tune, nor is it a ‘modal’ scale, but rather a continuum with scale and tune as its extremes (see Mode, §V, 3). Many rāgas can share the same intervallic structure, that is, the same scale-type (mela, ṭhāṭ); at the same time, any number of compositions or improvisations can be in the same rāga.

A rāga can be described with emphasis on both ‘scale’ and ‘tune’ aspects. From the scale side, individual scale degrees may be assigned specific modal functions. The predominant degree was called aṃśa in traditional śāstra. It is called vādī in modern Hindustani music (along with its co-predominant saṃvādī; see §1(i) above), and in Karnatak music it is called jīva-svara (‘life degree’). Initial and final degrees in traditional śāstra were called graha (‘taking’) and nyāsa (‘settling’). These terms relate to a period when there was no system tonic, and the predominant and final of a rāga could be different svara. With the transposition of all rāgas to a common system tonic (sa: see §1(ii)(c) above) by the 16th century, the three functions of predominant, initial, and final tended to become identified with the system tonic. In some modern texts (e.g. Thakur’s Saṅgītāñjali) the terms graha, nyāsa, and aṃśa have been revived to denote respectively phrase beginnings, phrase endings, and the predominant degrees in the rāga as a whole.

A rāga can also be described by its melodic features, that is, in terms of successions of scale degrees. The nearest to a scalar description is the āroh-avaroh, the ascent–descent pattern. The āroh-avaroh of a rāga can show which scale degrees never appear and where any regularly occurring turns in the line occur. More elaborate descriptive samples of characteristic melodic configuration are called calan in Hindustani music and sañcāra in Karnatak music. In Karnatak music a motif especially characteristic for a rāga is called rāga-chāya-sañcāra (‘rāga-image-phrase’) or, in Tamil, piṭippu (‘catch’). In Hindustani music such a motif is called a pakaḍ (also ‘catch’) for the rāga or, in a more Sanskritized fashion, its mukhyāṅga (‘chief part’) or the rāgāṅga (‘part [that shows the] rāga’).

The number of rāgas in practical use both in Hindustani and Karnatak music is of the order of a couple of hundred, so that every rāga is itself an element in a larger system. The recognizability of a rāga may turn on one or more of a number of heterogeneous factors of different orders of abstraction: these include intervallic structure (scale-type), prominent and transitory pitches, a particular way of ornamenting one or more scale degrees, characteristic motifs, characteristic tessitura or pace, etc. Such factors in turn are perceived in terms of contrasting possibilities: two rāgas may have the same intervallic structure but different predominant notes or characteristic motifs; another two rāgas may share melodic configurations but differ in intervallic structure. Sometimes a whole group of rāgas shares some distinctive common melodic material, while at the same time each individual rāga has its own distinguishing features.

(b) Non-structural aspects.

The word rāga itself points to the importance of non-structural aspects of the concept. It derives from the Sanskrit root rañj, ‘to be coloured, to redden’, hence ‘to be affected, moved, charmed, delighted’. As a noun, rāga is that quality of an object that arouses feeling or delight, and in early literature it refers in a non-technical sense to the beauty of a song, its ‘passion’. Only from Mataṅga (8th–9th century) onwards is it used in a technical sense to denote a melodic construct or melody-type. The aesthetic impact of such a melody-type, its ability to delight the hearer, is attributed to the particular notes and melodic movements that render it distinct from all other melody-types. Thus the term implies the prime importance of aesthetic effect, but this is considered to be inseparable from melodic individuality.

Aesthetic and extra-musical aspects of rāga have been, and remain, profoundly important in Indian culture. They have included supernatural powers over the physical universe and associations with particular divinities, human characters, seasons, and times of day. The earliest associations were with drama, since music played a central part in ancient Indian theatre. In the Bṛhad-deśī (see §II, 2(i)(a) above) certain rāgas were prescribed to introduce particular sections of a drama or particular characters, scenes, situations, and rasa (aesthetic flavour; see §7 below). When the theory and practice of music became gradually divorced from drama, more esoteric associations were put forward. These included the association of each rāga with a presiding deity (13th century, Saṅgīta-ratnākara), leading to its further identification as a deity, male or female (14th century,Kalpasūtra). Consequently, many rāgas bear the names of deities and are still sometimes believed to present themselves as spirits or jinns to the musician when correctly performed. From the 16th century, however, a secularization of this concept occurred, especially at the Mughal and Rājput courts, whereby rāgas were associated with the literary typology of erotic heroes and heroines (nāyaka and nāyikā) rather than with deities. Male rāgas and female rāgiṇī were accordingly depicted as persons or tableaux in Sanskrit verses (rāga-dhyāna) and sets of miniature paintings (rāga-mālā; see §II, 3(iii) above).

The belief that rāgas can exercise power over the physical world, as well as or instead of the aesthetic one, is perhaps an extension of their earlier identification as divinities. The power of rāga Dīpak to produce fire and of Malhār to produce rain, for example, are recurrent themes in the mythology of Indian music. Some musicians attribute therapeutic properties to rāgas, each being beneficial for specific physiological or mental ailments. In the absence of any universally recognized, authoritative definition of the rāgas, the ability to produce magical or therapeutic effects is sometimes claimed by or attributed to musicians as a means of confirming the validity of their tradition.

The association of rāgas with particular times of day or seasons of the year is still particularly strong in Hindustani music. Each rāga is attributed to one of the eight pahar or divisions of the day and night, and/or to one of the six seasons (ṛtu), and will normally be performed at or near its proper time and in the correct sequence relative to other rāgas. This association may derive from temple music, where rāgas are sung to accompany the cycle of daily rituals and seasonal festivals.

While it is often assumed that the aesthetic and other associations attributed to rāgas are dependent on the structural characteristics by which the rāgas are defined, the link between the two realms remains elusive. A number of inconclusive attempts have been made to verify traditional rāga associations experimentally, for instance by playing samples of various rāgas to subjects and eliciting verbal responses (e.g. Deva, 1981). Bhatkhande had some success in linking the performance times of Hindustani rāgas with their scale-types and the position of the vādī, but anomalies remain. The fact that many rāgas have changed in structure over the centuries but have retained earlier time-associations suggests that structural and non-structural aspects are not directly interdependent. Rather, each rāga has aesthetic and extra-musical associations that are triggered in the knowledgeable listener’s mind by its correct rendition according to the current concept of its structure.

(c) Origins, number and change.

Rāgas are traditionally considered to be apauruṣa, ‘non-human’, in origin. Mythology attributes them, for example, to the five heads of Śiva, the patron deity of music, and his consort Pārvatī, or to the songs sung in praise of Kṛṣṇa by his 16,000 milkmaid consorts (gopī). Sources from the Bṛhad-deśī onwards attribute the origin of the rāgas to the earlier system of jāti (themselves created by Brahma) by processes of variation and mixture. However, the names of many early rāgas imply an origin in regional (deśī) musics, including the musics of ‘tribal’ peoples (e.g. Toḍī, Śabarī) and foreign invaders (e.g. Śaka, Turuṣka-(‘Turkish-’)gauḍa). Many rāga names still suggest regional or ethnic origins, even (since the Muslim period) in areas outside India (e.g. Yaman, Hijāz).

The number of rāgas in existence cannot be defined exactly. A traditional number is 36, deriving from the medieval rāga-rāgiṇī systems, but the actual number has probably always been greater. As an example, 260 were classified by the 13th-century theorist Śārṅgadeva. For Hindustani music, Bhatkhande gives 186 in his Kramik pustak-mālikā (1953–5), but in that tradition a performing musician will have a working repertory of approximately 40 or 50 rāgas. Kaufmann lists some 2000 Karnatak rāgas (1976), compiled from various sources, but again the working repertory of an individual musician would be considerably less than this.

Uncertainty as to the total number of rāgas is due partly to the absence of any single authoritative source, written or oral, and partly to changes in the repertory as new rāgas are introduced and old ones forgotten. The ideology of rāga exercises a check on the creation of new rāgas, however, since they are considered to be of divine rather than human origin and, according to some, all viable rāgas exist already. The invention (or discovery) of certain rāgas is attributed to or claimed by particular musicians, and in the south, rāgas have been created to exploit all the 72 scalar possibilities of the melakarta system (of which only 19 were in use in the 17th century). But many ‘new’ rāgas are in fact combinations of elements from existing ones. Another method of introducing novelty without presuming on divine prerogative is to import Karnatak rāgas or scale-types into Hindustani music, or vice versa (see §(v) below). In the north, each gharānā has a number of ‘secret’ (acchop) rāgas that, although claimed to be old, are in effect new when first revealed in public (Neuman, 1980).

Out of respect for the divine origins of rāga, many musicians also hold that individual rāgas are not susceptible to change but are still performed (by those who know them correctly) in their original forms. Documentary evidence shows that although some significant continuities can still be traced between modern and earlier rāga forms, profound changes have occurred. Many rāgas have changed their scale-type or have generated variants in different scale-types, as the difference in scale-type between many similarly named Hindustani and Karnatak rāgas suggests. Such changes have been attributed in part to the combination of attributes from different rāgas (Powers, 1970) and in part to the inherent asymmetry of musical scales, which may have induced musicians to make compensatory adjustments in scale-type, melodic movement, intonation, ornamentation, etc. (Jairazbhoy, 1971).

(ii) Historical development of rāga systems.

The term rāga occurs in the Nāṯyaśāstra only in its non-technical sense of ‘passion’. The term for melody-type or modal category in that source is jāti, ‘class’. A jāti was distinguished from the grāma pitch-collections and the mūrcchanā scales on which it was based (see §1(ii)(a) above) by the attribution of special functions to particular svara. These functions included graha, the initial note; aṃśa, the predominant note; nyāsa, the final note; and apanyāsa, a note or notes on which intermediate cadences might fall. In addition, particular svara might be frequent (bahutva) or infrequent (alpatva), and melodic movements between certain svara were specified. The primary or ‘pure’ (śuddha) form of each jāti was heptatonic, and the same svara served as both predominant and final. However, each jāti also admitted a number of variants (vikṛta), in which specified svara other than the final could serve as predominant, and one or two specified svara might be omitted. The jāti was thus a modal category under which a number of related melody-types, not individually named or identified, might be classified.

Some clue as to the origins of the jāti, and their relationship with later modal systems, may be provided by their names. The seven ‘note-born’ (svara-jā) jāti, considered to form a primary set, are each named after the svara that is their final (e.g. Ṣāḍjī, with ṣaḍja as final). They form a sub-system in which scale-type, as defined by the final, is the primary criterion of classification. The remaining 11 ‘mixed’ (saṃsargajā)jāti are explained as combinations of two or more primary jāti. Since several of the mixed jāti have the same final, scale-type is no longer the sole criterion of classification, and these jāti begin to resemble melody-types. Some of their names hint at regional origin (thus Ṣaḍjodīcyavā, ‘northern Ṣaḍja’ etc.).

A number of sources from the middle of the first millennium ce, including a passage in the Chinese Sui History referring to the late 6th century and the Kuḍumiyāmalai inscription in south India dating from the 7th or 8th century, refer to a different set of seven melody-types, to which the term grāma-rāga became attached. By the time of Mataṅga (8th–9th century) these formed the basis of an extended repertory of 32 grāma-rāga together with numerous variants called ‘dialects’ (bhāṣā). These early rāgas are defined using terms borrowed from the jāti system (aṃśa,nyāsa, etc.), but the alternatives inherent in the jāti are not allowed. Each rāga comprises a specific and unique combination of structural characteristics, to which its unique aesthetic effect is attributed. A number of the grāma-rāga bear names suggesting an origin in northern regions of the subcontinent, while the bhāṣā include names referring to peoples and places from both the north and the south (Widdess, 1993). The basis of classification was now performance style (gīti); as with the mixed jāti, scale-type was not a criterion.

By the 12th century the old grāma-rāga were no longer used in concert music, though they continued to be described and illustrated with notated examples in theoretical works. The current repertory became known as the deśī (‘provincial’) rāgas, of which some were based on earlier grāma-rāga or bhāṣā, some were hybrid forms, and some originated in local traditions. The Saṅgīta-ratnākara (13th century) classifies rāgas according to their place in a quasi-genealogical paradigm: grāma giving rise to jāti, giving rise to grāma-rāga, giving rise to bhāṣā and deśī-rāga. But the earlier generations of this paradigm were abandoned by most later authors, since they had long ceased to be relevant in practice. The Saṅgīta-makaranda (attributed to Nārada, ?14th century) classifies the rāgas according to various criteria: performance time (morning, midday, or night), number of pitches (five, six, or seven), threefold gender (male, female, or neuter), twofold gender (eight male rāgas with three ‘wives’ each) and degree of ornamentation (much, moderate, or none, a throw-back to the gīti classification of grāma-rāga). Note that scale-type is not treated as a basis for rāga classification at this period.

Various male-female rāga systems (mata) were current in different regions of north India during the 16th to 18th centuries, and some were popular with painters of rāga-mālā (see §II, 3(iii) above). A common pattern comprised six male rāgas each with five female rāgiṇī, totalling 36, to which sons (putra) could be added. There is little evidence that these systems were based on any scalar similarity between a rāga and its dependants.

Scale-type as an aspect of rāga definition and classification was introduced by Rāmāmātya (c1550) and became the standard method of classification in the south. However, Rāmāmātya also classified rāgas according to their potential for melodic development in ālāpa and prabandha compositions. The Caturdaṇḍī-prakāśikā of Veṅkaṭamakhin (17th century) expanded the number of theoretical scale-types to 72, but only 19 were required for classifying the rāgas then current. In later Karnatak music scale-type has become the overriding criterion of classification, such that the principal rāga in each scale-type is called the ‘parent’ (janaka) and the others its ‘children’ (janya), and rāgas have been developed in all the 72 scale-types of Veṅkaṭamakhin’s system.

From the 16th century onwards some Hindustani treatises advocated scalar definition and classification on the model of the southern scale-type system, while others clung to rāga-rāgiṇī typology (see §II, 3(iv) above). The latter is now obsolete, but Hindustani musicians vary in their attitude to scalar classification, some accepting Bhatkhande’s ṭhāṭ system, others not. An alternative northern approach to typology associates rāgas in groups or ‘rāga-families’ (rāg-kul), where each group comprises variant or related rāgas characterized by shared melodic features but not necessarily a shared scale. The continuing importance of motivic relationships between rāgas has been discussed in historical and contemporary contexts by Powers (1970).

(iii) Rāga in Hindustani music.
(a) Development of rāga theory.

Theoretical writing on rāga in Hindustani music has addressed both the identification and analysis of the characteristic features of individual rāgas and the elucidation of structural principles that underlie the rāga system as a whole. The latter endeavour tends to take scalar structure as its starting-point, while the former is more concerned with melodic motifs and emphases, registers, ornamentation, and ‘intonation’ in the broadest sense.

The most influential formulation of contemporary Hindustani rāga theory is that of V.N. Bhatkhande. He postulated a number of structural characteristics that he claimed were common to most Hindustani rāgas: each rāga employs at least five of the seven svara; the svara ma or pa is always present, in addition to the system tonic sa; two pitch positions of the same svara, e.g. śuddha and tīvra ma, may not occur consecutively; the vādī is the most important svara of the rāga, supported by a secondary important svara, the samvādī, normally a consonant 4th or 5th distant; the vādī is located in the upper tetrachord (uttarāṅg) in morning rāgas, the lower tetrachord (pūrvāṅg) in evening rāgas.

There are exceptions to all these ‘rules’, some of which Bhatkhande acknowledged. In particular, the identification of one svara in each rāga as vādī is controversial. In many rāgas there are more notes than one that could be regarded as vādī, and it follows that the connection between the performance time of a rāga and the position of vādī, though it often holds good, is also open to question. Bhatkhande’s concept of vādī in fact fuses two concepts from ancient theory, consonance (saṃvāda) and predominant function (aṃśa).

Bhatkhande reduced the scalar structures of Hindustani rāgas to ten ṭhāṭ (see §1(iii) above) and proceeded on this basis to classify and describe the individual rāgas. His verbal descriptions are brief and limited to a few salient features: the ṭhāṭ, the number of degrees taken in ascent and descent (for which he revived the ancient term jāti in a new sense), the vādī and saṃvādī, characteristic ornaments or pitch sequences, the appropriate time of performance, the aesthetic ethos (rasa), etc. These and similar definitions by other authors have become the stock-in-trade of institutional musical pedagogy. However, Bhatkhande was careful to acknowledge variant interpretations that he had encountered in oral tradition. His definitions are furthermore extensively illustrated with examples in notation. He himself composed simple outlines showing the ascending and descending lines within an octave (āroh-avaroh), more elaborate sequences of phrases (svar-vistār) such as might be performed in an ālāp, and short didactic compositions intended to embody the essential features of the rāga (lakṣaṇ-gīt). Bhatkhande also presented numerous vocal compositions in each rāga, representing the genres dhrupad, dhamār, khayāl,ṭhumrī, tarānā, etc. (see §5(iii) below). These compositions, which fill the pages of his six-volume compilation Kramik pustak-mālikā (1953–5), were taken down from a number of eminent musicians representing different branches of the oral tradition. Although the source of individual compositions is not given, differences in detail can be seen between the compositions in some rāgas that reflect the diversity of the oral tradition and the absence of any single authoritative version. This anthology, as a record of the vocal repertory current in the first half of the 20th century and as material for analysis of the Hindustani rāga system, is an unparalleled achievement.

Drawing on Bhatkhande’s pioneering work, N.A. Jairazbhoy (1971, 1972) developed a holistic analysis of the relationship between the surface characteristics of individual rāgas and the underlying structure of the scales that they employ. He analysed the tonal relationships within each basic scale in terms of consonance or dissonance with the drone, and parallel interval-sets in disjunct and conjunct tetrachords (ascending sama,pasa and descending sapa, pare respectively). The melodic characteristics of individual rāgas and groups of rāgas, including alternative notes, staggered scales, oblique melodic movement, the position of vādī and samvādī, compass, and exceptional intonation, were interpreted as strategies for exploiting and concealing the symmetries and asymmetries of their underlying scales. The same hypothesis has been used to explain changes in the scale structure of rāgas since the 16th century, but the focus of Jairazbhoy’s work is on system-wide musical and historical processes rather than individual rāgas.

One of Bhatkhande’s principal critics, the singer and educationist Omkarnath Thakur, drew attention to inconsistencies and arbitrariness in Bhatkhande’s ṭhāṭ system, which Thakur regarded as unnecessary and misleading. He favoured a classification of rāgas into groups based on melodic characteristics rather than scales, and sought to link these groups with the jāti system of the Nāṯyaśāstra. But the main achievement of his six-volume textbook Saṅgītāñjali was his unprecedentedly detailed analysis of performance practice in individual rāgas, and of the subtle but crucial distinctions to be observed between rāgas.

Thakur’s exceptional insight into rāga relationships provided a basis for several of H.S. Powers’s publications, in which rāga is treated as a melodic form (svarūp) rather than as a scale-based construct. Like Jairazbhoy, Powers (1970) advances historical evidence for his hypothesis, arguing that similarly named rāgas in Hindustani and Karnatak music differ in scale owing to historical divergence but embody similar melodic features, such as emphasized pitches, characteristic progressions, motifs, formulae, registers, and ornaments. He also analysed the structural meanings invested in melodic formulae that identify particular rāgas or groups of rāgas, drawing on linguistic theory as well as Thakur’s concept of rāga relationships (1976). A comparative evaluation of Bhatkhande’s and Thakur’s approaches to rāga theory was published in 1992.

(b) Hindustani rāgas in practice.

The rāga Darbārī Kānaḍā illustrates many of the features of Hindustani rāga theory and practice. Its importance in the current repertory, its especially clear surface features and underlying structure and its close links with other rāgas make it a classic case. The underlying scale is one in which intervallic parallelism exists between the conjunct descending tetrachords c–b♭–a♭–g and g–f–e♭–d (the tonic is represented by convention as c).

While this structure is common to several rāgas, the parallelism is particularly emphasized in Darbārī Kānaḍā. It is reflected, for example, in Bhatkhande’s identification of d and g, at the bases of the parallel tetrachords, as vādī and samvādī respectively. Others regard a♭ and e♭, which are also important in the rāga, as vādī and samvādī. Both these notes are treated with a wide, slow oscillation that is distinctive for the rāga, but they can also both be omitted in certain contexts. The reason for the oscillation may be both structural and aesthetic. The pitch a♭ is conspicuously not consonant with the prominent pitch d, and Jairazbhoy (1971) suggests that the wide oscillation implies an a♮ or compensates for its absence. At the same time the gravity of these oscillations contributes to the serious (gambhīra) ethos of the rāga, which is also reflected in a slow pace and a concentration on the lower registers.

Fig.3 shows in outline the principal routes by which melodies in this rāga may ascend and descend from the lower tonic to the upper octave and back (the tonic, sa, is notated by convention as c). First, the simplest possible octave ascent-descent (āroh-avaroh) is shown and the underlying scalar parallelism indicated. The ascent and descent are then set out separately and in more detail. The ascending line divides into parallel segments, a1 and a2. The first ascends directly from the tonic to f, from which point it can return to d (skipping the e♭), or continue upwards to g. In the upper segment (a2) the melody ascends in like manner from f to c′ (or g). The oscillation on e♭ is echoed by that on a♭. There is also a lesser oscillation on b♭ and a tendency to sharpen this note when it functions as a leading-note to the upper tonic. This sharpening may also be applied to the corresponding degree in the lower segment, f, when it leads to g.

In contrast to the relatively direct ascent, the descending line is highly convoluted (vakra). Again there are two parallel segments, indicated as d1 and d2. The ascent d1 features the oblique movement c′–a♭–b♭–g with the characteristic Darbārī oscillation again on a♭; the parallel movement in the lower segment is g–e♭–f–d. An alternative in this segment is shown at d3 (in fig.3b), where the movement e♭–f is replaced by the corresponding interval of the upper tetrachord, a♭–b♭, transposed into the octave below (mandra). The beginning of the descent in d1 is often embellished as shown at y1. However, the resulting line b♭–c′–d′–a♭ cannot be reproduced exactly in the lower segment without introducing an a♮ that is foreign to the rāga (thus f–g–a♮–e♭). Instead, the configuration in y2 is f–g–b♭–e♭, omitting the a♭ altogether. A tendency to omit this note and its counterpart e♭ is also reflected in the alternative ascending configurations shown at a3 and a4.

The octave ascent-descent pattern of a rāga constitutes a basic model that is realized in melody in an infinite variety of ways. Ex.1 shows the beginning of a vocal ālāp (see §3 (ii)(a) and (b) below) in rāga Darbārī Kānaḍā. It shows a first unfolding of the rāga, which in accordance with the serious ethos of this rāga takes place in the lowest octave of the vocal range (mandra), working downwards from the middle to the lower tonic. The descending configurations are therefore heard first in this example. Ascending phrases then follow, returning to the starting-point. The identity of Darbārī Kānaḍā is established by the phrase y1, and confirmed shortly afterwards by d1. The remaining descending and ascending configurations set out in fig.4 appear in due course. In both descent and ascent the arrival at the fifth (pa, g) is an important resting-point, marking the division between segments d1 and d2, a1 and a2. In the descending phase this resting-point is delayed by returning from a♭ to c several times. Similarly the conclusion of the ascending phase at the end of the example is extended by repeated delays of the final return to the tonic. The exposition of any rāga in the same style and register could follow a similar course.

Ex.2 shows the same rāga rendered as a slow khayāl (see §5(iii) below) in the 12-beat time-cycle Ektāl. As in all compositions, the rāga is articulated in two contrasting registers, lower and higher, in the two sections of the melody, sthāyī and antarā respectively. Appropriately for this rāga, the tessitura of the first section is very low, emphasizing the strong pitch d and its consonant G in the lower (mandra) register, as well as the tonic and the characteristically oscillated a♭. At the end of this section the oscillated e♭ is introduced for the first time. The second section emphasizes the same material an octave higher, rising to the upper tonic and peaking on d above that. It covers the whole of the middle octave in descent and ascent before returning to the low register of the sthāyī. The characteristic Darbārī flavour is at its richest in the passages ‘rī māī’ in the sthāyī (cf fig.4, y1/d1) and ‘tāke rośana’ in the antarā (y2/d2), where the distinctive pitch-sequences of the rāga are enhanced by the introductory flourish (tān) using heavy shakes (gamak), the slow oscillation of e♭ and a♭, and the sliding fall b♭–g or f–d. The final return to the register of the sthāyī at ‘aura’ (d1, d2) epitomizes the descending line of the rāga. The alternative form of ascent, in which e♭ and a♭ are omitted (a3, a4), appears in the low register at ‘pīra mero’ of the sthāyī, where it prepares a high point at the introduction of e♭ at ‘sā̃co’. The same ascent in the antarā register at ‘cahū̃’ prepares the subsequent fall back to a♭ and e♭ in ‘aura’. A simpler example of the same sthāyīantarā structure in this rāga is shown in ex.3a.

Ex.2 Bada khayal in darbari–

View large

Darbārī is related to a number of other rāgas belonging to the Kānaḍā group. Aḍānā is almost identical to Darbārī in terms of its pitch material, except that a♭ is more often omitted. What chiefly distinguishes it, as can be seen in ex.4a, is its rapid tempo and predominantly high register, as opposed to the slow tempo and low register of Darbārī. Other members of the same group differ in tonal material, differences that are interpreted by Jairazbhoy in terms of the underlying scale (fig.4). The substitution of a♭ in Darbārī and Aḍānā for a♮ in Sughrāī and Śahānā eliminates a tritone relationship between a and e♭, which is addressed in Sūhā and Śahānā by oblique movement and in Nāyakī Kānaḍā by omitting a altogether. A tendency to omit both a and e may be noted in all these rāgas. Powers’s analysis of the same group (1981) stresses the motivic similarities that establish their relationship. Thus the phrase e♭–f–d is common to all and is the Kānaḍā aṅg (see below) of the Kānaḍā group of rāgas (see Mode, §V, 3, ex.37). The descending intervals b♭–g and f–d are also common to all and are shared with another group of rāgas, the pentatonic Sārangs; hence it is said that the Kānaḍās have the tinge or ‘reflection’ (chāyā) of Sārang.

Related rāgas of the Kānaḍā group: descending scale patterns (after Jairazbhoy, 1971)

View large

Like the Kānaḍās, the Sārang family includes rāgas with different scale-types (fig.5), but all are pentatonic (1 2 4 5 7), all are midday rāgas, and all have the characteristic descending motif f–d–(c–d)–B–c. The use of both sevenths and both fourths can be understood in the light of leading-note functions and tetrachordal balance. Thus the tendency in all Sārangs to sharpen b♭ in ascent to c′ is transferred in Śuddh Sārang to f in parallel contexts.

Rāgas of the Sārang group

View large

A rāga can be viewed in terms of individual pitches and scale-type or in terms of melodic motifs and other sequences of pitch. The term aṅg (‘limb’) is used in both senses. It can mean a tetra- or pentachordal segment of a scale, as in Bhatkhande’s usage, or a melodic phrase, as in mukhyāṅga or rāgāṅga (the identifying phrase of a rāga). Similarly pūrvāṅg and uttarāṅg (literally ‘prior’, and ‘consequent’ or ‘higher’ aṅg) can mean the tetrachords sama and pasa respectively, or they can refer to more loosely defined, overlapping pitch-areas within which the characteristic phrases of the rāga evolve. The concept of pūrvāṅg and uttarāṅg in the latter sense is illustrated in exx.3–5.

Ex.4 Razakhani gat in adani and puriya ragas; drut tin–tal (Vandhyopadhyay, 1957)

View large

In the Pūriyā compositions (exx.3b, 4b and 5) the opening phrase of the sthāyī establishes the characteristic thematic configurations based on the motifs f♯–e–d♭–c and B–d♭–c, in the pūrvāṅg range B–f♯ (extended to the next available note in each direction, a), and emphasizing the vādī-samvādī pair B and e. In ex.2 the continuation of the sthāyī expands one degree upwards to b. In exx.3b and 4b the extension is downwards one degree to f♯. The interval f♯–a functions as a single degree step because Pūriyā has no g. Thematically the pūrvāṅg also includes the motifs B–d♭–e and its usual variant B–d♭–f♯–e; f♯–a–e–f♯–e; and at its highest and lowest points e–f♯–a–b and f♯–a–b. In the extension to the upper d♭′ at the end of the third measure of ex.4b, the upper c′ is scrupulously avoided (although c is an important note in Pūriyā); this is so that uttarāṅg material is not anticipated.

The antarā sections of the Pūriyā examples establish the uttarāṅg material: the rising f♯–a–b–c′ (the strong upper c′ is part of the rāga as well as a requirement of the uttarāṅg in this case); the descending b–d♭′–b–(a)–f♯–a–e; and again the vādī-samvādī pair b and e are established as principal degrees. The antarā all conclude by turning back towards pūrvāṅg material in order to return smoothly to the beginning of the sthāyī. (For further discussion and examples see Mode, §V, 3(iii–iv), exx.35 and 36.)

(iv) Rāga in Karnatak music.

The features of Hindustani rāgas discussed above are also found in Karnatak rāgas, but they are often less obvious, either in analysis or to the ear. South Indian theory provides relatively little in the way of analytical terminology and categories for rāga, and close description is not really needed for teaching south Indian rāgas. In Hindustani music, fixed compositions play a relatively small role in concert performing practice, and detailed analysis and description of the rules and procedures of a rāga are extremely helpful to a student. In Karnatak music, conversely, compositions play a major role in the concert repertory, and a practising musician will be able to sing many compositions in each of the major rāgas. The materials of a rāga are informally induced from the repertory of pieces. Little need be given in the way of formal description beyond the ārohaṅa-avarohaṅa and a few characteristic phrases, with such descriptions acting as a reminder of what is already known from the compositions. Scale theory has monopolized the attention of south Indian musicians from the mid-19th century onwards, and musicians have been much more interested in working out and naming as rāgas the scale degree sequences used in Tyāgarāja’s kīrtanam compositions, and in creating new (‘apūrva ’) rāgas, than in concentrating on the foundations of those that are traditionally important.

In addition, the underlying patterns within individual rāgas are often covered by the south Indian system of ornaments. More often than not the configuration of an ornamented degree in performance is a function of the place of the pitch class in the scale-type rather than of the svara in the rāga melodic type. For example, in both Hindustani and Karnatak Toḍī rāgas the principal degrees are e♭ and a♭. Generally in Karnatak music a prolonged e♭ in the region of f is sung as a wide shake from above (f–e♭♭). A prolonged a♭ in the region of g is sung as a narrow shake from below (g–a♭). Although these two scale degrees occur in any number of parallel configurations in Karnatak Toḍī, their differences on the surface, because of their contrasting ornamentation, obscure those parallels. In Hindustani Toḍī, the pitches of both e♭ and a♭ are clearly intoned in their contexts, and their relationship is more audibly apparent.

Exx.6–9 are based on transcriptions from recordings of compositions in three south Indian rāgas all using the same scale-type, mela no.28 (c d e f g a b♭). Only the basic melodies are shown; ex.6 in particular has a long succession of variations on the first line, which have been omitted here. (For the ornament signs see §3(i)(b) below and ex.10.)

Exx. 6 and 7 are both in rāga Nāṭa-kurañjī. Much of the basic pūrvāṅg material of the rāga is heard in the opening sections of the compositions, called pallavi (corresponding to the sthāyī of Hindustani compositions). The syllables ‘manasu-viṣaya naṭa-vidulak’ o-’ in ex.6 and ‘sura-vinutam candra-tārā sutam bu-’ in ex.7 are set to virtually the same music. Descent in the pūrvāṅg is illustrated in ‘ō-manasa’ in ex.6 and ‘budham āśrayāmi’ in ex.7. Uttarāṅg material establishing the upper tonic occurs in the two anupallavi (contrasting sections corresponding to Hindustani antarā), set to the words ‘(tana talup’) okar’iṇṭiki nīgi’ in ex.6 and ‘(budha) janair veditam/bhūsurair moditam’ in ex.7. A descent confined entirely within the uttarāṅg is illustrated in ‘tā gukkalu dōlu’ in ex.6. Full returning descent through uttarāṅg and pūrvāṅg together is seen in its simplest form (c–b♭–a–f–e–c) in ‘mahanīya sampa(dam)’ in ex.7; this is the form in which the Nāṭa-kurañjī avarohaṇa (descent) is usually given.

The more complex and slower-paced form of descent is seen in ‘galgun’ ō manasa’ and ‘rītigād’ā?’ in ex.6. In these two phrases of the example the ‘actual’ performed configuration of the unit f–e–f–d–c is written out. Unlike most ornamentation, this phrase is characteristic for Nāṭa-kurañjī, and it also concretely illustrates several general features of south Indian rāgas. The unit f–e–f–d–c is often construed as e–f–g–e–d–c, because of its realization in performance with a heavy emphasis on the pitches pa and ga to the near suppression of ma; thus ‘ō manasa’ could be construed f–e–d–e–f–g–e–d–c instead of f–e–d–e–f–e–f–d–c. Such a construction, however, obscures the parallelism of the unit f–e–f–d with the unit b♭–a–b♭–g of the uttarāṅga, where the structural degrees and the realized sound are much more alike. The parallelism is further obscured by the fact that f–e–f–d normally goes down to c, while b♭–a–b♭–g, conversely, never descends to f but always leads to a; the setting of ‘o-saṅgitē’ shown in ex.6, where the parallel is really proved, occurs only at this transition into the next line.

Hence the parallelism of the units f–e–f–d and b♭–a–b♭–g, apparent in a reduced transcription, is by no means obvious to the ear in performance. In turn, these two units may be heard as extensions of the couples b♭–a and f–e of the simple descent form, as in ‘mahanīya sampa(dam)’ in ex.7. Much of the more complex structure of Nāṭa-kurañjī is ultimately reducible to elaborations on the obvious parallelism of b♭–a and f–e.

A similar instance may be seen in the pallavi and anupallavi of ex.8a: ‘gītārthamu saṅ …’ and ‘sītā-pati cara …’. Although superficially their contours are quite different, especially in the rhyming syllables ‘gītā’ and ‘sītā’, the reduction shows that the underlying configurations are parallel, based on the descents f–e–d–(c) and b♭–a–g–(f) followed by the ascents d–f–g and g–b♭–c′ respectively. The parallel descents f–e–d and b♭–a–g are particularly characteristic for Sūraṭī rāga, and may be even more obviously seen in ‘hari-hara’ beginning the caraṇam (ex.8b) and in ‘gītānandamu’ concluding the first line of the pallavi (ex.8a).

The rāga Sūraṭī is one of the few whose scale pattern is shared by another important Karnatak rāga. Both Sūraṭī and Kedāragaula (ex.9) are auḍava (pentatonic) in ascent: neither may proceed d–e–f–g and g–a–b♭–c′, but only d–f–g and g–b♭–c′ (in Sūraṭī g–b♭–a–b♭ is also possible). Likewise, both are sampūrṇa (full) in the descent. Nonetheless, Sūraṭī and Kedāragaula are impossible to confuse; each has striking features in complete contrast with the other.

The jīva-svara (‘life svara ’) of Sūraṭī is b♭, characteristically approached from below, dwelt upon with gentle shakes, surrounded by turns, and returned downwards to g, as in ‘vātātmajuniki’ and ‘vara tyāgarāja’ of the concluding lines of anupallavi and caraṇam in exx..8a and b. Descents move stepwise (structurally) between b♭ and d, as in ‘gītānandamu’ (pallavi) and ‘hari-hara bhāskara’ (caraṇam). The rāga does not rise often into the upper octave, and it should not go below b♭. The notes a and e are not only absent in ascent but weak in descent, especially the e.

Kedāragaula has a much more bravura character than Sūraṭī. It rises often into the high register and stays there: ‘vēṇul’ ella’ in the anupallavi of ex.9 is the characteristic phrase, establishing the jīva-svara ri, just as ‘vātātmajuniki’ establishes b♭ in Sūraṭī (in ex.8). The d is elaborated by heavy shakes from e, and e in Kedāragaula is frequently brought out strongly (almost always as upper neighbour to d), as in ‘vēṇul’ ella dṛṣṭi tsuṭṭi’ and ‘gāvalan’ē’ of ex.9; in Sūraṭī the pitch e is normally nearly inaudible. Kedāragaula has parallel phrases in the descent, as in ‘vēyutsu mrōkutsu rāga’, but they are broader in range than those in Sūraṭī, and executed not with small and gentle tremolos but with sparkling odigiṃpu (for a written-out version of the anupallavi of ex.9, see ex.10(iv)(b)).

(v) Hindustani and Karnatak rāgas.

Despite differences in repertory, theoretical concepts, performing practice, tonal production, and general style, there are many kinds of relationship between individual rāgas in Hindustani and Karnatak music. Comparisons are usually made between rāgas with common scale-types – Karnatak Toḍī with Hindustani Bhairavī, Karnatak Bhairavī with Hindustani Āsāvarī (Jaunpurī) – rather than between rāgas with common names – Karnatak and Hindustani Toḍī, Karnatak and Hindustani Bhairavī. Certainly scale and name sometimes go together, as in the case of Hindustani Kalyān and Karnatak Kalyāṇī. A statistical study of these two is included in Chaitanya Deva’s ‘Rāga rūpa’ (1967). Rāgas with the same name in both systems usually use different scale-types. However, although less obvious relationships between such rāgas can almost always be found, they differ from case to case and raise questions about parallel and divergent historical evolution.

Borrowings between the two musics have also taken place since they reached their modern forms. Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar spent five years in Banāras, and a few of his kīrtanam compositions are set in Hindustani rāgas, although they are mostly sung in the Karnatak style. Later in the 19th century several rāgas used in ṭhumrī, notably Hindustani Bhairavī, Kāfī, and Khamāj, were taken up for ‘light’ music in south India and are sung in a conscious imitation of Hindustani musical style. In the 20th century there was some borrowing in the other direction. Most of the importations from Karnatak music into Hindustani music were of rāgas characterized by scalar configurations not otherwise known in the Hindustani tradition, such as the popular pentatonic rāga Hamsadhvani (c–d–e–g–b–c′), or the melakarta scale no.57, Simhendramadhyama (c–d–e– f♯–g–a♭–b–c′).

See also: Mode, §V, 3.

3. Melodic elaboration.

  • Harold S. Powers
  • , revised by Richard Widdess
(i) Ornamentation.

The word gamaka, used as a generic term, is usually rendered ‘ornament’, but the implication that something merely decorative has been added to something more basic is in part misleading. Gamaka, particularly in south India, is a general category covering all aspects of a svara in context, other than its theoretical pitch-position in the general scale. In Hindustani music the word uccār (‘pronunciation’) is very often used in the same sense. Either term designates aspects of attack, prolongation and release. The word gamaka is also used in a narrower and more specific sense to refer to a shake (see below).

The term alaṃkāra (lit. ‘that which makes sufficient’) means ‘ornament’ in all senses (jewellery, literary device, etc.), but in music it has the specific meaning of a decorative motif that can be repeated sequentially up and down the scale, and hence a type of exercise. Alaṃkāra in this sense is an ingredient in the formation of tān in khayāl (see §5(iii)(b) below).

(a) Gamaka in the treatises.

The Nāṯyaśāstra does not distinguish between alaṃkāra and gamaka in the above senses but treats the latter as a case of the former. In the Saṅgīta-ratnākara (13th century) they have become fully distinct, with alaṃkāra defined as a sequence of svara, gamaka as ‘the shaking of a svara that is pleasing to the listener’ (chapter 3, pp.87–97). Śārṅgadeva classifies gamaka according to the speed of the shake (six varieties from fast to slow, plus one of variable speed), voice quality (three varieties), number of pitches the shake is applied to (one or many), and application in ascent or descent. A final ‘mixed’ category makes 15 varieties of gamaka in total. Other kinds of melodic embellishment, falling into neither the alaṃkāra nor the gamaka categories, are included in a now obsolete category sthāya, under which the Saṅgīta-ratnākara lists 96 terms referring to all aspects and styles of the production of sound in music.

Among the 16th- and 17th-century treatises, both the Saṅgīta-pārijāta (Ahobala Paṇdịṭa) and Rāga-vibodha (Somanātha) offer new gamaka systems. Like their scalar constructions, their descriptions of ornaments are based on the fretted vīṇā, but the brief passage describing 19 instrumental gamaka in the Saṅgīta-pārijāta is of little interest compared with the extraordinary and original work of Somanātha in 1609. The fifth chapter of his Rāga-vibodha is meant to present the closest possible written equivalents for the pictorial representations of rāgas so fashionable in his time (see §II, 3(iii) above). To evoke the devatā-rūpa (‘icon form’), Somanātha had only to write a descriptive verse. To match the nāda-rūpa (‘sound form’), however, he had to write a notation that could really evoke musical sounds. From the endless varieties of gamaka and sthāya he selected 20, for which he devised notational symbols he called saṅketa (‘agreement’ or ‘intimation’), to be appended to the svara letters; three more symbols indicated upper octave, lower octave, and conclusions. He described the techniques for producing these vādana-bheda (‘playing varieties’) on the vīṇā, and with their help the lengthy specimens of rāga configurations that he gave can be read.

(b) Gamaka in Karnatak music.

The Saṅgīta-ratnākara’s 15 gamaka were vocal. Modern south Indian gamaka, conversely, are conceived instrumentally, like those of the Saṅgīta-pārijāta and Rāga-vibodha. Vocal gamaka are as far as possible described and illustrated in terms of the plucked and fretted vīṇā as instrument of reference. In the Thanjavur vīṇā tradition of Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar, ‘ten kinds of gamaka’ are mentioned, and two published treatises from about 1800 confirm the ten: the Saṅgīta-sāra-sangrahamu and Vīṇā-lakṣaṇa. In the Saṅgīta-sampradāya-pradarśinī (1904) Subbarāma Dīkṣitar ingeniously incorporated the ten gamaka of this south Indian oral tradition into the 15 of the Saṅgīta-ratnākara and superimposed on them both a threefold classification of his own.ex.10(i)–(iii) illustrates eight of the ten, written with symbols derived from Subbarāma Dīkṣitar’s own and transcribed in an approximation of their sound.

Dīkṣitar’s three main categories were based on means of production or musical function, or both. For consistency, his classification is slightly modified in ex.10. The first category comprises shakes called kampita, produced by holding the playing wire behind the fret and deflecting it out of line across the fret. The musical function of this class is prolongation. In Karnatak music six of the 12 svarasthāna may never be sustained without being shaken, and of the remaining six all but the invariant tonic and 5th (sa and pa) are shaken in many contexts.

The characteristic of the second category is stress; all of its members involve fingering on the frets. The third class is the slides, the principal member of which is jāru. Dīkṣitar included two articulation ornaments in his third class, neither of which, however, is normally produced by sliding. The orika is made by deflection, and odigiṁpu may be fingered or deflected. These last two gamaka (ex.10(ii)(d) and (e)), and the various forms of kampita (ex.10(i)(a)), are what give Karnatak music the quality of being always in motion even at the very slowest tempo. When gamaka is used as a specific rather than a generic term, it means kampita.

(c) Gamaka in Hindustani music.

Whereas Karnatak music hardly ever prolongs a svara without a shake, Hindustani music emphasizes steady and sustained tone. The heavily oscillating āndolan, corresponding to the south Indian kampita, is used only in very special circumstances, such as on the sixth degree of rāga Hamīr (the rāga being thereby identified), on the third and sixth degrees of rāga Darbārī Kānaḍā (see exx.1 and 2 passim), or the third degree of rā̃ga Mīyā kī Mallār. Hindustani music is especially characterized, however, by the mīṇḍ, a slow portamento from one degree to another, like the Karnatak jāru. In an ālāp or slow khayāl in a serious rāga such as Darbārī Kānaḍā, virtually every svara is approached or left with mīṇḍ. On an instrument such as the sitār, mīṇḍ is made by ulṭā mīṇḍ (deflection) or palṭā mīṇḍ (release of a deflected string). The fingerboard is especially wide for just this purpose, and slow mīṇḍ of half an octave or more can be made. The same effect is achieved on unfretted instruments such as the sāraṅgī by sliding along the string (sūt).

The smooth glissando of mīṇḍ and sūt contrasts with the rapid articulation of discrete pitches in krintan (a fingered turn) and ghasīt (the finger slides rapidly along the sitār string touching all the intermediate frets; see §6 below).

The general term in Hindustani music for a single appoggiatura or acciaccatura is kaṇ-svara. The general class of turns is called muṛkī. A chain of mordents on successive svara is called zamzamā.

Hindustani musicians generally use such terms as uccār (‘pronunciation’) rather than gamak to denote how a svara is treated in context. Gamak as a specific ornament in Hindustani music is a fast and heavy shake from each of a number of degrees in passage-work, in which the pitches of the degrees themselves may become ambiguous. Instrumentally the Hindustani gamak is particularly effective on fretless string instruments such as sarod or sāraṅgī, where the sliding left hand can be jerked vigorously from position to position along the wire or string.

Ornamentation is particularly important in Hindustani music as an indicator of stylistic identity. The major vocal genres and their instrumental equivalents are distinguished by their ornamentation (as well as by rhythm and other characteristics). Mīṇḍ, āndolan, and gamak are the principal ornaments in dhrupad; gamak and kaṇ-svara are applied with rapid throat movement in khayāl; muṛkī is the hallmark of ṭhumrī, and zamzamā of ṭappā. Similarly, the bānī of dhrupad and the schools (gharānā) of vocal and instrumental music define their musical identities partly in terms of specific ornaments and other techniques. Thus the sitār/sarod school of Alauddin Khan cultivates both fingered and pulled or sliding ornaments (krintan and mīṇḍ), whereas the school of Vilayat Khan (the Imdād Khān gharānā) has developed pulled/sliding techniques to the virtual exclusion of fingered ornaments.

(ii) Improvisation.
(a) Principles.

Improvisation with the elements of a rāga and within its structural framework plays the major role in performance, although in Karnatak music the rendering of compositions has been taking an ever larger share of total performance time. Improvisation, of course, does not mean assembling individual degrees in random order: even in its most free form it entails combining and elaborating motifs and phrases. Melodic elaboration can take the form of varying and extending a particular phrase, through stretching and compressing of motivic elements and through prefixing, suffixing or inserting motivic elements from within the same phrase or from other phrases. It also entails the combination of different phrase types within a particular register (pūrvāṅg,uttarāṅg, etc.) and their extension into adjacent registers.

There is no single general term for improvisation. Melodic elaboration, whether improvised or not, may be referred to by such terms as ‘discourse’ (ālāpa), ‘expansion’ (vistār, baṛhat), ‘invention, fancy’ (upaj), and by more specific terms for particular techniques. The fundamental principle by which different types of elaboration are distinguished in theory and organized in performance is rhythm: rhythm with or without clear pulse, with or without metre (tāla), and at different tempos and levels of rhythmic density (see §4(i) below). In performance, unpulsed rhythm leads to pulsed, unmetred to metred, and slow to fast (or less dense to more dense). At different stages of the performance different ornaments, vocal or instrumental techniques, and types of melodic and rhythmic improvisation become appropriate. The consequent richness of stylistic variety enables the musician to elaborate a single rāga for an hour or more.

Table 9 summarizes the principal improvisatory styles in relation to their rhythmic organization. The theoretical terms nibaddha and anibaddha respectively denote music that is ‘constrained’ or ‘unconstrained’ by song-text and/or tāla. They correspond to two major categories of improvisation, that which occurs during the rendition of a metrical composition, and that which is independent of both composition and metre. Nibaddha improvisation styles will be discussed in more detail below (see §5(ii)–(iv)). Table 9 not only classifies the repertory of improvisatory styles but also maps their sequential organization in performance. Most genres proceed down the first column (non-metrical improvisation, first without and then with clear pulse), then, after introducing a metrical composition, down the second column. The Hindustani khayāl, though the dominant vocal style in north India, represents an exception in that little attention is normally paid to the first column. The performance usually begins with the composition or with only a short, unpulsed ālāp.

TABLE 9: The principal improvisatory styles of South Asian music

(b) Historical background.

The term ālāpa, meaning a genre of melody designed to exhibit the modal characteristics of a rāga in a systematic manner, and notated ālāpa melodies demonstrating different rāgas, appear in historical sources almost as early as the term rāga (see §II above). Rāga and ālāpa are closely related concepts, for it is through ālāpa (in which there are no metrical or textual constraints on the free flow of melody) that the fine distinctions between different rāgas, and the individual character of each, can be most clearly demonstrated. Notated examples suggest that in early (pre-13th-century) ālāpa, the melodic material of the rāga was expressed as an elaborate octave ascent and descent. This pattern, with some extension in the upper register, could be repeated with different melodic elaborations and in different rhythmic styles.

Although it is stated that the purpose of the ālāpa is to demonstrate all the features of rāga, there is no theoretical discussion of the method of doing so until the Saṅgīta-ratnākara (13th century), where the related term ālapti denotes melodic elaboration in general. It is defined as ‘making clear or manifest, unfolding [the rāga]’ (prakaṭīkaraṇa), and it can be applied to the rāga alone (rāgālapti), or to a composition (rūpakālapti; see §5(ii) below). According to Saṅgīta-ratnākara’s description, rāgālapti comprised four stages, in which four successively higher pitch areas within the octave were developed in turn. Each stage departed from and returned to the tonic (sthāyī). The opening phrase of the first stage was called mukha-cāla, where cāla denotes a movement (of pitch) and mukha means ‘face’ (perhaps implying that part of the rāga by which the whole is recognized). The development of each pitch area focussed on a particular important degree of the rāga: in succession, a note in the lower half of the scale, the fourth or fifth, a note in the upper half of the scale, and the upper tonic. A number of brief examples are given in the Saṅgīta-ratnākara, and it is stated that the same procedure was applied to all rāgas (ex.11). In principle, the note-by-note expansion of melodic range within a central octave remains a fundamental process in Hindustani dhrupad, khyāl, and instrumental ālāp. Śārṅgadeva’s comment on the role of ornamentation and of pitch hierarchy in such improvisation applies equally to modern Hindustani and Karnatak music: ‘The establishment of the rāga should be effected by means of very gradual, clear, circuitous figurations (sthāya), pervaded by the vital notes (jīva-svara) of the rāga’ (chapter 3, p.196).

(c) The exposition of a Hindustani rāga.

Improvised exposition of the rāga ungoverned by a time cycle can be pulsed or unpulsed in both modern traditions. In performance styles other than the Hindustani slow khayāl, the ālāp is rendered without tāla. With Hindustani dhrupad (and usually with khayāl of the Agra gharānā), with the best known Hindustani instrumental styles, and with south Indian pallavi exposition an ālāp always comes first; the rendering of kīrtanam compositions in south Indian concerts is also often preceded by an ālāpana of the composition’s rāga. In Hindustani dhrupad and plucked instrument items a second, pulsed exposition of the rāga follows the ālāp, called nom-tom or joṛ respectively. The south Indian equivalent before a pallavi exposition is tānam. In Hindustani instrumental music joṛ is usually followed by jhālā, rhythmic patterns arising from rapidly striking the playing string and side strings in various patterns.

The Saṅgīta-ratnākara’s description of rāgālapti corresponds very closely in principle with the Hindustani ālāp; this is also true of ālāp in slow khayāl, with the proviso that returns are made to the mukhṛā of a composition and aimed at an arrival point whose timing is controlled by a long time cycle. Given whatever restrictions may ensue in one rāga as opposed to another, the ālāp proceeds as the Saṅgīta-ratnākara says: it is built upwards registrally in sections, returning at the end of each section to the pūrvāṅg, which is marked each time by the mukhṛā, a short pulsed cadential tag, sam dikhāne (‘for showing the sam’). In principle each registrally determined section reaches one svara higher than the previous section.Ex.12 comprises the main part of an ālāp of rāga Pūriyā, along with fragments of joṛ and jhālā (see below), taken from demonstration samples in a modern sitār manual. (To see the structural relationship of this ālāp of Pūriyā to the abstracted configurations of the rāga, see Mode, §V, 3.) Owing to the didactic origins of ex.12, the melodic development is somewhat mechanical, and details of rhythm, articulation, and ornamentation are missing.

Ex.12 Portions of ālāp, jod, and jhālāfor sitār in rāga Pūriyā

View large

The first four sections of ex.12(a) correspond to the first three sections of the Saṅgīta-ratnākara’s description, with section 1 equivalent to mukha-cāla; sections 5 and 6 of ex.12(a) correspond to the Saṅgīta-ratnākara’s section 4. There is a return to the lower tonic at the end of each section, making the ālāp an instance of the ‘back to the beginning’ principle of cyclic organization. Section 4 is particularly interesting in respect to the specific rāga structure and the general procedure of ālāp. It is the section establishing a, in due ascending order of degrees after the vādī degree e (section 2) and f♯ (section 3). Taken by itself and out of context, much of section 4, with its emphasis on a, could suggest the rāga Mārvā (see Mode, §V, 3); only in the last three units, as it approaches its cadence, does the bhāva (‘feeling’) and chāyā (‘image’) of Pūriyā reappear. Two things, however, make this merely a neutral passage in which Pūriyā is temporarily tirobhāv (‘hidden’), rather than a destructive passage making rāga Mārvā ‘manifest’ (āvirbhāv). Firstly, although one of Mārvā’s principal svara (a) is brought forth, Mārvā’s characteristically strong d♭ is very weak here. The d♭ comes briefly at exposed initial positions but only in the middle of sets of progressively expanding approaches to a, from below (units 1 to 5 in section 4), and from above (units 6 to 8; for a comparison see Mode, §V, 3). Secondly, the chāyā and bhāva of Pūriyā has already been fully established in the preceding stages of the ālāp in ex.12, especially in section 2; and the one degree of the scale not used as an emphasized degree in the succession of upwardly extending sections is d♭, the characteristic degree for Mārvā.

It should also be noted that no section leading to a final b is included in the sample. Although b is the second most important degree in Pūriyā (after e), it is not usually an important phrase-final; its significance, rather, is as a phrase-initial, as an upper or lower sustained mid-phrase focus, and as a registral boundary.

Ex.12a demonstrates the two larger divisions of a typical ālāp; sections 1 to 4 establish the pūrvāṅg of the rāga, sections 5 to 6 the uttarāṅg. These larger divisions are often termed sthāyī and antarā respectively, after the sections of a composition, which are similarly distinguished by register (see §5 (i) below). Ex.12a continues with a further section, not shown here, exploring the register below the system tonic (mandra), but in practice this register is normally developed at the beginning of the sthāyī.

Pulsed rāga exposition is illustrated in ex.12b and c. The joṛ is the type called laḍī (‘chain’ or ‘string’), the basic variety, and is always presented first. It is made by building back from an ending; in the section shown here e, f♯–e, and e–f♯–e build to a motif characteristic for the rāga.E–f♯–e then ends each unit until the final, cadential unit brings the line down. The second section follows the same procedure: c,B–c, B–d♭–c sets up a characteristic motif that can then conclude an ever-lengthening sequence of phrases building towards it. A second joṛ variety is guthāv (‘intertwining’), in which a small group of svara adjacent in the rāga (usually three) is permuted in all kinds of combinations; still another variety combines the principles of laḍī and guthāv.

Ex.12c shows two fragments of jhālā, which follows joṛ in the succession of instrumental improvisations without time cycle. It is played with single plucks on the playing string (bāj) followed by one, two, or three strokes at the side drone strings (cikārī). The alternation establishes a simple, recurring rhythmic pattern called a chand, as indicated by the syllables (bol) designating the two kinds of stroke:dā–rā–rā–rā/dā–rā–rā–rā for a simple 4 + 4 pattern, dā–rā–rā/dā–rā–rā/dā–rā for 3 + 3 + 2, these being the two most common chand. Any combination of twos, threes, and fours may be used, however, and modern players make some very complex patterns. The chand may be freely combined, changed, and interrupted, there being no larger time cycle controlling them when jhālā follows immediately upon joṛ. When used to provide a thrilling conclusion to a gat improvisation, jhālā conforms to the 16-beat Tīntāl, which is accelerated to the maximum possible speed.

The vocal equivalent of joṛ is nom-tom, sung in dhrupad ālāp: the pulsed units are sung with a small number of conventional meaningless syllables (ti, ta, ,ra, na, , nom, and tom), and the music is similar in style to joṛ, which was probably modelled on nom-tom. The last stage of nom-tom, equivalent to and probably modelled on the instrumental jhālā, is sung with the syllables ta–na–na–na ra–na–na–na and the like, making fast combinations like an instrumental chand, but with repeated notes. From time to time wide swoops in pitch of the order of an octave, made with closed or nearly closed lips, break the flow; they are onomatopoeically called huṅ-kāra (an old gamaka name coming from the 15 in the Saṅgīta-ratnākara). Other ornaments important in nom-tom include gamaka, lahak,hudak, etc.

(d) The exposition of a Karnatak rāga.

The differences in style between Karnatak and Hindustani music are nowhere more exposed than in ālāpana and ālāp. The stately Hindustani ālāp exhibits individual scale degrees often approached by slow mīṇḍ and, in certain rāgas, sustained with oscillations. The Karnatak ālāpana alternates occasional sustained pitches with other scale degrees prolonged in wide shakes, often preceded by a few short semi-detached notes, the whole interspersed with short bursts of melodic flourish even in slow-paced portions.

A full rāga ālāpana in Karnatak music is also structured somewhat differently in performance from the Hindustani ālāp, although the same basic principles are involved. The early 17th-century Thanjavur treatise Saṅgīta-sudhā described a procedure not quite like that of the Saṅgīta-ratnākara. The samples in the Shahjī manuscripts of the later 17th century confirm the procedures described, and the modern practice is very much the same.

The typical Karnatak ālāpana opens with an ākṣiptikā (‘throwing out’, the vernacular is āyittam), in which a brief overview of several of the basic configurations of uttarāṅg as well as pūrvāṅg is given. In the second stage – rāgavardhanī (‘rāga expansion’) in the Saṅgīta-sudhā– phrases of the pūrvāṅg are first developed as fully as possible as melodic units, expanded, and contracted internally and combined together through rising and falling patterns externally. The second part of this stage moves to the uttarāṅg and establishes the upper octave of the system tonic, building and developing uttarāṅg phrases.

Following the rāga expansion based on melodic elaboration and concatenation comes a second exposition based on approaches to endings, sometimes called vinyāsa-sañcāra (‘end-[marked-]passages’).Vinyāsa-sañcāra is based on the return principle. A short motif is sung, and the approaches to it are progressively lengthened. Vinyāsa-sañcāra is used as the principal area for virtuoso display and comprises three elements: the goal motif; the nearest available sustainable pitch; and ever-longer, ever-wider chains of brikka or phirukka (Hindustani phirnā‘whirl’), melismatic patterns. These may also appear elsewhere but are characteristically developed in this way. Two or three vinyāsa-sañcāra sections are sung in a full Karnatak ālāpana, with particular emphasis on one that allows the nuclear steady pitch to be at the upper tonic or, where the rāga allows it, higher still.

The last section of the ālāpana brings the pitch and intensity level gradually downwards, through melodic motifs of the uttarāṅg and pūrvāṅg, and concludes normally with a few phrases in the mandra (below the system tonic) before coming to rest on the tonic.

Such an ālāpana will normally appear once or twice in a concert. It may precede a kriti composition that is going to be treated as a major item. Traditionally, however, the full ālāpana of a major rāga was presented in connection with the concert item designated rāgam-tānam-pallavi, in which case it would be followed by the pulsed rāga improvisation called tānam. In principle,rāgam-tānam-pallavi is the major item in a programme of Karnatak music, although in modern practice it is often given a lesser role, some kriti earlier in the programme having been given a full complement of prior ālāpana, and adjunct niraval and kalpana svara. The tānam, however, is usually done only in rāgam-tānam-pallavi (see §5(iv) below for discussion of this genre).

South Indian tānam is close to Hindustani nom-tom, given the differences in style; the syllables are tā nam, ta ka nam, ā nan dam, etc. Separate sections of tānam are built in successively higher registral levels, and each is concluded with a short unpulsed passage of ālāpana before the next is begun. The whole tānam concludes with the threefold sequence of a tānam phrase at successively lower pitch levels (usually built around upper tonic, 5th, and lower tonic), followed by a few last phrases of unpulsed ālāpana.

4. Rhythm and tāla.

  • Harold S. Powers
  • , revised by Richard Widdess
(i) Terms for rhythm and metre.

Rhythmic organization is at least as important as melody in characterizing the many styles of Indian classical music. The Hindustani and Karnatak styles are distinguished partly by their rhythmic characteristics, as are the vocal genres of Hindustani music (dhrupad, khayāl, ṭhumrī, etc.) and their instrumental counterparts. An extended performance of a rāga is likely to comprise a sequence of rhythmically differentiated sections, moving from unmetred rhythm to fixed metre (tāla) and from slow tempo to fast.

Fundamental to the discussion of rhythm in Indian musical discourse is the concept of measuring time, usually on the basis of a regular pulse, called mātrā (‘unit of measurement’) in Hindustani music or akṣara (‘syllable’) in Karnatak music. These terms are often rendered in English as ‘beat’ (though this word can be confused with the hand-gestures of tāla) or ‘count’, since the mātrā/akṣara can usually be counted on the fingers during teaching or performance (with some exceptions in very fast or very slow tempo). In general, however, the mātrā/akṣara corresponds most closely to the concept of a ‘beat’ in Western music.

The closest Indian equivalent for the modern Western term ‘rhythm’ is laya. The basic meaning of laya is ‘tempo’, with three basic levels: slow (vilambit[a]), medium (madhya), and fast (drut[a]). A secondary meaning is ‘rhythmic density’, the subdivision of each beat into two or more equal parts, giving the impression of faster tempos. In Hindustani music the tempo of the beat (mātrā) is termed barābar laya, and the beat may be subdivided into two (dugun laya), three (tigun), four (caugun), six (chegun), or eight (āṭhgun). Other laya such as 5:1, 7:1, 4:3 etc. are encountered mostly in instrumental solos. In Karnatak music the terms gati and naṭai similarly denote levels of laya. The normal subdivision of the beat into two or four is called caturaśra (‘four-cornered’) gati/naṭai, while alternative subdivisions are three or six (tiśra), five (khaṇḍa), and seven (miśra gati/naṭai).

Gati (or gata) means ‘pace’ or ‘movement’ and occurs in other senses too. In Hindustani instrumental music a gat is a composition characterized by its ‘movement’, a rhythmic plucking-pattern on the sitār or sarod, or a configuration of rhythmic densities on the tablā. Another term for rhythmic ‘movement’ is cāl, ‘gait’, as in hāthī kā cāl, ‘elephant’s gait’ (the slow rhythm of a dhrupad in Cautāl). Closer to Western ‘metre’ are chand, the term for metre in poetry, which in music denotes a small repeated surface-rhythm pattern (e.g. 3 + 2 + 2), and tāla, a cyclically repeating fixed time cycle.

Most performances begin with an unmetred introduction, even if only consisting of one or two phrases to introduce the rāga (see §3(ii)(c) above). In Hindustani vocal (dhrupad) and instrumental ālāp, and in Karnatak rāgam-tānam-pallavī, this introduction is extended to give a complete exposition of the rāga in several rhythmically differentiated sections. The rhythm of the opening slow ālāp or rāgam appears to be unregulated by a consistent pulse, except in the periodic mohrā formula of ālāp, where an explicit pulsation temporarily resolves the rhythmic ambiguity of the surrounding improvisation. The performer may, however, have a more or less regular pulse in mind throughout. A pulse becomes explicit (and faster) in the medium-tempo ālāp (joṛ) or Karnatak tānam, where irregular groupings of two, three, four, etc. pulses maintain metrical ambiguity and rhythmic interest. Hindustani fast ālāp, which plucked string instruments play in the jhālā style (see ex.12), accelerates the pulse to the maximum technically possible. The grouping of pulses here may again be irregular, but groups of four predominate, and rhythmic patterning (chand) in threes, fives, sevens, etc. may be introduced for variety. There is no Karnatak equivalent of fast ālāp.

The ālāp(ana) is usually followed by a composition and further improvisations set to a particular tāla. Tāla, from Sanskrit tala (‘flat surface, palm’), means a clap or slap and hence the measurement of musical time with the aid of claps and other cheironomic gestures (kriyā). Each particular tāla comprises a number of pulse-beats (mātrā) grouped into a ‘cycle’ (Hindustani āvart, Karnatak āvartanam), defined by an emphasized beat (sam) at the beginning. Audible claps (Hindustani tālī) and silent waves (Hindustani khālī) are used to mark the first and selected other pulses during the cycle, in a set pattern, as an aid to keeping time in teaching and in the performance of certain genres. The disposition of claps at unequal intervals helps to maintain a sense of position within the cycle. In some genres the hand-gestures are replaced in performance by instruments: by small cymbals (appropriately named tāḷam) in the Karnatak nāgasvaram (oboe) ensemble and in many non-classical religious music genres, and by the Hindustani tablā, which plays a set pattern of strokes (ṭhekā, literally ‘support’) based on the theoretical clap-pattern. In khayāl and ṭhumrī the role of the tablā is restricted to playing decorated variants of this ṭhekā, and hand-gestures are therefore unnecessary. In dhrupad the pakhāvaj drum improvises freely, returning to the ṭhekā only occasionally. In this genre, and even more so in Karnatak practice where there is no ṭhekā at all, the hand-gestures are an essential means of articulating the metrical structure and are performed by solo vocalists and/or by members of the audience.

(ii) Historical development of tāla systems.

As with melody, there is an inherited body of rhythmic theory that no longer describes practice but is a source of rhythmic concepts and terminology. Again as with modal theory, the system of ‘canonical’ (mārga) tālas described in the earliest treatises (Nāṭyaśāstra,Dattilam) is distinctively different from that of the ‘provincial’ (deśī) tālas recorded in later texts such as the Saṅgīta-ratnākara. The deśī-tāla provide the basis for the modern tāla systems.

In both historical systems, hand-gestures and/or cymbal strokes, arranged in asymmetrical patterns, were used to articulate rhythmic periods. In the mārga system, an elaborate cheironomic code, using claps (samnipāta) and four different silent gestures, was employed to mark the progress of the saptagītaka, a repertory of sacred song used in the introduction to drama. The complexity of this code may have been necessitated by the extended and complex temporal structures of the saptagītaka, which do not seem to have been organized according to simple metrical cycles or strophic forms.

The mārga-tāla system also included five simple patterns that may have been cyclically repeated in less complex genres such as the dhruvā stage songs. The later deśī-tāla system consisted entirely of such cyclical patterns – the Saṅgīta-ratnākara lists 120 – and the complex cheironomy of the saptagītaka was therefore no longer required.

Both mārga and deśī systems defined the spacing of hand-claps or cymbal strokes using values and terminology derived from poetics. The basic values were laghu (‘light’), guru (‘heavy’, two laghus), and pluta (‘protracted’, three laghus). In the deśī system two shorter values were added, druta (‘fast’, half laghu) and anudruta (‘very fast’, quarter laghu). These shorter values, and the virāma (‘rest’) that extended the previous value by a fraction, enabled the expression of a greater variety of rhythmic proportions than was possible with the three basic values of the mārga system.

Although these prosodic values could be used to express ternary rhythm, the metrical structure of the mārga system was, at another level, exclusively binary. The basic pulse or mātrā, defined as about one second in length, was grouped into metrical units (kalā) comprising two, four, or eight pulses. These units could be combined into larger periods (aṅga, ‘limb’), described as caturaśra (‘four-cornered’) if there were 4, 8, 16, or 32 units, or tryaśra (‘three-cornered’) if there were 6, 12, or 24. Claps and silent hand-gestures were then assigned to specific metrical units according to a variety of patterns. Each pattern could be expanded to double or quadruple length by inserting extra units between those of the original pattern; silent hand-gestures denoted these extra units.

Additive or ‘mixed’ (miśra, saṅkīrṇa) metres comprising five, seven, nine, etc. metrical units were not employed in the sacred hymns and stage songs described by the Nāṯyaśāstra, though they were acknowledged to exist. Such metres are prominent in the deśī tāla system, where the binary kalā is replaced by metrical units of different lengths, expressed by the prosodic values laghu,druta, anudruta, etc. Theorists delighted in cataloguing (and no doubt also inventing) dozens of tālas formed from combinations of these units, some of which must have been ephemeral while others have remained in the repertory more permanently. Even some of the more recherché patterns can still be heard as an occasional tour de force in Hindustani percussion solos or Karnatak rāgam-tānam-pallavi performances.

A limitation of the deśī system was that its basic units still expressed only binary proportions (apart from the rarely used longest unit, the pluta). Units of three, five, etc. could only be expressed by combinations of binary units with or without virāma. In the modern Karnatak tāla system (see below), this limitation has been resolved by making the laghu a variable unit, comprising three, four, five, seven, or nine beats (the druta and anudruta remaining fixed at two beats and one respectively). In the north, the prosodic terminology has been abandoned altogether; metrical units (vibhāg) of two, three, four, and five beats are employed without terminological distinction.

Two further aspects of tāla that are important in the modern traditions can be traced in texts dealing with the deśī-tāla. From the Saṅgīta-ratnākara onwards certain composition types (prabandha, see §5(i) below) were associated with particular tālas, often sharing the same name, as in the modern dhamār and dādrā (see §(iv) below). In later texts, tālas began to be associated with particular configurations of drum syllables, though the concept of ṭhekā emerges fully only in modern Hindustani practice (see below). Despite these theory–practice connections, however, the number of tālas in practical use today, and probably also in earlier times, in any one tradition is very small compared with the innumerable patterns available in theory. A group of seven tālas called sālaga-sūḍa or sūḷādi (named after the sālaga-sūḍa prabandha in which they were used) has had particular importance since the Saṅgīta-ratnākara, surviving in different forms today in the Karnatak ‘formal’ system (see below) and the Newar caryā tradition of Nepal, Kingdom of. A similar set of ten tālas was used for singing dhrupad at the Mughal court in the 16th century or early 17th, according to the song collection Sahasras. While the modern Karnatak sūḷādi system comprises 35 basic tālas, the ‘informal’ system predominantly used in practice comprises at most ten (see below). These provide fast and slow varieties of binary, ternary, quintuple, and septuple metre. The Hindustani tālas in common use also represent these four metrical types but with more varieties (distinguished by clap-pattern and/or by drum-pattern, ṭhekā), numbering about 20 altogether.

(iii) Tāla in Karnatak music.

In modern Karnatak music there are, in effect, two systems of tāla. What might be called the formal system is of considerable antiquity and forms the basis of the early stages of formal music instruction said to have been laid down by the Kanada devotional singer Purandara Dās (1480–1564). In concert performing practice, tālas appertaining only to the formal system are represented in a few restricted and largely rather learned contexts. The informal system may be seen as a simplification and reformulation of elements of the formal system. It is the basis of the great bulk of the current repertory, including Kṣetrayya’s padam and Tyāgarāja’s kīrtanam.

(a) The formal system.

The formal system is shown in Table 10. It comprises the seven sūḷādi tālas, each of which is defined by a clap-pattern comprising one or more segments (aṅga), expressed with the values anudruta (one beat), druta (two beats), and laghu. The laghu is a variable quantity, comprising three beats (tisra), four beats (caturaśra), five beats (khaṇḍa), seven beats (miśra), or nine beats (saṅkīrṇa). In counting time each segment is marked by an audible clap (taṭṭu) on the first beat. The remaining beats of a laghu are counted by touching fingers to thumb or palm, while the second beat of a druta is indicated by a silent gesture with palm upturned (vīccu).

Table 10

View large

Table 10

Each sūḷādi tāla has five variants, distinguished by the value of the laghu. However, in each case there is one principal variant (boxed in Table 10), which may be denoted by the simple tāla name without any further qualification. Four of these principal varieties are caturaśra, with one representative each of the tisra,khaṇḍa, and miśra types. The remaining variants are rarities, with the exception of caturaśra Tripuṭa, known as ‘Ādi tāla’ (‘first tāla’), which plays an extremely important role in the ‘informal’ system.

Other tāla varieties of the formal system are represented only in special circumstances. Aṭa tāla (in its principal khaṇḍa variety) has one very prominent role in the Karnatak tradition: it is one of two tālas used for the tāna varṇam (see §5(iv) below), the other being Ādi. Ex.7 in Jhampā tāla belongs to a set composed by Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar on the shrines of the nine planets in the Thiruvarur temple. The first seven of this set are on the planets that correspond with the seven days of the week and are set successively in each of the seven sūḷādi tālas (ex.7 is for the planet Mercury, corresponding to Wednesday). Certain compositions in khaṇḍa Jhampā tāla (5 + 1 + 2) and khaṇḍa Tripuṭa tāla (5 + 2 + 2) are widely known, and pallavi are often rendered in rare varieties of the sūḷādi tālas.

(b) The informal system.

What is here called the ‘informal’ tāla system comprises selected tālas of the ‘formal’ system plus two fast tālas called Cāpu. Table 11 shows how these together provide a system of binary, ternary, quintuple, and septuple metres in slow and fast forms. The Cāpu tālas (khaṇḍa Cāpu, five beats, and miśra Cāpu, seven beats) function as fast varieties of Jhampā and Tripuṭa respectively; khaṇḍa Cāpu is colloquially called ara Jhampā (‘half Jhampā’). They are not analysed in terms of laghu, druta, and anudruta units as are the sūḷādi tālas, but they are clapped as follows: khaṇḍa Cāpu 2 + 1 + 2, miśra Cāpu (3) + 2 + 2 with a wave rather than a clap on the first beat. The binary tāla Ādi is the most important and most frequently used tāla of Karnatak music (exx.6 and 8 are both in slow Ādi tāla).

Table 11

View large

Table 11

It is a fundamental principle of tāla that while the pattern of irregularly spaced audible claps marks the rotation of the cycle, it does not necessarily indicate the rhythmic organization of musical events within the time-span so measured. Not only is there an almost infinite variety of possible rhythmic configurations within any tāla cycle, but a tāla may even be characterized by an internal rhythm different from that implied by the clap-pattern. Thus the Karnatak Jhampā tāla, in its most common miśra variety, is structured by claps as 7 + 1 + 2, but the characteristic rhythm of melodies in this tāla is (2 + 3) + (2 + 3), as seen in ex.7. Similar internal rhythms operate to a greater or lesser extent in many other tālas of both the Karnatak and Hindustani systems.

For two of the asymmetric tālas the syllabic quantities in compositions normally fit the pulse and the beats of the tālas. The quintal patterning of ex.7 in the slow Jhampā tāla is pointed out above. Ex.9 shows similar conformities for long–short syllable distributions in the fast triple Rūpaka tāla. Note in Vēṇugānalōluni that the metrical position of the first syllable (eṭuppu) comes after the first beat, and that this conventional delay endows ‘back to the beginning’ returns, such as the kalpana svara in ex.13, with a much greater forward momentum into the composition than they would have if it began on the first beat itself, following the syllabic quantities literally.

Similar rhythmic improvements afforded to a composition by deferral in the slow quadratic Ādi tāla are discussed in §5(iv) below, with reference to ‘Gītārthamu’ (ex.8). The rhythms of this piece, and many like it, such as ex.6, are essentially based on long–short syllabic quantity, like pieces in Rūpaka or Jhampā tāla, albeit with more scope for transformations. But Ādi tāla compositions on the whole show a much greater variety of rhythmic treatment within the basically square quadratic framework than do many pieces in any of the asymmetrical tālas.

The most common pattern for fast Ādi tāla compositions is illustrated in Table 12a. Unlike those in other fast tālas, this rhythm is not tightly tied to syllabic quantity. The basic rhythm is of half-beats grouped 2 + 3 + 3. This basic rhythm is shown on the centre line of Table 12a and is taken twice in one cycle. The eṭuppu (initial time-point) is the second half of the second beat of the tāla and the arudi (point of arrival) the fifth beat, at the first druta. In terms of the rhythm there is a strong downbeat on the arudi preceded by an anacrusis of five half-beats. The anacrusis itself concludes with a fixed long plus short (time value and syllabic quantity), which in turn is set up with one, two, or three syllables fitted into two pulses. The second 2 + 3 + 3 is structured in the same way, but with less weight at the point of arrival and as a whole. All the variants indicated in Table 12a occur, and in many combinations. The musical rhythm, in short, exists prior to the composition of the text. Apart from the long–short conclusion of the upbeat phrase, syllabic quantity as such is not important; the text is conformable to free combinations of the prosody of popular Telugu poetry. There are hundreds of compositions of Karnatak music in this variety of Ādi tāla, and it is one of the most widely known and best-loved of all south Indian musical types. It is called Deśādi tāla.

Two popular south Indian talas

View large

TABLE 12: Two popular south Indian talas

Just as characteristic of south Indian music is the faster variety of the ‘mixed’ tāla of 3 + 4, whose most common rhythmic combinations are shown in Table 12b. This miśra Cāpu tāla is not quite as sprightly as the Deśādi of Table 12a, but rather more lyrical and flowing. As may be seen in Table 12b there is a somewhat greater flexibility in the rhythmic patterning than there is in Deśādi; within each separate vertical segment undivided horizontally, any alternative shown is possible. Beyond this, there are two different possibilities as to arudi (point of arrival). An arudi may come firmly and be sustained at the downbeat of the third āvartanam, as shown in the bottom part of the table, so that the second phrase has less weight than the first; however, as shown in the top part of the table, there may be no real point of arrival at all. The music can fit easily and comfortably into an evenly balanced two-phrase format without driving towards one rhythmic goal more than another. This graceful tāla accounts for well over half Kṣetrayya’s padam compositions and for some of Tyāgarāja’s best-known kīrtanam compositions.

(iv) Tāla in Hindustani music.

The tālas of Hindustani music are not codified according to any consistent system, but rather comprise a number of overlapping repertories associated with different genres and ensembles. Table 13 gives an overview in which the tālas are arranged by metrical type: binary (8 or 16 mātrā), ternary (6 or 12), quintuple (5 or 10), septuple (7 or 14), and others (9, 11, 15 etc.). For each tāla the genres and tempos in which it is used are indicated. Thus Tīntāl is used in all tempos and in almost all genres except dhrupad, Cautāl is used in all tempos, mainly in dhrupad, and so on.

Table 13

View large


View large

Table 13

Table 13 cont.

The division of each tāla into segments (vibhāg), indicated in practice either by hand-gestures or by an accompanying drum-pattern (ṭhekā), is shown numerically in Table 13. Thus the 16-beat Tīntāl, which is by far the most common Hindustani tāla, is divided into four segments of four beats each, shown as 4 + 4 + (4) + 4. Each segment except the third begins with a clap (tālī), and the third segment (bracketed) is indicated by a wave (khālī); for the accompanying drum-patterns see Table 14. In written notation the clapped segments are numbered, with X (in place of 1) to mark the first clap (sam) and 0 to denote khālī; the notation for Tīntāl is therefore X 2 0 3. Note that it is the claps that are enumerated, not the pulse-beats or segments, hence the name Tīntāl, ‘three[-clap] tāla’ (compared with Cautāl, ‘four[-clap] tāla’, which has 12 pulse-beats).

The tendency to organize musical rhythm within the cycle into an evenly balanced two-phrase format, which was noted in the case of Karnatak Jhampā, Deśādi, and miśra Cāpu tālas (though not reflected in their clap-patterns), has become an important principle of tāla construction in Hindustani music and is manifested more or less overtly in the clap-patterns. Thus in each metrical category of Table 13, except the last, there are one or more tālas whose clap-pattern resembles Tīntāl, clap-clap-wave-clap (X 2 0 3), with the khālī wave marking the division of the cycle into two halves of equal length. The segment lengths in these tālas are usually the same in each half, thus [4 + 4] + [(4) + 4] (Tīntāl), [2 + 3] + [(2) + 3] (Jhaptāl), and [3 + 4] + [(3) + 4] (Dīpcandī, Jhūmrā). There are also two short tālas, used in light genres, with a simpler symmetry: 4 + (4) (Kaharvā) and 3 + (3) (Dādrā). The khālī in all these tālas does not mark a ‘weak beat’, as is sometimes claimed, but the second of two balancing components, of which the first (marked by sam) is the stronger. This symmetry is reflected in compositions such as the sitār gat in ex.3. Although a pervasive feature of Hindustani rhythm, the function of the mid-way khālī is quite different from that of the similar hand-gesture in Karnatak time-beating and is unprecedented in the historical tāla systems. It is a relatively recent development in Hindustani music, being mentioned in written sources only from the late 19th century.

In addition to these balanced tālas, associated particularly with the tablā and the genres that it accompanies, there are others constructed less symmetrically, in which the khālī is either absent (Tīvra), functions as the sam (Rūpak), or serves to subdivide segments of four or five mātrā into shorter units (Sūltāl, Āḍā-cautāl, Savārī tāl, Brahma tāl, etc.). Thus in Cautāl, of 12 beats, the claps articulate a pattern of 4 + 4 + 2 + 2. Each of the four-beat segments is subdivided by khālī to give 2 + (2) + 2 + (2) + 2 + 2. One result of this subdivision, however, is that the second khālī falls at the beginning of the second half of the cycle and thus implies an alternative, balanced structure of two equal (if differently structured) halves: [2 + (2) + 2] + [(2) + 2 + 2]. Similarly for the 14-beat tāla Dhamār, the most common of several alternative clap-patterns is [5 + 2] + [(3) + 4], where the khālī again marks the division of the cycle into two halves of equal length but different internal division. In both Cautāl and Dhamār the typical rhythm of vocal compositions is different from the tāla segmentation but coincides with it at the sam and the mid-way khālī: [3 + 3] + [3 + 3] in Cautāl, [3 + 4] + [3 + 4] in Dhamār. In both tālas the mid-way khāli is an important landmark for singers when improvising rhythmic variations (laykārī: see §5 below). The only tālas, therefore, that exhibit no balanced structure at all within the cycle are those that are very fast (Sūltāl, Tīvrā) or not divisible by two (tālas of 7, 9, 11, etc. mātrā). Even taken together these tālas account for a very small proportion of performances.

The major vocal genres of dhrupad, khayāl and ṭhumrī, and the instrumental styles based on them, use different (if overlapping) sets of tālas (see Table 13). They also adopt different approaches to time-keeping, to rhythmic accompaniment, and to rhythmic style in composition and improvisation. In dhrupad, the tāla gestures are executed by the singer himself and knowledgeable members of the audience, as in Karnatak concert-music. The pakhāvaj accompanist is thus freed from the necessity of playing a simple ṭhekā and may improvise an elaborate and rhythmically dense accompaniment. The dhrupad singer’s approach to rhythm is essentially ‘syllabic’. In the composition each syllable of text is set to one or two beats’ duration (sometimes on the basis of metrical quantity), and these durations are respected in performance, with some slight anticipations and delays for expressive effect. In laykārī variations, whether fixed or improvised, the syllables of text (like the strokes of the pakhāvaj, also conceived as syllables) are set to precise subdivisions of the mātrā according to the different levels of laya (see §(i) above). There is little room in this style for rubato.

By contrast, the rhythm of khayāl can be extremely flexible, depending on the tempo and the gharānā. The rotation of the tāla is marked by the ṭhekā of the tablā, which frees the singer to indulge in a ‘melismatic’ rhythmic style, especially in the very slow tempos and extended tālas (Ektāl, Tilvāḍā, Jhūmrā) of baṛā khayāl. That is, syllables of text may be rather freely distributed across the beats of the cycle or extended into sustained pitches or florid melismas. Syllables and other rhythmic events do not necessarily fall on the beat, except at the first beat (sam). Such flexibility may be assisted by a tempo as slow as eight seconds per beat, a relatively recent development achieved by having the tablā player play the ṭhekā at half the previous minimal tempo. As the tempo quickens, however, the rhythm becomes more ‘syllabic’, especially in sargam tān (solfège passages). In ṭhumrī the retardation of tempo and melismatic freedom of the vocal rhythm have progressed so far that the mātrā can become irregular. Sometimes it is impossible to distinguish whether a 14- or a 16-beat tāla is being used, and some ṭhumrī tālas (Dīpcandī, Cā̃car) can be played and counted either way.

Instrumentalists typically employ a combination of ‘syllabic’ and ‘melismatic’ rhythmic styles. The latter tends to predominate in slow-tempo, khayāl -style performances in Tīntāl or Ektāl, the former in medium- or fast-tempo, dhrupad -style gat played in tālas such as Rūpak or Jhaptāl.

The importance of the ṭhekā in most genres of Hindustani music is such that the tālas tend now to be defined and identified in terms of their ṭhekā, rather than by the Karnatak practice emphasizing clap-patterns. Basic ṭhekā for the principal tālas of Hindustani music are set out in Table 14. The sonorities are encoded in the notation syllables (bol). For the purposes of defining a ṭhekā, the most important contrast of sonority is between ‘heavy’ (bhārī) and ‘empty’ (khālī) strokes. ‘Heavy’ strokes comprise an undamped resonant stroke on the lower-pitched, left-hand drum (bāyā̃), either alone or simultaneously with any stroke on the right head. ‘Light’ strokes comprise all strokes that lack this left-hand resonant sound. In tablā notation all heavy strokes begin with a voiced consonant (usually also aspirated): dhā, dhin, dhī, etc. (both hands), ghe (or ge) (left hand alone). Empty strokes by contrast begin with an unvoiced, unaspirated consonant: , tin,, , teṭe etc. (right hand), ka,kat (left hand).

Table 14

The ṭhekā relate to the theoretical structure of the tālas in a variety of ways. In some cases the ṭhekā could be said to be a drummed version of the clap-pattern. Heavy strokes are used for those segments of the tāla (vibhāg) denoted by claps (tālī), light strokes for the segment(s) denoted by a wave (khālī). An exemplar of this principle is Jhaptāl: the first, second, and fourth segments are marked by claps and by the ‘heavy’ stroke dhī, while the third segment (commencing the balancing second half of the tāla) is marked by a wave and by the corresponding ‘light’ stroke . The same clap-pattern and similar ṭhekā are found also in the 14-beat tālas Dīpcandī and Jhūmrā, and in the 16-beat Tilvāḍā and Cā̃cār. The 16-beat Cā̃cār and its 14-beat relative Dīpcandī both show a one-beat anticipation of the khālī, with ‘light’ strokes appearing at the last beat of the first half of the tāla.

The correspondence between clap-pattern and ṭhekā is not always so direct, however. In Tīntāl, of 16 beats, the ṭhekā is similar to that of Jhaptāl in terms of the selection and arrangement of strokes, but there is a displacement of the ‘heavy’ and ‘light’ segments of the ṭhekā by one beat in relation to the clap-pattern. The ‘light’ strokes begin at beat 10, one beat after the wave in the clap-pattern, and ‘heavy’ strokes re-enter at beat 13, one beat after the clap on beat 12. This displacement gives a strong upbeat character to the whole ṭhekā. Its basic formula is dhin dhin dhā/dhā, leading to and resolving on the first beat of the next segment, not /dhā dhin dhin dhā/ beginning and ending with the segment boundaries. (This sense of anacrusis is also characteristic of many Tīntāl melodies, for example the instrumental Masītkhānī gat (see ex.3), where, however, the anacrusis is of five rather than three beats.) The resulting coincidence of a ‘heavy’ tablā stroke with the khālī wave on beat 9 belies the assumption that the khālī of the clap-pattern represents a ‘negative’ or ‘unemphasized’ beat. Both it and the immediately following change of tablā sonority signal the start of the second half of the tāla.

The basic correspondence of ‘heavy’ and ‘light’ tablā strokes with claps and waves respectively applies to all the variants of Tīntāl ṭhekā and to many of the shorter tālas in varying degrees. The same correspondence also applies in some degree to the pakhāvaj ṭhekā for tālas used in dhrupad. The ṭhekā for Dhamār, a tāla notorious for its intricacy, is treated as two seven-beat segments, the first ‘heavy’ and the second ‘light’, with a one-beat displacement against the clap-pattern such that a ‘light’ stroke appears on the sam and a ‘heavy’ stroke on the khālī. This is even more anomalous than the well-known tāla Rūpak, which resembles the Karnatak miśra Cāpu in having a wave (and a light stroke) on the sam.

There remains a small number of tālas in which the clap-pattern and ṭhekā bear essentially no relation to each other. Two tālas used for khayāl, Ektāl, and Āḍā-cautāl, derive their clap-patterns from Cautāl. However, the ṭhekā for these tālas, though related to each other, are not derived from Cautāl ṭhekā and show no consistent correspondence of ‘heavy’ and ‘light’ strokes with the clap-patterns. It seems likely in such cases that clap-patterns borrowed from dhrupad tālas were superimposed for theoretical purposes on to independently evolved tablā rhythms.

In summary, the Hindustani tālas are differentiated not only by length measured in beats, but by the internal organization of the constituent beats, so that ten beats (for example) can be articulated as (2 + 3) + (2 + 3) (Jhaptāl) or 2 + (2) + 2 + 2 + (2) (Sūltāl). Where two tālas have the same number of beats and the same clap-pattern, it is the ṭhekā that distinguishes them. The same clap-pattern, on the other hand, can articulate tālas with different numbers of beats, and a sequence of drum-strokes can similarly be adapted to provide ṭhekā for tālas of different lengths. When we bear in mind that factors such as characteristic rhythmic inflections, the sounds of particular tablā strokes, tempo and vocal or instrumental style, and genre can also be strongly associated with particular tālas, the concept of tāla in north India emerges as a complex musical identity that cannot be completely defined in terms of mātrā(beats) and vibhāg (segments).

5. Compositions, genres and performance of vocal music.

  • Harold S. Powers
  • , revised by Richard Widdess
(i) Compositions.

Each item of a vocal performance of South Asian classical music is based on a composed song with poetic text, set to a particular rāga and tāla. The song (Hindustani bandiś, cīz; Karnatak prabandha) may be of minimal length compared to the extensive improvisation that precedes and/or follows it. The contribution of the performer in its rendition is of crucial importance, and the act of composition and the role of the composer do not have the status that has accrued to them in the Western musical world. The art of the poet-composer (vāg-geya-kāra, ‘maker of words and melody’) is nevertheless a respected one, and compositions attributed to important figures such as Tyāgarāja or Tānsen, and identified by the poet’s signature or chāp in the final line, are highly valued. The number and kind of compositions that a musician knows can be very important elements in his professional standing. Compositions can be treasured family property and, traditionally, could be sold, pawned, or included in dowries. Compositions are further important because they determine many aspects of the performance in which they are embedded: not only the rāga and tāla, but also the style of rendition and techniques of ornamentation and improvisation that may be applied.

The theoretical discrimination of composition-types began as early as the Nāṯyaśāstra. The gītaka or sacred hymns performed during the ritual dramatic prelude (pūrva-raṅga) were defined in terms of tāla structure (see §4(ii) above), whereas the dhruvā stage-songs were classified according to their poetic metres. Later texts such as the Saṅgīta-ratnākara discuss composition-types (prabandha) from different regions of South Asia, from which many current types (classical and non-classical) may be descended. The prabandha are defined according to a variety of features, including text elements (words, epithets, non-lexical syllables, and solmization or drum-syllables), metre, language, subject-matter, rāga, tāla, etc. Some prabandha were also dance forms. Central concerns of prabandha theory are the relationship of melody (dhatu) to text (mātu) and of musical tāla to poetic metre.

Most prabandha comprised a number of musical sections corresponding to text lines or verses, often including a refrain (dhruvā). Refrain-forms permeated Indian vernacular song from the 7th century onwards, owing to the spread of devotional religious movements, in which responsorial singing is a central feature of ritual. The definition of a particular composition-type called dhruvā-prabandha (‘refrain-song’) in the Saṅgīta-ratnākara records for the first time a complex of four features that are common to major Hindustani and Karnatak vocal forms today: the arrangement of four melodic sections in the pattern ABCB′; repetition of part of section A as a refrain; a higher register in B and B′ than in A and C; and inclusion of the name of the dedicatee (and/or of the composer) in the text of the final section (B′).

Examples of Karnatak kīrtanam and Hindustani dhrupad compositions are set out in parallel in ex.13, showing how far they conform to this structure. They differ in all other respects (rāga, tāla, language, style, genre, etc.), suggesting that the common structure is a deeply embedded, historically rooted, and geographically widespread unifying factor. In the kīrtanam and dhrupad compositions, the four melodic sections correspond to four text lines (t1–t4), as shown in fig.6. Section A sets the first words of the text, which often encapsulate the theme of the poem and identify the song. This section is termed pallavi (the ‘germ’, ‘shoot’ of the song) or sthāyī (‘fixed’, i.e. refrain) in Karnatak and Hindustani music respectively. Melodically it stresses the lower tonic and lower register of the rāga, though it may range as far as the upper tonic or even beyond. In performance, this section, or a part of it, can itself be cyclically repeated, and it is the point of repeated departure and return.

Relationship between the melodic sections and the text lines of kīrtanam and dhrupad compositions

View large

The B section is termed anupallavi (Karnatak: ‘after the pallavi ’) or antarā (Hindustani: ‘intervening’) and is melodically more constrained than the A section. It begins with an ascent from the mid-range to the upper tonic, which is then stressed (see (1) in ex.13). Subsequent phrases develop the upper regions of the rāga, carrying the melody to its highest point so far (usually a strong note of the rāga in the lower tetrachord of the upper octave (see (2) in ex.13)). The final phrases of the section may return to the lower register and often echo the end of the A section in order to effect a smooth transition back to the beginning of the song ((3) in ex.13).

Hindustani khayāl, instrumental gat, and many dhrupad compositions have only the A and B sections, and therefore conclude with this return to A. In longer dhrupad and most kīrtanam compositions, the C section develops the same register as A but usually stresses the fifth or fourth degree (depending on the rāga). The final section, B′, which follows immediately without any intervening reprise of A, returns to the upper pitch-areas as in B, to which it may be melodically similar or identical. In dhrupad these two last sections are regarded as separate units, called sañcāri and ābhog respectively. In kīrtanam they are considered to form a single section termed caraṇa. The end of B′, like that of B, leads into a reprise of A, or its first phrase, with which performance of the composition ends.

This basic structure also exists in expanded and contracted forms. Karnatak kīrtanam or kriti compositions may include additonal caraṇa, usually set to the same melody as the first. Occasional khayāl and ṭhumrī compositions, and many Hindustani devotional songs (bhajan), have one or more additional antarā, sung to the B melody. By contrast, shorter dhrupad compositions, most khayāl and ṭhumrī compositions, and instrumental gat compositions comprise A and B sections only, and sometimes no more than the A section is actually performed (or the B section may be improvised). Some Karnatak kīrtanam comprise a pallavi followed by multiple caraṇa, to the same or different melodies, while in rāgam-tānam-pallavī the composition comprises a pallavi only (see §(iv) below).

All these structures are intrinsically cyclic, with the first phrase of the A section as the point of departure and return. In Hindustani music this first phrase (sthāyī-mukhṛā) can itself be cyclically repeated as many times as desired. Both B and B′ sections lead at their conclusion into a reprise of this phrase, and it will be returned to many times during any improvisation that follows the composition. The whole performance will end with this phrase. The opening phrase of the B section (antarā-mukhṛā) may also be used as a refrain for part of the improvisation, if the performer wishes to improvise on the words or melody of that section, but the sthāyī-mukhṛā normally returns. In Karnatak music there is greater variety in the choice of phrases for repetition as the basis for improvisation, but the pallavi remains the essential point of conclusion in all forms except the varṇam(see below).

Individual segments of the composition may be immediately repeated, with or without variation, if the singer (or dancer) wishes to stress or improvise on the words and/or melody of that segment. A repeatable segment or phrase normally comprises one cycle of the tāla in slow tempo, two or four cycles at faster speeds. Repetition of individual phrases is an important feature of Karnatak music, where the majority of concert kriti compositions (as opposed to more devotional kīrtanam) are learnt with fixed and memorized variations called saṅgati. It is believed that phrase-repetition with elaborate saṅgati was instituted by Tyāgarāja (1767–1847). Since his time it has become standard practice, and many compositions by others (such as Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar) have also been adorned, by later musicians, with saṅgati variations that are now considered indispensable.

Another type of repetition with pre-composed variation is where a complete section of a composition is repeated at faster or (less commonly) slower speeds against the tāla, through augmentation or diminution. The words, melody, and rhythmic proportions remain intact. This device may be employed in the performance of Karnatak rāgam-tānam-pallavi and Hindustani dhrupad (see below).

Vocal compositions in Indian music and their realization in performance can thus be seen to embody several fundamental musical processes: cyclical returns to the beginning; change of melodic register in different sections of the composition, exploiting the various registral and thematic elements of the rāga; repetition of individual phrases with variations increasing in melodic complexity and rhythmic density; and changes in metrical relationship between melody and tāla. These processes can be further elaborated through improvisation.

(ii) Improvisation on compositions.

Not only the underlying form of vocal compositions but also the basic types of nibaddha (‘constrained’) improvisation are prefigured in the Saṅgīta-ratnākara. The elaboration of a metrical composition (rūpakālapti) is said by Śārṅgadeva to comprise either of two processes: pratigrahaṇikā (‘reprising’)rūpakālapti, where after a phrase of rāga elaboration one returns to a phrase of the composition; or bhañjanī (‘breaking up’) rūpakālapti, where the text of the composition is sung many times, in part or whole, keeping the original rhythmic setting of the words but with ever new melodic phrases. Similar processes are still current in modern practice; in particular, the alternation of improvised episodes with periodic reprises of a phrase of the composition, usually the first, is a ubiquitous practice.

Śārṅgadeva’s discussion of rāgālapti (see §3(ii)(b) above) and rūpakālapti in the Saṅgīta-ratnākara provides us with the first analysis of the processes of improvisation in South Asian music. There is also an indication of how these processes related to performance as a whole, in the description of a courtly dance-form, the Gauṇḍalī (‘Gond woman’s dance’). According to this description the performance of this dance began with the singing of the tonic (sthāyī) and the fourfold development of rāgālapti. A vocal composition (dhruvā-prabandha, see above) was then sung and danced in tāla with drum accompaniment. New melodic material (sthāya) was then introduced, interspersed with reprises of the refrain of the composition (dhruvā-khaṇḍa). The reprise was marked by vigorous drum playing and a sudden ‘freeze’ by the dancer at the crucial moment of return, a process familiar from modern kathak dance performances. This sequence of events – rāgālapti, composition, and (pratigrahaṇikā) rūpakālapti punctuated by returns to the refrain – underlies the major genres of rāga performance in both Karnatak and Hindustani music today.

(a) Returns to a given motif (pratigrahaṇikā).

Here a particular phrase of the composition, often the first, is repeated in alternation with passages of improvised melodic and/or rhythmic development. This process is used in all the styles in the ‘nibaddha’ column of Table 9 above. It underlies the bol-bā̃ṭ of dhrupad, the ālāp and tāns of khayāl, the bol banāo of ṭhumrī, the ṯoṛā of sitār /sarod playing, and the kalpana svara of Karnatak music. Whatever the style and techniques employed, musical interest lies both in the melodic and rhythmic excursions of the improvisation and in the ingenuity with which the performer returns to the composition. The Hindi term for the motif to which the return is made is mukhṛā (‘little face’); it is normally the first phrase of the sthāyī. In ex.3 above, for instance, ‘sapane-mẽ ā-’ is the mukhṛā; it has two parts, comprising the point of arrival at ‘ā’ and the phrase leading up to that point, which is, properly speaking, the mukhṛā. The point of arrival is called sam (‘together’), where both melodic and rhythmic elements finally coalesce at a single point. In ex.2 above the mukhṛā is ‘hajarata’, and the sam is on ‘to’. As is illustrated here, in Hindustani vocal music, and especially in slow khayāl, a precisely measured-out duration is not always essential to the mukhṛā, the musical function of which is as a lead-in or lead-back. In rendering the slow khayāl in rāga Darbārī Kānaḍā, for instance, phrases of unpulsed improvised ālāp would fill most of each long time cycle (transcribed here as 12 whole-note values); the singer will slip into a pulsed phrase as he comes back to ‘hajarata’, making sure only to catch it far enough ahead of the sam to allow time for an elegantly shaped approach to and arrival at ‘to’.

The tān of Hindustani fast khayāl are free bravura passages sung on an open vowel. In tān singing, some flexibility as to the amount of the mukhṛā actually used or the point at which it begins, or both, is again possible; the tān must conclude and some rhythmically elegant mukhṛā should be heard, but the only irreducible metric requirement is that the sam be reached with the first count of the time cycle. Sometimes tān may lead right to the sam, dispensing with the mukhṛā altogether. The mukhṛa can be treated with similar flexibility in dhrupad (and especially dhamār) laykārī improvisation (see below).

In Hindustani instrumental music the principal type of free passage between returns of the mukhṛā is called toṛā (‘break’, also ‘bracelet, necklace’). A toṛā is a plucking pattern for the right hand combined with pitch-changing movements of the left hand. A toṛā differs from a tān in that it has some sort of definite rhythmic shape, whereas a tān is passage-work in fast but equal note values. A toṛā often concludes with a culminating cadential passage repeated three times in sequence, called tihāī (‘threefold’). The tihāī must be timed in such a way that it concludes on the beat before the mukhṛā, or at the beginning of the mukhṛā, or the sam itself.Tihāī can also be used in dhrupad and is an important feature of dance performance.

The flexibility of beginning point and emphasis on arrival point in the Hindustani mukhṛā is reversed in Karnatak music. A line of the composition (not necessarily the first) is chosen, and free improvisation is required to lead directly, naturally, but also precisely to the first part of the phrase, which then may or may not proceed to a strong arrival point (arudi).Ex.14 illustrates one of the characteristic specialities of Karnatak music. It shows sample phrases of kalpana svara (‘improvised svara’) attached to the first line of the composition partly transcribed in ex.9, Vēṇugānalōluni, rāga Kedāragaula (see §2(iv) above). The firmly fixed point is the actual beginning of the line of the composition, ‘Vēṇu-gāna-’, which is called its eṭuppu (‘taking up’). The eṭuppu is a specific svara of the rāga, falling at a specific point in the tāla; here it is the second degree (d) in rāga Kedāragaula, coming on the second half of the first beat in fast-tempo of Rūpaka tāla. There are only a few ways this point can be approached in Kedāragaula; in fact, the last three degrees of a kalpana svara passage could lead to this motif beginning at d only through e–d–c–e (as in ex.14), g–f–e–d, or f–e–c–d (following g or d). The time-point for the eṭuppu here, just after the first count, is the norm for fast Rūpaka tāla; the final approach to the eṭuppu with an odd number of attacks (five in this and most cases) is the norm for all tālas. The low initial pitch and immediate upward continuation of the composition’s opening demand a basically descending line in each final approach. The requirements of the rāga Kedāragaula (see §2(iv) above) determine the specific possibilities of melodic configuration in the kalpana svara throughout.

Ex.14  Kalpana svara for the pallavisection of Vēṇugānalōluni

View large

Two general techniques of pratigrahaṇikā improvisation are illustrated in ex.14. First of all, a fixed formula at the end is preceded by an ever longer and more elaborate build-up. Also characteristic is the use of the threefold cadential rhythmic sequence at the ends of longer passages, called morā in Karnatak music. In the transcription’s semiquaver durations, the third of the sample kalpana svara ends sequentially with unit durations of 4 + 4 + 5 pulses. The fourth passage ends 6 + 6 + 5, with a rhythm that is one of many possible rhythms for a standard mṛdaṅgam cadential formula (tadiṅgiṇatom, see §6 below). The drummer would probably be expecting this formula and would certainly join in in time for the second and third members of the sequence. (Hindustani musicians sometimes improvise with svara syllables and with other non-textual syllables (bol) in compositions that use them, but seldom with tight linkage to a precise time-point or the control of rhythmic pattern that is essential to the modern south Indian technique.)

(b) Repetition with variation (bhañjanī).

Here a particular phrase or section of the composition is repeated one or more times. The words and rhythm of the segment remain intact, but the melody is varied. This process has resulted, in the Karnatak kriti, in variations (saṅgati) that have become fixed and are transmitted and performed as part of the composition itself. A related Karnatak technique, but improvised, is niraval (‘filling up’). A single line of text from the composition – occupying one cycle of a slow tāla, two or four in a fast one – is sung repeatedly, quite closely following the original rhythmic distribution of text syllables but with melodic phrases appropriate to the rāga supplied by the performer. In practice the effect is much like that of kalpana svara: the improvisation of niraval must lead back to the beginning of the original setting at the proper time-point and svara position, and it proceeds at two speeds, first with several cycles at the basic pulse, then a number of cycles at double time. The rendering of compositions in south Indian music is frequently embellished by niraval followed by kalpana svara attached to the same line of the composition, or by one or the other. The first line of a composition is rarely chosen for niraval but often for kalpana svara alone.

The bhañjanī type of variation does not occur as such in Hindustani music. In slow khayāl the unpulsed ālāp is often done using the words of the khayāl composition rather than the open vowel, in which case it is called bol-ālāp, but the rhythm is very flexible within the tāla. The singing of tān on bol (the words of the composition) rather than on the open vowel is called bol-tān, and is the nearest equivalent to south Indian niraval, although in most khayāl styles it is again very flexible rhythmically. The term bol-tān is sometimes confused with the very similar bol-bā̃ṭ (partition or distribution of the words); bol-bā̃ṭ belongs to the dhrupad style, but is also used in some khayāl styles. Like bol-tān it uses words from the composition to carry improvised phrases of the rāga, but the text and music phrases are syllabic, not melismatic, and the emphasis is on interesting rhythmic combination.

The laya-baṭ of dhrupad and the anuloma-pratiloma of rāgam-tānam-pallavi maintain the melody and rhythmic proportions of the composition, but they change the rhythmic relationship of the melody and text-syllables to the tāla through diminution and augmentation. This type of manipulation of the composition is not improvised.

(iii) Genres and performance: Hindustani music.

To a greater extent than in the south, north Indian vocalists distinguish a number of genres each with its proper composition-type, vocal style, techniques of improvisation, aesthetic objectives, and other features. The principal genres are dhrupad, khayāl, and ṭhumrī, though there are a number of related genres or sub-genres. Most vocalists take at least some training in all three principal genres but specialize in one or two. Khayāl singers often sing ṭhumrī as an encore, but it is unusual for a dhrupad singer to sing khayāl or vice versa, because of the very different vocal techniques required.

(a) Dhrupad.

Dhrupad compositions are believed to be the oldest part of the Hindustani repertory, with some attributed to Tānsen and other historical figures (see §II above) still in circulation. Likewise the associated performance practice is regarded as older than that of khayāl and ṭhumrī, which developed in the 18th and 19th centuries respectively. Consequently dhrupad is valued by its proponents for its authenticity of structure (correct rendering of intonation, rāga and tāla, and complete and accurate rendering of the composition), stylistic purity (full-throated voice production, restriction of ornamentation and improvisation to a limited number of techniques), and elevated purpose (addressed to the Divine and to connoisseurs, not compromising with popular taste). Having never enjoyed widespread popularity or understanding since its heyday in Mughal times, dhrupad became all but extinct in the mid-20th century. Its revival in the latter part of the century was a surprisingly vigorous phenomenon.

A dhrupad poem is usually in the Braj dialect of Hindi (used for devotional hymnody) and comprises two or four rhyming lines, set to two or four melodic sections (described above). Although in earlier times almost any subject, sacred or secular, could be treated in dhrupad, it has come to be associated particularly with devotional or philosophical subjects, including both Hindu and Islamic themes. Consequently dhrupad is regarded by its exponents as a more sacred art than other Hindustani genres. Dhrupad compositions are found in almost all rāgas, but only in certain tālas (see Table 13). Of these, Cautāl is the most common, but sub-genres exist using Dhamār (for dhamār compositions describing the Holī spring festival as celebrated by Kṛṣṇa), Jhaptāl (especially for Sufi mystical songs called sādrā), and Sūltāl and Tīvra (for fast-tempo songs usually in praise of deities). The accompaniment for dhrupad is properly provided by the barrel-drum pakhāvaj rather than the tablā. Other accompanying instruments include the tambūrā drone lute and, optionally, a bowed lute sāraṅgī and/or harmonium (avoided by some performers).

The vocal style of dhrupad is based on voice production from the diaphragm, smooth glissandi, and other pitch-inflections, and avoidance of any rapid fioritura that requires constriction of the throat. Dhrupad singers need voices able to compete with the powerful resonance of the accompanying pakhāvaj – one reason, perhaps, why dhrupad singers are usually male and often perform in pairs.

A dhrupad performance in concert context usually begins with an extended nom-tom ālāp (see §3(ii)(c) above), which may last 30 minutes or more and demonstrates the artist’s insight into the structure and aesthetic of the rāga. The composition is then presented in a dignified rhythmic style (see §4(iv) above). If it is in slow tempo, it may be followed by one or more further compositions in different tālas and faster tempo.

Elaboration of the composition in dhrupad is termed bā̃ṭ (‘division’), upaj (‘invention’), or laya-kārī (‘making (different) rhythmic densities’). The performer’s options are considerably more restricted than in khayāl (see below), since he must always use the words of the composition, and only two basic procedures are permitted, sometimes termed laya-bā̃ṭ and bol-bā̃ṭ. In laya-bā̃ṭ, a section of the composition is sung with its time values systematically reduced to a half, a third, or a quarter of their original length; that is to say, it is sung as dugun, tigun, or caugun laya (see §4(i) above). No other material change and no element of improvisation is involved. More complex proportional diminutions are referred to in literature but never heard in practice.

According to some authorities, these calculated rhythmic manipulations of the composition were all the variation that was originally allowed in the performance of Cautāl dhrupad compositions. In dhamār, the lighter sub-genre sung by dhrupad musicians, a freer style of variation is considered appropriate. The musicians can improvise new rhythmic and melodic settings of the syllables of the poem, repeating phrases, words, and even syllables as desired, at any level of laya, provided only that the structures of rāga and tāla are respected. This reflects the frolicsome character of the spring Saturnalia described in dhamār texts. This free upaj or bol-bā̃ṭ is now also often performed in Cautāl and other dhrupad sub-genres, reflecting the strong preference for improvised variation that is a hallmark of contemporary Hindustani musical culture. So strong a preference is it that the fixed laya-bā̃ṭ is often omitted altogether.

In bol-bā̃ṭ the essential requirement is for the vocalist and pakhāvaj accompanist (who improvises simultaneously with the vocalist) to return to the beginning of the composition, arriving together at the sam, the first beat of the tāla cycle. If the composition begins with mukhṛā leading to sam, this must be worked into the final moments of each improvisation, though it may be expanded or compressed rhythmically if required. Thus the cyclicity that is inherent in both the tāla and the composition is further reflected in the pratigrahaṇikā-type improvisation.

(b) Khayāl.

The second main genre of Hindustani music, khayāl, had almost completely eclipsed dhrupad by the mid-20th century. The ethos of khayāl is one of stylistic variety and freedom of improvisation (khayāl means ‘imagination, fantasy’) as opposed to the strictness of dhrupad. Nevertheless, many features of dhrupad have been taken into khayāl performance. Depending on the gharānā, khayāl performance may resemble dhrupad quite closely (especially in the Agra gharānā) or diverge from it more or less radically. Khayāl texts are normally in Hindi and comprise only two rhyming, unmetred lines, corresponding to the musical sthāyī and antarā sections (see §(i) above). They range over a wide variety of love themes, often expressed in a feminine persona and including the amorous adventures of Kṛṣṇa or those of the emperor, and devotion to a lover or to a Muslim holy man.

There are three varieties of khayāl distinguished by tempo: slow (vilambit), also known as ‘big’ (baṛā) khayāl, medium (madhya) khayāl and fast (drut) or ‘small’ (choṭā) khayāl. A slow khayāl is always followed by a fast khayāl, but a medium-tempo or a fast khayāl may be sung alone as an independent item. Only the more serious rāgas are employed in khayāl, since light rāgas will be sung in ṭhumrī style. The typical tālas are different from those employed in dhrupad and include Ektāl, Jhūmrā, Tilvāḍā, and Tīntāl for slow compositions, Ektāl, Tīntāl, Jhaptāl, Rūpak, and Āḍā-cautāl in medium and fast compositions. Khayāl is accompanied by tablā,tambūrā, and often sāraṅgī and/or harmonium.

The vocal style of khayāl is characterized by a type of fioritura called tān, in which a rapid sequence of pitches, or repetitions of the same pitch, is sung to a single text syllable or to the vowel ‘ā’. This technique, and other ornaments involving rapid movement used in khayāl, require a greater tension of the throat muscles than is permitted in dhrupad. The style is reproduced on the sitār by rapid deflections of the string with the stopping finger, so that an elaborate sequence of pitches is produced from one stroke (see §6 below).

A khayāl performance usually dispenses with the opening nom-tom ālāp of dhrupad; a few phrases may be sufficient to introduce the rāga before the composition is commenced. The composition may be sung in its entirety at this point, or the second section (antarā) may be postponed until later. The tāla is indicated by the tablā, which plays a more or less embellished form of the cyclically repeated basic drum-pattern (ṭhekā) for the tāla in question. If the tempo is slow, the singer’s rhythm may be very free, necessarily coinciding with the drum only at the first beat (sam) of the tāla. At medium and fast tempo the rhythmic style is less melismatic (see §4(iv) above).

Improvisation on the composition involves departing from and repeatedly returning to the first phrase of the composition, the mukhṛā, which includes beat 1 of the first complete cycle of the composition but often starts with an anacrusis. The tempo gradually increases, and different styles and techniques of melodic and rhythmic improvisation are introduced at appropriate tempos. In slow khayāl the first stage of improvisation is normally that called ālāp or baṛhat (‘expansion’). This closely resembles the slow ālāp of dhrupad in its gradual unfolding of the rāga phrases and the quasi-unpulsed rhythm of the vocalist. However, here the tablā maintains the tāla throughout, using the ṭhekā, and the singer uses syllables from the composition and/or vocalization to ‘ā’ rather than the nom-tom syllables of dhrupad ālāp. Where in dhrupad ālāp the singer makes periodic returns to the mohrā of the rāga, here he returns to the mukhṛā of the composition. In both cases this re-establishes rhythmic congruence after a period of ambiguity. At the climax of the ālāp where the upper tonic is reached, the antarā of the composition may be introduced (or reintroduced), since this section of the composition always begins with an ascent to the upper tonic.

The quasi-free rhythm of the ālāp may be followed by more rhythmic improvisation using the words of the composition, in a style more or less close to the bol-bā̃ṭ of dhrupad. Other options include sargam, where each of a sequence of pitches is sung to its appropriate solmization syllable (sa, re, ga etc.; see Table 1 above). Finally, improvised passages of tān are introduced. These bravura passages may be sung either with or (in slow khayāl) without clear reference to the underlying pulse. Many kinds of tān are distinguished by separate names, such as sapāṭ tān (‘smooth’, i.e. straight, scalar passages), phirat tān (‘returning’, i.e. involuted passages), gamak tān (passages sung with a heavy shake on each degree), and so on. Tān may be sung to ‘ā’ (ākār tān) or with syllables of the song-text (bol-tān). As before, each tān passage must return to the mukhṛā of the composition, leading to beat 1 of the tāla.

If the tempo was initially slow, the fast-tempo ‘small’ khayāl will be introduced at this point, to be followed with more tān and other fast-tempo improvisation. The development of this composition is much shorter than that of the ‘big’ khayāl. A medium-tempo khayāl may be elaborated with all the stages of improvisation and without any following fast-tempo composition.

Of the several other types of composition performed by khayāl singers, the most distinctive is the tarānā. The texts employ a special set of non-lexical syllables, such as ‘tom ta na na’, ‘u dāna dīm’, ‘dere na’, ‘dira dira’, and ‘yalalī yalā’. Sometimes drum syllables or dance syllables are incorporated. The various syllable combinations lend themselves to rhythmic improvisatory permutations at very fast speeds. Sometimes a tarānā includes a line or two of Persian text, and it seems more than probable that the present genre originated from ecstatic Sufi songs using cryptic expressions in Persian such as ‘tū dānī’ (‘thou knowest’) and Shī‘a cries like ‘yā alī’ (‘O Ali’).

Ma‘danu‘l-mūsīqī alludes to tarānā as an item performed before khayāl (rather than ālāp) by members of the Qavvāl community, although in current practice it is sung as a medium- or fast-tempo khayāl by classical singers. The word tarānā itself is merely Persian for ‘song’. Tarānā is one of the Hindustani genres that has been enthusiastically adopted in south India, where it is called tillānā. Tillānā compositions are used both in concerts and in dance recitals, as light items for the last portions of a programme.

(c) Ṭhumrī.

The third main style of Hindustani classical music is embodied in the compositions called ṭhumrī, developed in Lucknow in the 18th and 19th centuries, and later in Banāras (see §IV, 1 below). The texts are extremely short and characterized by the mādhurya bhāva (‘sweet sentiment’) of erotic love. Ṭhumrī has sthāyī and antarā divisions like khayāl but is rendered in a much more elaborately florid and perhaps rather sentimental manner. The main tempo is slow, but towards the end there is a section in a fast time cycle in which the singer repeats the first line indefinitely to keep the time while the tablā player plays virtuoso solo passages called laggī; the conclusion is again at the slow tempo. Ṭhumrī has its own slow time cycles (see Tables 13 and 14) and its own rather small number of rāgas, which are found in dhrupad but hardly ever used in khayāl. The chief ṭhumrī rāgas are Pīlū Khamāj, Kāfī, Jogiyā, and, above all, Bhairavī. Whatever the rāga, phrases and elements from other rāgas are often mixed in (hence designations like miśra [‘mixed’] Khamāj and miśra Kāfī), sometimes to the extent that only the refrain belongs to the same rāga throughout. Dādrā compositions in the fast dādrā tāla also use ṭhumrī rāgas.

Renditions of ṭhumrī rāgas in ṭhumrī style are now used as concluding items in most concert programmes, both instrumental and vocal. Furthermore, bhajan (popular devotional poetry) is now often sung in some of the very popular ṭhumrī rāgas by musicians who like these rāgas but do not handle the ṭhumrī style easily, or who prefer not to sing the somewhat erotic ṭhumrī texts; this practice was begun by Vishnu Digambar Paluskar (1872–1931).

(iv) Genres and performance: Karnatak music.

Compositions play a much more central role in concerts of Karnatak music than they do in Hindustani music. The oldest south Indian compositions that probably retain some of their original musical settings are the padam compositions of Kṣetrayya, used for the south Indian classical temple dance now called bharata-nāṭyam. They are devotional texts, mostly in the mādhurya (‘erotic’) mode, and sung in a rather slow tempo that gives the dancer ample time to illustrate and elaborate the text with the stylized gestures of abhinaya. A few Karnatak rāgas are considered too vigorous for padam – they are called Ghana (‘heavy’) and are especially suitable for tānam improvisation (see §3(ii)(d) above) – but most of the well-known rāgas are used in padam. Some of the smaller and more melodious rāgas particularly good for padam are called rakti (‘emotional’) rāgas. Jāvalī, a small-scale and lightly erotic genre sung in rather fast tempos, also uses rakti rāgas.

In the mid-18th century probably the most important compositional form was the varṇam, which unlike other genres has two completely independent sections. The opening pallavi is followed by a rhyming anupallavi, the two being related to one another as are the sthāyī and antarā of Hindustani music (see §(i) above). Following the anupallavi comes a passage sung first with its svara syllables and then with a sāhitya (text), followed by a return to the pallavi. Then a caraṇam (stanza) is sung; the caraṇam itself serves as a refrain for several passages of svara-sāhitya like that following the anupallavi, and the varṇam concludes with the last return to the caraṇam. Uniquely in the varṇam, there is never a final return to the opening section, the pallavi.

Varṇam compositions are of two kinds; pada varṇam is for dance and is the major item of a bharata-nāṭyam recital; tāna varṇam is for singing (or playing), and the extra passages following the anupallavi and caraṇam are sung with svara syllables only. Traditionally a varṇam is sung as the first item of every concert; otherwise, they are regarded as advanced study pieces, from which many important rāga configurations are learnt. The verbal texts of tāna varṇam are short and floridly set; the individual svara in the pulsed melismas are sung in a distinctly emphatic and separated fashion unique to the tāna varṇam.

The most important modern south Indian type of composition is the kīrtanam. A kīrtanam used as a concert piece and endowed with composed variations (saṅgati, cittasvara) is often called a kriti. In essence a kīrtanam is a simple devotional song for group singing, comprising a short refrain, the pallavi, sung by the whole group, and a number of stanzas, the caraṇam, for the leader or for individual members of the group. The pallavi is sung in a low register and the caraṇam in the upper register. Kīrtanam like this, including many composed and used by Tyāgarāja for his own devotions, are still sung as bhajana (devotional songs).

Even the simplest kīrtanam, however, usually have besides pallavi and multiple caraṇam an anupallavi, following and rhyming with the pallavi, set to a contrasting melody in the upper register. Many simple devotional kīrtanam have anupallavi and caraṇam in the same tune. In a more complex kīrtanam the full ABCB′ structure of kriti and dhrupad is observed (see §(i) above). In the typical design of the small concert kriti, the pallavi and anupallavi have one line each, while each caraṇam has two lines (sometimes four). A larger kriti normally has two lines in the pallavi, two lines in the anupallavi and four or more lines in the caraṇam; normally only one caraṇam is used for a large kriti.

Ex.8 above shows the basic melodies of the whole of Tyāgarāja’s ‘Gītārthamu’, a song of 2 + 2 + 4 lines (= tāla cycles) treated as a moderately substantial concert piece. As mentioned above, any individual line of a composition may be enlarged with a succession of memorized variations called saṅgati. Omitted from ex.8 are whole sets of saṅgati for the first half-line (‘gītârthamu saṅgītânandamu’ etc.), and for both lines of the anupallavi; only the returns to the pallavi are indicated, in order to show the overall shape and continuity in performance. As is common practice, the first two lines of the caraṇam revert to the register of the pallavi, but with a different melody focussing on the 5th scale degree, while the last two lines (from ‘hari vara rūpuḍu’) have the same tune as the anupallavi.

Also contributing to the expansion of many kīrtanam compositions into elaborate concert kriti is the use of a tempo slower than the brisk pace appropriate to a devotional group song. The slow tempo permits the stylish transformation of a square text rhythm into a gracefully varied and elegant musical rhythm. The underlying rhythmic unit of ‘Gītārthamu’ at slow speed is represented in ex.8 as a quaver, making four beats to a minim count, eight counts in the time cycle. The long and short quantities in the text syllables can be regarded as doubled in value, the proportion being thought of as 4:2 rather than 2:1, which allows plenty of room for subtle rhythmic shifts of attack position. One sees that a value of 4 in a long syllable of the text can be replaced in the music by values of anything from 2 (in ‘dzūḍa’) to 6 (in ‘saṃ’); the duration of the short syllables can be reckoned on the same scale as being either 2 or 1. Among the rhythmic niceties made possible by this process is the reduction of the two longs of ‘gītā’ and ‘sītā’ and the four shorts of ‘hari-hara’ and ‘hari vara’ to a series of hemiolas, by squeezing them from two counts into one and a half. The eṭuppu (the time-point of each line beginning) is thereby shifted forward to the third beat of the first count, which in turn means that the ending of each line is carried across the first count before the next line is begun. The increased momentum thus given to line repetitions and variations, to continuations and to returns to the opening, contributes greatly to the unity of the composition as well as to its surface effect.

Ex.7 above, the pallavi and anupallavi of a kīrtanam by Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar, illustrates a rhythmic technique of a different kind, intrinsic to the basic structure of the composition rather than superimposed upon it. The musical rhythms are precisely based on the syllabic quantities of the text, but two tempos are used. The basic tempo is represented by ‘budham āśrayāmi satatam’, while ‘sura-vinutam candra-tārā sutam’ goes at twice the speed.

In the anupallavi the passage ‘madhura … sampadam’ is also at double time, called madhyama-kāla (‘medium speed’). Madhyama-kāla conclusions to sections are a constant feature of Dīkṣitar’s compositions, and in some cases very complex text–music devices are employed in their construction.

A programme of Karnatak music will normally comprise a sequence of compositions in different rāgas and different forms: mainly kriti or kīrtanam, with perhaps a varṇam to begin and a tillānā or bhajan to end. The extent of improvised elaboration will vary, some compositions being rendered with no more variation than the fixed saṅgati. Usually one item, often a large kriti, is elaborately developed, beginning with an extended ālāpanam. Some improvised niraval and/or svara-kalpana may be included during the rendition of the composition, and more may follow. The variety of improvisation techniques used and the extent of elaboration applied is limited, however, by the perception that the music is at root devotional, and the expression of the words should be enhanced, not overshadowed, by purely musical development. Full scope for abstract musical development is allowed only in the genre rāgam-tānam-pallavī, which may be performed as the centrepiece of a recital if time permits.

The performance of rāgam-tānam-pallavī, or pallavi for short, developed at the 18th- and 19th-century courts, beginning with the mid-18th-century Thanjavur musician Pachimiḻiam Ādiyappayya. It was and is the supreme test of a musician’s skill in improvisation. The composed element is reduced to a single short section, the pallavi; there are no anupallavi or caraṇam as in other forms. The pallavi itself has a special structure, comprising two phrases separated by a short rest; the first phrase is repeated to conclude the melody.

India, subcontinent of III. Theory and practice of classical music. 5. Compositions, genres and performance of vocal music. (iv) Genres and performance: Karnatak music.: Ex.15

View large

Usually the pallavi incorporates a technical challenge. It may be composed in an unusual rāga or tāla, or the two phrases may move at different speeds against the tāla. Two examples of pallavi melody are given in ex.15. The first is composed in an otherwise unknown tāla comprising successively shorter aṅga; in the second, set to miśra Cāpu tāla, the pattern of the tāla is presented in the first phrase at double speed, resulting in a highly syncopated rhythm. Such melodies were invented and proffered as challenges to court musicians by their patrons or rivals. The challenge was not only to repeat the pallavi immediately but also then to perform a complete rāgam-tānam-pallavī improvisation on it, lasting perhaps an hour (Catlin, 1985).

The elaboration of a pallavi begins with an extended unmetred ālāpanam, called rāgam in this context, in which the motivic material of the rāga is developed in all registers (see §3(ii)(d) above). When the soloist has completed this development, the violin accompanist is usually given an opportunity to play an ālāpanam independently. Then follows the tānam, where, as in the medium-tempo ālāp of dhrupad or the joṛ of a sitār solo, the rāga is unfolded against a steady but unmetred pulse (often articulated as a lightly pulsed drone by the violin). The pallavi melody is then introduced, and the percussion accompanist(s) (playing the barrel-drum mṛdaṅgam and optional instruments such as the pot drum ghaṭam) participate from this point on. Extended and elaborate niraval and svara-kalpana improvisations, by the soloist and the violin accompanist alternately, may also include the augmentation-diminution procedures known as anuloma and pratiloma, where the tāla is kept constant, and the composition is sung at faster or slower speeds (cf the lay-bā̃ṭ of dhrupad), or the composition is sung at a constant tempo and the tāla clapped at different speeds against it. A sequence of three or more progressive augmentations or diminutions may be termed trikāla (‘three time-reckonings’). Other variation procedures include a korappu, dialogue between the soloist and accompanists, in which the latter imitate immediately each phrase improvised by the former; and korvai, a pre-composed episode of complex rhythm played by all performers in unison. The performance ends with a final reprise of the pallavi, but this is normally preceded by tāni āvartanam, an extended percussion solo (or dialogue if there is more than one percussionist) in a number of episodes leading to a climax. The soloist must keep time for the percussionists by showing the tāla with the hand and must reintroduce the pallavi melody at exactly the right moment. Thus the underlying principle of pratigrahaṇikā-type improvisation, the return to the composition after improvised episodes, here becomes the final challenge of the pallavi performance.

6. Instrumental traditions.

South Asian instruments are classically arranged into four groups: tata (‘stretched’) are chordophones; suṣira (‘tubular’) are aerophones;avanaddha (‘covered’) are membranophones; and Ghana (‘solid’) are idiophones. This section discusses the instrumental repertories of Hindustani and Karnatak music; organological information is found under each instrument’s individual entry. It should be noted that many of the instruments below are also used in local, devotional, and popular traditions.

(i) Chordophones.

Principal South Asian chordophones

View large

The general term for a chordophone in Sanskrit music literature has been vīṇā (see Vīṇā). Today this term designates the Karnatak vīṇā (a plucked, fretted lute sometimes called Sarasvatī-vīṇā), while bīn refers to the Hindustani vīṇā (a plucked, fretted stick zither) associated with the dhrupad tradition (Table 15). Both of these instruments have a fretless counterpart, the goṭṭuvādyam and vicitrā vīṇā respectively, the string being stopped with a sliding block. The plucked lutes of Hindustani music are the fretted sitār (and its larger counterpart, the sūrbahār), the fretless sarod (and its forerunner the rabāb) and the drone lute tambūrā (also used in Karnatak music).

Bowed lutes in south Asia, the fretless sāraṅgī and violin and (uncommonly) the fretted dilrubā and esrāj, were traditionally accompanying instruments. The violin was predominant in the south and the sāraṅgī in the north; both now appear on concert platforms as solo instruments. The santūr, a struck box zither, was until recently restricted to the ṣūfiāna mūsīqī of Kashmir but is now being used to perform Hindustani music. Hindustani and Karnatak musicians have also adopted instruments originating from outside south Asia. In addition to the violin mentioned above, there are notable performers on the guitar and the mandolin.

TABLE 15: Principal South Asian chordophones

View large












sitar (and surbahar)



vicitra (mahāṭī) vīṇā



(sūr śṛiṅgār)











(dilrubāa and esrāj)

*the plucked ‘Afghan’ rabāb, not the bowed kemānche-like one

View large
(a) Vīṇā and bīn.
  • Gordon Geekie

A south Indian vīṇā performance consists of several discrete musical items varying in duration from five minutes to an hour or more. Each musical item starts with ālāpana, during which no tāla operates and there is no percussion accompaniment; the tāla strings are struck for occasional timbral contrast with the melody strings. In longer musical items, ālāpana is followed by tāna, in which rhythmic patterns are built up by alternating strokes on the tāla and melody strings. In the compositions and subsequent improvisations that follow tāna, a tāla operates and the mṛdaṅgam (barrel drum) provides a percussion accompaniment. In this context, the tāla strings are struck to mark the main beats of the tāla only (for example in Ādi tāla – comprising 8 beats – they are struck on 1, 5, and 7). In the Mysore vīṇā tradition this is strictly adhered to, though elsewhere, because of the influence of Hindustani sitār technique, innovators may tend to mark every beat of the tāla.

The bulk of the repertory comprises Kriti. The right-hand strokes (on the melody strings) of the vīṇā represent the consonants of the song text. When a kriti is performed, lines of the song text are repeated (from four to 16 or more times) with progressive melodic development. Two consistent features of such development are the gradual increase in rhythmic density and the extension of the range of pitch movement, which build up excitement and tension in the listener. On the vīṇā, this involves the left arm moving faster and farther up and down the neck. Towards the end of such developments the tension is released by alternating this material with a contrasting line of melody/song text, followed by a return to the first rendering of the original line. Spontaneous improvisation may occur within this, and wholly improvised items of repertory (pallavi) follow the same cyclical form.

The northern vīṇā, or bīn, is played by performers of Dhrupad, particularly in ālāp. Many of the techniques of portamento and the use of the cikāri (punctuating) strings used in the performance of ālāp, joṙ and jhālā (see below) originated in bīn technique. The bīn is also played in metric compositions with the pakhāvaj (barrel drum), but the subordination of instrumental to vocal style has resulted in an absence of distinctively instrumental compositional styles.

(b) Sitār and sarod.
  • Alastair Dick

The two main classical Sitār repertories, or bāj, comprising styles of metric composition (gāt) and associated performing practices, were established during the 18th century. The Delhi bāj is based on a style attributed to Masit Khan of the 18th century Mughal capital. His descendants later moved to Rajasthani courts, and the style is also called ‘western’ (pachāo, pachvā̃), or masītkhānī.

The masītkhānī performing style was dhrupad-influenced, with rabāb- and bīn-derived ālāp(introductory section), joṛ, thak, and jhālā metric variational practices, including melodic or rhythmic transformation of the gat (sīdhī-āṛī) and augmentation-diminution (thā-dūn), similar to dhrupad bāṭ (the tablā ṭhekā for slow tīntāl in 19th-century Bengali sources is markedly like that of the pakhāvaj).

The ‘eastern’ (pūrab) or razākhānī bāj is attributed to Ghulam Raza Khan of Lucknow. The razākhānī style is probably closer to the sitār tanbūr than the dhrupad tradition: the ‘light’ rāgas that form part of it (such as Kāfi, Pīlū, Khamāj, and Bhairavī) are melodically similar to Central Asian tunes. Performing practice included augmentation-diminution (thā-dūn), cross-string plucking (cheṛ) and short stretches of melodic passage work (khucṛā tān or upaj) derived from khayāl song and often improvised.

The terms masītkhānī and razākhānī, applied to gat, denote skeletal rhythmic plucking structures (slow and fast respectively) rather than specific melodic compositions by Masit Khan and Raza Khan. The most common razākhānī type begins on the 7th beat; some such compositions predate Raza Khan and are attributed in tradition (especially those in rāga Kāfī) to Amir Khusrau and may relate to ṣūfiāna raṅg. They were extended by 18th-century sitār players such as the brothers Lāḍ Khān and Pyār Khān.

There is a greater underlying similarity in the plucking rhythm of the first lines of the two gat types than is apparent today, when the tempo difference may be 8:1 or more; traditional sitār players, however, still refer to the two as dhīmā (‘moderate’) and dūnī (‘double’). Older gat from this period are often in two lines, corresponding to the sthāyī and mañjhā, not sthāyī and antarā, of the modern style. The mañjhā line is created in masītkhānī gat by triple repetition of the first sub-bar, comparable to the gat-dohrā (‘theme and doubling’) of Delhi tablā; the antarā is probably a later development influenced by vocal forms and created here by rhythmic imitation of the first two lines into the upper octave. Razākhānī gat shows more variety. The emerging classical gat repertory of the 18th century represents different stylizations of common material. This shows some affinity with the instrumental ‘teahouse’ music of north Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Table 16 represents the forms played in the modern sitār repertory. It displays the two movements (ālāp and gat-toṛā), principal sections (ālāp, slow, and fast gat), and subordinate sections (joṛ and jhālā). Some optional procedures are grouped beneath each section. Full performances include all sections (16); shorter ones omit some (especially 2, 3, and 6). The introductory ālāp sometimes occurs alone, but normally elements of both ālāp and gat-toṛā are included; the order of sections is always maintained. Change to a related rāga sometimes occurs, while rāga-mālā (‘garland of rāgas’) with extemporized changes of mode is quite popular. A prastārikā (‘medley’) of gat in several tāla is now rare. The usual term for the complete performance is rāg, though the term gat was formerly used in this sense.

TABLE 16: Schematic representation of rāga form for the sitār

View large


Gat-toṛā (with tāl)







a āocār ālāp



slow gat

fast gat


b vistār alāp

c bandhan ālāp


















tān (muhrā)











View large

The first section (ālāp) is devoted to the exposition of the mode through various techniques primarily derived from vocal music, above all portamento (mī̃iṙ), which is achieved through string deflection. Ālāp is without metre (tāla) or drum accompaniment and is always molto cantando. Āocār ālāp (1(a); uccār: ‘pronouncement’) is a brief announcement of the rāga through a few characteristic phrases, such as the pakaṛ (Hindi: ‘catch’), and may lead directly to gat (4 or 5). Phrasal ālāp of various kinds (1(c); Hindi bandhān: ‘bound’; Urdu qāid: ‘strict’) comprises more extended development of such phrases centring on strong tones of the mode – the tonic (sa), melodic centre (vādī), secondary centre (saṃvādī), and often also the 5th (pa) or 4th (ma) degree of the scale. In 1(b), vistār or bistār (‘extended’) ālāp, these features of the rāga are elaborated in slow, rigorous developments through low, middle, and upper octaves. In the middle octave, each note is introduced in turn in ascending scale order, and the development of each note is concluded by a rhythmic cadence (muhrā: ‘coming forward’). This form reflects the bīn–sūrbahār repertories; a generation ago a sitāriyā (sitār player) could play vistār of a rāga on the sūrbahār and then its gat-toṛā on the sitār tuned a 4th or a 5th higher. Ālāp-type development may also occur in gat sections (4, 5). In slow gat (4), vistār-type extension called baṛhat (‘increase’) or ālāpī is performed in free tempo against slow tablā metre. This feature is again relatively modern and derived from khayāl; in both khayāl and sitār performance it would follow an introductory āocār ālāp. Short phrasal ālāp occurring in gat sections is bahlāvā (‘divertissement’).

In joṛ (2; ‘joining’) and jhālā (3), there are various combinations of techniques that may derive partly from vocal nom-tom ālāp (which may itself derive from instruments), developing rāga through pulse and tempo. Rhythmic groupings are set up through tonal patterns and play made with departure and return to the beat; later stages concentrate on intensified patterns – laṛī and complex cross-rhythmic bol and ṭhoṅk (‘hammering’).

Jhālā (‘a shower’), which cannot be earlier than mid-19th century on the sitār (when the cikāri strings were added), contrasts accelerated patterns on the melody strings and the cikāri, with accent either on the latter (ulaṭ: ‘reversed’) at the end of ālāp (3) or on the former (sulaṭ: ‘straightforward’) to conclude fast gat (6; some sources reverse these terms). The ulaṭ with added complex bol is ṭhoṅk jhālā. A former technique derived from sarod and rabāb, jhārā (also ‘shower’) played patterns similar to jhālā, but all on the main string. The sitār and bīn equivalent of the time was cheṛ (‘excitation’), which contrasted melody string notes with fast patterns on open or fretted drones.

The metric gat compositions (4, 5) remain the heart of sitār repertory as models for the student and the nucleus of performing practice. In the mid-19th century these were quite separate traditions; in standard modern performing practice, both types of gat follow in succession. Tīntāl (a 16-beat rhythmic cycle) is the base for both bāj. In the 19th century, 12-beat Ektāl was the other main tāla for sitār (being symmetrical it was also good for thā-dūn; see below); today, gat in many tāla have been developed, notably by sitār players of the Allaudin Khan school.

There are many types of improvisational practice that occur as toṛā (‘breaks’) in gat playing. In gat-vistār, for example, the plucking pattern of the masītkhānī gat is kept up by the right hand, while the left hand moves elsewhere to provide different melodic elaborations. The older truly variational ones (sīdhī-āṛī,thā-dūn) are less common today, but āmad (variation of the cadence) is still important. Chand, boltān and tārparan stress right-hand plucking and are similar to joṛ-jhālā techniques.Tān, mainly melodic bravura passages, have seen a great development following that of khayāl.

Very rapid right-hand plucking has always been a feature of sitār playing, but with the left hand moving much more slowly, so that many small sets of repeated notes are heard. Virtuoso concert performers now often move the left hand as fast as the right. Cross-rhythmic work (āṛā-kuāṛī: ‘cross-crooked’) and the triple rhythmic cadence (tihāī,tīyā) serving as a closing cue probably derive from drums and dance (kathak). Modern savāl-javāb (‘question-answer’) is antiphonal phrasing from sitār to tablā, leading to a climactic sāth-saṅgat (‘simultaneous [improvised] accompaniment’); more traditionally this denotes thematic imitation of sitār and tablā ‘breaks’.

As with the sitār, the historical centre of the Sarod repertory is composed of gat with variational and extensional ‘breaks’ (toṛā), primarily in Tīntāl. Medium-tempo gat were common in the traditional repertory, but today the sarod also plays slow masītkhānī and fast razākhānī gat types, like the sitār, and also in various tālas.

Much of its performing practice is the same as that of the sitār, though the nomenclature may vary, and the sarod now performs the full form of ālāp, joṛ, slow gat, fast gat and jhālā. The joṛ and jhālā repertory in particular owes much to the rabāb–sarod tradition. Although in the past the number of sarod gharānā was small, the instrument now enjoys great popularity.

(c) Sāraṅgī and violin.
  • Harold S. Powers

The Sāraṅgī is traditionally used to accompany vocal music (essentially imitating what the singer has just sung), especially khayāl and ṭhumrī (see §5(iii) above), and to play the time-keeping melody for tablā solos and kathak dance. The sāraṅgī is also used, though less frequently, as a solo instrument. In this case the central repertory may be described as ‘instrumental Khayāl’: ālāp followed by slow then fast compositions. The most famous player of modern times,Ram Narayan, has incorporated elements from the dhrupad vocal tradition and has developed his own individual playing style. He is also the only outstanding player to restrict his performances to solos. Other great exponents of recent times, among them Bundu Khan and Gopal Misra, continued the tradition of accompanying vocal music, in addition to giving solo recitals.

The European violin was introduced into south Indian music in about 1800. Balasvāmi Dīkṣitar (Muttusvāmi’s youngest brother) and the Thanjavur musician Vadivelu who settled in Trivandrum were its first exponents. By the end of the 19th century it had become the standard accompanying instrument for concerts of Karnatak music, and it is now also widely used as a solo instrument. It is tuned in 4ths and 5ths (or 5ths and 4ths) sounding sa and pa. The original fingering was a two-finger technique modelled on the vīṇā, sliding up with the middle finger and down with the index finger.

Many aspects of European technique have been adopted and refashioned to the purposes of Karnatak music. No general vibrato is used, but the instrument lends itself admirably to the gamaka of the south Indian style. It is held with the body against the upper chest and the scroll wedged firmly against the ankle, fully stabilized so that the left hand is free to slide along the fingerboard. The violin is now also used as a solo instrument in Hindustani music.

(ii) Aerophones.
  • Harold S. Powers

Aerophones have played special and limited roles in South Asian music. The flute (vaṃśa) is one of only two instruments for which rāgas are listed in the Saṅgīta-ratnākara; it was also an important instrument in the ancient theatre orchestra. It did not play any role in classical music of modern times until the 20th century, during which time it became a concert instrument for both Karnatak (veṇu, Tamil pullāṅkuḻal) and Hindustani music (bā̃srī, bā̃surī). In Karnatak music flautists play the standard vocal repertory, and the flute is now heard in the cinna meḻam that accompanies bharata-nāṭyam. In Hindustani music flautists play in an ‘instrumental khayāl’ style: ālāp, followed by slow khayāl accompanied by ṭhekā on tablā, then fast khayāl with tān.

The south Indian double-reed Nāgasvaram, the sound of which is valued as auspicious, is the leading instrument in the temple periya meḻam, with the tavil and the drone oboe ottu; it also appears on the concert stage. Part of the repertory of the nāgasvaram is derived from the Karnatak tradition, largely vocal compositions. Additionally a body of instrumental compositions without any text (mallārī) is performed solely on the nāgasvaram. A composition in slow tempo is varied through performance at double, quadruple, and octuple tempos. Different tempos may be mixed together, and a composition may be performed in triplet patterns as well.

The Śahnāī is the double-reed instrument of north India. It is linked with the naubat ensemble and is played in many different contexts: on the concert stage, at mausoleums, mosques and in temple compounds. Like the bā̃surī, the śahnāī follows the pattern of khayāl performances when played on the concert platform (see also §(v) below).

(iii) Membranophones.

The major barrel drums of South Asian classical traditions are the south Indian and tavil and the north Indian pakhāvaj; the tablā is a pair of asymmetrical kettledrums; and the south Indian Kañjīrā is a frame drum (fig.7). The mṛdaṅgam, pakhāvaj, and tablā are discussed below. The tavil accompanies the nāgasvaram in the periya meḻam, both within the temple precinct and in processions. The tavil accompaniment is distinctive, often playing short solos during the unmetred ālāpana (perhaps to give a rest to the nāgasvaram players); the drum also accompanies classical song-based metred compositions. The kañjīrā is often used to accompany Karnatak vocal music, along with the mṛdaṅgam and ghaṭam (percussion vessel).

Four types of Indian drum, showing the different playing positions: (a) mṛdaṅgam, south India; (b) tavil, south India; (c) pakhāvaj, north India; (d) tablā and bayā̃ (kettledrum, left), north-west India

Photo: Deben Bhattacharya, Paris
View large
(a) Mṛdaṅgam and pakhāvaj.
  • Harold S. Powers, Gordon Geekie and Alastair Dick

As with the vīṇā, the name mṛdaṅga(m) refers to both a northern (also known as pakhāvaj) and southern Indian instrument. Both can be traced back to the mardala, a barrel drum whose technique is discussed in depth in the medieval Saṅgīta-ratnākara (13th century). The mardala patterns are still very much in evidence in the modern mṛdaṅga(m) traditions.

There were and are two different kinds of drum strokes and patterns: a primordial set of four and a certain number used for filling in between them. The Saṅgīta-ratnākara gives ta dhi thoṃ ṭem for the primal set, called śrama-vāhanī (‘carrying the burden’); this is still the basis for the first sequence learnt in both Hindustani and Karnatak mṛdaṅgam traditions. It also gives the sequence in repeating pairs, triplets, and quadruplets – ta-ta dhi-dhi … ta-ta-ta dhi-dhi-dhi … etc. – as they are still given in the first lessons. The last syllable now is usually nam (another of seven basic mardala strokes in the Saṅgīta-ratnākara) but may also be jheṃ or jhoṃ in the Karnatak traditions.

The second class of strokes in the Saṅgīta-ratnākara is called eka-sara-ṭākanī (‘single-flowing-ṭākanī’), exemplified by combinations of taka and dhikaṭa said to amount to eight, which are meant to ‘break’ the sequences of ta dhi thoṃ ṭem and provide a ‘flow’ of drumming. Many examples of the elaboration of the ta dhi tom nam succession by means of secondary ‘flowing’ formulae combined with repetition and recurrence of the four main strokes are given in the 14th-century Saṅgītopaniṣat-sāroddhāra (Sudhākalaśa). Very interesting historically is the association of each variant with a tāla, as though for a ṭhekā of Hindustani music. Although they are mostly not absolutely identical with existing traditional patterns, some of these patterns are very close, and all are playable. The first quoted below is for Ādī tāla: ‘tad dhi thau draim’. Others are ‘tat-taki/tat-ta/dhi-dhik-ki/dhid-dhi’; ‘tat-ta/dhid-dhi/thau-thau/dhi draim’; ‘karagaḍa naragaḍa/tad-dhi-dhik kaḍa-daragaḍa dhid-dhi kat-thau/dhik-kat-thau draim’.

A longer specimen of ta dhi thau draim plus the filler formula daragaḍa, unconnected with a specific tāla, is given in the chapter on instruments, as an instance of combination for the mardala: ‘tak-kaḍa daragaḍa/dhik-kaḍa daragaḍa tā-dhik-kaḍa/dā-dhik-kaḍa/daragaḍa dhid-dhik-kaḍa/tā-tak-kaḍa/daragaḍa tak-kaḍa/dā-dhik-kaḍa/daragaḍa dhik-kaḍa daragaḍa daragaḍa tā dhit thau draim’.

Comparing these patterns with the first lessons in south Indian mṛdaṅgam traditions shows the continuity in the principle of combining the main strokes with filler patterns (jāti), e.g. tā–kiṭataka dhī–kiṭataka tom–kiṭataka nam–kiṭataka/tā tā kiṭa dhī dhī kiṭa tom tom kiṭa nam nam kiṭa. Other and longer formulae of filler syllables are combined with kiṭataka, such as tarikiṭa, takadina, takadimi, jaṇutaka, and so on: tak-kiṭa kiṭataka takatarikiṭataka/dhik-kiṭa kiṭataka takatarikiṭataka etc. Other single strokes or short groups can take the places of ta dhi tom nam: tak-kum kiṭataka … talāngutom kiṭataka … etc.

(b) South Indian mṛdaṅgam.
  • Alastair Dick and Devdan Sen

In their early training, modern students of the south Indian mṛdaṅgam learn to play different jātis in relation to different tālas. There are no fixed relationships between particular jātis and particular tālas. The player’s rhythmic sense and motor skills are developed through increasingly varied and complex relations between the two:jātis comprising odd numbers of strokes played in tālas comprising even numbers of beats, and vice versa; doubling, halving, and trebling the tempos of the jātis while the tāla remains constant; and starting the jātis on different beats of the tāla.

Playing in terms of improvising jatis in relation to a fixed tāla is called konugolu. This is contrasted with the tathākāra approach used when accompanying melody instruments. South Indian mṛdaṅgam players do not keep time in the same way as tablā players do (see §(b) below) but supply a rhythmic counterpoint to the repeated pattern of accents provided by the melody instrument or voice, along with rolls and flourishes.

During the kalpana svara passages that follow improvised pallavi (and may follow fixed compositions, called kriti), the melody instrument improvises increasingly long and rhythmically complex sequences, each terminating on the same strong accent of a refrain passage. In kalpana svara the melody instrument usually ‘challenges’ the mṛdaṅgam player to repeat immediately the complex rhythmic sequence just played. During such ‘contests’, the mṛdaṅgam player may occasionally replicate a melodic sequence by skilful left-hand strokes.

The solo performance recital traditionally occupies anything from 15 minutes to an hour or more towards the end of a concert, following the main rāga of the concert. This is the longest item, comprising rāga, tānam,pallavi improvisation (or, increasingly nowadays, a kriti), and improvised kalpana svara. These last two sections are set to a single tāla of fixed tempo. Immediately after kalpana svara the mṛdaṅgam continues alone into the solo recital, improvising with as many different jatis and jati sequences as possible within the framework of the fixed tāla. The player does not mark the strong beats of the tāla with regular drumstrokes; throughout the mṛdaṅgam solo the principal performer of the ensemble marks the strong beats with movements of the right hand. In this way the complex and varying relationships between the rhythmic accents of the jati sequences and the strong beats of the tāla are made accessible to the spectators. Towards the end of the solo the rhythmic density increases to herald the approach of the climax, which lasts for a minute or two and in which relationships between rhythm and metre display maximum complexity and variability. The solo concludes with three repeats of a pre-arranged terminal jāti, which concludes precisely on the starting note of the pallavi refrain played once by the whole ensemble to terminate the musical item.

Of the tālas used, Ādī (4+2+2) is the most common. However, other tālas such as Rūpaka (2+4), Tripuṭa (3+2+2), Eka (4), Khaṇḍa chāpu (2+3) and Miśra chāpu (3+4) are frequently heard, and many popular compositions are set to these tālas. Occasionally, compositions in Dhruva (4+2+4+4), Maṭhya (4+2+4), Jhampa (7+1+2) and Aṭa (5+5+2+2) are found, usually in the context of improvised pallavi. Ādī tāla has three tempos, arrived at by doubling and quadrupling the number of beats in the measure. The other tālas have a single tempo (although this is variable within limits). Rūpaka, Tripuṭa and Khaṇḍa chāpu are fast tempo tālas; Eka and Miśra chāpu are medium tempo; and Dhruva, Maṭhya, Jhampa, and Aṭa are slow. The slow tempo tālas are associated with older compositions. Mṛdaṅgam players often experiment with theoretically derived tālas, but these rarely result in public performances.

(c) Pakhāvaj.

The vocal and instrumental forms of dhrupad, accompanied by pakhāvaj, are rhythmically organized in tāla. The drum is silent during the ālāp; with the commencement of the vocal or instrumental composition the drum begins to play. The general style of pakhāvaj accompaniment is characterized as ‘simultaneous-variational’ (sāth saṅgat), which distinguishes it from the alternating variation of the tablā in the newer Indo-Muslim style.

The dhrupad tāla system has been characterized as additive, in that the common metres are made up mostly of sub-bars of different lengths, thus: Cautāl (Cārtāl, Dhrupadtāl), 12 beats (4+4+2+2); Sūltāl, 10 beats (4+2+4); Tīvrātāl, 7 beats (3+2+2); Dhamār, 14 beats (5+2+3+4); Āṙā (‘crooked’) Cautāl, 14 beats (2+4+4+4). The tāla itself has the function of a time signature, a conceptual framework between the musicians. The pakhāvaj, unlike the tablā, does not make much use of a base-rhythm pattern in performance, though it does have illustrative patterns. These are sometimes called thapiyā (‘mark’, ‘signature’), or ṭhekā (‘support’), following the tablā terminology.

The most important aspect of pakhāvaj (as of the vocal) variations is tempo manipulation, for which the general term is bā̃ṭ (‘division’). In general, these ‘mask’ rather than ‘mark’ the tāla structure, driving at their conclusion towards the main, first beat of the metre (sam) to coincide with the singer. The structure of a typical pakhāvaj dhrupad accompaniment may be discussed principally in terms of tempo (laya): in the first verse (sthāyī) the drum plays tukṛā prastār or peśkār variations in base-tempo, usually medium; in the second (antarā) it plays double-tempo prastār and ṭukṛā; in sañcāri it plays triple- and in ābhog, quadruple-tempo variations; in subsequent returns to the sthāyī, more complex tempos develop (five or seven against four, for example). This format applies to solo playing, but more adventurous tempos (three-quarters, one-and-a-quarter etc.) also occur. Sharma talks of 32 tempo patterns in all. The doubling of tempo within a piece is called dupallī (‘two-fold’), and successive doublings tīnpallī, caupallī etc.

Within this are several different types of variational structure organized by tone-colour, repetition, and recurrence, and so on. Ṭukṛā (‘piece’) is a short variation from a few beats to two or three cycles in length, usually with varying strokes and rhythms, and with or without a closing tihāī or triple cadential formula. The term paran (for pūraṇ: ‘filler’; though it has also a more general connotation) is usually reserved for longer structures with manipulation of strokes (bol), tempo, and timbre. This often takes the form of theme and tihāī, the latter usually a compound one (cakradār: ‘three times three’). An additional and important principle of variation is that of additive extension (prastār), where a particular bol-phrase is taken (ghinanaka is a favourite one for this) and increasingly varied and complex bol are added before it (e.g.dhā-kiṭa ghinanaka, dhumakiṭa ghinanaka, dhā-kiṭa dhumakiṭa ghinanaka ghinanaka, dhā-kiṭa dhumakiṭa takadhuma ghinanaka). A piece that further emphasizes the permutation of bol (as in dhumakiṭa takadhuma above) is called peśkār (this has more in common with the qāidā than the peśkār of the tablā). The relā (‘torrent’) of the pakhāvaj may derive from imitation of the tārparan and jhālā patterns of such string instruments as the bīn and rabāb (which the pakhāvaj used to accompany) and are fast streams of predominantly closed, rolling bol, given in quadruple groupings which are mostly in 12-beat Cautāl and 16-beat Tritāl (the favourite instrumental tālas). The paṛār is a longer relā (around six cycles in length) with a closing tihāī. Patterns in one tāla may here be fitted into another. The pakhāvaj also plays with the kathak dance, where in addition to the rhythmic procedures sketched above, its bol can include lexical words or syllables; this occurs also in religious formulae (stuti), where the bol corresponds prosodically to, and also symbolizes, the words of the text.

(d) Tablā.

The Tablā has a rich and diverse repertory. They are used to accompany kathak dance, ‘big’ and ‘small’ khayāl and tarānā (see §5(iii)(b) above), ‘light’ song forms such as ṭappā, dādrā, and ghazal (see §IV below), and the instrumental gat toṛā; they are also used to perform solo compositions. A tablā composition is bound by the number of mātrā (‘measure’, ‘count’) of the particular tāla in which it is performed, the tempo (laya) and the individual peculiarities of the compositional type. Some are cyclical (e.g. qāida), reflecting the cyclical nature of tāla structure and its mechanisms, such as the bhārā (‘heavy’) and khālī (‘empty’) portions of the time-cycle, which are marked by voiced and unvoiced syllables respectively; others, though metrically governed by the tāla, do not necessarily adhere to its internal principles. Most ṭhekā (see below) adhere to the internal structure of their respective tālas, such as vibhāg (‘breakdown’, i.e. division) and its tālī (‘clapped’) and khālī (‘empty’) adjuncts. Compositions such as ṭukṛā (‘piece’) ignore these, exploring other metrical intricacies such as the tihāī (triple cadential formula). Most compositions eventually return to the ṭhekā by means of a tihāī, with the last syllable on the sam (the first beat of a given time-cycle) of the ensuing cycle. The ṭhekā establishes the laya and marks the āvarta (‘cycle’) by referring to the sam and the vibhāg marked by tālī and khālī. A function of ṭhekā is to accompany instruments and/or the voice, compositions being introduced when the soloist takes a rest from improvisation. The tablā may also be performed solo (lahrā: ‘tune’), usually to the accompaniment of an instrument such as the sāraṅgī, playing a circular tune (naghma) and marking time. The choosing of a composition is governed by the type of performance and the music being accompanied, together with the tempo in which it is being performed. Compositions may be said to fall into two distinct categories: those that are fixed (e.g. ṭukṛā; see below) and those that are variable, such as the qā’ida.

The qā’ida (‘formula’) has a fixed cell composition establishing a set of syllables (bol) used as a basis for variations through permutations of the phrases. A variation (palṭā) may not use syllables other than those contained within the main cell composition. The permutations are not so much of individual syllables as of phrases. There are two distinct approaches to the qā’ida: the Delhi gharānā and the pūrab (‘eastern’, e.g. Lucknow, Varanasi). The qā’ida is a special feature of the tablā and is said to have originated in the Delhi style (bāj). It follows the principles of tablā -orientated ṭhekā such as Tīntāl (16 mātrā) and Jhaptāl (10 mātrā), both of which are divisible into two equal halves, the first bhārī and the second khālī. Both these tālas, as with other tablā tālas, have the characteristic tālī, tālī, khālī,tālī breakdown. The qā’ida follows a similar pattern with the first two tālī forming the bhārī and the second half, khālī and tālī, collectively representing the khālī. Even where there is an asymmetrical tāla such as Rūpak (which has seven mātrā, divided into khālī (3), tālī (2), tālī (2)) a similar process is used by multiplying the original composition by two or four, and so evening out any odd numbers of pulses. The khālī and tālī of Rūpak are not reflected on the expounding of the qā’ida, which adheres to its symmetrical form. The Delhi qā’ida reflect the vibhāg more clearly than do some of the pūrab qā’ida, which tend to be more convoluted and intricate. A characteristic of the Delhi bāj is the dohrā (‘doubling’), which gives the first half of the main qā’ida in its bhārī form, twice, and then the main qā’ida with its second half tailing into khālī by becoming unvoiced. The first half is then repeated twice in its unvoiced form, followed by the main qā’ida, both halves played voiced. The dohrā thus suggests four parts, equivalent to tālī,tālī, khālī, and tālī. The palṭā (‘permutations’) are introduced in a similar format, substituting the first quarter of the dohrā, and are repeated in the third section as khālī by being unvoiced. The qā’ida is thus performed in duple tempo to the original established by the main composition, which in turn is dictated by the tempo provided by the ṭhekā. The qā’ida returns to the ṭhekā by means of a tihāī.Qā’ida are played in all three basic tempos: vilambīt-laya (‘slow tempo’), madhya-laya (‘medium tempo’), and drut (‘fast tempo’). ‘Light’ (laggī)qā’ida, with lighter syllabic patterns, are used in accompanying ‘semi/light-classical’ forms such as ṭhumri, as well as in traditional and film tunes and songs.

Other types of variable composition are similarly expanded by means of palṭā. The relā (‘rushing’) is a qā’ida-type composition having a main bol from which the dohrā and palṭa are derived, eventually returning to ṭhekā by means of a tihāī. It is played at a fast tempo, producing a rapid, rolling effect by employing suitable phraseology (e.g. terekeṭe and dhere dhere as in the relā: ‘(dhā terekiṭe dhere dhere dhere ghire naghe) × 2; dhā terekiṭe dhā terekiṭe dhā terekiṭe dhere dhere dhere ghire naghe’ (Tīntāl)). The peśkār (‘introduction’) and the uṭhān (‘arising’) also expand by means of the palṭā. In some pūrab gharānā (e.g. Farukhabad) the peśkār, as practised by Delhi, is known as the uṭhān. The peśkār is seen as a composition with a marked gait, being expanded through similar principles to the qā’ida. The uṭhān, on the other hand, is developed through less rigid principles, leaving room for comparatively free improvisations within certain conventions laid out by root compositions. Both these compositions are played in vilambīt-laya and are normally used to introduce solo or accompanying performance.

The qā’ida expansion principles are also evident in other compositions, such as the calan (‘movement’) and the gat (‘measure’, ‘tune’). There are many forms of gat, some resembling the qā’ida while others, because of the nature of their intricacies, are expanded only by using pre-composed variations. An example of this second type is the mañjhadhār gat (‘holding the centre’), in which the normal duple pulse is found in the centre of the composition. Most mañjhadhār gat are given variations only in forming tihāī and/or cakradār (‘forming circles’), a triple cadential formula often thought of as a composition in itself. Gat, therefore, may be divided into two categories: those that are variable, such as gat qā’ida, and those that are set.

The most important of the set compositions is the ṭukṛā (‘piece’), a fixed composition ending in a tihāī. Another form of ṭukṛā is the paran borrowed from the pakhāvaj. The paran of the tablā is similar to the tukṛā but dominated by pakhāvaj stroke-syllabic structures. These compositions are performed usually in drut (fast tempo) and are used in solo and in dance accompaniments. The mukhṛā (‘face’) is a short composition introducing sam, its maximum length being one āvarta.

A distinctive feature of tablā performance (and an innovation in South Asian art music) is the alternation between a base-pattern (ṭhekā: ‘framework’, ‘prop’, ‘support’) and variation forms. The ṭhekā and variational breaks are employed for basic training, solo playing, accompaniment of dance, ‘small’khayāl and tarānā, and instrumental gat. Following the dancer’s base-pattern of footwork (tatkār) in Tīntāl (the quadruple metre fundamental to this style) – based on alternate steps of the right (R) and left (L) feet – the tablā ṭhekā is founded on an alternation of the two principal resonant right-hand strokes ta and tin (on a base-relationship of two strokes to one step), itself made binary by the presence or absence of the resonant left-hand stroke ghe (Table 17). Similar structures evolved for other tablā-accompanied tāla, such as Dādrā, Jhap, and Rūpak; in the case of the two that involve an up-beat and are thus asymmetrical (Rūpak overall, Jhap internally), the upbeat stroke tin is played on the main accents. An older ṭhekā for Rūpak, for example, in origin probably an Afghan dance motor-rhythm (it is also known as Paśto tāla), has been transformed in the modern ṭhekā to conform to the metronomic and qualitative pattern of the kathak dance style (Table 18). In dance the ‘support’ given by the ṭhekā is one of maintaining flow, tempo, and metre between dance pieces; to this end it has evolved as a polyrhythmic (but even) pattern, in which every beat has an accent, without much use of dynamic variety. This has been adopted in ‘fast’ khayāl and tarānā and in instrumental gat, to accompany the variations of the lead musician.

TABLE 17: Tīntāl ṭhekā

View large




























View large


View large



















View large

In slow khayāl and the ‘light’ song-forms, ṭhekā of a different nature have evolved, mostly using agogic organization and signal strokes to maintain the tāla; in modern slow khayāl this can consist of individual beats lasting up to six seconds, given in cycles of from 10 to 16 beats. The slow masītkhānī and seniyā gat of the sitār were clearly designed to be accompanied by pakhāvaj, and the influence of that drum’s style is seen in some 19th century ṭhekā (Table 19); now they are accompanied exclusively by the tablā.

TABLE 19: slow Tīntāl ṭhekā (Goswami, 1868)

View large



































View large

The repertory of the razākhānī, or Lucknow, sitār is more closely allied to the typical fast khayāl dance and tablā framework. The sarod (and, more recently, other melody instruments) progressively adopted a performance structure and tablā accompaniment pattern derived from that of the sitār. The performance structure for tablā solo (tablā lahrā; ‘tablā and fiddle-tune’, showing the old association with the sāraṅgī, though the melody may now be played on harmonium, sitār, etc.) derived naturally from the daily practice and creation of new material over the centuries by the tablā player, and it uses the ṭhekā pattern to maintain flow between variations.

(iv) Idiophones.
  • Harold S. Powers

Cymbals (tāḷam) and flat gongs have played, and in some contexts still do play, an essential part in marking out the divisions of a tāla. In some contexts they may be used to play rhythmic patterns, in a similar manner to the drums described above. The ceṅṅalam (small flat gong) and iḷataḷam (cymbals) of the kathakaḷi ensemble often play patterns distinct from time-keeping.

The naṭṭuvanār of the cinna meḻam changes from time-keeping with the naṭṭuva tāḷam (a pair of cymbals, one of bronze and one of steel) to playing the rhythm whenever reciting choreographic syllables for the dancer, reverting to time-keeping when the song is resumed.

The South Indian gaṭam is a clay pot used as a struck idiophone. It is often present as a member of the Karnatak concert ensemble and plays rhythmic patterns along with, and alternating with, the mṛdaṅgam. Also occasionally present in the Karnatak ensemble as a rhythmic accompanying instrument is the mursing (jews harp).

(v) Ensembles.

Table 20

View large

An ensemble for South Asian art music is best understood in terms of the musical functions: melody governed by rāga, rhythm comprising pattern and tempo (laya), and the two brought together under a time cycle (tāla). Two supplementary elements in an ensemble are an instrumental drone, reinforcing the system tonic, and a melodic accompaniment. Table 20 shows the main parts of ensembles in the two art musics today, grouped according to musical role.

TABLE 20: Roles in South Asian art music ensembles

View large




voice (khayāl, ṭhumrī, dhrupad)

vīṇā; more recently

bīn, sitar, sarod; more recently


violin, flute, etc

violin, flute, sāraṅgī, etc



nāgasvaram (temple

sahnāī (temple and ceremonial,

processions, now also

now also concerts)



harmonium, sāraṅgī (khayāl, ṭhumrī)




[2nd vīṇā; violin]

[bīṅ formerly accompanied dhrupad]



[2nd nāgasvaram]

[2nd sahnāī]


tablā (khayāl, ṭhumrī, sitār)

(sometimes joined by

and other instruments)

ghaṭam and/or kañjīrā



pakhāvaj (dhrupad,

dhamār; bīn)



tāvil (with nāgasvaram)

khurḍhāk/ḍuggī (with shahnāī)




[side strings (vīṇā)]

[side strings (bīṅ, sitar)]

oṭṭu (with nāgasvaram)

[3rd shahnāī]

[hand (vocalist)]

[hand (dhrupad singer)]


tālam (with nāgasvaram)

tablā (ṭhekā)

[side strings (with vīṇā)]

View large

Hardly any separate performers are listed for the vital function of regulating the tāla. In some circumstances sections of the tāla are marked by idiophones of one kind or another, as in the processional ensembles of south Indian temples (see below). In concert styles, however, the divisions of the tāla are marked either by the principal performer with his hand or by a string player on side strings, or are not marked at all. In Hindustani instrumental music, on the other hand, and even more in the vocal genres khayāl and ṭhumrī, the time cycles are marked out by the tablā playing ṭhekā (see §(iii)(b) above). Insofar as this practice dispenses not only with a separate reckoning of the talā by hand or idiophone but also with the very need for such a reckoning, it is a deviation (however widespread and familiar now) from an ancient and indigenous principle that separates rhythmic drumming from time-keeping.

(a) The concert ensemble.

The principal concert soloist is the vocalist. Plucked string instruments, such as south Indian vīṇā and Hindustani bīn and sitār, have also long had solo standing. Many more instruments now take solo roles in concerts, including the bowed string instruments, violin and sāraṅgī, which were traditionally confined to melodic accompaniment. The melodic accompanist may double the soloist in compositions; in improvisation he may support the soloist by echoing his phrases while they are in progress, and he may alternate antiphonally with the soloist.

The rhythmic patterns of the drum in the ensemble are in principle independent of those in any composition or improvisation being performed by the melodic soloist. When playing simultaneously the two are bound together only in the large, that is, by the framework of the time cycle, although they almost always share the atomic pulse as well (except in the slow khayāl, where the soloist sings without pulse and the tablā drum controls the time cycle).

The Nāṭyaśāstra mentions three kinds of relationship between a vocal soloist and accompanying flute, strings, and drums, each of which has its modern analogue. In the most basic, tattva (‘element’), the accompanist simply doubles the singer’s melody or rhythm, or both (this is the only relationship suggested for the flute). In the relationship of anugata (‘accompaniment’), the general melodic or rhythmic configuration of the composition is preserved by a string accompanist or drummer but very much elaborated, and virtuoso display can be introduced when the singer sustains a long note or pauses between sections. Finally there is ogha (‘flood’ or ‘multitude’), which for a string player means antiphonal alternation and for a drummer fast and free virtuoso display.

The background drone in concert ensembles is usually provided by the plucked open wires of a Tambūrā (large long-necked lute) played by a student or sometimes by the soloist (female vocalists in particular). The adjoining side wires of some plucked string instruments can provide a harmonic background of tonic, sometimes 5th, and upper tonic as they are struck to mark divisions of a time cycle or in alternation with the playing wire. Strumming (or simultaneously bowing) open strings tuned to tonic and 5th also provides drone, as does the tuned right-hand head of a concert drum.

(b) Ceremonial ensembles.

Besides the indoor concert ensembles there are ensembles originally connected with temple or court ceremonial, in which the three basic musical functions of classical music are sometimes quite distinctly separated.

Periya meḻam. This Tamil term means ‘great ensemble’, and it denotes a band that usually includes two nāgasvaram, an ottu (a drone oboe),tavil, and tāḷam. A śaṅkh (conch), which plays the jāti (rhythmic patterns), is sometimes added to the ensemble. It is associated with temples in south India and plays the ceremonial and processional music that accompanies the image of the deity. Extensive ālāpana is played by the nāgasvaram, which may alternate between two or more players. Rhythmic solos are played between sections of the ālāpana by the tavil; during these the rhythmic cycles are marked by the tāḷam. For several years such ensembles (comprising a leading and secondary nāgasvaram, each accompanied by a tavil, an ottu, and/or a śruti-box and tāḷam) have been giving recitals of Karnatak music.

Cinna meḻam. This ensemble (cinna is Tamil for ‘lesser’, ‘small’) accompanies recitals of bharata-nāṭyam dance. It is lead by the naṭṭuvanār, who beats the tāḷam with a pair of naṭṭuva tāḷam (cymbals) and recites the jāti for the dancers. In addition to the dancers, who wear gejjai (ankle bells), the ensemble includes a principal singer, a melodic accompaniment, a drone, and a mṛdaṅgam. The melodic accompaniment was formerly provided by a mukhavīṇā (small oboe) and more recently by a clarinet, and the drone by a śruti upaṅga (bagpipe). These instruments are now usually replaced by a transverse flute (veṇu or kuḻal), a violin and/or a vīṇā, and a śruti-box. The ensemble is also known as nāc.

Śahnāī ensembles. The śahnāī arrived in South Asia as part of the Muslim ceremonial naubat ensemble (see Naqqārakhāna). The ensemble’s role was to play several times daily at the gates of palaces and at some shrines of Muslim pīr (holy men). The naubat is now very rare, although a few musicians are still employed at the shrine of Mu’inuddin in Ajmer, Rajasthan. Their music is now based on Hindustani rāgas.

The śahnāī also functions as a temple instrument in many places in the north, most notably in Varanasi, where it is accompanied by the drums khurḍāk and ḍuggi. It was from this background that the śahnāī moved to playing Hindustani music on the concert platform.

See also: Ghaṭa; Vaṃśa.

7. Aesthetics.

  • Jonathan Katz

Artistic creativity in Indian classical music depends on a performer’s mastery of learned structures and idioms, but with each performance being in principle ephemeral and unrepeatable. Theoretical and aesthetic attention has therefore tended to give priority to underlying musical principles rather than the final product of a ‘composition’ or performance. However, the study of Indian musical aesthetics has ranged over many formal, functional, and psychological aspects of the art, including both the evaluation of practice and a more philosophical interest in the basic structures. Both of these broad concerns have their precedents in śāstra (see §II, 1 above), an aim of which was the comprehensive definition and description of music, its origins and its correct procedures. In the description of instrumental and vocal procedure and of melodic shape and ‘finish’, texts such as the Saṅgīta-ratnākara and Saṅgīta-samaya-sāra (see §II, 1(ii)(a) above) and their derivatives show some influence from the language and critical discourse of real musical practice. For example, these texts’ classified lists of sthāya (the numerous different melodic inflectional patterns that are used in the passage from one note, svara, to the next) can be seen as attempts to provide effective practical markers of melodic style. The sthāya, comprehensively listed by Śārṅgadeva (Saṅgīta-raknākara, iii, 97–188), were apparently used and named by practising musicians of his time. They are precisely those intonational contours that both distinguish the peculiarly Indian approach to melodic line in general and separate the various styles one from another within the Indian field (Lath, 1987). Although many of the melodic features that they describe must have continued in practice, the theoretical category later fell out of use. Parallels for some of the sthāya may be seen in the technical language and practice of present-day musicians.

Śāstra aimed to order and schematize such material, and in so doing it was influenced by other disciplines such as phonetics, metrics, dramaturgy, and poetics. Thus in the third chapter of the Saṅgīta-ratnākara, in outlining the technical characteristics of the song-composer (vāg-geya-kāra), the singer (gāyaka), the singer’s natural vocal ability (śārīra) and voice quality itself (śabda), a schematic system of merits (guṇa) and faults (doṣa) is used, and these are graded in accordance with common śāstric method. In the absence of an indisputably unbroken oral tradition, it is hard to interpret many of the detailed descriptive and evaluative terms we find here, but some cultural preferences do seem to emerge. For example, equal facility in all parts of a wide vocal range, strength of tone, and the ability to inspire pathos in the listener are praised, while frailty, hoarseness, and inflexibility are condemned. The lists also suggest that musicians could be highly rated for a variety of reasons, and individuality does not seem to be ruled out. This kind of aesthetic evaluation was conceptually connected with the method of the alaṃkāra school of poetics, which concentrated on varieties of verbal expression in defining poetic style and genre. The point of departure was the Nāṯyaśāstra, which brought poetics and music theory close together in the single context of Sanskrit dramaturgy. Literary theory long continued to influence musical aesthetics. The influence is also to be found in the analysis of song types (prabandha) in the Bṛhad-deśī and its successors, where style and compositional type are classified not only according to poetic text metre and the rāga and tāla, but also in terms of regional character reminiscent of linguistic and literary idiom (Rowell, 1992, 286–7, 312–13).

As Indian classical, particularly Hindustani, music is characterized more by improvisation within strict parameters than by a repertory of ‘works’ (a Western category for which there is no real Indian equivalent), performance is seen as a representation of one or more underlying structures (rāga, tāla, and compositional form), and evaluation is on the basis of how properly and effectively this is done. On the part of the enculturated listener, the musical experience centrally involves recognition and re-experience as well as the response to new material (Powers, 1976). A possible exception may be found in the kriti and other pre-determined elements of the Karnatak repertory (see §5(iv) above). However, there is an essential fluidity in the realization and rendering of these pieces, so that the performer may be regarded as having a considerable stake in the eventual structure of the musical ‘text’. Great prestige is still commonly accorded to the particularly open-ended renderings of kriti and pallavi, and a musician will be found deficient if the performance suggests excessive pre-composition (Catlin, 1985). Furthermore, a kriti will still be appraised partly on how well it represents one or more characteristics of its rāga. The same criterion is often applied by musicians to a well-formed bandiś (‘song’) in khayāl. Innovation is in principle circumscribed in such a way that the perceived integrity of the rāga, tāla, and compositional form are not violated, unless for special effect. Śārṅgadeva briefly states how novelty is achieved and in what it consists, that is, what distinguishes one performance from another. A new song composition, he tells us, employs a new (i.e. different) rāga, tāla, and verbal text; a rāga may be ‘newly’ executed with new [combinations of] sthāya, the verbal text is new by virtue of its varied subject-matter and affective power, and so on.

The classical Indian ‘musica speculativa’ was particularly concerned with the genesis and evolution of sound, both physical (e.g. the production of sound in the human body, as expounded in yogic and physiological terms by Śārṅgadeva at the start of the Saṅgīta-ratnākara) and metaphysical (the arising of audible sound from the primordial creative principle of nāda, already expounded in the first chapter of the Bṛhad-deśī). Musical sound is explained as an evolution, differentiation, refinement, and meaningful organization of the raw sonic material. Again, the theory of language was a strong influence (Rowell, 1992, chaps. 3, 7, and 8; Sharma, 1995; Lath, 1995). In the Bṛhad-deśī several alternative philosophical models are offered to explain the relation of svara to śruti (see §1(ii) above), and in the standard model of many texts the rāgas are presented as generated derivatives of more basic melodic systems or structures (grāma,mūrcchanā). The ‘evolutionary’ account of rāga as derived from scale and mode may be seen as a forerunner of the classificatory and pedagogical orderings of more recent systems.

Conceptually, rāga (see §2(i) above) has maintained a considerable continuity from early texts to the present day: both the distinctness of the different rāgas and the individuality of ethos of each of them have always been stressed; each performance ‘reveals’ and enhances for the listener an already known (i.e. learned) structural and aesthetic entity that persists, as an abstract, behind all its exemplars and can only be represented through them. In the rāga-mālā systems of painting, which flourished in the north and central Indian courts especially from the 16th to the early 19th centuries (see §II, 3(iii) above), and in the poetic evocations (dhyāna-śloka) often accompanying them, the notion of individuality and distinctness of the rāgas was given a visual and emotive analogue. However, writers on music stress the aesthetic autonomy of music itself; the ethos of the rāga, to be understood, has to be experienced in sound rather than simply described. Nānyadeva’s, Śārṅgadeva’s, and Somanātha’s notated musical examples in their treatises are included in order to impart this understanding.

The affective character of melody was expounded first in relation to its use in the dramatic context. In the Bṛhad-deśī the many rāgas are distinguished from one another not only by their individual tonal features but by their conventional association with particular scenes or situations or character types in Sanskrit drama; thus they are characterized by their aesthetic function in supporting particular atmospheres and moods. Here may be at least one of the origins of the conventional linking of rāgas in Hindustani music with times of day and seasons of the year, a notion of appropriate time evoked or enhanced by the melodic ethos. In these associations it is also possible that ideas of appropriateness and auspiciousness were inherited from traditions of religious music, in which ritual exactness of performance was crucially important.

In the Bṛhad-deśī the important connection was also made between rāga and rasa, the central and most potent idea in traditional Indian aesthetics. Rasa is aesthetic ‘flavour’ or ‘relish’, produced out of the various kinds of represented emotion (bhāva) that are found in the situations and events depicted on stage. Originally occurring in the Nāṯyaśāstra as a theory of aesthetic response to drama, the rasa principle was extended to non-dramatic literature and eventually came to be regarded as relevant to aesthetic experience in general. The theory of rasa was discussed and variously elaborated by successive writers on poetics, but essentially it held that there is a limited number of specific rasa corresponding to a similarly fixed series of ‘basic’ or ‘permanent’ emotions. Rasa can be aroused, in a sensitive spectator or connoisseur (rasika or sahṛdaya), through his ‘tasting’ the emotion represented in the work of art. Much discussion has been devoted to the rasa theory and its applicability to music (as opposed to the verbal and representational arts alone), and conclusions have ranged from total rejection to enthusiastic adaptations of the idea. As a general theory of aesthetics it does suggest a particular model of interaction between the creative act and the ‘receiver’ of art who recognizes and responds to the structural entities underlying a performance or artefact. It must, however, be admitted that in the case of rāga, in addition to the stable notion of the identity of particular melodic substructures, there will be a range of moods, evoking many levels of response, in the course of any actual performance.


Reference sources
  • R.A. Waterman and others: ‘Bibliography of Asiatic Musics, III: India’, Notes, 6 (1948–9), 570–74
  • Who’s Who of Indian Musicians, ed. Sangeet Natak Akademi (New Delhi, 1968, 2/1984)
  • E.B. Barnett: ‘Special Bibliography: Art Music of India’, EthM, 14 (1970), 278–312
  • E.B. Barnett: A Discography of the Art Music of India (Ann Arbor, 1975)
  • E. te Nijenhuis: Musicological Literature (Wiesbaden, 1977)
  • H.S. Powers: ‘Illustrated Inventories of Indian Rāgamālā Painting’, Journal of the American Oriental Society, 100 (1980), 473–93
  • M.S. Kinnear: A Discography of Hindustani and Karnatic Music (Westport, CT, 1985)
  • M. Haroon: Indian Music Literature (Delhi, 1991)
General texts
  • W. Jones: ‘On the Musical Modes of the Hindus’, Asiatick Researches, no.3 (1799), 55–87 [repr. in Tagore, 1875]
  • F. Solvyns: Les Hindous, 2 (Paris, 1810)
  • N.A. Willard: A Treatise on the Music of Hindostan (Calcutta, 1834) [repr. in Tagore, 1875; S. Gupta: Music of India (Calcutta, 1962)]
  • S.M. Tagore: Hindu Music from Various Authors (Calcutta, 1875, 2/1882/R)
  • R. Simon, ed.: The Musical Compositions of Somanātha (Leipzig, 1904)
  • E. Clements: Introduction to the Study of Indian Music (London, 1913/R)
  • J. Grosset: ‘Inde’,EMDC, 1/i (1913), 257–376
  • A.H. Fox Strangways: The Music of Hindostan (Oxford, 1914/R)
  • H.A. Popley: The Music of India (Calcutta, 1921, 4/1971)
  • P. Stern: ‘La musique indoue: les ragas’, ReM, 4/7–9 (1923), 46–66 [Eng. summary in Indian Art and Letters, new ser., 7 (1933), 1–9]
  • S.N. Haider Rizvi: ‘Music in Muslim India’, Islamic Culture, 15 (1941), 331–40
  • D.P. Mukerji: ‘Sociology of Modern Indian Music’, Modern Indian Culture (Allahabad,1942, 2/1948), 149–75
  • M. Rāmakṛṣṇa Kavi: Bharatakośa: a Dictionary of Technical Terms with Definitions Collected from the Works on Music and Dramaturgy by Bharata and Others (Tirupati, 1951/R)
  • K. Vasudeva Sastri: The Science of Music (Thanjavur, 1954)
  • S.M. Nawab: Masterpieces of Kalpasutra Painting (Ahmedabad, 1956)
  • B. Subba Rao: Raganidhi: a Comparative Study of Hindustani and Karnatak Ragas, 1 (Pune, 1956); 2–4 (Madras, 1964–6)
  • S. Mutatkar: ‘The Evolution of Indian Music’, Music East and West (Delhi,1957)
  • K. Vasudeva Śāstrī: Saṅgīta śāstra (Allahabad, 1958, 2/1968)
  • K.C.D. Bṛhaspati: Bharata-kā saṅgīt-siddhānta (Varanasi, 1959)
  • V. Raghavan: ‘Later Sangita Literature’, Bulletin [Sangeet Natak Akademi], no.17 (1960), 1–24; no.18 (1961), 1–18 [repr. from Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 4 (1933), 16–24, 50–84]
  • T.V. Subba Rao: Studies in Indian Music (Bombay, 1962)
  • B.R. Joshi: Understanding Indian Music (Bombay, 1963/R)
  • H.S. Powers: ‘Indian Music and the English Language’, EthM, 9 (1965), 1–12
  • V.K. Agarwala: Traditions and Trends in Indian Music (Meerut, 1966)
  • K.C.D. Bṛhaspati and Śrīmati Sumitrakumari: Saṅgīt-ciṇṭāmaṇi, ed. L. Garga (Hathras, 1966, 2/1976–87)
  • R.L. Roy: ‘Confused Traditions in Indian Musicology’, Journal of the Music Academy, 37 (1966), 138–44
  • B.C. Deva: Psychoacoustics of Music and Speech (Madras, 1967)
  • B.V. Keskar: Indian Music: Problems and Prospects (Bombay, 1967)
  • H.S. Powers: ‘Saṅgīta-śāstra and Śāstrīya Saṅgīta’, Indian Music Journal, no.9 (1968), 52–6
  • N.V. Joshi: ‘The Influence of Marathi Stage on Music’, Sangeet Natak, no.15 (1970), 48–66
  • H.S. Powers: ‘An Historical and Comparative Approach to the Classification of Ragas with an Appendix on Ancient Indian Tunings’, Selected Reports, 1/3 (1970), 1–78
  • E. te Nijenhuis: ‘Continuity in Indian Rāga Traditions’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 43 (1972), 146–69
  • B.C. Deva: An Introduction to Indian Music (New Delhi, 1973, 2/1981)
  • K. Ebeling: Ragamala Painting (Basle, Paris, and New Delhi, 1973)
  • S. Ray: Music of Eastern India: Vocal Music in Bengali, Oriya, Assamese and Manipuri with Special Emphasis on Bengali (Calcutta, 1973)
  • K.C.D. Bṛhaspati: Musalmāna aura bhāratīya saṅgīta [Muslims in Indian music] (Delhi, 1974)
  • A.-L. Dahmen Dallapiccola: Rāgamālā-Miniaturen von 1475 bis 1700 (Wiesbaden, 1975)
  • N.A. Jairazbhoy: ‘An Interpretation of the 22 Srutis’, AsM, 6/1–2 (1975), 38–59
  • V. Rāyacaudhurī: Bhāratīya-saṅgīta-kośa [Dictionary of Indian music] (Hindi trans., New Delhi, 1975)
  • W. Van der Meer: ‘Cultural Evolution: a Case Study of Indian Music’, Sangeet Natak, no.35 (1975), 49–65
  • E. te Nijenhuis: The Rāgas of Somanatha (Leiden, 1976)
  • G.N. Joshi: ‘The Phonograph in India’, National Centre for the Performing Arts Quarterly Journal, 7/2 (1977), 8–15
  • A.D. Ranade: ‘Indian Music and Media Communication’, Sangeet Natak, no.46 (1977), 14–21
  • L.N. Garg: Hamāre saṅgīt ratna [Our musical jewels] (Hathras, 1978)
  • H.S. Powers: ‘Classical Music, Cultural Roots and Colonial Rule: an Indic Musicologist Looks at the Muslim World’, AsM, 12/1 (1979), 5–39
  • V. Raghavan: ‘Music in Sanskrit Literature’, National Centre for the Performing Arts Quarterly Journal, 8/1 (1979), 17–38
  • G. Sen: ‘Music and Musical Instruments in the Paintings of the Akbar Nama’, National Centre for the Performing Arts Quarterly Journal, 8/4 (1979), 1–7
  • B.C. Wade: Music in India: the Classical Traditions (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1979)
  • D.R. Widdess: ‘The Kuḍumiyāmalai Inscription: a Source of Early Indian Music in Notation’, Musica Asiatica, 2 (1979), 115–50
  • M.R. Gautam: The Musical Heritage of India (New Delhi, 1980)
  • B.C. Deva: The Music of India: a Scientific Study (New Delhi, 1981)
  • W. Kaufmann and others: Altindien, Musikgeschichte in Bildern, 2/8 (Leipzig, 1981)
  • J. Katz: ‘Indian Musicological Literature and its Context’, Puruṣārtha, 7 (1983), 57–75
  • R.C. Mehta, ed.: Studies in Musicology (Baroda, 1983)
  • N. Ramanathan: ‘Vādī, samvādī, vivādī, and anuvādī svaras’,Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 54 (1983), 60–82
  • B.C. Wade, ed.: Performing Arts in India: Essays on Music, Dance and Drama (Berkeley, 1983)
  • J. Pani: ‘The Tradition of Odissi Music’, National Centre for the Performing Arts Quarterly Journal, 13/1 (1984), 31–7
  • M. Lath: ‘An Enquiry into the Rāga-Time Association’, Aspects of Indian Music, ed. S. Mutatkar (New Delhi, 1987), 113–19
  • J. Post: ‘Professional Women in Indian Music: the Death of the Courtesan Tradition’, Women and Music in Cross-Cultural Perspective, ed. E. Koskoff (Westport, CT, 1987), 97–110
  • M. Lath: ‘The “Modern” and the “Traditional” and Criticism in the Indian Musical Tradition’, Sangeet Natak, nos.89–90 (1988), 5–15
  • D.R. Widdess: ‘Sugar, Treacle and Candy: History and the Concept of Rāga in Indian Music’,Ethnomusicology and the Historical Dimension, ed. M. Philipp (Ludwigsberg, 1989), 71–81
  • P. Manuel: ‘Legitimate and Illegitimate in Rāga Interpretations’, Sangeet Natak, no.96 (1990), 19–27
  • C. Capwell: ‘Marginality and Musicology in Nineteenth Century Calcutta: the Case of Sourindro Mohun Tagore’, Comparative Musicology and Anthropology of Music, ed. B. Nettl and P. Bohlman (Chicago, 1991), 228–43
  • R.B. Qureshi: ‘Whose Music? Sources and Contexts in Indic Musicology’, Comparative Musicology and the Anthropology of Music, ed. B. Nettl and P. Bohlman (Chicago, 1991), 152–68
  • J.B. Katz, ed.: The Traditional Indian Theory and Practice of Music and Dance (Leiden, 1992)
  • D.R. Widdess: ‘Reflections on a Mediaeval Melody: Theory, Practice and Musical Notation in Early Indian Musicological Texts’, The Traditional Indian Theory and Practice of Music and Dance, ed. J. Katz (Leiden, 1992)
  • F. Delvoye: ‘Indo-Persian Literature on Art-Music: Some Historical and Technical Aspects’,Confluence of Cultures: French Contributions to Indo-Persian Studies, ed. F. Delvoye (New Delhi, 1994), 93–130
  • M.S. Kinnear: The Gramophone Society’s First Indian Recordings 1899–1909 (Bombay,1994)
  • R. Sathyanarayana: ‘ Rāga-Iconification in Indian Music’, Gems of Indian Music and Musicology, ed. S. Kulshreshtha and others (Delhi, 1994), 73–93
  • S. Dhar: Tales of Innocents, Musicians and Bureaucrats (Delhi, 1995)
  • P.L. Sharma: ‘Mahābhūtas in Saṅgītaśāstra with Special Reference to Yoga and Āyurveda’, Prakṛti: the Integral Vision, 3:The Āgamic Tradition and the Arts, ed. B. Bäumer (New Delhi, 1995), 87–100
  • P.L. Sharma: ‘Sthāya: a Study for Building a Bridge between Śāstra and Prayoga’,Gaveṣaṇā, 11/1 (1995), 1–13
  • P. Manuel: ‘Music, the Media and Communal Relations in North India: Past and Present’,Making India Hindu: Religion, Community and the Politics of Democracy in India, ed. D. Ludden (Delhi, 1996), 119–39
  • J.M. Pacholczyk: Ṣūfyāna Mūsīqī: the Classical Music of Kashmir (Berlin, 1996)
  • B.C. Wade: ‘Performing the Drone in Hindustani Music: what the Mughal Paintings Show us to Hear’,World of Music, 38/2 (1996), 41–67
  • M.H. Allen: ‘Tales Tunes Tell: Deepening the Dialogue between “Classical” and “Non-Classical” in the Music of India’, YTM, 30 (1998), 22–52
  • B.C. Wade: Imaging Sound: an Ethnomusicological Study of Music, Art and Culture in Mughal India (Chicago, 1998)
  • R.B. Qureshi: ‘Other Musicologies: Exploring Issues and Confronting Practice in India’,Rethinking Music, ed. N. Cook and M. Everist (Oxford, 1999), 311–35
Treatises and commentaries
  • Dattila: Dattilam; ed. E. te Nijenhuis with Eng. trans. as Dattilam: a Compendium of Ancient Indian Music(Leiden, 1970); ed. M. Lath with Eng. trans. as A Study of Dattilam: a Treatise on the Sacred Music of Ancient India (New Delhi, 1978, 2/1988 as Dattilam: English and Sanskrit)
  • Narada: Nāradīya śikṣā; ed. S. Śukla (Datia, 1964) [incl. commentary by Bhaṭṭaśobhākara]; trans. L. Rowell as ‘A Śikṣā for the Twiceborn’, AsM, 9/1 (1977), 72–94 [incl. commentary]
  • Bharata: Nāṭyaśāstra(4th–5th centuries); ed. M. Ramakrishna Kavi and J.S. Pade (Baroda, 1926–64), 1 (2/1956); ed. M. Ghosh with Eng. trans. (Calcutta, 1951–67, rev. 2/1961–7)
  • Mataṅga: Bṛhad-deśī(8th–9th centuries); ed. K.S. Śāstrī (Trivandrum, 1928); ed. P.L. Sharma and A.B. Beohar with Eng. trans. as Bṛhaddeśī of Śrī Mataṅga Muni (Delhi, 1992)
  • Abhinavagupta: Abhinava-bhāratī (10th century); in Nāṭyaśāstra, ed. M. Ramakṛṣṇa Kavi and J.S. Pade (Baroda, 1926–64)
  • Nārada: Saṅgīta-makaranda (10th–12th centuries); ed. M.R. Telang (Baroda, 1920); ed. L. Garga (Hathras, 1978)
  • Nānyadeva: Bharata-bhāṣyam (c1100); ed. C.P. Desai (Khairagarh, 1961–)
  • Someśvara: Mānasollāsa (1131); ed. G.K. Shrigondekar (Baroda, 1925–61)
  • Pārśvadeva: Saṅgīta-samaya-sāra (c13th century); ed. T. GaṇapatiŚāstrī (Trivandrum, 1925); ed. K.C.D. Bṛhaspati (Delhi, 1977)
  • Śārṅgadeva: Saṅgīta-ratnākara (13th century); ed. S. Subrahmanya Sastri (Madras, 1943–53; Eng. trans., C. Kunhan Raja, 1945; K. Kunjunni Raja and R. Burnier, 1976); ed. R.K. Shringy and P.L. Sharma with Eng. trans. (Delhi, 1978–)
  • Siṁhabhūpāla: Sudhākara (c1330); in Saṅgīta-ratnākara, 1, ed. S. Subrahmanya Sastri (Madras, 1943–53)
  • Sudhākalaśa: Saṅgītopaniṣat-sāroddhāra (1350); ed. U.P. Shah (Baroda, 1961)
  • Ghunyat-ul-munya (1374–5); ed. S. Sarmadee as Ghunyat-ul-Munya: the Earliest Known Persian Work on Indian Music (Bombay, 1978)
  • Saṅgīta-śiromaṇi (1428); ed. E. te Nijenhuis with Eng. trans. as Saṅgītaśiromaṇi: a Medieval Handbook of Indian Music (Leiden, 1992)
  • Kallinātha: Kalānidhi (c1450); in Saṅgīta-ratnākara, 1, ed. S. Subrahmanya Sastri (Madras, 1943–53)
  • Kumbhakarṇa: Saṅgīta-rāja (1453); ed. P.L. Sharma (Varanasi, 1963)
  • Lahjat-i-sikander-shāhi (c1500)
  • Śubhaṅkara: Saṅgīta-dāmodara (c1500); ed. G. Sastri and G. Mukhopadhyaya (Calcutta, 1960)
  • Rāmāmātya: Svara-mela-kalānidhi (c1550); ed. M.S. Ramaswami Aiyar (Tiruvannamalai, 1932); ed. V. Bhatta and B. Sharma with Hindi trans. (Hathras, 1963)
  • Śrīkaṇṭha: Rasa-kaumudī (c1575); ed. A.N. Jani (Baroda, 1963)
  • Puṇḍarīka Viṭṭhala: Rāga-mālā (1576); ed. N.G. Ratanjankar and G.G. Barve (Bombay, 1914); ed. R. Sathyanarayana with Kannada trans. in Puṇḍarīkamālā (Bangalore, 1986), 115–202
  • Puṇḍarīka Viṭṭhala: Sadrāgacandrodaya (late 16th century); ed. G.V. Sharma (Bombay, 1912); ed. R. Sathyanarayana with Kannada trans. in Puṇḍarīkamālā (Bangalore, 1986), 1–112
  • Puṇḍarīka Viṭṭhala: Rāgamañjarī (late 16th century); ed. B.S. Sukthankar (Pune, 1918); ed. R. Sathyanarayana with Kannada trans. in Puṇḍarīkamālā (Bangalore, 1986), 205–65
  • Puṇḍarīka Viṭṭhala: Nartananirṇaya (late 16th century); ed. R. Sathyanarayana with Kannada trans. in Puṇḍarīkamālā (Bangalore, 1986), 269–668
  • Abul Fazl: Ā’īn-i akbarī (1597); Eng. trans. H. Blochmann and H.S. Jarrett (Calcutta, 1873, rev. 2/1927–49/R)
  • Somanātha: Rāga-vibodha (1609); ed. S. Subrahmanya Sastri (Madras, 1940)
  • Govinda Dīkṣitar: Saṅgīta-sudhā (c1620); ed. P.S. Sundaram Aiyar and S. Subrahmanya Sastri (Madras, 1940) [first pubd 1930–39 in Journal of the Music Society, Madras]
  • Dāmodara Paṇḍita: Saṅgīta-darpaṇa (c1625); ed. A. Bake with Eng. trans. (Paris, 1930); ed. K. Vasudeva Sastri (Thanjavur, 1952)
  • Veṅkaṭamkhin: Caturdaṇḍī-prakāśikā (c1640); ed. S. Subrahmanya Sastri, T.V. Subba Rao and T.L. Venkatarama Ayyar (Madras, 1934)
  • Mīrzā Khān: Tuḥfat al-Hind (17th century); ed. N.H. Ansari, 1 (Tehran, 1968); 2 (Delhi, 1983)
  • Puruṣottama Miśra: Saṅgītanārāyaṇa (17th century); ed. J.B. Katz as The Musicological Portions of the Saṅgītanārāyaṇa: a Critical Edition and Commentary (diss., U. of Oxford, 1987)
  • Ahobala-paṇḍita: Saṅgīta-pārijāta (17th century); ed. J.V. Bhaṭṭācārya (Calcutta, 1884); ed. Kalinda, 1–2 (Hathras, 2/1956); 3 (Hathras, 1971)
  • Śrīnivāsa: Rāga–tattva-vibodha (17th century); ed. V.S. Desai (Baroda, 1956)
  • K. Vasudeva Sastri, ed.: Rāga ālāpanās and ṭhāyams in Devanagari and Tamil Scripts (Thanjavur, 1958) [MSS of Rājā Śahājī, late 17th century]
  • Locana Kavi: Rāgataraṅgiṇī (late 17th century); ed. D.K. Joshi (Pune, 1918)
  • Tulajā Rājā: Saṅgīta-sārāmṛta (c1730); ed. S. Subrahmanya Sastri (Madras, 1942)
  • Pratāp Singh: Saṅgīt-sār (c1800); ed. Pune Gāyan Samāj (Pune, 1910–12)
  • Muhammad Reza: Nāghmāt-i āsafi (Patna, 1813)
  • Svātitirunāḷ: Muhanāprāsāntyaprāsavyavasthā(1813–46); Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 56 (1985), 176–91
  • Muḥammad Karam Imam: Ma’danu’l-mūsīqī (1857); trans. G. Vidyarthi, Bulletin [Sangeet Natak Akademi], nos.11–12 (1959), 13, 33; nos.13–14 (1959), 6; nos.15–16 (1960), 49
  • Subbarāma Dīkṣitar: Saṅgīta-sampradāya-pradarśinī (Ettaiyapuram, 1904; Tamil trans., 1961–8)
  • Subbarāma Dīkṣitar: Bālaśikṣā sampradāya … (Ettaiyapuram, 1905) [primer for Saṅgīta-sampradāya-pradarśinī]
  • V.N. Bhatkhande: Hindustānī-saṅgīta-paddhati (Bombay, 1910–32; Hindi trans., 1951–7)
  • O. Ṭhākur: Saṅgītāñjalī, 1 (Lahore, 1938, 2/1959); 2 (Hathras, 1954); 3–6 (Varanasi, 1955–62); 7–8 (MSS)
  • A. Daniélou and N.R. Bhatt, eds. and trans.: Textes des Purāṇa sur la théorie musicale (Pondicherry, 1959)
  • P.L. Sharma: ‘Bṛhaddeśī of Matanga’, Indian Music Journal, nos.11–12 (1970), 54–8; nos.13–14 (1971), 56–68
  • G.H. Tarlekar: Studies in the Nāṭyaśāstra (Delhi, 1975, 2/1991)
  • P.L. Sharma: ‘Nānyadeva’s Bharata Bhāshya’, Indian Music Journal, no.11 (1975–80), 65–73
  • A. Mette: ‘Ein Musiktheoretischer Traktat im Jainakanon’, Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens, 24 (1980), 83–97
  • S. Ramanathan: ‘The Sangita Sara of Sri Vidyaranya’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 51 (1980), 57–77
  • S. Sita: ‘The Raga Lakshana Manuscript of Sahaji Maharaja of Tanjavur’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 54 (1983), 140–81
  • G.H. Tarlekar: ‘The Śārīralakṣaṇa in the Saṅgītaratnākara’,Gems of Indian Music and Musicology, ed. S. Kulshreshtha and others (Delhi, 1994), 94–6
  • M. Lath: ‘The Body as an Instrument: a Theoretical Choice Made by Śārṅgadeva’,Prakṛti: the Integral Vision, iii: The Āgamic Tradition and the Arts, ed. B. Bäumer (New Delhi, 1995), 101–13
  • P. Vonessen: Aumāpatam:Kritische Edition, Übersetzung und Kommentar eines Sanskrit-Textes über Musik und Tanz (Frankfurt, 1996)
Other historical sources
  • Cilappatikāram (c500 ce); ed. P.V. Cōmacuntaranār (Madras, 1969)
  • Nāyak Bakhśū: Sahas-ras(17th century)
  • B. Dargah Quli Khān: Muraqqa’-i Delhī (1738); Eng. trans. C.S. and S.M. Chenoy as Muraqqa’-i Delhī: the Mughal Capital in Muhammad Shah’s Time (Delhi, 1989)
  • Siṅgarācāryulu: Gāyaka locana (19th century)
  • Mirza Mohammad Ruswa [Hadi]: Umrāōjān ādā (n.p., 1899); Eng. trans. K. Singh and M.A. Husaini (Calcutta, 1961/R)
  • Nazir Ahmad: ‘The Lahjat i Sikander Shabi’, Islamic Culture, 28 (1954), 410–17
  • J.C. Jain: The Vasudevahiṇḍī: an Authentic Jain Version of the Bṛhatkathā(Ahmedabad, 1977)
Early history
  • P.R. Bhandarkar: ‘Contribution to the Study of Ancient Hindu Music’, Indian Antiquary, 41 (1912), 157–64, 185–95, 254–65
  • A.A. Bake: Bydrage tot de kennis der voor-Indische muziek (Paris, 1930)
  • V. Raghavan: ‘Music in Ancient Indian Drama’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 25 (1954), 79–92 [repr. from Art and Letters: Journal of the Royal India, Pakistan and Ceylon Society, 28/1 (1953), 10–18]
  • V. Raghavan: ‘Some Names in Early Sangita Literature’, Bulletin [Sangeet Natak Akademi], no.5 (1956), 19–28; no.6 (1957), 23–30 [rev. from Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 3 (1932), 11–32, 94–102]
  • S. Ramanathan: Music in Cilappatikaram (Madurai, 1979)
  • N. Ramanathan: ‘Gāndharva Forms’, National Centre for the Performing Arts Quarterly Journal, 9/1 (1980), 19–28
  • L. Rowell: ‘Early Indian Musical Speculation and the Theory of Melody’, JMT, 25 (1981), 217–44
  • D.R. Widdess: ‘Tāla and Melody in Early Indian Music: a Study of Nānyadeva’s Pāṇikā Songs with Musical Notation’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 44 (1981), 481–508
  • M. Lath: ‘Ancient Indian Music and the Concept of Man’, National Centre for the Performing Arts Quarterly Journal, 12/2–3 (1983), 1–8
  • B. Varadarajan: ‘Ancient Music: the Music of the Sama Veda and the Songs of the Saivite and Vaishnavite Saints’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 61 (1990), 164–88
  • L. Rowell: Music and Musical Thought in Early India (Chicago, 1992)
  • T. Seetharama Lakshmi: References to Music in Non-Saṅgīta Literature (Bangalore, 1993)
  • D.R. Widdess: The Rāgas of Early Indian Music: Modes, Melodies and Musical Notations from the Gupta Period to c1250 (Oxford, 1995)
General and later histories
  • V.N. Bhatkhande: A Comparative Study of Some of the Leading Music Systems of the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries (n.p., n.d.) [written 1930]
  • V.N. Bhatkhande: A Short Historical Survey of the Music of Upper India (Bombay, 1934/R) [a speech given at the All-India Music Conference I: Baroda 1916]
  • O. Gosvami: The Story of Indian Music (Bombay, 1957, 2/1961)
  • Swami Prajnanananda: The Historical Development of Indian Music (Calcutta, 1960, 2/1973)
  • K.S. Lal: Twilight of the Sultanate (Bombay, 1963)
  • Swami Prajnanananda: A History of Indian Music, 1 (Calcutta, 1963)
  • Swami Prajnanananda: A Historical Study of Indian Classical Music (Calcutta, 1965, 2/1981)
  • A. Ahmad: An Intellectual History of Islam in India (Edinburgh, 1969)
  • E. te Nijenhuis: Indian Music: History and Structure (Leiden, 1974)
  • V. Premalatha: Music through the Ages (Delhi, 1983)
  • C. Capwell: ‘Musical Life in Nineteenth-Century Calcutta as a Component in the History of a Secondary Urban Centre’, AsM, 18/1 (1986), 139–63
  • R. Flora: ‘Miniature Paintings: Important Sources for Music History’, AsM, 17/2 (1987), 196–240 [repr. from Wade, 1983]
  • B.C. Wade: ‘Mughal Illustrated Manuscripts: Sources for the Documentation of Indian Music History’,Tradition and its Future in Music, ed. Y. Tokumaro and others (Osaka,1990), 35–41
  • S.P. Blake: Shahjahanabad: the Sovereign City in Mughal India, 1639–1739 (Cambridge, 1991)
  • C. Capwell: ‘The Interpretation of History and the Foundations of Authority in the Visnupur Gharānā of Bengal’, Ethnomusicology and Modern Music History, ed. S. Blum, P. Bohlman, and D. Neuman (Urbana, IL, 1993), 95–102
  • M. Trivedi: ‘An Appraisal of the Musical Arts at Shahjahanabad during the First Half of the Eighteenth Century’, Art and Culture: Felicitation Volume in Honour of … S. Nurual Hasan, ed. A.J. Qaisar and S.P. Verma (Jaipur,1993), 95–103
  • C. Chatterjee: Śāstrīya Saṅgīta and Music Culture of Bengal through the Ages (Delhi,1996)
Indian music and the West
  • J. Kuckertz: ‘Die klassische Musik Indiens und ihre Aufnahme in Europa im 20. Jahrhundert’,AMw, 31 (1974), 170–84; Eng. trans. (1983)
  • G.J. Farrell: ‘Sir William Jones and C.R. Day: Two Early Researchers into the Music of India’,Bulletin of the International Council for Traditional Music, UK Chapter(1986), spr., 13–30
  • R. Head: ‘Corelli in Calcutta: Colonial Music Making in India during the 17th and 18th Centuries’,EMc, 18 (1986), 548–53
  • R. Head: ‘Holst and India’, Tempo, no.58 (1986), 2–7
  • P.V. Bohlman: ‘The European Discovery of Music in the Islamic World and the “Non-Western” in the 19th Century History of Music’, JM, 5 (1987), 147–63
  • J. Bor: ‘The Rise of Ethnomusicology: Sources on Indian Music c1780–1890’,YTM, 20 (1988), 51–73
  • R.L. Hardgrave and S.M. Slawek: ‘Instruments and Music Culture in Eighteenth Century India: the Solvyns Portraits’, AsM, 20/1 (1988–9), 1–92
  • A.D. Ranade: Indology and Ethnomusicology: Contours of the Indo-British Relationship (New Delhi,1992)
  • I. Woodfield: ‘Collecting Indian Songs in Late 18th Century Lucknow: Problems of Transcription’,British Journal of Ethnomusicology, 3 (1994), 73–88
  • I. Woodfield: ‘The “Hindostannie Air”: English Attempts to Understand Indian Music in the Late Eighteenth Century’, JRMA, 109 (1994), 189–211
  • G.J. Farrell: Indian Music and the West (Oxford, 1997)
Hindustani music
  • V.N. Bhatkhande: Kramik pustak-mālikā [Progressive book-series] (Bombay, 1913–37; Hindi trans., 1955)
  • S.N. Karnad: ‘Todi Varieties’; ‘Bilawal Varieties’, All-India Music Conference IV: Lucknow 1925, 159
  • S.N. Ratanjankar: ‘Kanada Varieties’, All-India Music Conference IV: Lucknow 1925, 172
  • O.C. Gangoly: Rāgas and Rāginīs (Bombay, 1935/R)
  • V. Nārāyaṇ Paṭvardhan: Rāg-vijñān [Rāga knowledge] (Pune,1936–64); 1 (8/1972); 2 (7/1961); 3 (7/1967); 4 (5/1968); 5 (4/1962); 6 (2/1964) [7 vols.]
  • G.H. Ranade: Hindusthani Music: an Outline of its Physics and Aesthetics (Sangli, 1938)
  • A. Daniélou: North Indian Music (London, 1949–54, 2/1968 as The Rāgas of Northern Indian Music)
  • S.N. Ratanjankar: ‘Ragas in Hindustani Music’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 22 (1951), 97–105
  • Vilāyat Husain Khān: Saṅgīt-jñõ saṃsmaraṇ [Recollections of a music connoisseur] (New Delhi,1959)
  • S.N. Ratanjankar: ‘Gamakas in Hindustani Music’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 31 (1960), 94–107
  • V.H. Deshpande: Gharāndāj gāyakī (Bombay, 1961); Eng. trans. as Indian Musical Traditions: an Aesthetic Study of the Gharanas in Hindustani Music(Bombay, 1973)
  • C.S. Pant: ‘Khyal Compositions from the Point of View of Poetry’, Commemoration Volume in Honour of Dr S.N. Ratanjankar, ed. K.G. Ginde and others (Bombay,1961), 136–42
  • Thakur Jaidev Singh: ‘The Evolution of Khyala’, Commemoration Volume in Honour of Dr S.N. Ratanjankar, ed. K.G. Ginde and others (Bombay, 1961), 127–32
  • N.A. Jairazbhoy and W.A. Stone: ‘Intonation in Present-Day North Indian Classical Music’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 26 (1963), 119–32
  • Amir Khan: ‘The Tarana Style of Singing’, Music East and West: New Delhi 1964, 22–3
  • C.S. Pant: ‘Lochana’s Ragatarangini’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 36 (1965), 67–75
  • P.L. Sharma: ‘The Concept of Sthaya in Indian Sangitasastra’, Indian Music Journal, no.3 (1965), 29–35
  • P.L. Sharma: ‘A Glossary of Sthayas’, Indian Music Journal, no.4 (1965), 33–41; no.5 (1966), 29–38
  • V.R. Athavale: Pandit Vishnu Digambar (New Delhi, 1967)
  • P.K. Dīkṣit: Nāyak-nāyikā bhed aur rāga-rāgiṇī vargīkaraṇ [The Nāyak-Nāyika distinction and the rāga-rāgiṇī classification] (Varanasi, 1967)
  • S.N. Ratanjankar: Pandit Bhatkhande (New Delhi, 1967)
  • D. Śrīvāstav: Prācīn bharat-mẽ sṃgīt [Music in north India] (Varanasi, 1967)
  • W. Kaufmann: The Ragas of North India (Bloomington, IN, 1968)
  • R.C. Mehta: Āgrā gharānā: paramparā, gāyakī aur cīzẽ[The Agra gharānā: lineage, style and compositions] (Baroda, 1969)
  • V.H. Deshpande: ‘The Aesthetic Laws of Khyal’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 42 (1971), 122–31
  • N.A. Jairazbhoy: The Rāgs of North Indian Music: their Structure and Evolution (London,1971)
  • N.A. Jairazbhoy: ‘Factors Underlying Important Notes in North Indian Music’, EthM, 16 (1972), 63–81
  • P.L. Sharma, ed.: Sahasrasa: Nāyak Bakhśū ke dhrupadoṃ kā saṅgrah(New Delhi, 1972) [Eng. trans. as ‘Sahasarasa: a Compilation of Dhrupad Texts Ascribed to Bakshoo: Synopsis of a Treatise’, Indian Music Journal, nos.15–20 (1972–4), 41–8]
  • L.K. Malhotra: ‘My Father, my Guru’, Sangeet Natak, no.29 (1973), 17–34
  • B.K. Roy Choudhury: ‘The Senia Gharana of Rampur’, Sangeet Natak, no.29 (1973), 5–8
  • R. Shankar: ‘Ustad Allaudin Khan’, Sangeet Natak, no.29 (1973), 9–16
  • B.C. Wade: ‘Chīz in Khyāl: the Traditional Composition in the Improvised Performance’,EthM, 17 (1973), 443–59
  • J. Bor: ‘Raga, Species and Evolution’, Sangeet Natak, no.35 (1975), 17–48
  • K.C.D. Bṛhaspati: Dhruvapada aur uskā vikās [Dhrupad and its evolution] (Patna, 1976)
  • C. Karnani: Listening to Hindustani Music (Bombay, 1976)
  • H.S. Powers: ‘The Structure of Musical Meaning: a View from Banaras’, PNM, 14/2–15/1 (1976), 308–34
  • B. Silver: ‘On Becoming an Ustād: Six Lives in the Evolution of a Gharānā’,AsM, 7/2 (1976), 27–58
  • R. Sonnenschmidt: Bhairavī-rāgiṇī: Studien zu einen Nort-Indischen Melodietyp, NGOMA, 4 (Munich,1976)
  • B.N. Goswamy: ‘Those Moon Faced Singers: Music and Dance at the Royal Courts in the Panjab’,National Centre of the Performing Arts Quarterly Journal, 7/1 (1978), 1–10
  • V.H. Deshpande: Ālāpinī(Bombay, 1979); Eng. trans. as Between Two Tampuras (Bombay,1989)
  • Amjad Ali Khan: My Guru, my father (New Delhi, 1979)
  • S.K. Saxena: The Winged Form: Aesthetical Essays on Hindustani Rhythm (New Delhi, 1979)
  • M.V. Dhond: The Evolution of Khyāl (New Delhi, 1980)
  • E. Keesing: Hazrat Inayat Khan: a Biography (The Hague, 1980)
  • D.M. Neuman: The Life of Music in North India: the Organization of an Artistic Tradition(Detroit, 1980/R)
  • N. Sorrell and R. Narayan: Indian Music in Performance: a Practical Introduction (Manchester, 1980) [incl. cassette]
  • W. Van der Meer: Hindusthani Music in the Twentieth Century (The Hague, 1980)
  • S.K. Saxena: Aesthetical Essays: Studies in Aesthetic Theory, Hindustani Music and Kathak Dance(Delhi, 1981)
  • M. Nadkarni: At the Centre: Fifteen Musicians of Madhya Pradesh (Bhopal, 1982)
  • D. Ghosh, ed.: The Great Shankars: Uday, Ravi (Calcutta, 1983)
  • W. Van Beek: Hazrat Inayat Khan (New York, 1983)
  • N.P. Ahmad: Hindustani Music: a Study of its Development in the 17th and 18th Centuries (New Delhi, 1984)
  • G.N. Joshi: Down Melody Lane (Bombay, 1984)
  • A.D. Ranade: On Music and Musicians of Hindoostan (New Delhi, 1984)
  • B.C. Wade: Khyāl: Creativity within North India’s Classical Music Tradition (Cambridge, 1984)
  • J.L. Erdman: Patrons and Performers in Rajasthan: the Subtle Tradition (Delhi, 1985)
  • S. Misra: Music Makers of the Bhatkhande College of Hindustani Music (Calcutta, 1985)
  • F. Delvoye: ‘Bibliography on Dhrupad’, Dhrupad Annual (1986), 95–115; (1987), 119–21; (1988), 98–102; (1989), 105–7; (1990), 117–20; (1991), 30–33; (1992), 112–15; (1993), 86–90; (1994), 56–60; (1995), 125–8
  • M. R. Gautam: ‘The Concept of Rāga in Hindustani Music’,Aspects of Indian Music, ed. S. Mutatkar (New Delhi, 1987), 13–18
  • M. Lath: ‘Dhrupad kā itihās: ek naī dṛṣṭi kā āgraha’ [The history of dhrupad: a plea for a new approach], Dhrupad Annual, 9 (1987), 28–32 [incl. Eng. summary]
  • N. Owens: ‘The Dagar Gharānā: a Case Study of Performing Artists’,AsM, 18/2 (1987), 158–95 [repr. from Wade, 1983]
  • M. Lath: ‘What is Khyal?’, National Centre for the Performing Arts Quarterly Journal, 17/1 (1988), 1–11
  • Z. Yusuf, ed.: Rhythms of the Lower Indus: Perspectives on the Music of Sindh (Karachi, c1988)
  • P. Manuel: Ṭhumrī in Historical Perspective (Delhi, 1989)
  • S. Nayar: Bhatkhande’s Contribution to Music: a Historical Perspective (Bombay, 1989)
  • A.D. Ranade: Keywords and Concepts: Hindustani Classical Music (New Delhi, 1990)
  • S. Misra: Musical Heritage of Lucknow (New Delhi, 1991)
  • P. Moutal: A Comparative Study of Selected Hindustānī Rāgas Based on Contemporary Practice (New Delhi, 1991)
  • P. Moutal: Hindustānī Rāgas Index: Bibliographical References on Descriptions, Compositions and Vistāras of Hindustānī Rāgas Based on Selected Major Contemporary Works in Devanāgarī (New Delhi, 1991)
  • H. Powers: ‘Reinterpretations of Tradition in Hindustani Music: Omkarnath Thakur contra Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande’, The Traditional Indian Theory and Practice of Music and Dance, ed. J.B. Katz (Leiden, 1992), 9–51
  • D. Chaudhuri, ed.: Indian Music and Mushtaq Ali Khan (New Delhi, 1993)
  • B.R. Deodar: Pillars of Hindusthani Music (Bombay, 1993) [Eng. trans. from Marathi]
  • T.W. Ross: ‘Forgotten Patterns: Mīrkhaṇḍ and Amir Khan’, AsM, 24/2 (1993), 89–110
  • S. Slawek: ‘Ravi Shankar as a Mediator between a Traditional Music and Modernity’,Ethnomusicology and Modern Music History, ed. S. Blum, P. Bohlman and D. Neuman (Urbana, IL, 1993), 161–80
  • F. Delvoye: ‘The Thematic Range of Dhrupad Songs Attributed to Tānsen, Foremost Court-Musician of the Mughal Emperor Akbar’, Studies in South Asian Devotional Literature, ed. A.W. Entwhistle and F. Mallison (New Delhi, 1994), 406–29
  • D.R. Widdess: ‘Festivals of Dhrupad in Northern India: New Contexts for an Ancient Art’,British Journal of Ethnomusicology, 3 (1994), 89–109
  • N.A. Jairazbhoy: The Rāgs of North Indian Music (Bombay, 2/1995)
  • F. Delvoye: ‘La transmission des répertoires dans la musique vocale hindustānī: l’example des chants dhrupad attribués à Tānsen, premier musicien de la cour d’Akbar’, Puruṣārtha, 18 (1996), 69–84
Karnatak music
  • C.R. Day: The Music and Musical Instruments of Southern India and the Deccan (London,1891/R)
  • P. Sambamoorthy: South Indian Music Series (Madras, 1927–, rev. and enlarged 7/1966–9, 11/1983)
  • N.S. Ramachandran: The Rāgas of Karnatic Music (Madras, 1938)
  • V. Raghavan: ‘Some Musicians and their Patrons about 1800 ad in Madras City’,Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 16 (1945), 127–36
  • S. Vidya: Kritis of Syama Sastri (Madras, 1947–8)
  • R. Rangarāmānuja: Kriti maṇi mālai [Necklace of kritis]) (Madras,1947–53, 2/1965–7)
  • K. Ramachandran: Dakṣiṇarāga-ratnākaram[Ocean of southern rāgas] (Madras, 1949)
  • V. Appa Rao: ‘Kshetrajna’,Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 21 (1950), 110–29
  • K.V. Ramachandran: ‘Carnatic Ragas from a New Angle’, ‘Carnatic Ragas and the Textual Tradition’, ‘Apurva Ragas of Tyagaraja’s Songs’,Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 21 (1950), 88–109
  • Summary of the Raga Lakshana, ed. the Music Academy (Madras, 1952)
  • V. Appa Rao: ‘The Vizianagaram Music Manuscripts’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 23 (1952), 153–65; 24 (1953), 125–34
  • P. Sambamoorthy: A Dictionary of South Indian Music and Musicians (Madras, 1952–71, 2/1984)
  • C.S. Ayyar: 108 Kritis of Sri Tyagaraja: Text and Notation (Madras, 1955)
  • V. Raghavan: ‘Sri Muttuswami Dikshitar’, ‘Why is the Mridanga so called?’,Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 26 (1955), 131–47, 148ff
  • A. Sunderam Ayyar, ed.: Śrī Dīkṣita-kīrtana-mālā [Garland of Dikṣita kīrtanas] (Madras, 1955–79) [15 vols.]
  • H.S. Powers: The Background of the South Indian Rāga System (diss., Princeton U., 1959)
  • P. Sambamoorthy: Great Musicians (Madras, 1959, 2/1985)
  • P. Sambamoorthy: Great Composers, 1 (Madras, 2/1962); Tyagaraja (Madras,1954, 2/1970)
  • V. Raghavan: Bhoja’s Śṛṅgāra-prakāśa (Madras, 1963)
  • P. Sambamoorthy: Tyagaraja(New Delhi, 1967)
  • N. Chennakesaviah: ‘The Spread and Development of Tyagaraja Kirtanas in Mysore’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 39 (1968), 73–7
  • K.C.D. Bṛhaspati: ‘Muslim Influence on Venkatamakhi and his School’, Sangeet Natak, no.13 (1969), 5–26
  • J. Kuckertz: Form und Melodiebildung der karnatischen Musik Südindiens (Wiesbaden, 1970)
  • T.S. Ramakrishnan: ‘Sri Subbarama Dikshitar and his Contributions’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 41 (1970), 194–207
  • N.S. Ramachandran: ‘The Concept of Alapa according to Lakshana Granthas; with Reference to Karnataka Music’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 42 (1971), 98–112
  • R.R. Ayyangar: History of South Indian (Carnatic) Music (Madras, 1972)
  • J. Kuckertz: ‘Die Kunstmusik Südindiens im 19. Jahrhundert’, Musikkulturen Asiens, Afrikas und Ozeaniens, ed. R. Günther (Regensburg, 1973), 97–132
  • V. Raghavan, ed.: Muttuswami Dikshitar (Bombay, 1975) [incl. index of works]
  • S. Sita: ‘Contribution of Sahaji Maharaja of Tanjore to Music and Dance’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 46 (1975), 68–95
  • S. Venkitsubramonia Iyer: Swati Tirunal and his Music (Trivandrum, 1975)
  • J. Higgins: ‘From Prince to Populace: Patronage as a Determinant of Change in South Indian (Karnatak) Music’, AsM, 7/2 (1976), 20–26
  • W. Kaufmann: The Rāgas of South India: a Catalogue of Scalar Material (Bloomington, IN, 1976)
  • S. Sita: ‘Muttuswamy Dikshitar and Venkatamakhi’s Tradition’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 47 (1976), 116–50
  • S. Bhide: ‘King Shahaji’s “Prabandha”’, National Centre for the Performing Arts Quarterly Journal, 6/2 (1977), 28–41
  • S. Sita: ‘Music and Dance during the Time of Vijayaraghava Nayak of Tanjore’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 48 (1977), 139–50
  • T. Vishwanathan: ‘The Analysis of Rāga Ālāpana in South Indian Music’,AsM, 9/1 (1977), 13–71
  • V. Raghavan: ‘Shri Shyama Shastri’, National Centre for the Performing Arts Quarterly Journal, 7/1 (1978), 8–15
  • S. Srinivasa Rao: ‘A Comparative Study of Muttuswami Dikshitar and Other Composers, Purandaradasa and Kshetrajna’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 49 (1978), 126–44
  • S. Venkitasubramonia Iyer: ‘The Stava Varnas of Swati Tirunal’, Sangeet Natak, no.58 (1980), 39–46
  • G. Kuppuswamy and H. Hariharan: Index of Songs in South Indian Music(Delhi, 1981)
  • S. Seetha: Tanjore as a Seat of Music during the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries (Madras, 1981)
  • S.R. Janakiraman: ‘An Analytical Study of Tyagaraja’s Compositions’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 53 (1982), 126–35
  • B. Nettl: ‘A Tale of Two Cities: Musical Culture in Modern Tehran and Madras’,Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 53 (1982), 105–10
  • B. Rajanikanta Rao: ‘Kshetrayya and his Padams’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 53 (1982), 111–25
  • S. Venkitasubramonia Iyer: ‘Irayimman Tampi’s Contribution to Music and Dance’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 54 (1983), 83–96
  • H.S. Powers: ‘Musical Art and Esoteric Theism: Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar’s Ānandabhairavī Kīrtanams on Śiva and Śakti at Tiruvārūr’,Discourses on Śiva, ed. M.W. Meister (Philadelphia, 1984), 317–40
  • A. Catlin: ‘Pallavi and Kriti of Karnatak Music: Evolutionary Processes and Survival Strategies’,National Centre for the Performing Arts Quarterly Journal, 14/1 (1985), 26–44
  • Gottu Vadya Sakharam Rao: ‘Maharashtrian Musicians of Karnatic Music’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 58 (1987), 110–16
  • E. te Nijenhuis and S. Gupta: Sacred Songs of India: Dīkṣitar’s Cycle of Hymns to the Goddess Kamalā (Winterthur, 1987)
  • S. Ramanathan: ‘The Concept of the Rāga in Carnatic Music’, Aspects of Indian Music, ed. S. Mutatkar (New Delhi, 1987), 9–12
  • R. Sathyanarayana: ‘Karnātaka Music: a Synoptic Survey’, Aspects of Indian Music, ed. S. Mutatkar (New Delhi, 1987), 29–75
  • R.L. Simon: ‘Tyagaraja and the South Indian Bhajana Sampradaya’, AsM, 20/1 (1988–9), 114–27
  • G. Kuppuswamy and H. Hariharan, eds.: Musical Works of Mahārāja Swāti Tirunāḷ (Delhi, 1990)
  • T.S. Parthasarathy: ‘The Pancha Ratna Kritis of Sri Tyagaraja’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 61 (1990), 146–59
  • W.J. Jackson: Tyāgarāja: Life and Lyrics (Madras, 1991)
  • G. Kuppuswamy and M. Hariharan: ‘Compositions of the Ettayapuram Rulers’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 62 (1991), 82–94
  • T.S. Parthasarathy: ‘Margadarsi whom Swati Tirunal Followed’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 62 (1991), 72–81
  • B.K. Ramaprabha: ‘Contribution of Shri Purandaradasa to Karnataka Music’, Gleanings of Indian Music and Art, ed. L. Omcherry and D. Bhalla (Delhi, 1991), 1–73
  • K. Anand Varma: ‘Contribution of Kerala Composers to Karṇāṭak Music’, Gleanings of Indian Music and Art, ed. L. Omcherry and D. Bhalla (Delhi, 1991), 309–72
  • S.R. Jayasitalakshmi: ‘The Varnas of the Dikshitar Family’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 63 (1992), 108–17
  • T.V. Kuppuswami: Carnātic Music and the Tamils (Delhi, 1992)
  • W.J. Jackson: ‘Features of the Kṛiti: a Song Developed by Tyāgarāja’, AsM, 24/1 (1992–3), 19–66
  • J. Higgins: The Music of Bharata Natyam (New Delhi, 1993) [incl. cassette]
  • W.J. Jackson: ‘Tyagaraja and the Bhakti Community’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 64 (1993), 70–78
  • B. Dayananda Rao: Carnatic Music Composers: a Collection of Biographical Essays (Hyderabad, 1994)
  • W.J. Jackson: Tyāgarāja and the Renewal of Tradition (Delhi, 1994)
  • T.V. Subba Rao and S.R. Janakiraman, eds.: Ragas of the Sangita Saramrta by King Tulaja of Tanjore (Madras, 1994)
  • K. Hansen: ‘Performing Identities: Tyāgarāja Music Festivals in North America’,South Asia Research, 16/2 (1996), 155–74
  • F. Fowke: ‘On the Vina or Indian Lyre’, Asiatick Researches, no.1 (1788), 295–9 [repr. in Tagore, 1875; S. Gupta: Music of India(Calcutta, 1962)]
  • C. Sachs: Die Musikinstrumente Indiens und Indonesiens (Berlin, 1915, 2/1923/R)
  • C. Marcel-Dubois: Les instruments de musique de l’Inde ancienne (Paris, 1941)
  • M.V. Cāmi Aiyar: Mirutaṅka pāṭamurai [Mṛdaṅgam compositions] (Tiruvannamalai, 1946/R)
  • Ś. Vandyopādhyāy: Sitār-mārg [Sitar method], 2–3 (Delhi, 1953–7)
  • S. Ethirajan: Mṛdaṅga-svabodhinī [Mṛdaṅgam tutor] (Madras, 1956)
  • B.K. Roy Choudhury: ‘The Veena-paddhati of Hindusthani Music’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 28 (1957), 72–6
  • B. and R. Dās: Mṛdaṅg-tablā-prabhākar [Illumination of mṛdaṅga and tablā] (Hathras,1959–60)
  • Bh. Śarmā: Tāla-prakāś[Light on tāla] (Hathras, 1959, 4/1970, ed. L. Garga)
  • R.E. Brown: The Mṛdanga: a Study of Drumming in South India (diss., UCLA, 1965)
  • S. Krishnaswami: Musical Instruments of India (New Delhi, 1965/R)
  • D. Murphy: ‘The Structure, Repair and Acoustical Properties of the Classical Drums of India’,Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 36 (1965), 223–47
  • Bh. Śarmā: Sitāramālikā [Sitār garland] (Hathras, 3/1966, ed. L. Garga)
  • Ṣ. Vaśiṣṭh: Tāl-mārtaṇḍ [Illumination of tāla] (Hathras, 4/1967)
  • K. S. Kothari: Indian Folk Musical Instruments (New Delhi, 1968), 64–6
  • T. Venkatarama Iyer: The Art of Playing Mṛdangam (Madras, 1969)
  • N.A. Jairazbhoy: ‘A Preliminary Survey of the Oboe in India’, EthM, 14 (1970), 375–88
  • L.M. Miśra: Bhāratīya saṅgīta-vādya [Indian musical instruments] (New Delhi,1973)
  • R.M. Stewart: The Tabla in Perspective (diss., UCLA, 1974)
  • B. C. Deva: ‘The Double-Reed Aerophone in India’, YIFMC, 7 (1975), 77–84
  • N. A. Jairazbhoy: ‘The South Asian Double-Reed Aerophone Reconsidered’,EthM, 24 (1980), 147–56
  • A. Dick: ‘The Earlier History of the Shawm in India’, GSJ, 37 (1984), 80–98
  • K.S. Subramanian: ‘An Introduction to the Vina’, AsM, 16/2 (1985), 7–82
  • R. Flora: ‘Spiralled-Leaf Reedpipes and Shawms of the Indian Ocean Littoral: two Related Regional Traditions’, Musicology Australia, 9 (1986), 39–52
  • I. Wrazen: ‘The Early History of the Vīṇā and Bīn in South and Southeast Asia’, AsM, 18/1 (1986), 25–55
  • J. Bor: ‘The Voice of the Sarangi’, National Centre for the Performing Arts Quarterly Journal, 15/3–4 (1986); 16/1 (1987), 9–183
  • J. Kippen: The Tabla of Lucknow: a Cultural Analysis of a Musical Tradition (Cambridge,1988)
  • R. Flora: ‘Observations on the Hindustani Śahnāī: its Structure and Performance Techniques’, Von der Vielfalt Musikalischer Kultur: Festschrift für Josef Kuckertz, ed. R. Schumacher (Salzburg, 1992), 1–4, 207–16
  • A. Miner: Sitar and Sarod in the 18th and 19th Centuries (Wilhelmshaven, 1993)
  • J.S. Hamilton: Sitar Music in Calcutta: an Ethnomusicological Study (Delhi, 1994)
  • R. Flora: ‘Styles of the Śahnāī in Recent Decades: from naubat to gāyakīang’, Yearbook for Traditional Music, 27 (1995), 52–75
  • A.A. Bake: ‘The Aesthetics of Indian Music’, British Journal of Aesthetics, 4/1 (1964), 47–57
  • P.L. Sharma: ‘Rasa Theory and Indian Music’, Sangeet Natak, no.16 (1970), 57–64
  • P.L. Sharma: ‘Rāga and Rasa’, IMSCR XII: Berkeley 1977, 525–28
  • S. Ray: ‘Tagore on Music and Musical Aesthetics’, Sangeet Natak, no.56 (1980), 17–43
  • S.K. Saxena: ‘The Concept of Raga: an Essay in Understanding’, Sangeet Natak, nos.101–2 (1991), 32–46
  • J.B. Katz: ‘Music and Aesthetics: an Early Indian Perspective’, EMc, 24 (1996), 407–20

IV. Semi-classical genres

  • Nazir A. Jairazbhoy and Peter Manuel

Ṭhumrī and ghazal—or what might be termed the ‘ghazal art song’—have constituted the main genres of North Indian light-classical music. They are distinguished from pure classical genres (especially khyâl and dhrupad) by their emphasis on the melodic elaboration of lyrics, rather than on displays of virtuosity or scrupulously correct rendition of rāga, and by their use of modes and metres loosely resembling and to some extent derived from those of regional folk musics, that is, regionally distinct, non-élite traditional musics lacking bases in theoretical treatises. Until the mid 20th century, both genres were also associated with courtesan dance. While the lyric content of both genres is predominantly amatory, ṭhumrī is usually composed in the Braj Bhāṣā dialect of Hindi and reflects the influence of the devotional Hindu movement, bhakti. Ghazal is usually composed in Urdu and is influenced by the Sufi mystic movement of Islam.

1. ‘Ṭhumrī’, ‘dādrā’, and ‘ṭappā’.

Although the origin of ṭhumrī has commonly been ascribed to the Lucknow court of Wajid Ali Shah (ruler of Avadh, 1847–56), ṭhumrī considerably predates this era. Precedents can be found in related genres such as pānika, nādavatī, carcarī, and caccarī (catuṣpadī), dating from the first millennium ce, in which female dancers would choreographically interpret erotic and/or devotional texts. Numerous references to ćarćarī in subsequent centuries suggest strong affinities with modern ṭhumrī in the association with Kṛṣṇa-worship, the use of the Braj Bhāṣā dialect, and performance by courtesans. Extant references to ṭhumrī proper date from the 1660s and 70s, during which period it appears to have been a kind of vernacular, light-classical mode or song-type, probably used to accompany courtesan dance. Further references in the early 1800s indicate that the genre had become a familiar, if perhaps unpretentious, semi-classical song genre. In subsequent decades, as patronage shifted from the declining Mughal elite to Lucknow-based landlords, courtiers, and nawābs—especially Wajid Ali Shah—ṭhumrī evolved rapidly, cultivated by male as well as female musicians. The prevailing contemporary style was the bandiś (‘composition’)ṭhumrī, which typically accompanied the classicized dance form that would eventually come to be known as kathak. In its sthāyi-antara composition form and its use of tîntāl, the bandiś ṭhumrī closely resembled the emerging chotā khyāl, but it foregrounded not virtuoso display in rigorous classical rāgas, but varied reiterations of individual text lines (bol bāṅṭ, lit, ‘word-division’), which would be mimetically interpreted by the dancer. The bandiś ṭhumrī could also be performed as a light musical genre in its own right. In 1858 Wajid Ali Shah, overthrown by the British, relocated his court—with its retinue of musicians and dancers—to Calcutta, where ṭhumrī benefited from that city’s lively musical ambience.

In the first half of the 20th century, a new and quite distinct form of ṭhumrī coalesced, predominantly in Varanasi and Calcutta, emphasizing a more leisurely, sentimental, and musically sophisticated style of melodic-textual elaboration (bol banāo), typically set to 14- or 16-beat cycles variously called dīpcandī, cāñcar, or jat. The essence of bol banāo is the reiteration of a text line or fragment (e.g. ‘jā maiṅ tose nahīṅ bolûṅ—‘Go, I won’t speak to you’, as in a woman remonstrating her wayward lover) in different melodic and stylistic nuances, suggesting the emotive ambivalences and subtleties latent in such a verse. This period represented an apogee of ṭhumrī and ghazal, as performed both by male vocalists and women from courtesan backgrounds, who specialized in these and lesser semi-classical genres, presenting them as focal concert or salon items, sometimes with interpretive dance, or with mimetic gestures (abhināya) performed seated, while singing. An influential turn-of-the-century singer was Gauhar Jan (1873–1930), who became India’s first recording celebrity (Sampath, 2010); her numerous 78 rpm records of ṭhumrī — primarily in bol bāṅṭ style — were widely enjoyed and imitated by singers throughout North India in the first decades of the century, though the bol banāo style was soon to take precedence.

In the mid-20th century, Punjabi vocalist Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and his brother Barkat Ali Khan popularized a somewhat lighter style of ṭhumrī, featuring more lavish ornamentation and greater usage of the six-beat dādrā and eight-beat kaharvā tālas. During this period, music patronage definitively shifted from the remnants of feudal nobility to the bourgeoisie, and the public concert hall replaced the feudal court and the now disreputable and actively repressed courtesan salon. A few of the best singers of courtesan backgrounds succeeded in adapting to the new milieu, but ṭhumrī increasingly came to be taken up by classical vocalists, both male and female, either of respectable musician pedigrees or middle-class origins. As courtesan culture evaporated, so did the entire ‘intermediate realm’ of specialists in light-classical music. Instead, ṭhumrī came to be presented as a sort of light, sweet ‘dessert’ following a khyal, thoroughly cleansed of any hint of eroticism or courtesan style, such as seated abhināya. In the process it acquired a kind of polish and sophistication, but in the eyes of many, it lost the distinctive, intimate, and often sensual expressivity it possessed when it had been performed by specialists in light-classical music and bol banāo technique.

Thumrī lyrics are amatory, and are voiced from the female persona, regardless of the gender of the vocalist. They adhere to highly conventional stock themes, typically expressing the woman’s unrequited love, her longing for her absent lover, or her annoyance at her faithless or teasing consort. The lover is often implicitly or explicitly the flirtatious cowherd-god Kṛṣṇa, consort of Rādhā and the other gopī (milkmaids). The dominant ethos (rasa) of these songs is amorous (śṛṅgāra) and pathetic (karuṇa). In connection with bhakti, however, these themes can be interpreted as being allegorical, God being the beloved; they can represent mankind’s search for union with the divine (see du Perron, 2007).

Ṭhumrī generally employs a specific set of rāgas and tālas that are unique to light-classical music and that bear affinities to modes used in North Indian folk musics. As in other North Indian vocal forms, a ṭhumrī has two composed sections, sthāyī and antarā, each consisting of one or two lines of poetry. These two sections are based on different registers of the rāga in which the ṭhumrī is composed, the antarā generally being the higher. In singing, the vocalist performs leisurely bol banāo on successive text lines, or fragments thereof (e.g., ‘pīyā binā’—without my lover), gradually working from the lower to upper registers, as in a barā khyāl, but with less length and rigor. The text fragments are repeated as often as the singer wishes, each time with a different melodic interpretation. A laggi section then ensues, featuring fast, lively tablā improvisations in quadratic meter, during which the singer reiterates the sthāyi.

At the end of the tablā improvisation the piece ends, perhaps after one rendering of the the sthāyi in the original tempo and metre.

There are several features that distinguish ṭhumrī from other North Indian vocal forms such as khayāl. Aside from the use of light rāgas such as Pîlu, Khamāj, Kāfi, and Bhairvi, the ornaments used in ṭhumrī are generally quicker and lighter in character than those of khyāl, and there is greater freedom in the use of alternative notes which would not be acceptable in the performance of a khayāl. Moreover, it is not unusual for a ṭhumrī singer to introduce a temporary change of rāga. Ex.16 illustrates an excerpt of bol banāo in ṭhumrī.

Ex.16 Ṭhumrī bol banāo in Dādrā tāla (rāga changes from Khamāj to Pahārī at*); rec. N.A. Jairazbhoy

View large

Vocal ṭhumrī is accompanied by tablā, tanpūrā, and a melodic instrument, traditionally the sāraṅgī, but nowadays, the harmonium. Although ṭhumrī is primarily a vocal form it can often be heard as an instrumental piece. While instrumental ṭhumrī cannot incorporate bol banāo, it employs the ornamentation, phrasing, and rāga and tāla repertory of the vocal ṭhumrī style.

The term dādrā, aside from referring to a common six-beat cycle, also denotes a light-classical vocal genre, similar to ṭhumrī but having a somewhat lighter character. In dādrā the singer generally employs Dādrā or Kaharvā tāla and maintains a more lively rhythmic lilt; dādrā lyrics are exclusively amatory and may include verses in Urdu as well as Braj-bhāśā.

Ṭappā represents a quite distinct genre of semi-classical music. Its origin is generally attributed to Shori Mian, believed to be the pen-name of Ghulam Nabi, a singer in the Lucknow court of Asaf-ud-daulā, nawab of Avadh (1776–97). In ṭappā, the vocalist sings an incessant series of frenetic fast runs (tāna) characterized by circular, zigzag melodic motion (zamzamā), generally set to the 16-beat Sitārkhāni tāla. Both improvisations as well as the compositions themselves are rendered in this style, which is said to have been inspired originally by the rapid ornamentation found in Punjabi music. Ṭappā survived until the mid-20th century as a demanding and difficult genre, cultivated especially by Varanasi-based courtesan singers; it is now seldom heard.

2. ‘Ghazal’.

Ghazal is the pre-eminent form of traditional Persian and Urdu poetry. The word ghazal is derived from the Arabic root that denotes ‘to talk amorously with women’, and thus the poetry is, on the most overt level, amatory. However, it is much influenced by the mystic ideas of Sufism, where the beloved is really God and the poet yearns for union with Him. One of the great attractions of this poetic form is its appeal on different levels: the erotic, the mystical, and the philosophical. Modern poems in the genre occasionally contain social and political comment.

The Persian ghazal, introduced by Muslim invaders and immigrants, took root in India and came to be widely cultivated and enjoyed by literati. By the early nineteenth century it had been supplanted by the Urdu ghazal, which adhered to the same form and conventional subject matter and imagery, and enjoyed even greater popularity, among Urdu-speaking Hindus as well as Muslims throughout urban North India. The formal occasion for its recitation has been the muśāirā (‘poetic symposium’), where poets take turns reciting their verses to each other, in a practice that still continues.

The ghazal consists of an indeterminate number of couplets (śer), which are thematically independent and united only by the prosodic metre and rhyme-scheme. In order to achieve epigrammatic condensation of expression, couplets generally rely on a stock set of conventional metaphors, imagery, and topics – especially unrequited love, as narrated from the male persona – most of which derive from the Persian poetic tradition. Both couplets of the first lines rhyme; in the succeeding couplets the original rhyme scheme is maintained in the second line. The rhyme scheme is thus aa, ba, ca etc.

With its elegant diction, recurrent end-rhymes, and sentimental character, ghazal lends itself well to musical rendering. Accordingly, ghazal poetry is sung in a few distinct North Indian music genres. The least ‘musical’ of these is tarannum, in which a ghazal poet at a muśāirā intones his (or less often, her) couplets in a simple strophic tune, in free-rhythm, without accompaniment, in a straightforward, unadorned style (see §V, 1 below). Devotional ghazals are also sung in Shi’a Muslim assemblies (majlis) and as na’t songs praising the prophet Mohammad (see Qureshi, 1990). Many qawwāli texts are also set in ghazal form. However, ‘ghazal’ as a musical genre most typically connotes what might be called the ghazal salon or concert style, featuring a solo singer, with harmonium (or, traditionally, sārangi) and table, playing relatively unobtrusive accompaniment variants of Kaharvā, Dādrā, and, less often, the seven-beat Rūpak tāla. In all these forms, the ghazal’s rhyme scheme is generally reflected in the melody, the line with rhyme a being sung to one tune, the other lines (b, c, etc.) being sung to a second related tune generally in a higher register. In the salon style, each verse is followed by an instrumental interlude, traditionally with laggī played on the tabla.

Documentation of ghazal-singing before the nineteenth century is surprisingly sparse, consisting of a handful of references to the singing of Persian ghazals at Indo-Muslim courts. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, ghazal had become a popular court and salon idiom, especially in Lucknow under the nawabs. By the latter 1800s it was widely performed throughout urban North India by courtesans, often accompanying interpretative mimetic dance, typically alongside thumrī. Thumrī and ghazal, indeed, constituted the core items in the light-classical repertoire presented by courtesan specialists and, increasingly, diverse male professional vocalists. Like thumrī, the salon-style ghazal could be set in a light raga and could feature loosely improvised bol banāo on the non-rhyming ‘a’ lines. However, in its greater emphasis on the text and its correspondingly lesser scope for abstract melodic elaboration, ghazal has generally regarded as ‘lighter’ than ṭhumrī. Together with ṭhumrī, the light-classical ghazal reached a peak of popularity and sophistication in the mid-1900s, especially as performed by former courtesans such as Begum Akhtar (d 1974). However, during this period the decline of courtesan culture and the evaporation of the entire ‘intermediate’ sphere of light-classical music posed the same challenge for ghazal as it did for ṭhumrī. The trajectories of the two sister genres came to diverge dramatically (Manuel, 2010). While ṭhumrī became a concluding item in classical vocal concerts, the salon ghazal—deemed too light and word-oriented—declined dramatically. Nevertheless, in the 1970s a new style of stage ghazal-singing was popularized by Pakistani singers Mehdi Hasan (d 2012) and Ghulam Ali, combining the leisurely pace and improvisatory approach of the light-classical style with, to some extent, the accessibility of film music. The new ‘crossover’ ghazal emerged in association both with cassette technology, which enabled it to bypass the film industry, and with the emergence of a more extensive and self-aware North Indian bourgeoisie (Manuel, 1993). The new ghazal is performed and listened to widely by Hindi and Urdu-speaking Hindus as well as Muslims throughout the subcontinent.

Meanwhile, with the advent of sound film in 1931 ghazal earned a place in North Indian film music, and a distinctive style of film ghazal soon emerged distinguished by the absence of improvisation, the use of more accessible tunes and diction, the replacement of the laggī interlude with a pre-composed instrumental passage and the use of an extensive accompanying ensemble typically containing both Western and Indian instruments. Accordingly, the film ghazal, unlike its connoisseur-orientated counterpart, came to enjoy considerable popularity. By the 1970s, however, ghazal became less common in film music, perhaps due to the incompatability of its romantic character with the popularity of action-orientated films and disco-influenced soundtracks.


Ṭhumrī and ghazal
  • P.L. Sharma: ‘The Origin of Thumari’, Aspects of Indian Music (New Delhi,1957, enlarged 2/1970), 73
  • N.A. Jairazbhoy: ‘L’Islam en Inde et au Pakistan’, Encyclopédie des musiques sacrées, ed. J. Porte, 1 (Paris, 1968), 454–63, esp. 460
  • C. Desai: ‘Thumri through the Ages’, Journal of the Indian Musicological Society, 7/3 (1976), 41–51
  • J. Singh: ‘The Evolution of Thumri’, National Centre for the Performing Arts Quarterly Journal, 5/2 (1976), 10–15
  • P. Manuel: ‘The Evolution of Modern Thumri’, EthM, 30 (1983), 470–90
  • S. Shukla: Ṭhumrī kī utpattī, vikās aur śailiyāṅ [The origin, development and styles of ṭhumrī ] (Delhi, 1983)
  • P. Banerjee: Dance in Thumri (New Delhi, 1986)
  • P. Manuel: ‘A Historical Survey of the Urdu Gazal-Song in India’, AsM, 20/1 (1988–9), 93–113
  • P. Manuel: Thumri in Historical and Stylistic Perspectives (Delhi, 1989)
  • R.C. Mehta: Thumri: Tradition and Trends (Bombay, 1990)
  • R.B. Qureshi: ‘Musical Gesture and Extra-Musical Meaning: Words and Music in Urdu Ghazal’,JAMS, 43 (1990), 472–96
  • V. Rao: ‘Thumri as Feminine Voice’, Economic and Political Weekly (28 April 1990), 31–9
  • V. Rao: ‘Thumri and Thumri Singers: Changes in Style and Life-style’, Cultural Reorientation in Modern India, ed. I.B. Jaidev (Shimla, 1996), 278–315
  • L. du Perron: Hindi Poetry in a Musical Genre: Thumri Lyrics (London, New York, 2007)
  • P. Manuel: ‘Thumri, Ghazal, and Modernity in Hindustani Music Culture’, Hindustani Music: Thirteenth to Twentieth Centuries, ed. J. Bor, F. Delvoye, J. Harvey, E. te Nijenhuis (New Delhi, 2010)
  • V. Sampath: ‘My Name is Gauhar Jaan!’ The Life and Times of a Musician (New Delhi, 2010)

V. Chant

The word as sound is a concept basic to all domains of South Asian culture. Accordingly, a wide range of poetry is chanted in a variety of languages and in contexts ranging from entertainment to religious practice. Generally termed recitation, such poetry covers traditional epics such as the Hir ranjha chanted for Punjabi village audiences, Urdu poets presenting their works at mushā’iras (formal assemblies of literary élites), and poetic texts in all major Indian religions, from the scriptural chanting of religious specialists to congregational litanies. Some chant melodies are widely known, such as the Rām dhun used to chant the Rāmāyaṇa, or the masnavi tune linked to the Sufi verses of Rumi. In all Indian music the relationship between music and poetry is of some importance, but in poetic chant this relationship is particularly significant.

Since in chant the word is of primary importance, it is necessary to approach chanted poetry through the word rather than through its musical realization. Performing style, form, and, especially, rhythm are likely to be the principal musical means of conveying features of poetic structure and meaning as well as of recitational context. Rhythm, by governing the duration of pitch in time, further extends the influence of these poetic features to the melody. The tonal range and melodic motifs of chant melody are, however, subject to influence from widely disseminated popular and art music as well as regional traditional genres, all of which contribute to a common musical milieu.

Tarannum, the chanting of Urdu poetry, and Hindu Vedic chant (see §2 below) illustrate certain general principles underlying musical recitation, where features of musical style are determined by the characteristics of spoken language and poetic structure as well as by the context and meaning of the text.

1. ‘Tarannum’.

  • Regula Qureshi

Urdu is the national language of Pakistan and one of India’s 18 official languages. Its main centres are the cities of Pakistan and northern and western India, and Hyderabad in the south. As the literary language and lingua franca developed by the Muslims in India, it continues to represent South Asian Muslim culture. Urdu poetry, a highly formalized art, has a distinctly Persian flavour, since its symbolism and imagery as well as the poetic forms, metres, and scansion rules are derived from Persian and Arabic models. The predominant form is the ghazal (see §IV, 2 above), a lyrical and philosophical love-poem, structured in couplets that are independent in content but linked by a common theme and a recurring rhyme pattern. As a favourite form of cultivated entertainment and self-expression this poetry is chanted in tarannum style both formally by poets at the mushā’ira (symposium) and informally by other Urdu speakers.

Tarannum is categorized as recitation, not singing or music, and it is appreciated only in terms of the poetry it supports. Accordingly it appertains to the respected sphere of the poet and not to the socially inferior realm of the professional musician. This strict separation of chanting from singing exempts tarannum from the Islamic religious censure of singing and instrumental music; hence it is the only form of secular ‘music’ widely practised by South Asian Muslims.

The music of tarannum is dominated by the text. The style of performance emphasizes aspects of verbal communication: words are pronounced as in spoken declamation and even consonants are enunciated according to their natural duration in speech. The rhythm and tempo of speech are generally maintained. The smallest formal unit, the poetic line, is normally free from interruption and internal repetition, but complete lines are repeated and pauses are introduced as part of the spontaneous interaction between reciter and audience. Voice production is highly idiosyncratic, reflecting the reciter’s speaking voice rather than a standard vocal model, such as exists in singing. To some extent the vocal quality of tarannum is determined by the predominance of long vowels in the poetic vocabulary and of long syllables in the metric structure.

Tarannum is strictly strophic in formal structure. Each couplet contains two contrasting tunes that correspond to the sthāyī–antarā principle of north Indian art music. The first, non-rhyming line of the couplet is generally set to an antarā-like tune with a high tessitura (the upper tetrachord of the octave); the second, rhyming line is set to a sthāyī-like tune with a low tessitura (the lower tetrachord, with tonic emphasis). The melodic cadences of both tunes often correspond.

The rhythm of tarannum is derived from the poetic metre (exx.17 and 18). The complex metric system of Urdu poetry, rooted in Arabic prosody, is based on a variety of long–short patterns. In the musical realization of the poetic metre the long and short syllables form the basis for long and short durational units. Both the duration and the mutual relationship of these units are highly variable, which accounts for the rhythmic diversity of tarannum. This variability may express semantic as well as structural factors in the text. The relationship between long and short durational units may also be consistent, resulting in rhythmic regularity and a tendency to replace length with stress (ex.18).

Ex.17 Reciting tune based on rāga Kedāra, poetic metre short, irregular

View large

Ex.18 Reciting tune as in ex.17, poetic metre long, regular

View large

Melodically, tarannum belongs in the context of north Indian semi-classical music and is subject to the influence of the current musical environment, including popular recorded music. The melodic content extends from motifs with a narrow tonal range to rāga-types. Chant tunes are characterized by their portability (a tune can be ‘carried’ from one poem to another) and potential for variation. The same tune may be adapted to poems which differ widely in length and metrical scheme (exx.17 and 18). Conversely, the same poem may be chanted to more than one tune. There thus exists a repertory of reciting tunes that performers modify in accordance with the poem and their own personal style. Poets also create new tunes of their own, thereby enriching the repertory. Specific melodic and rhythmic settings may thus become attached to particular poems and associated with the personal reciting style and vocal profile that poets cultivate as part of their creative personality. Another facet of performance is declamatory freedom to interrupt and repeat verse lines within a poem as part of a reciter’s interaction with the audience.

Tarannum recitation has also been extended to kavisammelan, assemblies for the recitation of Hindi poetry that follows Sanskrit-derived formal principles. Today tarannum is internationally disseminated by touring poets who recite at mushā’iras held in South Asian communities in North America, Britain, and the Gulf States.

2. ‘Sāmavedic’ chant.

  • Jonathan Katz

The sāmavedic chant is commonly supposed to represent the earliest surviving form of Indian music; it has been traditionally regarded by theorists as the source of all Indian art music. This claim must be treated cautiously, however, since there must have existed numerous other musical elements and influences in religious, secular, and ceremonial practice from very early times.

The four Vedas (veda primarily means ‘knowledge’) are collections of early Sanskrit hymns and ritual texts originating in the religious beliefs and practices of the early Aryan settlers in South Asia. The hymns of the Sāmaveda – the Veda of ‘chants’ or ‘melodies’ (sāman) – are for the most part also contained in the primary hymn collection of the Ṛgveda. However, in the Sāmaveda they are rearranged in two series of verses (ārcika), the first according to the deities they address and the poetic metres used, the second according to the ritual and liturgical contexts in which the verses are recited. There are no musical directions, but special song-manuals (gāna) of more recent origin give melodies in notation, as well as the modifications to the basic text – lengthened and additional syllables etc. – which are employed in the sung versions of the hymns.

In earlier and ancient sources many sāmavedic ‘schools’ (śākhā) are said to have existed. The transmission of the melodies and their performance procedures was sustained by strict training within each school, and strict and orthodox accuracy within each of them was crucial for the efficacy of religious ritual. Three such schools survive today, called the Jaiminīya or Talavakāra, the Kauthuma, and the Rāṇāyanīya. The gānas, and other later practical handbooks of performance attached to the different schools, appear to have been compiled as mnemonic aids to a primarily oral tradition. The other handbooks include works on timing, metres, pitch varieties, and ritual uses of the chants and the magical and apotropaic lore related to them. In some of these Vedic ‘ancillary’ Sanskrit texts can be found a tendency to relate some features of sāmavedic recitation and music, and its notation, to the later post-Vedic pitch systems. Research over the last century has increasingly supported the view that textual study and present-day field observation can illuminate each other, and pioneering studies by J.F. Staal (1961) and Wayne Howard (1977 and 1988) have thrown much light on the relation of practice and theory.

The sāman verses can be performed in private recitation or in a more open ritual context of the sacrifice. At the more elaborate of the great public (śrauta) sacrifices the priests sing a number of stotras, laudatory compositions formed of complexes of verses from the Vedic hymns. The portions (bhakti) of each of the composite stanzas (stotrīya) are performed by one or more of a trio of specialist sāmavedic priests called the prastotṛ (introductory singer), udgātṛ (principal singer), and pratihartṛ (responsorial singer). The verbal text is modified in various ways to fit the prescribed melodic form in a melismatic style; it is possible that the melodies existed already and the verses had to be ‘set’ to them. On the basis of the texts and the practical manuals, up to eight different methods of ‘alteration’ have been identified, and the different recensions of the sāmavedic śākhā, and different traditions even within each of these, show a variety of ways of adapting the texts within the essential rules of practice. In the Kauthuma manuscripts the Sanskrit text is accompanied by an interlinear numerical notation of five figures, and in the Rāṇāyanīya by a syllabic notation, in which the symbols are used to indicate musical phrases. Ancient sources name seven ‘tones’ (svaras, not to be confused with those of post-Vedic musical systems), and it seems that the figures and letters refer to items in a repertory of phrases or motives. The gāna texts use the figures also as mnemonic indications of gestures (mudrā) made with the thumb and fingers of the right hand, these being themselves partly a mnemonic means to assist in the learning and transmission of the sāman melodies.



and other resources

  • J.F. Staal: Nambudiri Veda Recitation (The Hague, 1961)
  • W. Bright: ‘Language and Music: Areas for Cooperation’, EthM, 7 (1963), 26–32
  • A. Ahmad: Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment (Oxford, 1964/R), 73ff, 218–62
  • R. Qureshi: ‘Tarannum: the Chanting of Urdu Poetry’, EthM, 13 (1969), 425–68
  • A. Parpola: ‘The Literature and Study of the Jaiminīya Sāmaveda in Retrospect and Prospect’, Studia Orientalia, 43/6 (1973), 1–33
  • J. Gonda: Vedic Literature: Saṃhitās and Brāhmaṇas (Wiesbaden, 1975)
  • W. Howard: Sāmavedic Chant (New Haven, CT, 1977)
  • M. Witzel: ‘Materialen zu den Vedischen Schulen’, Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik, no.7 (1981), 109–32; nos.8–9 (1982), 171–240; no.10 (1984), 231–37
  • J.F. Staal: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar (Berkeley, 1983)
  • G.H. Tarlekar: The Sāman Chants: a Review of Research (Baroda, 1985)
  • W. Howard: Veda Recitation in Vārāṇasī (Delhi, 1986)
  • W. Howard: The Decipherment of the Sāmavedic Notation of the Jaiminīyas(Helsinki, 1988)
  • G.U. Thite: Music in the Vedas: its Magico-Religious Significance (Delhi, 1997)
  • I Write I Recite, HMV (India) 7EPE 1274 (n.d.) [incl. disc notes by S. Badayuni and H. Jaipuri]

VI. Religious musics

South Asian religious practices range from the localized worship of village goddesses to such trans-national religions as Islam and Christianity. Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and the religious complexes that make up Hinduism all have their origins in South Asia. These overlapping and competing webs of religious belief and ritual are expressed by an equally varied set of musics. (For the history and musical practices of Buddhism in South Asia see Buddhist music and Tibetan music, §II, 2; for South Asian Jewish traditions see Jewish music, §III, 8, (v).)

1. Hindu.

  • Robert Simon

Bhajan (from Sanskrit: bhajana) is the generic term identifying popular Hindu religious songs associated with bhakti, an approach to union with God. The bhajan literature is extensive, comprising many thousands of songs in many languages, including Sanskrit. Bhajan also denotes a genre of religious ritual exercised in all parts of India. The rites are usually congregational, ranging in number of participants from three or four to many thousands. The Sanskrit words bhajana and bhakti are both derived from the root word bhaj (‘to share’ or ‘to give of’) and are connected with an approach to God in which the relationship of the worshipper to the deity is based on attitudes of love.

Bhaktas (devotees) see God as personalized, an image that is not a single idealization, but one that reflects the infinite variety of the universe. All Hindu deities are seen as representing aspects of the one supreme Godhead, and icons are seen as containing within them the essence of God. In ritual the deity is treated as a royal guest and tended lovingly by the bhaktas. The God is garlanded with flowers, bathed, clothed in new garments, offered refreshments and praised in song and dance. The ceremony, in its entirety, is a mystical expression of adoration of the deity by the worshippers. The concept of approaching God through love can be traced down through the Upanishads and the Epics (especially the Bhagavad gītā) to the medieval Purāṇa. In the Bhāgavata purāṇa the doctrine of bhakti is crystallized into a set of attitudes and acts, the performance of which would aid the worshipper in his aim of union with God. Various attitudes of love may be expressed allegorically in song texts that depict God, the only true male, in the love relationship with the woman who symbolizes mankind. Two additional tenets of bhakti doctrine are the efficacies of listening to the praises of God and the singing of holy names. The themes used in bhajan texts are based on various kinds and levels of love, praises, and repetition of God’s names.

Bhakti as a dominant force in Hinduism began to develop as a theistic reaction against heretical (atheistic) Buddhism and Jainism in southern India in about the 6th century ce. The movement was divided into two sects: one, worshippers of the God Śiva, called Nāyanar, the other, devotees of Viṣṇu, called Ālvār. They disseminated their religious doctrines through songs of devotion composed in the vernacular. Groups of worshippers advocating surrender to God moved about the countryside from temple to temple led by zealous poet-singers, singing, dancing, and engaging in heated debates. Deified poet-singers of both sexes and from all social strata kindled a revival of Hinduism through bhakti that eventually engulfed all of India. The revival also generated the ācāryas (teachers), religious leaders who reinterpreted the ancient scriptures to meet the needs of their own times, and who in the process laid the philosophical foundations for future bhakti developments. The most influential were Śaṅkara (dc820 ce), Rāmānuja (d 1137), and Madhva (d 1278). They were followed by Nimbārka (fl 12th century), Rāmānanda (fl 14th century), Vallabha (d 1531), and Chaitānya (d 1533). In addition to their general religious influences they aroused generations of poet-singers who carried their spiritual messages in song. Jayadeva (fl 12th century), the composer of the Gīta-govinda, belongs with this group because of the vast influence this work has had on the course of bhakti up to modern times.

The revival initiated by the Nāyanar and Ālvār was continued by the Vīraśaiva (Lingāyat) and Haridāsa of Karnataka, and from there spread to the north, where the tradition of singing poet-saints reached its culmination with Tukaram (d 1649). Eventually every vernacular region produced its own poet-singers: Raidās, Mīrābāī, Dadu, Tulasī Dās, Sūr Dās, Vidyāpati, Candi Dās, Rāmprasād, and Śaṅkardeva in the north; in the south Purandara Dās, Arunagirinathar, Nārāyaṇa Tīrtha, Bhadrācala Rāma Dāsa, Tyāgarāja, the most venerated southern composer, and the three Tāllapākam composers whose activities were centred on Tirupati (south-eastern Andhra Pradesh) at the Veṅkaṭeśa temple. It was they, a family of three generations of poet-singers, who during the 16th century established the southern ritual form, as well as important classical forms. They also introduced dancing into the bhajan ritual.

Islamic domination of India, which began in the 12th century, was most powerful in the 17th century. During this time the bhakti movement continued to spread and develop, inspired by waves of fervent singing poet-saints and spurred by Muslim religious oppression. At the same time religious acculturation occurred through the blending of Sufi (Muslim mystic) and Hindu concepts. The iconoclast Kabīr (d 1550) is representative of this infusion, as is Guru Nānak (d 1539), founder of Sikhism, a religion that combines Hindu and Muslim concepts.

Ritual environments are not specified in Hinduism; bhajans may be performed anywhere, inside or outside, alone or collectively. Sometimes buildings or other enclosed structures are built or used exclusively for bhajan rituals. The traditional public focus for worship is the temple and its surroundings. Various sects have established maṭhas (monasteries), which often house resident monks and in which worship is performed daily. The maṇḍal (‘association’) often comprises members of regional enclaves or worshippers of regional deities. The traditional Hindu home contains an area or room set aside for family and friends to worship in.

There is wide variation in both the location and the length of a bhajan performance. It may range from an hour or two up to many days if special rites are being observed. Some rituals take place during the day, others at night; most are carried out weekly, commencing at dusk, requiring two to four hours for completion. Attendance is often open to people of varying social strata; there may be from three or four to over 50 people, either of one sex only or mixed. The ritual sequence also differs regionally and from one group to another. It is composed primarily of bhajan songs performed in an ordered series, beginning and ending with formulae, that is, auspicious mantras or songs. The main body of songs accompanies worshipful acts such as the offering of food and flowers, the waving of lights, and symbolic dances. Rituals vary greatly in format from complex structures to the singing of a single phrase, repeated continuously.

The prosody of bhajan texts either conforms to or is influenced by traditional Sanskrit forms such as pada and śloka. Forms in which the names or praises of a deity are expressed can be arranged under the general heading jāpa (‘repetition’) and are as follows: the text of the nāmāvali (‘row of names’) consists of names, praises or supplications directed to the deity; sahasranāma (‘1000 names’) consists of a catalogue of 1000 names of a deity symbolizing the deity’s attributes as being infinite. Nāma parāyaṇa refers to the repetition of a single name such as Rāma or Śiva; a short phrase consisting of deities’ names, called, in some regions, puṇḍarīkam, is used in group ritual. Usually a mukhṛā (signature), the composer’s name or pseudonym, is incorporated into the last stanza of a text. All textual themes are based on the attitudes of love and are augmented by the use of names, praises, and supplications, which include philosophical and didactic elements.

The musical elements in bhajan are intended to convey the all-important words. The rhythms used are comparatively uncomplicated, usually employing a tāla (time cycle) consisting of four beats. Melodies, especially those sung congregationally, are simple, direct, and generally lack the complexities found in classical music. Bhajan songs are composed in rāgas that are limited to a few identifiable characteristics and are therefore easily recognized by the general public. Bhajan songs generally include either refrain-type or jāpa forms; the number of lines in refrains and stanzas and the numbers of repetitions of refrains vary with each performance. The jāpa forms vary in musical characteristics from the intoning of a single name to sahasranāma, which uses a range of a few pitches, and nāmāvali, responsorial songs employing ranges equal to refrain-type songs. The puṇḍarīkam, which is also responsorial, uses only two pitches. It is a formula song that announces the topic to follow or the deity to be addressed in the subsequent song. The śloka and comparable vernacular forms are performed solo and unaccompanied and are often associated with meditative sections of the ritual.

Musical instruments are used to accompany most bhajan songs and rituals. Although drums and cymbals are most common, any instruments may be employed by worshippers. Regional origins are reflected in the sizes and shapes of instruments and in other factors, including performance techniques. Drums, in particular, are drawn from both classical and folk traditions. Pairs of brass cymbals (tāl, tāḷam), generally ranging from 2 to 15 cm in diameter and varying greatly in shape and gauge, are struck together by singing devotees. Wooden or metal clappers (kartāl) of varying size with jingles or tiny bells mounted on them are also played by worshippers. The harmonium, a keyboard instrument originally brought to India by Christian missionaries, is a highly valued instrument. It is used as a melodic guide and general accompaniment while also providing the drone. The tambūrā (a long-necked fretless lute) and śruti -box (either an electronic drone or a small harmonium with a limited number of reeds) are also widely used drone instruments. Drum and harmonium players usually have some musical training and may be classed as amateurs or part-time professionals. Some instrumentalists and a few singers are paid for performing in bhajan rituals, but the motivation for all, including professionals, is worship.

2. Muslim.

  • Regula Qureshi

Religious music is the main musical expression of the South Asian Muslim community. It has a viable and varied tradition and embodies regional Indian as well as supra-regional Islamic cultural elements.

South Asian Muslim religious music falls into two broad categories that from both a religious and a musical point of view are distinctly separate. One may be termed scriptural or liturgical or, according to Islamic theological tradition,talḥīn (cantillation), the other non-scriptural or non-liturgical vocal performance or, in Arabic, inshād (plural nashā’id, invocations). Both are central to the active religious life of Muslims throughout the Indian subcontinent. The urban areas of past and present Muslim domination are the centres of Muslim religious music. The fact that this musical tradition cuts across geographical boundaries is directly related to the strongly supra-regional aspect of Islam, which is particularly notable in South Asian Muslim culture.

Islamic theology proscribes secular music as unlawful and dangerous; hence, Muslim religious music is not conceived of as music but falls into the permitted category of recitation or chant, where musical features are subordinated to religious text and function (see §V, 1 above). Since the use of musical instruments is identified with secular music, they are not used in chant (except for the unorthodox tradition of qavvālī; see below). South Asian Muslim religious music is generically related to other Islamic chant forms.

South Asian Muslim scriptural music is collectively called qir’at and includes all Qur’anic and liturgical texts in Arabic, including the call to prayer (āzān), the prayer ritual (namāz), and salutations (salām). Qir’at is chanted universally, by religious functionaries and laymen, in public and private settings. As the chanting of sacred texts, this tradition adheres closely to the established Arabic model imparted at theological schools. The layman’s qir’at is generally modified towards an Indian tonal idiom.

Non-liturgical vocal performance falls into three categories identified by their respective contexts: the Shī‘a majlis, the Sufi qavvālī, and the Sunni mīlād. All three categories have their roots in Iran and indirectly in Arabia, and they share a set of basic traits. The primary context for all non-liturgical music is the religious assembly of a devotional or commemorative character focussing on principal religious figures of Islam. At each of these assemblies a variety of hymns and chants is performed in a standard order by more or less trained performers with limited audience participation. All texts are in vernacular poetry, principally in Urdu, the chief South Asian Muslim language. Other languages used regionally to some extent are Hindi, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Kashmiri, Gujarati, and Bengali, in addition to classical Persian, which was formerly prevalent. The music itself represents a combination of characteristics derived from the text and a generally north Indian musical idiom. In the musical form, the sthāyī–antarā principle of north Indian song is adapted to the formal schemes of the poetry with extensions and improvisations. The rhythm is based on the metric structure of the poem. Different musical realizations of its long–short patterns result in several rhythmic styles. Melodically, non-liturgical music is related to north Indian art and semi-classical music, ranging from complex rāga structures through traditional and popular melodies to rudimentary reciting tunes. The performance style, directly linked to the function of communicating religious poetry and conveying religious emotion, is characterized by emphasis on declamation as well as on beauty of vocal expression.

(i) Majlis.

The majlis (‘assembly’) encompasses all musical expression of the South Asian Muslim Shī‘a community, a minority that gained cultural prominence through several Shī‘a dynasties on the subcontinent. Shī‘a religious practice is characterized by its emphasis on the mourning for the martyrdom of the imam Ḥusayn, grandson of the Prophet Muḥammad. As an assembly for the chanting of elegiac and commemorative poetry the majlis is the heart of Shī‘a religious observance and may be private or public. Majlis are attended by all Shī‘as during the Muslim month of Muḥarram, but may also be held throughout the year.

The five invocational forms of the majlis are sōz,salām (ex.19), mar□iyā,nauḥa, and mātam (ex.20), each stylistically and musically different. Sōz, salām, and mar□iyā derive from classical song, using specific rāgas and even substituting a vocal drone (ās) for the instrumental drone of classical song. The performers are usually trained professionals (Sōzkhwān, Mar□yākhwān), but they may also be semi-professionals. Nauḥa and mātam reflect traditional or popular song and are performed by semi-professionals and amateurs, especially local chanting societies (anjuman). Here too a substitute for an instrument is used in the form of rhythmic chest beating, which provides mātam invocations with a regular pulsation. All five invocational forms represent versions of two rhythmic styles. Both are based on the long–short succession of the poetic metre and group the poetic feet in a variety of ways. One is an irregular rhythmic style, recitative-like and declamatory (ex.19), the other a regular rhythmic style with an underlying pulse and patterned into musical metres (ex.20).

Ex.19 Majlis, salām invocation, in rāga sindhurā

View large

Ex.20 Majlis, mātaminvocation, using reciting tune

View large

Among linguistically/regionally defined traditions are the Ismaili ginan. These are a poetic repertory of Shi‘a chant in Gujarati. They are central to the religious assemblies of Ismaili communities in both India and Pakistan. In Bangladesh the prominent genre of Shi‘a vernacular music is jarigan, set to Bengali poetry.

(ii) Qavvālī.

Sufism, a major force in South Asian Muslim history and well-established throughout South Asian Islam, has developed its own poetry and music as an essential means for devotional expression and the attainment of religious ecstasy (ḥāl). Qavvālī or maḥfil-i samā’ (‘gathering for listening’) is the musical assembly held by Sufis throughout the year, but principally on the anniversary (’urs) of the numerous Sufi saints at their shrines or wherever their devotees may gather. The term qavvālī denotes the Sufi song itself, and only by implication the occasion of its performance.

The most authentic performers (Qavvāl) are hereditary professionals tracing their origin and performing tradition to the 13th-century poet and musician Amir Khusrau, who was linked with the Chishtī order of Sufism.Qavvālī is also performed by many other professionals in a less traditional style and by devotees at various shrines. The poetry in Urdu and Persian emphasizes either mystical love through the ghazal poetic form (see §IV, 2 above) or the praise of God, the Prophet and saints or imams through the hymn forms of ḥamd,na‘t, and manqabat. Hymns based on poetry of both types constitute the main part of a qavvālī assembly; they are flanked traditionally by two hymns attributed to Amir Khusrau: qawl and rang. Qavvālī normally combines group and solo singing and is accompanied by drum, harmonium, and hand-clapping. Percussion has traditionally been exempt from religious prohibition by Sufis because it articulates the heart beat and provides an essential stimulus to religious ecstasy.

Musically qavvālī is linked with the north Indian khayāl tradition of singing. The formal scheme combines metric group refrains and rhythmically free solo improvisations, including rapid melismatic passages. There is an incessant repetition of salient text phrases that build towards or maintain the state of ecstasy, and different verses and tunes are freely added within any one song. Qavvālī rhythm is dominated throughout by the poetic metre, which is realized either in a declamatory style of improvisation superimposed on the continuing drum pattern or in a regular style where the pattern of the poetic metre fits into the drum pattern, generally four-beat time (Qavvālī tāla) or six-beat time (Dādrā tāla). Qavvālī melody derives from several sources: classical rāgas, rāga-like structures peculiar to the qavvālī tradition, and traditional melodies are used within any one song to form several short tunes, with their many variations and melodic improvisations. In performance, emphatic enunciation and extremely rhythmic declamation are the most prominent features. Qavvālī is now freely performed outside the religious context and adapted accordingly, using a variety of instruments, texts with a popular appeal, and a more regularized form.

(iii) Mīlād.

Mīlād (from Arabic mawlid: ‘birthday’), the assembly celebrating the birthday of the Prophet Muḥammad, is widespread among the Sunni majority, particularly among women, and is therefore the most widespread form of South Asian Muslim non-liturgical music. Mīlād mainly consists of hymns of devotion and praise to God and the Prophet (ḥamd,na‘t and munājāt), usually performed by one or more semi-professionals alternately with appropriate narration or a sermon, some of which is chanted. The congregation joins in the standard closing hymn of salutation to the Prophet (salām) and sometimes in the simple chant of praise (durūd) interspersed with the hymns.

Of the three categories of non-liturgical music, mīlād has the most orthodox environment and lacks a tradition of professional performance, hence it is musically the least sophisticated. Its relatively large standard repertory of hymns is characterized by a preference for poetic metres with a regular pattern and by tunes with a limited tonal range and certain typical motivic formulae.

Outside the context of the three major religious assemblies described above, non-liturgical chant can be heard in a variety of other settings, including school and home as well as staged events for professionally performed qavvālī. In a religious community so strongly marked by gender separation, women hold separate and more frequent gatherings of mīlād and majlis than men, but qavvālī remains essentially a male domain.

(iv) Modern trends.

Recording and broadcasting technology have had a considerable impact on repertory and dissemination beyond religiously sanctioned contexts and has turned qavvālī performers such as the Sabari brothers and Nusrat Fateh Ali into stars of a genre that represents nation as well as religion. This has propelled qavvālī into the world music soundscape. Conversely, the proliferation of cassette recordings displays the sectarian as well as linguistic and regional diversity of religious hymns. Recordings have also brought Arabic musical influence, less to vernacular genres than to Qur’anic recitation.

In general the enormous spread and prestige of recorded and transmitted sound has led to Muslim religious music being adapted and standardized but also to it being preserved and enhanced, particularly in Pakistan with its strongly Islamic cultural climate. In India, minority Muslim communities tend to preserve traditional chanting practices but, as in Pakistan, qavvālī has become modified into a popular trend and much recorded genre.

3. Christian.

  • Joseph J. Palackal

The approximately 30 million Christians in India constitute a diverse set of communities differentiated variously in terms of race, language, region, and caste. Migrations, conquests and colonizations over the centuries have shaped their history, and the resulting interactions between local traditions and external ones, especially those of the Middle East and Europe, have generated a wide spectrum of Christian musical styles, from the predominantly European to the more distinctively indigenous.

(i) The Syrian churches.

The liturgical and non-liturgical songs of the Christians in south India refer to the mission and martyrdom of St Thomas the Apostle, who, according to traditional belief, established Christian communities in the region now known as Kerala in the 1st century ce. The St Thomas Christians, as they are known, celebrate the life of the saint in songs and dances such as māṛgam kaḷi (‘dance of the Christian way’). Persian Christians, who started migrating to Kerala in the 4th century, introduced the Chaldean liturgy in Syriac. Owing to hierarchical relations between the Indian and the Chaldean churches (from at least the middle of the 5th century) and to the use of the Syriac liturgy, ecclesiastical documents name the St Thomas Christians also as Syrians.

Ex.21 Melody: kambel māṛan; text translated and sung by Fr. C.M.I. Abel (b 1920), transcr. J. Palackal

View large

As a result of a series of divisions that took place among the St Thomas Christians from 1653 to 1908, there are five independent churches in Kerala: the Syro-Malabar Church, the Church of the East (Nestorian Church), the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Syro-Malankara Church, and the Marthoma Church. The first two of these churches follow the Chaldean liturgy, originally in East Syriac; the others use the Antiochean (also known as Jacobite) liturgy, originally in West Syriac. During the process of vernacularizing the liturgies in the 1960s, translators took special care to adjust the texts in Malayalam to the metre and melody of the original Syriac chants. For instance, Syro-Malabar congregations sing the melody transcribed in ex.21, which is designated by the first two words of the Syriac text, kambel māṛan (‘receive O! Lord’), in the Office for the Dead with Malayalam translation of the text.

Ex.21 Melody: kambel māṛan; text translated and sung by Fr. C.M.I. Abel (b 1920), transcr. J. Palackal

View large

It is probable that a number of melodies that were once part of the common repertory of the Syrian churches in the Middle East and India are now extant only in Kerala. However, the existing melodies appear to have been indigenized somewhat over the course of time by incorporating musical elements such as the Karnatak seven-beat Miśracāpu and six-beat Rūpakam tālas.

While maintaining different melodic repertories, the musics of the Chaldean and Antiochean liturgies in Malayalam share many common features: unaccompanied antiphonal singing of monophonic hymns; use of modal melodies as a compositional device; textual and melodic incipits; syllabic setting of text; neumatic or melismatic ornamentation of either the ultimate or the penultimate syllable of a text line or strophic unit; limited melodic range (in most cases of a minor 3rd to a perfect 5th); rhythmically free cadences at the ends of phrases; and the use of more than one metre in the same strophic melody. A number of these features are apparent also in the music of other performance genres of the St Thomas Christians, for example in wedding songs and the songs of māṛgam kaḷi.

(ii) The Catholic church.

Portuguese missionaries introduced the Latin rite to south and central India in the early 16th century. The Western music tradition established by the missionaries continues today in the churches of Goa and other metropolitan cities, where choirs sing Western-style hymns in harmony and counterpoint to the accompaniment of instruments such as violin, guitar, and keyboard. In spite of initial ecclesiastical disapproval, Catholics in some regions actively participated in local music genres and contributed their own syncretic secular musics, such as the Konkani-language Mandó, dekni, and dulpod of Goa and Mangalore.

Since the 1960s the more tolerant attitude ushered in by the Second Vatican Council (1962–5) towards ‘non-Christian’ religions and their parent cultures facilitated the adaptation of indigenous dance and musical styles into liturgical and social celebrations. Throughout South Asia Christian bhajans flourish in forms stylistically similar to their Hindu counterparts (see §1 above). The numerous Ādivāsī converts to Catholicism in north India often recycle their traditional melodies with Christian texts and perform them to the accompaniment of dance. Gujarati Catholics dance the rās and gaṛba (local dances otherwise associated with the Hindu navarātra festival) during Christian feasts, with song texts based on biblical themes. A number of Catholic cultural institutions in the north and south train students in bharata-nāṭyam, a south Indian classical dance performed with Christian lyrics.

(iii) The Protestant churches.

From the early 18th century, various Protestant missions from Europe and America evangelized in the east and north-east. The missionaries translated German chorales and Anglican hymns into South Asian languages (keeping the original melodies) for the new converts, who came mostly from the lower castes. The proselytization policies of the missionary groups have impacted variously in different regions. For instance, a general antipathy towards indigenous cultures together with the exclusive promotion of Western-style hymn-singing appears to have led to a marked decline of indigenous traditional music in the north-eastern states of Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram. In the south, however, the pioneering Lutheran missionaries, in particular, encouraged local musicians to compose songs in indigenous styles. Thus, there are two stylistically different music traditions among Protestant churches in south India popularly distinguished as ‘hymns’ and ‘lyrics’. German and English hymns and their translations in local languages are referred to as ‘hymns’, and indigenous compositions, such as kīrtanam, as ‘lyrics’.

The initiative to adopt south Indian art music to express Christian faith came mostly from singer-poets who converted to Protestant Christianity in the 18th and 19th centuries. Vedanayagam Sastriyar (1774–1864) in Tamil Nadu, Purushothama Chaudhari (1803–90) in Andhra Pradesh, and Mosavalsalam Sastrikal (1847–1916) in Kerala, to name but a few, created a vast corpus of Christian poetic literature in their native languages. They composed poems following the kīrtanam of Karnatak classical music, using the tripartite structure of pallavi, anupallvi, and caraṇam. These poems remain an integral part of worship, even though congregations do not always adhere strictly to the rāga and tāla prescribed by the composers.

4. Sikh.

  • Soniya K. Brar

Sikhism was founded in the Punjab in the latter half of the 15th century by the Guru Nānak (1469–1539). The Sikhs follow the teachings of ten guru s (‘teachers’) and the scriptures of their holy book, the Guru Granth Sāhib, written predominantly in Punjabi and compiled by 1604. Sikhs regard performing or listening to religious music as the primary form of worship; thus music plays a significant role in Sikh life. Their aim is for union with God and to break the cycle of reincarnation (mokṣa) by conquering the vices of kām (lust), krodh (anger), lobh (greed), moh (worldly attachment), and ahaṅkār (pride). The gurus maintained that performing or listening to religious music was the ideal way to achieve this.

Sikh religious music, or śabd kīrtan, consists of hymns known as śabds (mostly from the Guru Granth Sāhib), containing the teachings of six of the ten Sikh gurus, Hindu and Sufi saints, and court singers (bhaṭṭs). The orally transmitted repertory developed over a period from the 15th to the 18th century (the time of the tenth guru). The term kīrtan was adopted from the Hindu bhakti movement and today may refer to either a collection of śabd or the performance of the hymns (kīrtan is thought of as being performed only for worship, not for a secular event). The texts of the śabds conform to Indian poetic forms of the time, often from local traditions (e.g.salok, pauri, chant, sohilā, and var).

The melodies of the śabds are based either on Hindustani rāgas (except rāga Mānjh, which is particular to the Punjab) or Punjabi traditional melodies (dhunis). Śabds following rāgas use little ornamentation and are in sthāyī-antarā form. The Guru Granth Sāhib contains śabds in 31 different rāgas in a given order (see Table 21). The largest number of śabds are in rāga Gaurī; rāgas Srī, Āsā, and Rāmkali are also popular. The settings of texts draw on the ras of each rāga to help convey specific themes (Guru Rāmdas, the fourth guru (1534–81), is particularly noted for this). Strict adherence to the melodic characteristics of the rāga was considered less important than whether a given melody expressed the text well, and sometimes rāgas were adapted and varied, often by including elements of another. The śabds that are in a rāga follow Hindustani tālas, those in dhuni, traditional Punjabi rhythmic cycles.

TABLE 21: Śabds in the Guru Granth Sāhib

View large


Rāga name


Rāga name































































* Added later.

View large

Many instruments have been used in the past to accompany kīrtan, including pakhāvaj, sārindā, rabāb,sāraṅgī, sitār, tāmbūra,taoos, kartāl, ḍholak, and dhādh. Today the most commonly used instruments are the harmonium and tablā.

There are three types of kīrtan performers (kīrtaniyas):rabābis, rāgīs, and dhādhīs.Rabābis (for example, Guru Nānak’s accompanist Mardana) were professional Muslim Mīrāsīs, whose lineage is almost extinct today. Rāgīs are often itinerant and non-professional musicians and the most common singers in gurdvāras (Sikh temples). The kīrtan ensemble usually consists of three rāgīs: two harmonium players (one of whom may also play a stringed instrument or cymbals) who sing, and a tablā or joṛ (‘pair’ of drums, identical or similar to the tablā) player who usually does not. These musicians may be men or, less commonly, women. Members of the congregation may volunteer to perform śadb kīrtan, in which case women more often sing and play harmonium while men more often play tablā. The dhādhīs are itinerant musicians who sing about social and political history.

Kīrtan may be sung in a traditional (based on Punjabi dhunis) or classical style. Guru Nānak based his singing style on dhrupad; when khayāl became popular it was adopted by the tenth guru (Guru Gobind Singh, 1666–1708). However, the main injunction is that kīrtaniyas should sing clearly to emphasize the text. Ideally, kīrtan should be performed with the saṅgat (congregation) present. Although the Guru Granth Sāhib mentions the importance of listening to the word of God (bānī), it emphasizes the recitation of bānī and the name of God by the saṅgat (sadh saṅgat). At times there is antiphonal repetition of lines between the rāgī and the sangat.

The performance practice of kīrtan has undergone many changes since the compilation of the Guru Granth Sāhib. Over the years some Sikh communities have simplified the rāga melodies and have based kīrtan on popular dhunis and film songs (though the latter are unapproved) to secure public accessibility and to facilitate group singing. While some rāgīs still sing in a classical style (i.e. those officially appointed at gurdwāras), others sing in a semi-classical style, using tālas such as Dādrā, Kaharvā, and Tīntāl. Today there is a large population of Anglo-American Sikhs, some of whom have introduced string arrangements of kīrtan.

5. Jain.

  • M. Whitney Kelting

Jain worship is virtually always accompanied by music: hymn-singing in daily worship at home or in a temple; chorus singing of liturgy; auspicious music marking processions or temple dedications (often played by marching bands); informal group singing at festivals; and songs of praise sung to welcome mendicants or to celebrate the completion of strenuous austerities. Since mendicants are not permitted by doctrine to perform many of the rituals performed by the laity, singing becomes a locus of mendicant devotional practice, especially among Jain nuns. Even the simplest form of worship, darśan, is usually accompanied by a hymn.

In spite of this ubiquity of music, Jains do not articulate a truly separate musical tradition; for the most part Jain music shares its musicality with the traditional musics of each group of Jains. Gujarati Jains share most of the melodies, timbre, ornamentation, etc. with Gujarati traditional music for weddings or garbā music associated with the Hindu Navrātri festival. Rajasthani Jains use Rajasthani Maṅganiyār and Dagar musics in their performance styles and melodic repertories.

There are few attributes that mark Jain music as clearly distinct from the local traditions, but there is often a difference in character. Jain music is virtually always performed in a tone of restraint and precision that reflects the dominant Jain religious values of restraint and control. Almost all Jain music seems to strive for the sentiment of peacefulness even in celebration. Another unique feature of Jain music is the use of a seated dance (an adaptation of rās-garbā dances, two facing seated rows of singers clashing short sticks, or dandiya) as percussion to mark time in the performances.

Historical and mythological records are equivocal. Jain mythology credits Ṛṣbhanāth, the founding saint (jina) of this era, with the creation of music. The mythological source for Jain devotional hymns is the Śakra stava, which Śakra (Indra), the king of the Gods, recites to celebrate the birth of each jina. There are a variety of devotional genres called hymns (stotra, stavan, and bhāvnā gīt), distinguished from each other by performance context and lyrics. The liturgical texts – pūjā texts, devvandan,pratikramaṇ – include the musical forms (dohā,ḍhol, and chand) associated with the Gujarati and Rajasthani genres (beginning in the medieval period) called rāso and ḍholā respectively. In the 13th century the rise of temple-dwelling monks led to performances by female dancers and of music in the temples, much like those in the contemporary Hindu temples. This music may well have been related to the classical music of the era and may be a source for some of the rāga designations that one can still find in stavan books. While there are classical rāga designations assigned as melody names for many liturgical texts, they are usually paired with a melody name from a well-known traditional song or the increasingly common Hindi film song melodies.

Despite textual injunctions against women dancing, clapping, and leather in temples, Jain music includes all of these today. In the devotional textual tradition one finds references to a few instruments, the most common being bells, especially large brass temple bells, and drums. In contemporary temple practice one usually finds either unaccompanied vocal music or voice accompanied by a double-headed barrel drum (ḍholak) or a single-sided barrel drum, along with a combination of bells, hand cymbals, and tambourines, and the dandiya used in the seated dance described above. It is increasingly common at festivals or major celebrations to find an amplified chorus accompanied by harmonium, bānjo (or bulbultarang), synthesizer, and/or tablā replacing the more traditional śahnāī and kettle drum ensemble. The marching band, comprised variously of clarinets, trumpets, drums, śahnāī and portable electric organ, accompany most Jain parades for mendicant initiations, marriages, temple image processions, and the procession of those who have completed extensive fasts.


and other resources
    • R.G. Bhandarkar: Vaiṣṇavism, Śaivism and Minor Religious Systems (Strasbourg, 1913/R)
    • R. Tagore, ed. and trans.: One Hundred Poems of Kabir (London, 1914, repr. 1961/R 1970)
    • F. Kingsbury and G.E. Phillips: Hymns of the Tamil Śaivite Saints(Calcutta, 1921)
    • T.A. Gopinatha Rao: Sir Subrahmanya Ayyar Lectures on the History of Sri Vaisnavas (Madras, 1923)
    • B.K. Goswami: The Bhakti Cult in Ancient India (Calcutta, 1924/R)
    • J.S.M. Hooper: Hymns of the Alvars (Calcutta, 1929)
    • R.S. Desikan and B.L. Ranganathan: Grains of Gold (Madras, 1934)
    • M. Venkatesa Iyengar: Popular Culture in Karnataka (Bangalore, 1937)
    • S. Tyagisananda, ed. and trans.: Aphorisms on the Gospel of Divine Love, or Narada bhakti sutras(Madras, 1943, 7/1983)
    • D. Greenlees, ed. and trans.: The Song of Divine Love, Gita-Govinda (Madras, 1957)
    • W.T. De Bary, ed.: Sources of Indian Tradition (New York, 1958, rev. 2/1988 by A.T. Embree and S.N. Hay)
    • V. Raghavan: The Spiritual Heritage of Tyagaraja (Madras, 1958, 2/1966) [incl. Hindi text and Eng. trans. of songs]
    • V. Raghavan: ‘The Vedas and Bhakti’, Vedanta Kēsarī (Madras, 1958)
    • B. Behari: Minstrels of God (Bombay, 1959/R)
    • G.A. Deleury: The Cult of Viṭhoba (Poona, 1960)
    • T.M.P. Mahadevan, ed.: A Seminar on Saints (Madras, 1960)
    • B. Behari: Sufis, Mystics, and Yogis of India (Bombay, 1962)
    • K.A. Nilakanta Sastri: Development of Religion in South India (Bombay, 1963)
    • V. Raghavan: The Great Integrators: the Saint-Singers of India (New Delhi, 1966/R1969)
    • V. Raghavan: ‘Upeya-Nāma-Viveka of Upanishad Brahma Yogin’, Adiyar Library (Madras, 1966)
    • M. Singer, ed.: Krishna: Myths, Rites, and Attitudes (Honolulu, 1966)
    • Sikh Sacred Music (New Delhi, 1967)
    • E.C. Dimock, ed.: In Praise of Krishna: Songs from the Bengali (Garden City, NY, 1967)
    • M. Arunachalam: Women Saints of Tamilnad (Bombay, 1970)
    • M. Dhavamony: Love of God According to Śaiva Siddhānta (Oxford, 1971)
    • C. Vaudeville, ed. and trans.: Kabir (Oxford, 1974)
    • R.L. Simon: Bhakti Ritual Music in South India (diss., UCLA, 1975)
    • D.R. Kinsley: The Divine Player (New Delhi, 1979)
    • J.S. Hawley: Songs of the Saints of India (New York, 1988)
    • V. Dehejia: Antal and Her Path of Love: Poems of a Woman Saint of South India (Albany, NY,1990)
    • P. Gurumurthy: Kathakalaksepa: a Study (Madras, 1994)
    • S.C. Bhattacharya: Vaisnavism in Eastern India (Calcutta, 1995)
    • F.E. Keay: Kabir and His Followers (New Delhi, 1996)
    • D. Smith: The Dance of Siva: Religion, Art and Poetry in South India (New Delhi, 1996)
      • A.H. Sheriff: Music and Its Effects (Karachi, n.d.)
      • M.A.H. Sharar: Guzashta Lakhnau [The Lucknow of the Past] (Lucknow, 1911–14/R1965)
      • H.T. Sorley: Shah Abdul Latif of Bhit: His Poetry, Life and Times (Lahore, Karachi and Dacca,1940)
      • J.N. Hollister: The Shi’a of India (London, 1953)
      • M.S.M.J. Phulvarvi: Islam aur Mausiqi (Lahore, 1956/R 1968)
      • N.A. Baloch: ‘Shah Abdul Latif (1690–1752), the Founder of a New Music Tradition’,Pakistan Quarterly, 9/3 (1959), 54–7, 68
      • A. Sadler: ‘Visit to a Chishti Qawwal’, Muslim World (1963), 287–92
      • A. Ahmad: Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment, ii (Oxford, 1964/R1969), 108–66, 218–62
      • A. Rauf: Renaissance of Islamic Culture and Civilization in Pakistan (Lahore, 1965)
      • N.A. Jairazbhoy: ‘L’Islam en Inde et au Pakistan’, Encyclopédie des musiques sacrées, ed. J. Porte, ii (Paris, 1968), 460
      • R. Qureshi: ‘Indo-Muslim Religious Music, an Overview’, AsM, 3/2 (1972), 15–22
      • A.I.I. Kazi: Shah Abdul Latif: an Introduction to His Art (Hyderabad, 1973)
      • G. Allana and A.K. Brohi: The Mysterious Music of Mysticism(Karachi, 1974)
      • Q. Fatimi: ‘Islam men Mausiqi’, Saqafat, 1/2 (1975), 35–9
      • A.S. Mirza: ‘Islam men mausiqi aur qawwali ki riwayat’, Saqafat, 1/1 (1975), 39–48
      • A.S. Mirza: A Note on Qawwali (Islamabad, 1975)
      • M. Raziuddin: ‘Mausiqi ka tadriji irteqa’, Saqafat, 1/3 (1976), 37–40
      • R.B. Qureshi: ‘Islamic Music in an Indian Environment: the Shi’a Majlis’, EthM, 25/1 (1981), 41–71
      • A. Hyderabadi: Qawwali Amir Khusrau se Shakila Bano tak (Delhi, 1982)
      • Barr-i-Saghir men mausiqi ke Farsi maakhiz(Lahore, 1983)
      • A.K. Salim: Sindh men Mausiqi (Islamabad, 1984)
      • R.B. Qureshi: ‘The Mahfil-e-Sama: Sufi Practice in the Indian Context’, Islam in the Modern Age (Autumn 1986), 133–65
      • R.B. Qureshi: Sufi Music of India and Pakistan: Sound Context and Meaning in Qawwali(Cambridge, 1986; rev. Chicago, 1995)
      • A. Nayyar: Qawwali(Islamabad, 1988)
      • R.B. Qureshi: ‘Listening to Words though Music: The Sufi Sama’, Edebiyat, n.s. 1/2 (1988), 219–45
      • R.B. Qureshi: ‘Is there a Muslim Rāga Phenomenon in Hindustani Music?’, Maqam, Raga, Zeilenmelodik: Konzeptionen und Prinzipien der Musikproduktion, ed. J. Elsner (Berlin, 1989), 259–76
      • R.B. Qureshi: ‘The Urdu Ghazal in Performance’, Urdu and Muslim South Asia: Studies in honour of Ralph Russell, ed. C. Shackle (London, 1989), 175–90
      • R.B. Qureshi: ‘Sufi Music and the Historicity of Oral Tradition’, Ethnomusicology and Modern Music History: Festschrift for Bruno Nettl, ed. S. Blum and P. Bohlman (Urbana, IL, 1990), 103–20
      • R.B. Qureshi: ‘Musical Gesture and Extra-Musical Meaning: Words and Music in the Urdu Ghazal’, JAMS, xliii/3 (1991), 472–96
      • D. Pinault: The Shiites: Ritual and Popular Piety in a Muslim Community (New York, 1992)
      • R.B. Qureshi: ‘Localiser l’Islam: le sama’ dans la cour royale des saints’, Cahier de Musiques Traditionelles 5: Musiques Rituelles (Genève, 1992), 127–50
      • R.B. Qureshi: ‘Muslim Devotional: Popular Religious Music under British, Indian, and Pakistani Hegemony’, AsM, 24/2 (1992–3), 111–21
      • R.B. Qureshi: ‘Sama and Sainthood in the Chishtiya of South Asia’, Manifestations of Sainthood in Islam, ed. C. Ernst (Istanbul, 1993)
      • V.J. Schubel: Religious Performance in Contemporary Islam: Shi’i Devotional Rituals in South Asia(Columbia, SC, 1993)
      • R.B. Qureshi: ‘Exploring Time Cross-Culturally: Ideology and Performance of Time in the Sufi Qawwali’, JM, 12/4 (1994), 493–528
      • H.L. Sakata: ‘The Sacred and the Profane: Qawwali Represented in the Performances of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’, The World of Music, 36/3 (1994), 86–99
      • R.B. Qureshi: ‘Recorded Sound and Religious Music: the Case of Qawwali’, Media and Religion in South Asia, ed. L. Babb and S. Wadley (Philadelphia, 1995), 139–66
      • P.-A. Baud: ‘Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: le Aqwwali au risque de la modernité’, Cahiers de musiques traditionelles, 9 (1996), 259–74
      • R.B. Qureshi: ‘Transcending Space: Recitation and Community among South Asian Muslims in Canada’,Making Muslim Space: Mores, Mosques, and Movements in Europe and North America, ed. B. Metcalf (Berkeley, 1996), 79–101
      • M.F. Dunham: Jarigan(Dhaka, 1997)
      • R.B. Qureshi: ‘Sounding the Word: Music in the Life of Islam’, Enchanting Powers: Music in the World’s Religions, ed. L. Sullivan (Cambridge, MA., 1997)
      • R.B. Qureshi: ‘His Master’s Voice: Qawwali and “Gramophone Culture” in South Asia’,Popular Music, 18/1 (1999), 63–98


  • J. Levy: ‘Music from the Shrines of Ajmer and Mundra’, Tangent TGM 105 [disc notes]
  • Shan-e-Rasool and Aal-e-Rasool: ‘Qawwālī and Majlis Songs’, Odeon (India) 3AEX 5281 [disc notes]
  • G.F. Sabri: ‘Devotional Songs’, Columbia (Pakistan) EKCA 20008 [disc notes]
  • R. Qureshi: ‘The Shi‘a Majlis of India and Pakistan’, Anthology Records AST-4008 (1973) [disc notes]
  • Qureshi Collection of Muslim Religious Chant, Edmonton, U. of Alberta Centre for Ethnomusicology [audio and video recordings from India and Pakistan, 1968–93]
  • Qureshi Collection of Qawwali, Edmonton, U. of Alberta Centre for Ethnomusicology [audio and video recordings from India and Pakistan, 1968–93]
  • Ghulam Farid Sabri, Maqbool Ahmed Sabri, EMI (Pakistan) TC-CEMCP-5578 (1980, 1985)
  • Best of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Qawwal and Party, Womad 004 (1986)
      • GEWM, v (‘Kerala: Christian Music Traditions’, J. Palackal; ‘Tamil Nadu: Christian Music’, J. Palackal)
      • M. Geddes: The History of the Church of Malabar, from the Time of its being Discover’d by the Portuguezes in the Year 1501 (London, 1964)
      • J. Kuckertz, ed.: Musica Indigena: einheimische Musik und ihre mögliche Verwendung in Liturgie und Verkundigung (Rome, 1976)
      • K. Sahay: Under the Shadow of the Cross: a Study of the Nature and Process of Christianization Among the Uraon of Central India (Calcutta, 1976)
      • M. Thiel-Horstmann: ‘Indian Traditional and Christian Folksongs’, Man in India, lviii/2 (1978), 97–150
      • S. Neill: A History of Christianity in India (New York, 1984–5)
      • S. Babiracki: ‘Indigenizers’, Western Impact on World Music: Change, Adaptation, and Survival, ed. B. Nettl (New York, 1985)
      • C. Choondal: Christian Folklore (Thrissur, 1988)
      • M.A. Mundadan: History of Christianity in India, i: From the Beginning up to the Middle of the Sixteenth Century (Up to 1542) (Bangalore, 1989)
      • J. Palackal: ‘Sangeethavum sabhācharitravum gavēshaṇa veekshaṇathil’ [Music and church history: research perspectives], Satyadeepam, lxxiii/2 (1999), 5, 11
    Syrian churches
    • P.J. Thomas: The Marriage Customs and Songs of the Syrian Christians of Malabar (Madras,1936)
    • A. Saldanha, S.J., ed.: Suriyani-malayala keerthana malika [The Syriac-Malayalam hymnal ] (Calicut, 1937)
    • M. Vadakel, Fr., ed.: Kerala kaldāya suriyāni reethile thirukkarmma geethangal [Liturgical hymns of the Chaldeo-Syrian rite of Kerala] (Alwaye, 1954) [Syriac texts transliterated in Malayalam, music in Western staff notation]
    • E. Tisserant: Eastern Christianity in India: a History of the Syro-Malabar Church from the Earliest Time to the Present Day (Bombay, 1957)
    • H. Husmann: Die Melodien des Chaldäischen Breviers Commune nach den Traditionen Vorderasiens und der Malabarküste, Orientalia christiana analecta, clxxviii (Rome, 1967); review by J. Kuckertz, Mf, xxiii (1970), 371
    • I. Ross: ‘Ritual and Music in South India: Syrian Christian Liturgical Music in Kerala’, AsM, 11/1 (1979), 80–98
    • P.U. Lukas: Purāthanappāṭṭukal[Ancient songs of the Syrian Christians of Malabar] (Kottayam, 5/1980)
    • Abel CMI, Fr.: Mariccavarkkuventiyulla tirukkarmmangal [Rites for the dead] (Ernakulam, 1986)
    • M.P. George: Suriyāni sangeetham [Syriac music] (Kottayam, 1993)
    • J. Palackal: Puthen Pāna: a Musical Study (thesis, City U. of New York, 1995)
    • J. Palackal: ‘Problems and Issues in the Study of the Syraic Chant Traditions in South India’,Christian Orient, 20/3 (1999), 176–81
    Catholic church
    • F.C. Alfonso: A origem e evolução do ‘mando’ (Coimbra, 1933)
    • N. Lupi: Musica e alma da India Portugueza (Lisbon, 1956); Eng. trans. J. Shercliff: The Music and Spirit of Portuguese India (Lisbon, 1960)
    • M. Saldanha: ‘A cultura da música europeia em Goa’, Estudos Ultramarinos, vi (Lisbon, 1956), 41–56
    • S. Rafi: Caviṭṭunāṭakam[Foot-stamping drama] (Kottayam, 1980)
    • F. Barboza: Christianity in Indian Dance Forms (Delhi, 1990)
    • P. Poovathingal: The Influence of South Indian Art Music on the Church Music of Kerala (diss., Madras U., 1997)
    • M. Sá Cabral: Wind of Fire: The Music and Musicians of Goa (Delhi, 1997)
    Protestant churches
    • J.W. Gladstone: Mosavalsalam sastrikal (Trivandrum, 1986)
    • B.S. Jemmie: Life and Works of Chowdhari Purushottam (1803–1890) (diss., Madras U.,1986)
    • F. Downs: ‘Christianity and Cultural Change in North East India’, Christian Faith and Multiform Culture in India, ed. Somen Das (Bangalore, 1987)
    • Hymns & Lyrics (Kottayam, 18/1989)
    • B.S. Jemmie: Telugulo chraisthava samkeerthanalu parisheelana [A study of Christian hymns in Telugu] (diss., U. of Hyderabad, 1990)
    • S. Innasi: Dimensions of Tamil Christian Literature (Madras, 1994)
    • P.D. Prabhakar: Kirusthava-k keerthani-c corkalanjiyam [Glossary of Christian lyrics] (Madras, 1996)
    • Z. Sherinian: The Indigenization of Tamil Christian Music: Folk Music as a Liberative Transmission System (diss., Wesleyan U., CT, 1998)
    • H. Bhattacharyya, ed.: A Cultural Heritage of India, iv (Calcutta, 1953)
    • M. Macauliffe: The Sikh Religion: its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors, v (Delhi, 1963)
    • Sikh Sacred Music, ed. Sikh Sacred Music Society (New Delhi, 1967)
    • G.S. Mansukhani: Introduction to Sikhism (New Delhi, 1967, 5/1988)
    • G.S. Mansukhani: Indian Classical Music and the Sikh Kirtan (New Delhi, 1982)
    • S. Slawek: ‘Popular Kirtan in Benares: Some “Great” Aspects of a Little Tradition’, EthM, 32 (1988), 249–62
    • S. Wolpert: India(Berkeley, 1991)
    • P.S. Jaini: The Jaina Path of Purification (Berkeley, 1979)
    • N. Shāntā: La voie Jaina (Paris, 1985)
    • M. Carrithers and C. Humphrey, eds.: The Assembly of Listeners(Cambridge, 1991)
    • J.E. Cort: ‘vetāmbar Mūrtipūjak Jain Scripture in a Performative Context’,Texts in Context: Traditional Hermeneutics in South Asia, ed. J. Timm (Albany, CT, 1992)
    • P. Dundas: The Jains (London, 1992)
    • J. Laidlaw: Riches and Renunciation: Religion and Economy among the Jains (Oxford, 1995)
    • L. Babb: Absent Lord: Ascetic and Worldly Values in a Jain Ritual Culture (Berkeley, CA,1996)
    • M.W. Kelting: Hearing the Voices of the Śrāvikā: Ritual and Song in Jain Laywomen’s Belief and Practice (diss., U. of Wisconsin, 1996)

VII. Local traditions

Indian society is complex: the constitution recognizes 18 languages, most of which have their own script, and there are many others both written and spoken (see §I, 1 above). The major linguistic divide is between the north (languages such as Hindi, Bengali, and Marathi) and the south (Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu). India’s geography – the Himalayas in the north, the fertile Gangetic alluvial plain, desert in western Rajasthan, the scrub or forest of the Deccan plateau, and tropical coasts – suggests that there would be distinctive regional adaptations, and there are. Although some 80% of the population is classified as Hindu, there is much diversity in local religions. Roughly 11% of the population is Muslim, and there are millions of Sikhs, Christians, and Jains, among others. Nearly 8% of the population are Ādivāsīs (‘indigenous’ or ‘tribal’ peoples), and there are over 2000 castes (named, ranked, endogamous social categories usually associated with an occupation). There are great differences between rural and urban culture as well.

Through this cultural diversity run unifying threads. The importance of devotional religion (bhakti) in India is one, and the importance of music in devotional religion is another (see §VI, 1 above). Also having an important bearing on local traditions is a national literacy rate of 52%. (State literacy rates vary widely.) Because many do not read and write, oral tradition remains important as a source of ideology. Some 74% of India’s population is classified as rural, and rural areas tend to have lower literacy rates. Only about 40% of women are literate. This reflects another important pattern, the different worlds of Indian men and women.

1. North India.

  • Edward O. Henry
(i) Non-professional musicians.
(a) Women’s music.

Indian women sing group songs that men do not sing, and vice versa. Women, moreover, sing more than men. Men and women are somewhat segregated in their daily routines, and in rural north India purdah (customs resulting in the seclusion of women from public life) continues, although in a less than stringent form. Indian women learn, through the songs they sing, the stories of important deities such as Kṛṣṇa and Śiva and the powers of deities such as mother goddesses. Their songs also concern kinship relationships and associated feelings, for example the anguish of separation from their husbands and the conflict between a woman and her husband’s mother, who is co-resident in the joint family. The joint family (two or more related couples sharing a hearth) is still the ideal in much of rural India, although it is probably attained in no more than 30% of families.

Women sing for important rites of passage, in particular at childbirth, marriage, and death. The songs transmit fundamental religious beliefs and social sentiments, and they are sung and heard by hundreds of millions of people. Women’s song, and other music, is considered to be maṅgal (‘auspicious’), regardless of the content: the songs are believed to assist in attaining the goals of the rites in which they are performed.Ex.22 was recorded in 1995, sung by three different groups of non-specialist upper-caste women (Srotriyā Brahman, Bhumihār Brahman, and Kāyasth castes) in three different wedding rites in Muzaffurpur and Madhubani in Bihar. With its use of the word subhe (related to the Hindi śubh, ‘auspicious’) in each line, the song is even more explicitly auspicious.

Be it all auspicious, auspicious oh auspicious. [repeated]

Let it be auspicious for the groom’s father’s older brother’s wife, let it be auspicious for the groom’s father’s older brother.

Be it all auspicious, auspicious oh auspicious. [repeated]

Let it be auspicious for the groom’s father’s sister, let it be auspicious for the groom’s father’s sister’s husband.

Be it all auspicious, auspicious oh auspicious. [repeated]

Let it be auspicious for the groom’s mother’s sister, let it be auspicious for the groom’s mother’s sister’s husband etc.

Like all women’s group songs this is repetitious. It is strophic, but like many women’s songs each line of text is only a variation on one line of poetry with a change in a single term, in this case the term for the relative being blessed. The inclusion of many relatives beyond the nuclear family clearly reflects the importance of such kin and honours them.

Ex.22 Maithil wedding song; transcr. E. Henry

View large

Women in northern Bihar do not accompany their songs with a drum, but in many regions, including Uttar Pradesh and south-western Bihar, it is not unusual for one of the women of the group to play the ḍholak. Although women play it with bare hands, some professionals tie small sticks to two fingers of their right hand to give the right head strokes an even sharper sound. It is the most common drum and possibly the most common musical instrument in north India.

Women’s music is monodic with varying amounts of ornamentation. The amount of ornamentation is the outcome of conflicting tendencies. Given the ability and the creative urge, even non-specialist singers will decorate the melody. However, this is opposed by the necessity of singing in union, which is aided by simplicity. The melody of ex.22 is typical of women’s song melodies in that it comprises two strains, with the second having a greater range, going higher, and having tones not found in the first strain. This kind of melodic structure is shared not only with many other kinds of traditional music but also with Hindustani music (see §III, 5(i) above).

Ex.23 is a women’s milling song that deals with the difficult mother/daughter-in-law relationship. It was sung by Brahman women in Ballia District, eastern Utter Pradesh. In north India residence after marriage is traditionally patrilocal, that is the wife moves in with her husband in or very near his natal home. Village exogamy is also practised, so the young woman moves from her natal home into a family and village of strangers. Many women’s songs speak of the difficulties a woman has in her husband’s family. Here the mother-in-law curses the daughter-in-law’s family in response to her accidental lapse of modesty. The daughter-in-law can bear the tyranny of the mother-in-law no longer.

With a golden broom, oh Rāma, she sweeps out the courtyard.

She goes out of the courtyard, oh Rāma; her sari falls open

Sitting on a stool, oh Rāma, the honourable mother-in-law says,

‘I will kill your brother, the wife of your elder brother, and your brother’s daughter’.

The mother-in-law gives, oh Rāma, the golden pitcher

The daughter-in-law takes in her hand, oh Rāma, the silken draw-rope

To fill the pitcher, to fill the pitcher at the bank.

She drowns herself, oh Rāma, she sinks in the Yamuna river.

Ex.23 Bhojpuri milling song; transcr. E. Henry

View large

Women’s ritual songs were once considered imperative for weddings and other rites of passage. This requirement is weakening as more and more recorded music is used in rituals. Women also sing songs that are primarily recreational, either as an end in itself or as an accompaniment to repetitive work such as rice-transplanting or milling grain. Two other common traditions in women’s singing are the singing of a type of teasing, often obscene song (gālī) by family-centred groups of women to their visiting in-laws and other visitors, particularly at weddings; and on the death of a family member, a solemn genre that is between crying and singing (Hindi: vilāp). In these songs women improvise on themes ranging from how they will miss the departed person to a grievance the singer has with a person of higher status. In eastern Uttar Pradesh these songs are performed with just a few tones.

(b) Men’s music.

Of non-specialist men’s music the most common genre is that of group devotional singing. Two words in India commonly used for devotional songs are bhajan and kīrtan (see §IV, 1 above). The two categories refer to many different types of song. In western north India kīrtan refers most commonly to repetitious hymns sung by groups of non-specialist males. One member of the group plays the ḍholak, and others accompany with clapping or with small cymbals called mañjīrā,jārī, or jhāñj (slightly larger); often one man plays the harmonium, introduced by French missionaries. The music is intended to generate ecstasy, and its strategy is for the initially moderate volume and tempo to increase slowly to a more intense level. This pattern is repeated a number of times during the course of a session. The texts of devotional songs express devotion to deities that vary according to region. Khandoba is worshipped in the western Deccan plateau, Rāma, Hanumān, and Kṛṣṇa are popular in Uttar Pradesh, and Durgā and Kāli are popular in Bihar, Bengal, and Assam.

Ex.24 is a nām-kīrtan recorded in Varanasi (locally called Banāras). In nām-kīrtan the text of the song consists only of the alternation of the name(s) of the deity. Here, the names of Rāma and his wife, Sīta, are repeated throughout the song. Rāma is the hero of the Rāmāyaṇa, one of the two most important epics in Hinduism, and in the Varanasi region Rāma is identified with Bhagwān (‘God’). The name of the deity ‘surpasses the level of symbol. The vibrations of its utterance are considered to be one form of the absolute’ (Slawek, 1986, p.111). Here again we see the melody in two parts with slightly different scales. The fervid, percussive quality of the music is typical of non-professional men’s devotional music.

Ex.24 Men’s devotional song; transcr. S. Slawek

View large
(c) Specialist repertories.

This third category is subdivided into two groups: first, the self-conscious, urbanized singer, singing either folk songs garnered in the field or new compositions, and second, the non-professional but adept performer. A young man recorded in Madhubani, Bihar, in 1995, exemplifies the category of urban folk singer. He was one of three men who were recorded in different locations in northern Bihar who sang a song well known by speakers of the Maithili language, Kakhan harab dukh mor. This song, clearly a part of the oral tradition, is attributed to the 14th–15th-century Maithili poet, Vidyapati. His songs are one of the distinguishing cultural features of the Maithili region. The song is often sung as a parāti or prabhāti, a devotional genre sung solo and unaccompanied in the very early hours of morning as an offering (ex.25 was recorded in a session in Madhubani convened for documentation purposes). The song gently admonishes the deity Śiva, here called Bholā Nāth.

Hey, Bholā Nāth, when will you take away my sorrow?

I was born in sorrow; I grew up in sorrow.

Even in my dreams there was no happiness.

Rice and sandalwood on a wood apple leaf and incense I offer you.

So sings Vidyapati: hey Bholā Nāth, when will you take away my sorrow?

Ex.25 Maithili prabhāti morning devotional song; transcr. E. Henry

View large

The singer, Prasanna Mani Jha, sings in cultural programmes and at civic functions. Classical tendencies are evident in his performance, which differed from the other two versions of the song collected, in his long sustaining of some tones and elaborate melody. The opening melodic formula found in this song and the long convex curvature of the melody are common stylistic traits of traditional songs, especially the women’s songs, of northern and western Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh.

A herder in eastern Uttar Pradesh who performs a musical ‘holler’ (a song intended to be heard over a long distance) also serves to illustrate this category of ‘non-professional specialist’ (ex.26). The song is called khaṛī birahā and is performed by members of two castes associated with herding, the sheep-herding Gaṛeriyā caste and the much more numerous cow-herding caste called Yādav or Ahir. The herder spends much of his time at a distance from other people, and the khaṛī birahā allows him to communicate with them. A man also may sing it simply for his own enjoyment or when he is with a group of his caste members, in which case they will join in on the last word of a line of poetry, usually a verb.

Ex.26 Herder’s holler (khaṛī birahā); transcr. E. Henry

View large

In its most common form the singer chants the first two lines of text primarily on the tonic. In the remaining two or three lines the singer lifts the melody up a substantial interval into a range in which he can sing at his highest volume – the khaṛī birahā can be heard for a mile or more across the flat countryside – and then slowly lowers it back to its starting point. The pitch-collection of the khaṛī birahā is unique in the music of this region.

Devotional (primarily Vaisnava but also including nirgun, the formless divine) and philosophical topics predominate in the khaṛī birahās heard today, although some are concerned with heterosexual attraction and love. The text of the khaṛī birahā presented here refers to an episode in Kṛṣṇa’s mythical life when he was involved with Rādhā, a gopī or ‘cow-maiden’. Her love for Kṛṣṇa and passionate yearning to be united with him is taken as a model for bhakti devotion. The song states that she was so entranced by the sound of Kṛṣṇa’s flute that she could not even pick a ripe plum from the bowed branch. Most khaṛī birahā texts are similarly able to stand on their own as an image, vignette, or devotional assertion.

The khaṛī birahā is an emblem of the herding castes, the Yādavs in particular. The khaṛī birahā singer is an unpaid specialist who knows songs most others do not know and who has developed a distinctive performance style that requires ability, time and effort to master. His recompense is his own gratification and the respect and admiration of his neighbours and members of his caste.

(ii) Professional musicians.

These musicians perform for a fee, for entertainment or to fulfil a religious objective of the patron. They may use distinctive instruments, and they perform distinctive items as well as some common ones. (The category need not be confined to hereditary musicians.) In the north-western state of Rajasthan, where inherited relations between patrons and professional music castes were common until the mid-20th century, musicians of this category included the Ḍholis, Jogīs, Maṅganiyārs, Laṅgās, and bhopās. All of these performers, as is generally true of professional traditional singers, are at the lower end of the social hierarchy.

The social system that gave rise to Rajasthan’s musical specialists and those of many other states is a system of inherited patron-client relationships called jajmānī. Before 1947 Rajasthan was comprised largely of kingdoms. Most rulers, and some of their landowners, had courts that employed musicians. All families of means, however, inherited relationships with certain families whose members provided goods or services (such as priests, washermen, and musicians) and who were compensated by shares of the harvest or cash payments. The head of the family for whom the services were provided was the jajmān. The jajmānī system is in a state of continuing decline today.

According to Kothari (1944, p.210), the musical caste most commonly patronized by Rajasthani ruling castes was the Raj Damami, a sub-group of the Ḍholi caste. Traditionally musician families in these castes received small amounts of cash for services such as performing at weddings, and a certain weight of foodgrains per field at harvest time. Patrons might also contribute towards the service caste’s wedding and other expenses. When the courts were abolished in 1947 many such musicians lost their base of support. Some found employment in brass bands, but many had to take jobs unrelated to music. Musicians who served non-aristocratic patrons continued to receive patronage, and thus survived. One such group is the Maṅganiyārs.

(a) Maṅganiyārs.

The Maṅganiyārs are a Muslim caste living in the Jaisalmer, Barmer, and Jodhpur districts of Rajasthan, whose numbers are estimated at around 3000–5000. They provide music primarily to Rājpūts but also to lower castes. Their special instrument is the kamaicā, a bowed lute. Maṅganiyārs are also known for their virtuoso playing of khartāl, a pair of wood clappers. Their onomatopoeic term for the instrument is rāigiḍgiḍī.

Like many other professionals in Rajasthan, the Maṅganiyārs traditionally played mostly at the rites of passage of their patrons, especially at weddings. They play ritual songs whose performance is simply imperative, as well as entertainment songs in a special session called kacerī, where they play for an audience that listens and evaluates their performance. The Maṅganiyārs play four types of song: songs in praise of patrons, devotional Hindu songs, romantic ballads, and songs derived from women’s songs (Jairazbhoy, 1984, p.23). An example of this last category, called ambāvāṛī, concerns the wedding and is played during the ceremony (ex.27). Its text is typical of a class of wedding songs listing things to be made or procured. This one mentions festoons of the auspicious mango leaves, the wedding canopy, special fabric, bangles, shawls, etc. Such songs may serve as a device to help participants remember what needs to be done. The notation of the song shows many florid passages and ornamentation similar to that of Hindustani classical music, sung at a rapid tempo. Many scholars have discussed the connection between the musical styles of professionals like the Maṅganiyārs and the Hindustani classical tradition.

Ex.27 Maṅganiyār wedding song (ambivari); transcr. V. Verma

View large
(b) Bhopās.

The bhopās perform various martial epics, the most common of these being the story of Pābujī. Some of the bhopās are from an Ādivāsī group (the Bhils), but most are of a caste called Nāyak. Although today many perform for tourists, traditionally they sang mostly for families of the Raika herding caste. The context calling for a bhopā’s performance is traditionally a religious one, common for professional musicians across India. Smith (1991) notes that the performance is both entertainment and ritual, but Kothari (1994) states that the performance itself is the most important objective, not its enjoyment. A family sponsors a performance to fulfil a vow made to a deity or spirit to gain assistance in dealing with a problem such as barrenness of women or animals, or a series of illnesses or deaths. A family might also sponsor a performance to gain religious merit. This often involves performance of another Indian musical institution, the all-night wake (jāgaraṇ), which is held to mark marriages, births, deaths and the completion of vows.

Before the bhopā begins his recitation he erects the paṛ (a scroll painting on a cloth around 1·5 m high and 5 to 6 m long, crowded with painted scenes from the epic) and performs āratī (‘fire sacrifice’) to Pābujī. As well as being the epic hero, Pābujī is worshipped at his own shrines by the Raika herding caste and others. Most bhopās play a bowed lute called Rāvaṇhatthā. In addition to the jingles attached to the bow, the bhopā also ties bells to his ankles that sound as he dances. Other bhopās use instruments such as the stick zither with sound-amplifying gourds at each end called jantar. The bhopā of the permanent shrine plays a large clay pot with parchment stretched over the opening.

The essential story of Pābujī is as follows: Pābujī, the son of a Rājpūt and a celestial nymph, promises to give camels to the daughter of his half-brother as a wedding gift. On returning from Lanka with the camels he has stolen, he is seen by the princess Phulvanti, who falls in love with him. In the middle of their wedding a little bird tells him his relative’s cattle are being stolen, and he goes to the rescue with his half-brother and their men. All are ultimately killed, and Pābujī ascends to heaven in a palanquin. His half-brother’s wife, Gahlotan, sees the battle in a dream and tells Pābujī’s would-be wife. They commit satī. However, Gahlotan is pregnant, and before entering the flames she cuts open her belly and extracts the infant male. He grows up and one day discovers his origin. He vows revenge on and eventually murders Pābujī’s killer; he then becomes a renunciant.

The bhopā sings this complex tale alternately with his wife or a caste brother (ex.28), who holds a lamp by the scroll painting and declaims the story while one of them points out scenes on the cloth. Although they know about 12 hours of text, they never perform it in its entirety. They sing it to multiple melodies, and the styles of these vary substantially from performer to performer. Smith (1991) observed that one tune was used most commonly for the first stanza of each section; one tune seemed to be an extended version of another; one tune is restricted to a certain bit of the story; and three of the tunes are for the bhopā’s dances. Why alternate tunes are used for different parts of the story is unclear. The dances are rhythmic, and the melodic contrast may serve to maintain the interest of the audience. The variation may also help the performers to remember the text.

Ex.28 Melodies used by the bhopāand his wife; transcr. J. Smith

View large

It is likely that the epic of Pābujī is an elaborated story of a bhomiyā god (Kothari, 1989). This is the generic name in Rajasthan and Gujarat for a warrior who died in pursuit of cattle thieves. Pābujī is referred to numerous times in the epic as a bhomiyā, and the memorial pillars in his shrines are similar to those of the other bhomiyās. Villagers establish a shrine for the dead warrior and worship him as a minor deity. In certain cases the spirit is manifest through a medium, usually a bhopā. His singing of the hero’s story at Pābujī shrines induces his own possession by the spirit. (It should also be noted that the epic and its performance serve to enhance the reputation of the spirit and shrine.) The medium then begins to help the local people by divination and magical healing, and the shrine becomes popular, sometimes drawing people from a large area.

It has been noted that the story of Pābujī manifests a pattern (violation, death, deification, and revenge) found in the epics of local, sub-regional, and regional hero or spirit cults throughout India. Epics such as these embody the belief system, particularly the origin and nature of the god, on which particular caste and shrine rituals are based. In Blackburn’s comparative study of Indian epics (1989) it is argued that this pattern is true of those epics that are used in ritual worship, not the ones of transregional distribution sung purely for entertainment, such as the Ālhā and Ḍholi. The performance context (caste- or shrine-sponsored ritual in this case) is one element determining the content of the epic.

(c) Mendicants.

Both Hinduism and Islam emphasize the importance of charity and its bearing on salvation. Known to some outside India is a type of musical mendicant called Baul, of West Bengal and Bangladesh (see Bengali music). A group of Bauls associated with the singer Purna Das Baul has performed in the West since the 1960s. Most Bauls now play more often for religious fairs, but the role was traditionally that of itinerant mendicant. They accompany their melismatic songs (some of which convey Krishna cult doctrine and some tantric and other religio-philosophical systems) with a plucked lute (dotāra, ‘two strings’) that has four or five strings, a variable tension chordophone called khamak and other instruments. The khamak is an inverted single-head drum with a string that passes up through the hollow chamber and is tied to a knob. The player holds the inverted drum under his left arm and the knob in his left hand. He plucks the string with a plectrum or finger of his right hand while changing the pitch by increasing or decreasing the tension of the string with the knob in his left hand. Other similar instruments used by Bauls are the gopīyantra and the ānandalaharī (see Variable tension chordophone).

The kind of sound produced by these instruments, a tone of changing pitch in a lower range (its ascending form suggested by ‘bu-ump ’ spoken with rising inflection), is very characteristic of Indian music. It is heard in the bhapang of eastern Rajasthan, in the sound of the left-hand head of the ḍholak and mṛdaṅgam, and in a family of hourglass drums with variable tension heads, including the huṛuk (north India), the uḍukku (south India), whose similar names evidence their common origin, and the ḍamarū, found throughout India.

Similar to the Bauls are the so-called jogīs of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They accompany themselves with the Sāraṅgī, the bowed lute used in Hindustani classical music. Often only two strings are present, and one of these will provide the drone. The dotāra mentioned above has one or more drone strings. The bowed lutes usually have one or more, and many mendicants all over India play a single string plucked lute (ektāra,tuntune). The jogīs sing (for donations of grain, old cloth, or cash) a variety of religious and philosophical songs, including some called nirguṇ bhajans, whose content is similar to some of the Bauls’ songs. These songs promote the ideas of non-attachment to the mundane world and devotion that need not be externally visible, to a formless (nirguṇ) deity (a deity without attributes). They lambast official priests and religion. Sung throughout India, songs of this heterodox type combine ideas from Buddhist mysticism, Advaita Vedanta, Tantrism, Yoga, the Nāth cults, and Sufism.

Nirguṇ bhajans are also sung by the blind mendicants called Surdas, after the blind 16th-century Vaishnava poet-saint. In 1990 mendicants of this type (who come from no particular caste) were still to be seen plying their trade in eastern Uttar Pradesh. The young man whose song is notated in ex.29, Rajendra Gaur, was recorded on the train that travels daily from Varanasi to Mau in eastern Uttar Pradesh. His song preaches that death is inevitable and the body lives only ‘four days’, i.e. the four āśhram or stages of a devout man’s life in times past (student, householder, forest hermit, renunciant). Salvation requires wisdom and non-attachment, and one should think about donations to the poor. Kabīr was a medieval poet-saint of this region, and many of the nirguṇ bhajans are self-attributed to him.

So, brother, the wise man hits with knowledge, the hunter hits with an arrow,

From not subduing the senses, the body dies

But arrogant egoism never dies, as was said by Kabīr.

People, why is there the treacherous bandit?

This body is but a visitor of four days.

Don’t be proud; one day you will go for sure.

For your going a bamboo conveyance is made.

This body is but a visitor of four days.

You will make thousands, millions of rupees; you won’t take even a cowrie with you.

No matter how much you earn, it will all stay here.

Now there is made a red shroud for you to wear.

This body is but a visitor of four days.

Keep the thought in your mind, keep the thought in your mind.

Think about donations to the poor.

Then this is wisdom for you to think about.

This body is but a visitor of four days.

Four bearers will lift the palanquin and carry you to the burning ghat.

This body is but a visitor of four days.

So Kabīr has sung and gone to heaven.

On this earth your mark has gone, a symbol of your good work.

This body is but a visitor of four days.

People, why is there this treacherous thief?

This body of yours is made of dirt.

Ex.29 Blind mendicant’s hymn of the formless divine (nirguṇ bhajan); transcr. E. Henry

View large

The tunes of nirguṇ bhajans are of no single type. Any tune, including those of film songs, may be put to a bhajan text. The unknown composer of this song set the text to a qavvālī tune. Orthodox qavvālī is sung in leader-chorus format at Sufi Muslim assemblies, especially at the anniversaries of Sufi saints. This religious form evolved into popular qavvālī (see §VI, 2(ii) above). In the popular form non-Muslim texts are sung to the same musical style: solos in free rhythm alternate with heavily rhythmic and repetitious refrains sung by a chorus with the same intensity of feeling as the men’s devotional singing. In this nirguṇ bhajan the choral portion is absent and the entire song is in free rhythm.

(d) Processional bands.

Contrasting with the sacred public music of the mendicants is the mostly secular public music of processional bands. These bands play in civic festival parades such as the anniversary parade of the city of Jaisalmer and the Śiva Rātra parade in Varanasi, as well as in processions that are part of familial rites of passage. Their most common job is to lead the groom’s wedding party to the bride’s home or rented hall where the wedding is held (a bārāt procession). As weddings abound (especially during the astrologically appropriate seasons), processional bands are frequently encountered in public life in India.

The kind of processional bands preferred by their employers has changed with time. Royal families and chieftains used to employ, at the bare minimum, pairs of large kettledrums (nagāṛā). Poorer families in and around Varanasi even today hire a small group of percussionists, usually playing a frame drum (ḍaphalā), a gong, and a pair of kettledrums, for this kind of function. These ḍaphalā groups come from the Camar caste, whose traditional job was removing animal carcasses and processing the skins. The association of untouchable castes like the Camars with drumming and drum-making is, or was, pan-Indian.

Families with more to spend use the next oldest kind of group, the śahnāī ensemble. The sound of the Śahnāī or similar instrument is considered especially auspicious and therefore appropriate for weddings. The śahnāī is a double-reed aerophone introduced in India by Muslims around the end of the 1st millennium ce. The holes in its body are covered by fingers rather than key pads. The śahnāī ensemble consists of a lead śahnāī player, one or more support players who play in unison and fill in when the soloist takes a break, one or more players of drone śahnāīs, and a drummer who plays a pair of small kettledrums called ḍuggī and khurḍāk. Like the brass bands they play mainly film music but also the occasional folk tune. In northern Bihar the double-reed aerophone ensemble is that of the pipāhī, a shorter version of the śahnāī, with a cylindrical rather than a conical bore and an integrated bell. A similar double-reed aerophone, the surnāī, is used in Rajasthan.

Families of relatively more means who want the procession to appear modern or fashionable prefer the brass band (in some places called aṅgrezī or ‘English’ band), which has been in India for at least two centuries. Its players, in brightly coloured Western-style uniforms, use Western band instruments, now in some cases bolstered by amplified keyboards and Hawaiian-type guitars. Trumpets or clarinets (sometimes saxophones) usually play the lead roles, and euphoniums (baritones) play the adumbrated melody an octave lower, while percussion is provided by snare, bass, side drums, and maracas. These bands range in size from half a dozen to several dozen men and boys. The players may be subdivided into three echelons of proficiency and permanence in the group, with those in the most expendable bottom level contributing more visually than musically (Booth, 1990). Today bands play mainly pop music, which means mostly film tunes, but also Indian folk tunes such as kajalī and Western marches, folk, and pop tunes. A few decades ago in the Varanasi area they still played items they referred to with the names of Hindustani rāgas such as Pīlū and Bhairavī, although these did not conform to classical norms. The latest fashion is for the soloist, often a trumpet player, to play from a hand-pushed flat-bed wagon with a diesel motor-driven generator on it that powers not only an amplification system with echo and reverberation, but also the bevy of fluorescent lights carried by bearers who walk among the bandsmen.

2. South India.

  • Maria Lord

While many common themes may be identified running through performance across South Asia, southern India is linguistically and culturally distinct by virtue of its languages, history, geography, and religious practices. In contrast to the Indo-European north, south India is populated by Dravidian language speakers (Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Tamil) who, in general, inhabit the modern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu respectively. South India has relatively little history of Muslim rule, a geography comprising the Deccan Plateau, the Western and Eastern Ghats, and fertile coastal regions, and an overwhelmingly Hindu population that, while acknowledging the pan-Indian gods of the Sanskritic pantheon, more often owes a primary allegiance to a regional deity; many people also worship and propitiate a complex network of village goddesses. This distinctiveness has been expressed politically through regional political parties and, particularly in the mid-20th century, by the pan-Dravidian movement. Devotion is an element of many South Indian genres, as are the differing spheres of public and private space, expressed in the Dravidian terms akam (‘house’, ‘interior’) and puṟam (‘exterior’; see Ramanujan, 1986, pp.44–51; Claus, 1991, pp.139–40).

In contrast to areas of north India, the south has been relatively ignored by ethnomusicologists until recent years, and information on the local musical traditions of south India has to be gleaned from a wide variety of sources. A.A. Bake’s monumental collection of south Indian traditions carried out in 1938–9 is still to be fully investigated, although a preliminary study has been undertaken by Nazir Jairazbhoy and Amy Catlin (1991). Further information lies in the work of scholars investigating folklore and oral epics, in the Fairs and Festivals section of the 1961 Government Census and in Thurston and Rangachari (1904).

(i) Vocal performance.

Vocal traditions in south India vary across both caste and geographical boundaries, and according to context and the gender of the performers. However, certain practices may be grouped together, displaying either common contexts, themes, or groups of performers. In addition to devotional genres and genres delineated by gender, local song traditions have been used in the political sphere, both by the state and against it. The use of local musics as a form of resistance is typified by the Andhran folk singer Gaddar, founder of the Jana Nāṭya Maṇḍali, the cultural wing of the outlawed People’s War Group of Andhra Pradesh. Although primarily aimed at encouraging a political conciousness among the dispossessed, Gaddar’s songs, with their explicitly Marxist messages, are widely popular and have been used in many films. Vocal genres also provide evidence of the movement of peoples within and into south India. Marathi lāvaṇī were brought to Tamil Nadu in the 18th century (Deva and Kuckertz, 1981, p.43). Traditional lullabies sung by mothers in agricultural settlements in the hills of northern Kerala originated in the region around Ernakulam. Under land reform measures families had been encouraged to move by the State Government from this populous area to others where land was more easily available.

(a) Women’s song.

The category of ‘women’s song’ covers many genres, used variously to comment on the singer’s social position and domestic circumstances, and for devotion. Brahman women in Andhra sing passages from the Rāmāyaṇa at private gatherings or while carrying out domestic work. Men are usually excluded from these performances, although they may overhear them. The women build a narrative that concentrates on the role of Sīta, episodes concerned with childbirth, marriage and relations, and the revenge of Rāvaṇa’s sister Śūrpaṇakha. Although the songs are not overtly provocative and are sung primarily as an act of devotion, V. Narayana Rao (1991, pp.128–30) has argued that women use these performances to challenge the male-dominated tellings of the Rāmāyaṇa (to make it in effect a ‘Sītāyaṇa’) and to replace the ideal family of the standard epic with a complex joint family grounded in their own experience. In contrast to the Brahman women’s telling of the Rāmāyaṇa, low caste Andhran women, mostly of the Māla and Mādiga castes, sing Rāmāyaṇa songs in the public space of the fields, not the private spaces of the house and courtyard. While also concentrating on ‘women’s themes’, they tend to ignore issues of gender inequality in favour of episodes that subvert caste boundaries, expressing both the comparative gender equality within their castes and the collective inequality between high and low castes.

Protests against social injustice are more explicit in the oppāri laments and ayiṟa pāṭṭu (‘crying songs’) of Tamil Nadu. Oppāri are improvised mourning songs performed exclusively by women. Although sung to mourn the death of a male relative, the texts ignore the deceased and concentrate on the position of women in a society where widows are considered inauspicious and in which on the death of a husband a woman will become materially disenfranchised. Low caste women are professionally engaged to sing oppāri, but close relatives may also join in, and Ramaswamy (1994, p.33) notes that it is still a living tradition in Brahman households. Crying songs, ayiṟa pāṭṭu, are performed by women of the low Paṟaiyar caste and are so called because the singer weeps as she sings. They are wholly improvised; each line has a rising contour and increasing volume and ends with a quieter descent. Performances are spontaneous and tend to take place away from other people, though Egnor (1986, p.303) maintains that the songs are sung in ‘semiprivacy’ in order that the song’s complaint becomes in some way audible to whomever it is directed against. Themes include the separation of mother and daughter at the daughter’s marriage, unhappy marriages and the status of widows. The repetition of imagery and themes between songs is a device for increasing the probability of the message reaching its intended audience.

(b) Epic and narrative traditions.

South India has many traditions of narrative performance, some of which contain a large element of dance and are therefore often distinguished as ‘dance-dramas’, although it is often hard to draw a clear line between these and other narrative traditions (for the Tamil terukkūttu and Kannada yakṣagāna, see §IX, 2(i) below). The traditions discussed here all have strong links with ritual and devotion, as do many dance-dramas, but may perhaps be distinguished in terms of performance by their predominant use of vocal performance to present a text, rather than movement to portray action. In addition to local tellings of the pan-South Asian narratives of the Mahābhārata, Rāmāyaṇa, and the stories of the Purāṇa, south Indian epic traditions also include tellings of the tales of local heroes and actions often related to the worship of a local goddess. These sometimes draw on pan-South Asian narratives to enhance the status of local heroes and deities, as well as place them in a wider mythological and legendary context.

Tamil vil pāṭṭu (‘bow song’) are narrative songs accompanied by an instrumental ensemble and performed in local temples during a festival season that lasts from January to May. They are found in the region around Nagercoil, at the southernmost tip of India. The name of the genre derives from the large musical bow, vil, used as an accompanying instrument. The vil is around three to four metres long, decorated with coloured paper or cloth and brass animals, and hung with large pellet bells. The bow is mounted on a clay pot, kuṭam, used as an idiophone, and its cowskin string is struck with two sticks (vīcukōl) with attached jingles that sound when shaken. Although the bow is usually played by the main singer (who may be female, even though all the other musicians are male), it plays a fairly minor musical role. The text is sung by two groups, a main group (vilampāṭi) and a chorus (iṭampāṭi), who sing antiphonally. Each group plays different instruments. The lead singing group includes a cymbal (jālra) player, while the choral group has the kuṭam player, a kaṭṭai (a wooden idiophone) player and the uṭukkai (variable-tension hourglass drum) player, who traditionally begins the performance with a virtuoso solo.

The songs are grouped into two categories: stories of ‘birth’, telling of deities of divine birth (teyva piṟavi); and stories of ‘death’, local stories of people who became deities on their death. The first group starts on the holy Mount Kailāsa and uses figures and themes from wider South Asian mythology to account for the worship of a local goddess at a particular temple; the second deals with localized historical figures. Each type of tale has a different narrative structure (Blackburn, 1988, pp.32–3). The vocal lines have two contrasting styles of delivery, a ‘sung’ delivery (pāṭṭu) and a style closer to speech (vacaṉam), which are used according to performance context. Rather than repeating entire lines, the chorus tends to repeat sections of the lines sung by the leading group, giving an echo-like effect. The kaṭṭai,vil, and jālra keep the pulse of the rhythmic cycles, which vary according to the content of the narrative: cycles of three or four beats tend to be used for straight narrative; those in six or twelve beats are used for descriptive passages. A special rhythmic effect, called tuṭukku (‘hastening’, ‘urging on’), is used at points of great emotional intensity. It involves the kuṭam and uṭukkai playing a polyrhythmic pattern over the basic cycle, maintained by the kaṭṭai and jālra, which ‘pushes’ the music on.

In contrast to the predominantly middle-caste performers of the bow songs, the singers of the Palnāḍu epic of central Andhra Pradesh, known as vīra vidyavantulu, are predominantly of the low Māla caste (the other large Telugu low-caste group, the Mādiga, perform the epic Kāṭamarāju Katha for Golla patrons). The Palnāḍu epic is performed in its most complete form at the annual Festival of the Heroes at Karempudi, the site of the battle that concludes the story. Although this is perhaps the primary context for its performance, a version of the epic is sung by the Piccaguṇṭlu, itinerant narrative singers who are also genealogists. They visit a village every two to three years to sing to village patrons, accompanying themselves with a tambūrā. The complex narrative centres around the fight between two sets of half-brothers for control of the kingdom of Palnāḍu.

The Festival of the Heroes takes place during the month of Kārtika (October–November). Invitations are sent out to surrounding villages 15 days prior to the festival. The invitations are sent to the Māla, but members of all castes congregate at the Īrlaguḍi (Temple of the Heroes) in Karempudi for the seven-day festival, which starts on the day of the new moon. The epic is sung over the first five days, culminating on the fifth with an account of the Karempudi battle. The vīra vidyavantulu are allocated particular episodes to perform. Not all the episodes of the epic are allocated for performance, however; some of the more popular may not be and are performed on request (it is traditionally claimed to take 30 days to perform the epic in full). The singers are accompanied by a drummer who plays the pambajōḍu (or pamba), a pair of double-headed brass drums, using a stick on one head and a hand on the other. A drone is provided by the titti, a bagpipe with a goatskin bag and bamboo mouthpiece, while a third musician plays tāḷaḻu (cymbals). The drummer and cymbal player intersperse the singer’s narrative with vocables that come from spoken Telugu. These serve, literally, to punctuate and occasionally elaborate the narrative line. Although the drummer does provide a pulse, there is no rhythmic cycle, and the relationship between the drum pulse and the rhythm of the vocal line is relatively free. The tāḷaḻu may follow either the vocal line or drum patterns.

While the Palnāḍu epic is firmly rooted in local history and geography, the pan-South Asian epic of the Rāmāyaṇa is performed by the Tamil-speaking puppeteers of Palghat in central Kerala. The performers sing, recite, and comment on a version of the 12th-century Tamil Kamparāmāyaṇam, passed down and modified among the puppeteers since at least the late 17th century. It is learnt over a period of 10 years, from printed and handwritten sources handed down from the pulavar (‘teacher’) to student.Tōl pāva kūttu, the shadow puppet theatre, is performed in temples dedicated to the goddess Bhagavati between January and May; the performances take place during temple festivals or at the request of a sponsor. A performance takes at least eight nights, often many more, and is presented in a special ‘drama-house’ known as a kūttu māṭam. The leather puppets are lit from behind and their images projected on to a white curtain. Performances are usually accompanied by the jakwood eḻupara barrel-drum and cymbals. Blackburn (1996) observes that the performances take place with a minimal, often absent, human audience, and concludes that it is the puppeteers themselves, as well as the deity Bhagavati, who form the audience for the plays.

A different shadow puppet tradition is found in Andhra Pradesh, that of tōlubommalāṭa. The Marathi-speaking Andhran puppeteers perform Telugu versions of both the Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata. Although they undergo no formal training, they do, like the Keralan performers, draw on printed and handwritten sources to provide some of the text and structure for their performances (including the 14th-century Ranganātha Rāmāyaṇa and 15th-century Bhaskara Rāmāyaṇa). Traditionally the plays would have been performed at weddings and village celebrations, but with the rise of alternative forms of entertainment, particularly the cinema and television, patronage is now more likely to come from official bodies trying to preserve local traditions. A troupe consists of two to three puppeteers, a harmonium, drummer, and two to five members of a chorus, who sing and play cymbals. The narration and commentary is given by the bhāgavatar (the stage manager). Unlike the smaller Keralan puppets, the Andhran ones are life-sized (between one and two-and-a-half metres tall). Another difference is that the stage and curtain are temporary structures, usually set up in the village square; performances start at around nine in the evening and last from one-and-a-half to four hours.

(c) Devotional group song.

South India is no different from other regions of South Asia in having groups of devotees who come together to sing bhajan, or devotional songs, in praise of particular deities (see also §VI, 1 above). However, three devotional traditions stand out for both the rising number of their pan-South Indian devotees (all three figures attracted very large numbers of followers during the 1990s) and the degree to which they are praised through music: the worship of Aiyappa, Sai Baba, and Kalki Bhagwan. Worship of these deities through music is not limited to live group singing but is also achieved through the use of playback technologies for devotional performance (Greene, 1999).

The deity Aiyappa is believed to be the offspring of Mohinī and Śiva, who was incarnated as Manikantha into a Keralan royal family. His worship is centered on the temple at Sabarimala in the Western Ghats and is manifested in a huge annual pilgrimage in January. Great numbers of Aiyappa devotees from all over South India take part in the walk to the temple, before which they will have undergone 41 days of penance. The devotees, who must be male or post-menopausal women, wear black and abstain from sex, meat, and alcohol. Every night during the period of penance the devotees gather to perform devotional songs, widely available on cassette all over south India, and dance ecstatically. The music-making continues throughout the pilgrimage itself, particularly the chanting of the name of the deity, a fundamental part of the spiritual experience.

Sai Baba and Kalki Bhagwan are similar figures to the extent that they are both seen as living deities by their followers: the first as an incarnation of earlier holy men (in particular Shirdi Sai Baba, identified by his place of birth, who died in 1918), the second as the tenth and final incarnation of Viṣṇu. The singing of kīrtanam (devotional songs) is an essential part of their followers’ devotions; Kalki Bhagwan has decreed that it is the primary way in which to worship him. The extremely rapid growth in the worship of these two figures has supplanted the singing of devotional songs to other deities in many towns and villages. Sai Baba bhajan are extremely popular and may be heard almost anywhere in south India, both recorded and live, while Kalki Bhagwan is recognized as the only true deity by his followers, and his evangelical message is promoted in large part by the prominent music-making of his devotees.

(ii) Instrumental musics.

As with the vocal practices above, instrumental traditions across south India display considerable diversity. Although more formalized performance practices are described below, the use of instruments is not restricted to so-called professional specialists. Instruments, particularly membranophones, are used by a variety of street vendors to attract attention to their wares, often playing complex rhythmic patterns. They range from a man parading around the streets of an Andhran village with a small frame drum, announcing the price of commodities such as rice and jaggery at a weekly market, to a low-caste fruit seller in Madurai using the davaṇḍai, more often used as a temple drum, to attract customers.

(a) Temple ensembles.

In addition to the Tamil periya meḻam temple ensemble (see §III, 6(v)(b) above), which has now made its way on to the Karnatak concert stage, there exists a separate tradition of instrumental temple music in Kerala, known as kṣētram vādyam. The three main genres of this tradition, tāyampaka, pañcavādyam and ceṇṭā meḻam, differ greatly from Tamil temple music in being largely rhythmic in conception, as opposed to the vocal, melodic basis of the nāgasvaram and tavil repertory. In addition, the Keralan genres are based around a different group of tālas (rhythmic cycles) than those used in Karnatak music.

Tāyampaka is performed during pauses in temple festivals, when the image of the deity rests during an evening procession outside the temple’s inner sanctum. Parts of the repertory may also be performed after the daily dīpārādhana (evening ritual), and its growing popularity now means it is performed as entertainment during festivals. It is a virtuoso genre performed by a solo ceṇṭā, a double-headed cylindrical drum played with a pair of sticks, traditionally played by the Mārār caste. It is supported by other ceṇṭā and iḷataḷam (pairs of cymbals). The performance comprises five sections, themselves comprised of learnt patterns (known as eṇṇam) and improvised sections (known as manōdharmam). The performance, which starts slowly, becomes progressively faster, culminating in the very fast tempo of the final irukiṭa section. The whole performance is closed by the cadential Gaṇapati kai in the original tempo.

In contrast, the pañcavādyam and ceṇṭā meḻam include very little improvisation. These are performed during the procession itself and, like tāyampaka, occasionally during temple rituals. The rising popularity of these genres now means that they are also performed outside the traditional temple context, including during the civic procession in Trivandrum for the Ōnam celebrations. Pañcavādyam and ceṇṭā meḻam are ensemble genres that depend on the repetition of rhythmic patterns set against rhythmic cycles. A performance of a pañcavādyam piece typically lasts around one hour, while a ceṇṭā meḻam performance may last up to four hours. Although the numbers are variable, the pañcavādyam (‘five instruments’) ensemble consists of 10–15 each of the variable tension hourglass drums timila and iṭakka, about 10 maḍḍaḷam (barrel drums) and kompu (semi-circular trumpets), and some 15 pairs of iḷatāḷam. A conch-shell trumpet is also used occasionally. The ceṇṭā meḻam is even larger, comprising some 45 ceṇṭā, 15 kombu, and 15 kurum kuḻal (small oboes). It is the collective performance of such large ensembles that precludes improvisation.

(b) Band musicians.

Bands in south India perform functions similar to those found in the north: accompanying weddings and public processions. Differences are found, however, particularly in their caste-based composition and in the role they play in ritual; another difference lies in the performance of the Karnatak repertory of kriti and varṇam by some bands (Booth, 1996–7). While brass band musicians in the north are not drawn from any one caste or religion (Henry, 1988, pp.219–20; Booth, 1990, p.248), bandsmen in the south tend to be drawn from castes that traditionally are village musicians. One such caste is the Mangali of Andhra Pradesh, who are also the barber caste. Most bands and band members in eastern Andhra are run by and drawn from this caste. The bands have a similar composition to those in the north, lead by a bandmaster who usually plays either a trumpet or clarinet, and their repertory consists almost exclusively of Telugu film songs. (Individual bandmasters do have a repertory of improvisatory rāgas, akin to ālāpaṉa, which are closely related to their Karnatak counterparts.) However, due to their status as a caste-based ensemble, with caste-based obligations, they are integrated into the ritual life of the village. Unlike northern bands, Mangali bands play throughout the wedding pūjā itself, and they play an important ritual role by acting as the pūjāri for, and propitiating, potentially dangerous village goddesses.

3. Ādivāsī music.

  • Edward O. Henry

Distinguishing the Ādivāsī peoples from those governed by caste is sometimes problematic. Until recently Ādivāsīs tended to live in more isolated locations in homogeneous groups, speaking languages distinct from the surrounding peoples, but now peoples are often mixed. One concentration of Ādivāsī groups is to the north and east of Bangladesh, and a few scattered groups lie south of the Krishna river, but the principal cluster lies across the central hills. The Bhils live in the western part of this region. In the centre and east are the Gonds, whose traditional language is Dravidian, and the Muṇḍā-speaking populations (Muṇḍā, Hō, Savaras, and Santāl). Muṇḍā is an Austro-Asiatic language related to such South-east Asian languages as Khmer.

Two external developments have devastated Ādivāsī cultures for the last 130 years: population pressure and techno-economic change. Land-hungry peasants have invaded their areas and now outnumber them in many of their indigenous locales. Industrialization has been a national priority since 1947; the Ādivāsīs live in areas rich in ore, coal, and forests, and many have been alienated from their land by the exploitation of these raw materials. Nearly a million Ādivāsīs are threatened by hydro-electric projects that will inundate their lands. One musical consequence of this has been the composition of protest songs to traditional forms (Joshi and Palit, 1992).

Some Ādivāsī music uses are identical to those of the surrounding peoples, in particular the use of women’s song for rites of passage. This seems especially true for the Bhils, although some of their women’s songs have distinctive topics, such as that of famine. Bhils also dance and, like the people around them, dance the garba in worship of a goddess. But like the Ādivāsīs all the way across the centre of India, and unlike the caste peoples, they dance and make a great deal of music in mixed gender groups. A study of the Muṇḍā-speaking peoples of southern Bihar reports that the young Muṇḍā males and females dance and sing on a weekly basis, and song and dance are essential components of ritual and festival occasions (Babiracki, 1991). Each seasonal repertory is based on two or three song types, characterized by occasional diaphonic singing; drum patterns, dance patterns, and song phrases are normally of different lengths and out of phase with each other. Their tunes are more distinct from nearby non-Ādivāsīs than are their metres, but the women’s marriage songs are sung in the same seven-beat metre and to some of the same tunes as those of the non-Muṇḍā peoples. Music symbolizes Muṇḍā identity, and conservative forces in their music include the desire to maintain the musical identity of the group.

In the Gond peoples of eastern central India, as with the Muṇḍā, when boys and girls sing their antiphonal songs together the girls’ part is higher than the boys’, as seen in ex.30(Knight, 1983). This may be attributed to the pitch levels comfortable to the two sexes. Gond music commonly shares another trait with the Muṇḍā: drum patterns, dance patterns, and song phrases, although synchronized to one beat, are normally of different lengths and out of phase with each other. There is also hemiola in some of their songs, as in the stilt dance introduced in the 1960s. The Gonds play many other instruments, including a buffalo-horn trumpet, a bronze transverse trumpet, transverse flute, slit drum, a great long double-headed drum (see Ḍhol), clapperless bells and pellet bells, iron cymbals, jew’s harp, and a composite idiophone in which the stick of the scraper operates the wooden clappers by means of strings.

Ex. 30 Gond song (Hulki); transcr. R. Knight

View large

The song transcribed in ex.30 is an expression of independent Gond religious ideology.

Oh what is the name of the supreme being?

Boys, who is the lord of the earth?

Boys, the lord of the earth is Lingo.

Boys, these dance steps were taught by Lingo.

Boys, this song was taught by Lingo.

Boys, Lingo created the pirwir rattle and drum and sulur flute.

This performance continued with topical lines about flowers, food, and the railway line that now pushes its way through South Bastar for iron ore.

The Gonds are famous for the ghotul, a youth club and dormitory not uncommon among other Ādivāsī groups in the central hills. Among the Muria Gonds all boys and girls of the village belong to the club from puberty to marriage, and one aspect of membership is sanctioned pair-bonding involving sex. The performing arts are centred on the ghotul. Some of the Muria ghotuls in the last few decades have taken on aspects of professional dance troupes, performing dances from other Gond groups and performing for dignitaries and other visitors and for the Republic Day festivities in New Delhi. In these contexts their ritual music becomes entertainment music, one of the most important changes taking place in Indian folk music today.

4. Local traditions and classical music.

  • Edward O. Henry

Perhaps the strongest connection between folk and classical music is that many professional traditional musicians, such as the Laṅgās and Maṅganiyārs of Rajasthan, clearly have and use the concept of rāga, i.e. they discuss the key tones and phrases basic to a rāga’s essential character, and they use the term rāga. Some Gujarati musicians use the term ḍhāḷ, which refers to something between a rāga and a melody (Thompson, 1995). Other characteristics shared by Maṅganiyār music and Hindustani music include the fact that some of the Maṅganiyār compositions are as complex as classical compositions and that their performing practices utilize some of the same devices, such as the tān, gamak, mīṇḍ,ālāp, and the tihāī (see §III, 3 and 5 above).

The Maṅganiyārs use some of the same rāga names as Hindustani music; however, the rāgas designated by these names usually do not conform to classical norms (Kothari, 1994). They also play pieces having precisely the characteristics of certain classical rāgas and tālas, such as rāga Bhairav and the seven-beat Rūpak tāla, but without awareness that they are doing so (Jairazbhoy, 1984, p.12). Not all of their music is as easily classifiable in terms of classical music, and it is not known how they could have acquired their classical connections, given their isolation.

One necessary condition for the development of a ‘classical’ music is secure musical employment, and that was a part of the jajmānī system at the royal level, as discussed above. In the western Deccan plateau of Maharashtra and Karnataka many songs, including those of the 16th-century poet-saint Purandara Dasa, are sung in clearly recognizable rāgas without the singer knowing anything of the rāgas, including their names. B.C. Deva and J. Kuckertz (1981) write of a reverse process occurring: Śivaputra Komkali (popularly called Kumar Gandharva) draws ‘almost all of his music material from the folk round him … metamorphosing them into rāgas’. They believe that one way classical music has filtered into traditional music is through professional dramatic groups who use classical music and perform for villagers as well as city dwellers. Classical rāgas occurred in the music of traditional theatre throughout India, particularly in south India. Now most of the dozens of different regional theatre traditions have been much attenuated if not obliterated by films, television, and video, and the influence of theatre song on folk music has been replaced by the influence of popular, mostly film, song.

5. Music and cultural change.

  • Edward O. Henry

As discuused above, the end of royal patronage and decline of jajmānī patronage of musicians has driven many into brass bands and non-musical occupations. The advent of industrial technology, especially the mass media, has also had profound effects on Indian folk music. Industrialization continues to compete with agrarian institutions and culture in India: 74% of the population is still classed as rural, but in India as elsewhere the outside job or educational institution draws the individual away (sometimes far away) from the agrarian-based family and community, with new time commitments and loyalties. At the same time, material goods are made available and desirable, motivating people to take paid employment. More time at work means less time for family, including weddings and other musical get-togethers. In 1971 three-day weddings were the norm in rural Bihar. By 1995 one-day weddings were common, and the need for professional musicians thereby much reduced.

The effects of new technology on folk music have been both negative and positive. New technology in some cases has simply removed the traditional contexts of music. For example, women used to sing while grinding grain at their querns. In all but the smaller villages women now take their grain to electric mills for grinding. But new technology also brought new musical instruments to India. The harmonium became one of the most common instruments in Indian folk music, and the impact of Western band instruments has been discussed above. Musicians in the 1970s began adding electronic amplification to acoustic instruments such as the slide guitar and ‘bānjo’ or ānandalaharī, a zither originally imported from Japan. Now electronic instruments such as keyboards are also being used.

Mass media, printing, radio, film, records and cassettes, television, and video tapes have also wrought extensive changes in traditional music, both positive and negative. Initially the printing of cheap newsprint booklets with song texts to be sung to traditional tunes no doubt expanded the repertories of singers. Radio broadcasts of local musicians and styles also stimulated pride and interest in local music as well as enhancing the reputations of radio performers. The use of traditional-style music in films also no doubt enhanced the attractiveness of the music to people in the regions whose music was employed or imitated.

By the 1970s regional music stores/record companies such as Madan Machinery Mart in Varanasi had substantial lists of traditional songs in regional languages on 45 and 78 r.p.m. records. These were not performed in purely traditional styles but were regularized and accompanied by classical instruments such as tablā and śahnāī. The appearance of traditional music on such records must have excited and encouraged local musicians and music enthusiasts. It also made local music available in modern form, to compete with the nationally circulated product of larger record companies, which in many cases lacked regional cultural significance. Films by this time had for decades been exploiting traditional music styles. But the relationship between traditional music and films worked both ways, and traditional musicians have been setting traditional texts to the melodies of film songs for almost as long.

The advent of records, and later cassettes, augmented the destruction of traditional music. This became noticeable at village weddings in the 1970s, at which disc jockeys would be hired to play records, in those days entirely film songs, over loud public address systems. These systems also amplify film music outside various commercial establishments, bhajans (live and pre-recorded) at Hindu shrines and temples, the Muslim call to prayer, commercials for lottery tickets, and politicians’ harangues, some at ear-splitting volume. Village women would sing despite the blaring pop music, but their songs were not heard over the din, and they were discouraged. Then came the more affordable and portable cassette technology. In 1995 the broadcast of cassette recordings of traditional music and śahnāī was clearly supplanting live singing and śahnāī ensembles at weddings in Bihar. During the spring season, when Saraswati, the goddess of music and learning, was traditionally worshipped with kīrtan singing at temporary outdoor booth-shrines, cassette players and public address systems in the shrines were now broadcasting film music on cassettes. This is the ritual use of recorded music.

The undeniable result of recorded music in these contexts is less live music, and what creativity there is in the playing of recorded music is limited to the selection of items to be played. In another context for recorded traditional music, the music is played purely for listening enjoyment by the purchaser. Here the use of the music is changed from ritual requirement to entertainment, no doubt the most common use of recorded traditional music. This is also true of another type of change taking place in Indian traditional music contexts, which Jairazbhoy has called ‘festivalization’ (1991, pp.65–6). Music, once a part of the religious ritual of a group, becomes entertainment, which tends to push music style in the direction of spectacle, as with the Gond dance troupes mentioned above.

Other changes in society have contributed to the decline of traditional music. In the Chattisgarh region of eastern-central India it has been observed that formal education may result in ‘a perception of what it means to “act literate”’, which may preclude participation in certain performances and festivals (Flueckiger in Appadurai etc., 1991). Changes in society and economy in some regions have added more stigma to the occupation of professional traditional musicians. Some people in a caste involved with music performance for many centuries, the Cāraṇs of Gujarat, now do not want their caste associated with music (Thompson, 1992). This has also been noted of a similar group, the Jogīs of Rajasthan. Many of them are not passing on their musical knowledge to their children. Verma (1987) notes that this is because ‘it was getting more and more demeaning and less and less remunerative’.


and other resources
    General texts
    • Grove6 (B. Wade)
    • A. Fox-Strangways: The Music of Hindustan (Oxford, 1914/R)
    • N.A. Jairazbhoy: ‘Ethnomusicology in the Indian Context’, National Centre for the Performing Arts, 13/3 (1984), 31–9
    • N.A. Jairazbhoy: ‘Performance, Music and the Child’, Aditi: the Living Arts of India (Washington DC, 1985), 219–46
    • S. Blackburn and A. Ramanujan, eds.: Another Harmony: New Essays on the Folklore of India (Berkeley, 1986)
    • P. Manuel, ed.: Popular Musics of the Non-Western World: an Introductory Survey (New York, 1988)
    • S. Blackburn and others, eds.: Oral Epics in India (Berkeley, 1989)
    • A. Appadurai, F. Korom, and M. Mills, eds.: Gender, Genre and Power in South Asian Expressive Traditions (Philadelphia,1991) [incl. J. Flueckiger: ‘Genre and Community in the Folklore System’]
    • B. Wade and S. Chaudhuri, eds.: Text, Tone, and Tune: Parameters of Music in Multicultural Perspective (New Delhi, 1993) [incl. cassette]
    • L. Babb and S. Wadley, eds.: Media and the Transformation of Religion in South Asia (Philadelphia, 1995)
North India
  • B. Wade: ‘Songs of Traditional Wedding Ceremonies in North India’, YIFMC, 4 (1972), 57–65
  • A.R. Catlin: ‘Whither the Manganihars? an Investigation into Change among Professional Musicians in Western Rajasthan’, Bulletin of the Institute of Traditional Cultures (1977), 165–78
  • E. Henry: ‘Music in the Thinking of North Indian Villagers’, AsM, 9/1 (1977), 1–12
  • N.A. Jairazbhoy: ‘Music in Western Rajasthan: Stability and Change’, YIFMC, 9 (1977), 50–66
  • K. Kothari: ‘Rural-Urban Transitions’, IMSCRXII: Berkeley 1977, 595–603
  • V.P. and S. Vatuk: ‘The Ethnography of Sang, a North Indian Folk Opera’, Studies in Indian Folk Traditions, ed. V.P. Vatuk (Delhi, 1979), 15–37
  • R. and S. Freed: Rites of Passage in Shanti Nagar (New York, 1980)
  • I. Junghare: ‘Songs of the Mahars: an Untouchable Caste of Maharashtra, India’, EthM, 27 (1983), 71–96
  • S. Wadley: ‘Dhola: a North Indian Folk Genre’, Asian Folklore Studies, 42 (1983), 3–26
  • Folk Musicians of Rajasthan, videotape, dir. N.A. Jairazbhoy, UCLA (Los Angeles, 1984) [incl. monograph]
  • J. Erdman: Patrons and Performers in Rajasthan (New Delhi, 1985)
  • C. Capwell: The Music of the Bauls of Bengal (Kent, OH, 1986)
  • K. Hansen: ‘Written Traditions of a Folk Form: Nautanki Chapbooks’, India Magazine(January, 1986)
  • S. Slawek: Kīrtan: a Study of the Sonic Manifestations of the Divine in the Popular Hindu Culture of Benares (diss., U. of Illinois, 1986)
  • N. Sahai-Achuthan: ‘Folk Songs of Uttar Pradesh’, EthM, 31 (1987), 395–406
  • V. Verma: The Living Music of Rajasthan (New Delhi, 1987) [incl. disc]
  • E. Henry: Chant the Names of God: Music and Culture in Bhojpuri-Speaking India (San Diego,1988)
  • E. Henry: ‘Social Structure and Music: Correlating Musical Genres and Social Categories in Bhojpuri-Speaking India’, International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, 19 (1988), 217–27
  • S. Slawek: ‘Popular Kīrtan in Benares: Some “Great” Aspects of a Little Tradition’,EthM, 32 (1988), 77–92
  • L. Tewari: ‘Sohar: Childbirth Songs of Joy’, Asian Folklore Studies, 47 (1988), 257–76
  • K. Kothari: ‘Performers, Gods, and Heroes in the Oral Epics of Rajasthan’, Oral Epics in India, ed. S. Blackburn, P. Claus, J. Flueckiger, and S. Wadley (Berkeley,1989)
  • S. Marcus: ‘The Rise of a Folk Music Genre: Birahā’, Culture and Power in Benares: Community, Performance and Environment, 1800-1980, ed. S. Freitag (Berkeley, 1989)
  • G. Booth: ‘Brass Bands: Tradition, Change and the Mass Media in Indian Wedding Music’,EthM, 34 (1990), 245–62
  • C. Babiracki: ‘Music and the History of Tribe-Caste Interaction in Chotanagpur’, Modern Music History, ed. S. Blum, P. Bohlman and D. Neuman (Champaign, IL, 1991)
  • G. Booth: ‘Disco Laggī: Modern Repertoire and Traditional Performance Practice in North Indian Popular Music’, AsM, 23 (1991), 61–84
  • E. Henry: ‘Jogīs and Nirguṇ Bhajans in Bhojpuri-Speaking India: Intra-Genre Heterogeneity, Adaptation and Functional Shift’, EthM, 35 (1991), 221–42
  • J. Petigrew: ‘Songs of the Sikh Resistance Movement’, AsM, 23 (1991), 85–118
  • J. Smith: The Epic of Pābujī: a Study, Transcription and Translation(Cambridge,1991)
  • I. Srivastava: ‘Woman in Indian Women’s Folksongs’, Asian Folklore Studies, 50 (1991), 269–310
  • A. Gold: A Carnival of Parting: the Tales of King Bharthari and King Gopi Chand as Sung and Told by Madhu Natisar Nath of Ghatiyali, Rajasthan (Berkeley, 1992)
  • K. Hansen: Grounds for Play: the Nautanki Theatre of North India (Berkeley, 1992)
  • G. Thompson: ‘The Barots of Gujarati-Speaking Western India: Musicianship and Caste Identity’, AsM, 24 (1992), 1–17
  • G. Thompson: ‘The Cāraṇs of Gujarat: Caste Identity, Music and Cultural Change’, EthM, 35 (1992), 381–91
  • P. Manuel: Cassette Culture: Popular Music and Technology in North India (Chicago, 1993)
  • K. Kothari: ‘Musicians for the People: the Maṅganiyārs of Western Rajasthan’,The Idea of Rajasthan, ed. K. Schomer and others (New Delhi, 1994), 205–37
  • P. Manuel: ‘Syncretism and Adaptation in Rasiya: a Braj Folksong Genre’, Journal of Vaisnava Studies, 3 (1994), 33–60
  • G. Raheja and A. Gold: Listen to the Heron’s Words: Reimagining Gender and Kinship in North India (Berkeley, 1994)
  • E. Henry: ‘The Vitality of the Nirguṇ Bhajan: Sampling the Contemporary Tradition’,Bhakti Religion in North India: Community, Identity and Political Action, ed. D. Lorenzen (Albany, NY, 1995), 231–50
  • S. Marcus: ‘Parody Generated Texts: the Process of Composition in Birahā, a North Indian Folk Music Genre’, AsM, 26 (1995), 95–147
  • R. Qureshi: Sufi Music of India and Pakistan (Chicago, 1995)
  • G. Thompson: ‘What’s in a Ḍhāl? Evidence of Rāga-Like Approaches in a Gujarati Musical Tradition’, EthM, 39 (1995), 417–32
  • A. Gaston: Krishna’s Musicians: Musicians and Music Making in the Temples of Nathdvara Rajasthan (Delhi,1997)
  • S. Ray: Folk Music of Eastern India: with Special Reference to Bengal (Shimla, forthcoming)
  • K. Das: The Bauls of Bengal (Calcutta, n.d.)
South India
  • GEWM, 5 (2000) (‘Karnataka’, G.R. Kassebaum and P.J. Claus; ‘Andhra Pradesh’, G.H. Roghair; ‘Tamil Nadu’, R.K. Wolf and Z.C. Sherinian; ‘Kerala’, R. Groesbeck and J.J. Palackal)
  • E. Thurston and K. Rangachari: Castes and Tribes of Southern India (Madras, 1904)
  • S. Balakrishnan: ‘Folk Music in the Life of Tamilnad’, Sangeet Natak, no.12 (1969), 40–49
  • B.C. Deva and J. Kuckertz: Bhārūḍ, Vāghyā-muraḷi and the Ḍaff-gān of the Deccan: Studies in the Regional Folk Music of South India (Munich and Salzburg, 1981) [incl. cassette]
  • G. Venu: ‘Tolpava Koothu: the Traditional Shadow Puppet Play of Kerala’, Quarterly Journal of the National Centre for Performing Arts, 10/4 (1981), 25–36
  • G.H. Roghair: The Epic of Palnāḍu: the Study and Translation of ‘Palnāṭi Vīrula Katha’, a Telugu Epic from Andhra Pradesh, India(Oxford, 1982)
  • V.S. Devi: Folk Music of Andhra Pradesh (New Delhi, 1985)
  • S.H. Blackburn: ‘Performance Markers in an Indian Story-Type’, Another Harmony: New Essays on the Folklore of India, ed. S.H. Blackburn and A.K. Ramanujan (Delhi, 1986), 167–94
  • M.T. Egnor: ‘Internal Iconicity in Paṟaiyar “Crying Songs”’, Another Harmony: New Essays on the Folklore of India, ed. S.H. Blackburn and A.K. Ramanujan (Delhi, 1986), 294–344
  • V. Narayana Rao: ‘Epics and Ideologies: Six Telugu Folk Epics’, Another Harmony: New Essays on the Folklore of India, ed. S.H. Blackburn and A.K. Ramanujan (Delhi, 1986), 131–64
  • A.K. Ramanujan: ‘Two Realms of Kannada Folklore’, Another Harmony: New Essays on the Folklore of India, ed. S.H. Blackburn and A.K. Ramanujan (Delhi, 1986), 41–75
  • S.H. Blackburn: Singing of Birth and Death: Texts in Performance (Philadelphia, 1988)
  • J. Kuckertz: ‘Folk Songs in Karnataka’, Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 59 (1988), 170–79
  • M. Trawick: ‘Spirits and Voices in Tamil Songs’, American Ethnologist, 15 (1988), 193–215
  • J. GoldbergBelle: ‘Clowns in Control: Performances in a Shadow Puppet Tradition in South India’,Oral Epics in India, ed. S.H. Blackburn and others (Berkeley, 1989), 118–39
  • T. Vishwanadha Reddy: An Anthropological Study of Telugu Folk Songs (Tirupati, 1989)
  • The Bake Restudy 1984, videotape, dir. N.A. Jairazbhoy and A. Catlin, Apsara Media (Van Nuys, CA, 1991) [incl. monograph]
  • P.J. Claus: ‘Kin Songs’, Gender, Genre and Power in South Asian Expressive Traditions, ed. A. Appadurai, F.J. Korom and M.A. Mills (Philadelphia, 1991), 136–77
  • V. Narayana Rao: ‘A Rāmāyaṇa of Their Own: Women’s Oral Tradition in Telugu’, Many Rāmāyaṇas: the Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia, ed. P. Richman (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1991), 114–36
  • M. Trawick: ‘Wandering Lost: a Landless Laborer’s Sense of Place and Self’, Gender, Genre and Power in South Asian Expressive Traditions, ed. A. Appadurai, F.J. Korom and M.A. Mills (Philadelphia, 1991), 224–66
  • G. Kassebaum: Katha: Six Performance Traditions and the Preservation of Group Identity in Karnataka, South India (diss., U. of Washington, 1994)
  • V. Ramaswamy: ‘Women and the “Domestic” in Tamil Folk Songs’, Man in India, 74/1 (1994), 21–37
  • S. Blackburn: Inside the Drama House: Rāma Stories and Shadow Puppets in South India(Berkeley, 1996)
  • G.D. Booth: ‘The Madras Corporation Band: a Story of Social Change and Indigenization’, AsM, 28/1 (1996–7), 61–86
  • P.D. Greene: ‘Sound Engineering in a Tamil Village: Playing Audio Cassettes as Devotional Performance’, EthM, 43 (1999), 459–89
  • R. Groesbeck: ‘“Classical Music”, “Folk Music” and the Brahmanical Temple in Kerala, India’, AsM, 30/2 (1999), 87–112
  • R. Groesbeck: ‘Cultural Constructions of Improvisation in Tāyampaka: a Genre of Temple Instrumental Music in Kerala, India’, EthM, 43 (1999), 1–30
ādivāsī music
  • M. Bhuriya: Folk-Songs of the Bhils (Indore, 1979)
  • O. Prasad: Santal Music (New Delhi, 1985)
  • C. Babiracki: ‘Tribal Music in the Study of Great and Little Traditions of Indian Music’,Comparative Musicology and Anthropology of Music, ed. B. Nettl and P. Bohlman (Chicago, 1991)
  • Follow the Rainbow, videotape, dir. V. Joshi and R. Palit (New York, 1992)


  • Folk Music of India (Orissa), Lyrichord LLST 7183 (1967) [incl. notes by N.A. Jairazbhoy]
  • Chants de devotion et d’amour, coll. G. Dournon-Taurelle, Harmonia Mundi HMU 959 (1972) [incl. notes by G. Dournon-Taurelle and K. Kothari]
  • Folk Music of India: Uttar Pradesh, Lyrichord LLST 7271 (1975) [incl. notes by L. Tewari]
  • Chant the Names of God: Village Music of the Bhojpuri-Speaking Area of India, Rounder Records 5008 (1981) [incl. notes by E. Henry]
  • Tribal Music of India: the Muria and Maria Gonds of Madhya Pradesh, coll. R. Knight, Folkways FE 4028 (1983) [incl. notes by R. Knight]
  • A Musical Journey through India 1963–1964, coll. N.A. Jairazbhoy, UCLA Dept. of Ethnomusicology (1988) [incl. notes by N.A. Jairazbhoy]
  • Flutes du Rajasthan, coll. G. Dournon, Chant du Monde LDX 274645 (1989) [incl. notes by G. Dournon]
  • Inde: fanfare de mariage, perf. New Bharat Brass-Band of Bangalore, rec. R. Broadbank, Buda 92590-2 (1992) [incl. notes by C. Ledoux]
  • Inde: Rajasthan: musiciens professionnels populaires, coll. G. Dournon, Ocora C 580044 (1994) [incl. notes by G. Dournon]
  • Rajasthan: les musiciens du desert, coll. G. Luneau and K. Kothari, Ocora C 580058 (1995) [incl. notes by G. Luneau and K. Kothari]
  • Inde: percussions rituelles du Kerala/India: Ritual Percussion of Kerala, rec. R. Killius, AIMP VDE CD-971 and VDE CD-972 (1998) [incl. notes by R. Killius]

VIII. Film and popular musics

Since the mid-20th century India has hosted one of the world’s largest popular music industries. The field of Indian popular music has been dominated by film music, particularly as associated with the Bombay (Mumbai)-based Hindi film industry. Indian films and film music are popular not only in South Asia itself, but also throughout much of the developing world. Since the early 1980s the diversity and vitality of the Indian music industry have been dramatically enhanced by the advent of cassette technology and of regional-language folk-pop hybrids that flourish independently of cinema. Concurrently, as South Asian communities in Europe, North America, and elsewhere grow in size and economic power, Indian popular music has become an even more extensive international phenomenon.

1. Film music.

  • Alison Arnold

The term film music in India generally refers to the songs in commercial Indian films. Indian film makers have incorporated both songs and dances in virtually all popular films since the first Indian sound feature film in 1931. Producers of the early talkies drew on native dramatic traditions combining song, dance, and drama as a means of attracting audiences to the cinema, and the overwhelming success of their musical productions led all subsequent commercial film producers to adopt this musical formula. Background music and other musical components of the film, corresponding to the term ‘film music’ in the West, have little market value beyond the production and are not discussed in this article.

Since the 1930s the Indian film industry has grown enormously, and India has become the largest feature film-producing nation (795 films in 1995). Its cinematic extravaganzas, designed to appeal to hundreds of millions of Indians, combine melodrama, romance, comedy, tragedy, violence, music, and dance in two and a half to three hours of escapist entertainment. An average of six to ten songs per film enhance the entertainment value and highlight the film’s main characters. In addition to their role in cinema, film songs became the first commercial popular music in India, mass produced on vinyl, cassettes, and CDs and marketed nationwide. Various non-film popular music forms have arisen since the 1980s, but film songs still represent a significant proportion of India’s popular music market. Hindi film song styles, on which this article focusses, have influenced regional film and non-film music and have affected musical taste throughout India.

From the 1930s to the 1950s film song composers (‘music directors’) experimented with the musical forces available to them in an effort to create a new, modern Indian music that served the increasingly Westernized film productions. The early sound-films, such as the very first Indian talkie, Alam ara (‘Light of the World’), produced by the Imperial Film Company in Bombay, were filmed stage plays; their songs were indistinguishable from the Indian stage songs or light-classical vocal pieces of the time. Within the first decade of sound film production, composers started to introduce Western instruments, Western scale patterns, and other non-traditional musical elements. In attempting to suit the music to the character of the film, music directors found greater opportunities in the developing genre of the ‘social film’ than in the earlier mythological, historical, and devotional film subjects. By the late 1940s a distinctive film song style had emerged that was recognizably Indian but different from existing genres, synthesizing native and foreign musical features. The vocal melody had become simpler and less ornamented than non-film vocal music, the lyrics contained less poetic, more ‘everyday’ language, the song settings incorporated more prominent instrumental interludes, the orchestral arrangements included Western harmonies, and advances in recording technology enabled the introduction of effects such as reverberation and echo. Music directors drew on all types of Indian music, from the classical traditions to their native regional music (e.g. Naushad from Uttar Pradesh, Anil Biswas from Calcutta, and Ghulam Haider from the Punjab). Some took a more eclectic approach, like C. Ramchandra from Maharashtra, who adopted swing in Shin shinaki boobla boo (1952), jazz in Shehnai (1947), and Latin American rhythms in various films such as Albela (1951) and Ghungru (1952).

Whereas composers in the 1950s and 60s emphasized song lyrics and tunes, many in the 1970s created film songs to suit the violent action-movie trend of the decade. These later films contained fewer songs (averaging four or five) with more angular vocal lines, fast rhythms, and long instrumental interludes to accompany screen action. The 1970s marked the end of the ‘golden age of melody’, although in the 1980s and 90s lyrical melodies began to appear once again in Indian cinema. Imitation of Western pop styles is pervasive, and the copying of Western pop songs is far from uncommon. However, Indian film music still retains its Indian character through its vocal style and use of Indian languages, and it remains a popular music within South Asian culture.

(i) Production.

Film song composition is the work of a music director and musical assistants, while film song production requires an entire production team. The film music director begins the process by composing a melody or drawing upon a previously composed tune to suit the mood of a scene. Until the 1950s the song writer often composed the lyrics first, enabling the music director to provide a meaningful text setting. With the greater workloads and shorter production schedules of more recent years, however, music directors frequently compose melodies without lyrics or with ‘dummy’ (senseless) words, and the lyricist must compose a text to fit the tune. The task of orchestral arrangement, the next step in the compositional process, today rests often with musical assistants whose jobs range from creating and notating orchestral parts to conducting the studio orchestra. In the recording studio the orchestral musicians, the recording engineer(s), and the singer(s) all play their role in the production process. The singer (called a playback artist, since the song recording is ‘played back’ during the shooting of the song sequence) learns and rehearses the song for the first time immediately prior to the recording. Singers generally write down the lyrics in their own songbooks and may add notations to help them remember the song melody when the music director orally transmits the lyrics and tune in the recording room. Playback singers must reproduce the song according to the music director’s wishes, though some directors allow singers a certain amount of freedom in expressing the song text (such as adding vocal ornaments or stressing particular tones), especially when the singer is experienced.

The recording engineer participates in the creative process through technical decisions ranging from balance and dynamics to track mixing and post-dubbing (necessary if a singer is unable to be present at the song recording). Multi-track recording enables the recording engineer, music director, and lyricist (and in some cases also the singer, film director, or producer) to be involved in the recording and mixing of the song. The music director’s initial conception of a song can be vastly different from the final recorded version.

(ii) Style.

Hindi filmi gīt (film song) has played a dominant role since Bombay became the centre of north Indian film production in the late 1940s, following the decline of the major film studios in Pune and Calcutta (fig.8). Although annual film production in south Indian languages surpassed that of Hindi in the 1980s, Hindi cinema has nevertheless produced tens of thousands of film songs since 1931 that have strongly influenced Indian musical culture and in some cases replaced traditional music genres. The Hindi film song genre employs several musical forms related to traditional Indian song forms on which they are based: film bhajan (see §VI, 1 above), film folk song, film qavvālī (see §VI, 2(ii) above), film ghazal, and film ṭhumrī (see §IV above). The most common film song form is a refrain-verse structure similar to the two section sthāyī-antarā of north Indian music or pallavi-anupallavi of south Indian music (see §III, 5(i) above). Typically a song begins with an orchestral introduction followed by the accompanied vocal refrain sung in the lower part of the singer’s range (occasionally a vocal introduction precedes the orchestral opening). The singer repeats the refrain after each verse, which is usually set in the singer’s upper range. Orchestral interludes, called ‘music’ by music directors, follow each verse-refrain section.

Minoo Mumtaz performs in the haveli music room (‘Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam’), 1962

Collection: Hyphen Films Ltd
View large

The current film vocal style differs dramatically from traditional Indian singing styles. During the first two decades of Indian sound-film, film actor-singers (such as Kundenlal Saigal and Pahari Sanyal) and actress-singers (such as Shamshad Begum, Rajkumari, and Zohrabai) were predominantly theatre artists trained in classical or light-classical vocal music, whose voices were strong, forceful, and open-throated. Following partition in 1947, when many film music directors and singers settled in Pakistan, a new ‘thin’, high-pitched voice was heard in cinemas and on radios. Lata Mangeshkar presented a new vocal style to the world of Indian cinema, of which the public became enamoured, as did such composers as Khemchand Prakash, Anil Biswas, Naushad, C. Ramchandra, and Sajjad, who began moulding songs for her wide vocal range, smooth voice, and less ornate singing style. Among male singers, Kundenlal Saigal is often credited with popularizing the sentimental ‘crooning’ style from the West and the sweet, softer vocal style that spread rapidly among such playback singers as Mohammed Rafi and Mukesh in the 1950s.

Most music directors in the first few decades were classically trained musicians or singers who drew on this musical background for film song compositions. At the Prabhat Film Company in Pune, music directors Keshavrao Bhole, Master Krishnarao, and Govindrao Tembe were performers of Indian classical music and Marathi stage music. They employed rāga, classical vocal compositions (cīz), and ornamentation (gamaka) in their film songs, which suited the mythological, historical, and devotional film subjects of the 1930s and 40s. At the same time, music directors at Prabhat and the New Theatres Film Company in Calcutta experimented with new ideas, from the use of meaningless song lyrics and multilingual verses of Master Krishnarao’s songs in Aadmi (1939) to the incorporation of Western scale patterns, song forms, orchestration, and vocal vibrato in New Theatres’ songs by Rai Chand Boral and Pankaj Mullick. ‘Social’ films set in the present, and socially conscious films dealing with issues of social injustice, provided these composers with the opportunity to introduce novelty into film music. Music directors of this era were limited, however, both by technology (noisy, cumbersome recording equipment and the initial inability to record sound and picture separately) and by the vocal abilities of the singer, which ranged from little or no musical training among some early film actor- and actress-singers to experienced classical singers.

Knowledge of Indian classical music was considered a requirement for film music directors even up to the 1960s, but some composers of the late 1940s and the 1950s chose to draw inspiration less from this musical source than from further afield. Hindi music directors Naushad, C. Ramchandra, and S.D. Burman, for example, introduced folk music from their native states of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Bengal respectively, and Ramchandra experimented with Latin American rhythms and Western swing. In this heyday of melody-orientated film song, film productions could earn box-office success on the popularity of their songs alone, and the status of popular music directors soared. By the 1970s the romantic song and dance extravaganza of earlier decades gave way to action thrillers, and music directors such as R.D. Burman, Ravi, and the duos Lakshmikant-Pyarelal and Kalyanji-Anandji produced Westernized, rhythm-dominated numbers and disco songs to complement the latest trend. Since then new music directors have succeeded in entering the industry with little or no musical training or background, and music directors in general have come to rely heavily on music assistants who compose individual elements of the film song, which are then combined in the finished product.

The majority of film song lyrics are on the subject of love. Lyricists also write devotional, seasonal, festive, and work song texts depending on the nature of the film narrative and the requirements of the film producer and director. Hindi-Urdu film songwriters of the 1930s, such as Arzoo Lucknavi, Pradeep, and D.N. Madhok, were often poets in their own right who employed stylized poetic language. Those of the next decade, many of whom were also well-respected poets such as Pyarelal Santoshi, Pandit Bhushan, Pandit Indra, Narottam Vyas, Shams Lucknavi, Qamar Jalalabadi, and Narendra Sharma, introduced a less stylized, freer form of lyric writing. By the 1950s and 60s three Hindi film lyricists in particular – Rajendra Krishan, Majruh Sultanpuri, and Shakeel Badayuni – were much in demand for their poetic song texts that conveyed meaning and emotion to the audience. The language of film lyrics in more recent years has become less poetic, less literary and more commonplace, as songwriters have attempted to appeal to an ever broader mass audience.

(iii) Singers.

Unlike music directors, singers have always needed musical training to gain entry into the film music industry. The well-known male Hindi film playback singer Mohammed Rafi (1924–80) studied with classical vocalists Abdul Wahid Khan and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, and Manna Dey’s teachers included Aman Ali Khan and Abdul Rehman Khan. The greatest and most successful female playback singer in the history of Indian film, Lata Mangeshkar, received her early musical training from her theatre actor-singer father, Dinanath Mangeshkar. After his death in 1942 she became a disciple of Aman Ali Khan Bindibazarwala until his departure for Pakistan in 1947, and of Amanat Ali Khan until his death in 1951. Her younger sister, Asha Bhosle, studied classical music in the late 1940s at the beginning of her playback career.

Between the 1940s and the 1970s a relatively small number of singers achieved success and popularity as Hindi film playback artists. Besides Rafi and Manna Dey, Mukesh (1923–76), Talat Mahmood, and Kishore Kumar (1929–87) were the best-known male singers. Geeta Dutt and Shamshad Begum joined the Mangeshkar sisters as the principal female singers. Since this time an increasing number of singers have made their débuts, including male artists Abhiject, Mohammad Aziz, Amit Kumar, Nitin Mukesh, Udit Narayan, Sonu Nigam, Kumar Sanu, Manmohan Singh, and Suresh Wadkar, and female singers Kavita Krishnamurti, Sapna Mukherjee, Jaspinder Narula, Anuradha Paudwal, Sadhana Sargam, and Alka Yagnik. Notable playback singers of south Indian films include P. Susheela, Srinivasan, and Jamunarani of the early years, S. Janaki and T.M. Soundarajan of the 1960s, and Shushila, Vani Jairam, S.P. Balasubramanium, Yesudas, and Ilaiyaraja of more recent decades.

(iv) Instrumentation.

The ensemble that accompanies film songs resembles a Western symphony orchestra with strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion, in addition to electronic instruments and traditional Indian instruments. Musicians work freelance, and most belong to the Cine Musicians Association, which grades artists according to their musical skills and fixes rates of pay for each grade. Music directors hire musicians for their studio recordings according to the needs of the film and the film budget. Large orchestras were unknown in the 1930s and early 1940s. The first film song accompaniments were provided by a small instrumental ensemble typical of light classical Indian music – harmonium, violin, sāraṅgī, and tablā– and musicians were employed by the major film studios in Bombay, Pune, Calcutta, and Madras. By the late 1930s studios were already increasing the size of their ‘orchestra’, adding Indian instruments such as the sitār,sarod, tablātarang (set of tuned tablā), and jaltarang (set of tuned, water-filled bowls), and the Western piano, cello, trumpet, saxophone, and clarinet. When the film studios declined in the late 1940s, unable to compete financially with the massive influx of independent film producers who were benefiting from business investments and wartime profiteering during World War II and India’s independence from the British, film makers were forced to exploit cinematic elements such as film songs in order to achieve box-office success. Film producer-director Raj Kapoor, together with a music director duo Shankar and Jaikishen, employed much larger instrumental forces than had previously been used in Hindi film song accompaniment. Their songs highlighted the large violin section, and they began to associate particular instruments with screen characters in a systematic manner (e.g. the violin with actor Raj Kapoor in Barsaat, 1949, the piano accordion with the same actor in Awara, 1951). Such efforts increased both the recognition, popularity, and status of music directors and the role of the orchestra in film songs. In more recent decades music directors have expanded their musical forces to include such instruments as electronic keyboards and synthesizers.

(v) Social impact.

Film music had a major impact on Indian musical culture in the 20th century. For several decades film songs were India’s only mass-produced popular music, and the aggressive and widespread distribution and exhibition of Indian films disseminated these nationwide. Radio and television broadcasting, legitimate and pirated cassette sales and live musical performance have also spread Indian film songs both in India and abroad. With little competition from other entertainment forms or popular music styles, film songs dominated the market. Only with the introduction of cassette technology in the late 1970s have independent recording companies been successful in challenging the dominant position of the Gramophone Company of India and in fostering the growth of regional and local popular music styles (see §2 below). Such developments have provided the Indian public with alternative forms of native popular music, yet film songs remain a significant sector of the Indian popular music market. Despite their creation not by the people themselves but by a large corporate industry, film songs have succeeded in appealing to millions of Indians at home and abroad, Indians of all social classes and castes, all age groups, economic levels, religions, and political persuasions.

The popularity of Indian film song throughout South Asia and the South Asian diaspora may be traced to a variety of factors. Firstly, film song composers sought to create a modern music that would appeal on a national scale, developing an eclectic musical style that avoided specific regional identity. Secondly, the mass media in India, from the film and recording industries to the state-run radio and television networks and popular journalism, have heavily promoted film song. Thirdly, Indians have responded to film music not merely as passive consumers but as active participants, performing film songs both in private and public venues. In some cases film music has replaced existing musical traditions, while in others it has served as a vehicle for new developments, as in the birahā genre in Varanasi and in brass band performances at Indian weddings. A fourth factor among others influencing the popularity of film song is its symbolic nature: film song has encapsulated through its mixture of traditional and non-traditional elements India’s juxtaposition of modernity and tradition in the 20th century.

2. Popular music.

  • Peter Manuel

Although film music has been the dominant category of Indian popular music since the 1930s, other kinds of commercially marketed music predate the cinema era and, in recent decades, have come to rival film music in sales. In many respects the popular musics produced independently of cinema since 1980 have been able to reflect to a much greater degree the cultural and linguistic diversity of India’s heterogeneous population and have been vehicles for some of the most dynamic aspects of contemporary musical expression in South Asia.

(i) Non-film musics to 1980.

Commercial production and marketing of recordings in India commenced in 1902, nearly three decades before the advent of sound-film in the region. The market for the earliest recordings, however, was largely restricted to upper-class consumers able to afford such luxuries. Although in the early decades of the century several small Indian-owned record producers emerged, from its inception the music industry was dominated by the British-owned Gramophone Company of India (which adopted the logo HMV in 1910 and was acquired by EMI in 1931). The expansion of the record industry in the 1930s coincided with the marketing of somewhat cheaper phonographs, the spread of radio, and the advent of sound-films and the attendant film music industry, which soon came to dominate record production and the popular music scene as a whole.

Aside from film music, record production in the first half of the century comprised a variety of music categories, including classical and light-classical items and assorted regional and devotional genres. Much of this output was essentially traditional in style and falls outside the category of commercial popular music. By the 1930s, however, certain trends and stylistic developments had emerged, which reflected, however obliquely, commercial marketing strategies and the impact of recording. In north India such tendencies were most marked in the recordings of the Urdu ghazal (see §IV, 2 above), which, aside from being a major sub-genre of film music, also constituted the single largest category of ‘non-filmi ’ music. Ghazal is the predominant genre of Urdu poetry, consisting of thematically independent couplets set to a strict metre and rhyme scheme in the form AA BA CA etc. In north India as elsewhere, ghazal had flourished for centuries as a light-classical music genre, alternating tuneful, reiterated refrains on the rhyming (A) lines of each couplet with affective melodic improvisation (bol banāo) on the non-rhyming lines. From the start of commercial recording in India, producers had found the ghazal to be an effective vehicle for mass marketing, since it was popular among a relatively broad spectrum of educated, upper-class Hindi- and Urdu-speakers throughout north India. Recorded ghazal s, aside from being restricted to a three-minute format, came to acquire certain features that distinguished them from live light-classical renderings. Most evident was the decline of improvisation, both in the vocal renderings of the couplets and, more conspicuously, in the tendency to replace tablā improvisations (called laggī) between verses with pre-composed instrumental passages, often played by ensembles that included Western as well as indigenous melodic instruments. By the 1940s such features were standard both in film ghazals (such as those of Talat Mahmood) and in those marketed independently of the cinema. They also distinguished filmi and non-filmi commercial versions of qavvālī (see §VI, 2(ii) above) from traditional live qavvālī, which emphasized expansive and often virtuoso vocal improvisations. Implicit in such stylistic changes was a transformation of the music from an excerpted process – of improvisation – to a commodified product, more in the nature of a fixed, pre-composed song.

In the decades after World War II, diverse genres of regional music arose that, although related variously to folk or light-classical idioms, could be regarded as commercial popular musics in their close association with the record industry. In north India such genres would include urban versions of Marathi lāvni, the Punjabi songs of vocalists such as Asa Singh Mastana and Surinder Kaur, and the semi-classical Bengali ādhunik gān (‘modern song’) associated with such composers as Salil Chaudhuri and Kazi Nazrul Islam. To a certain extent, producers of such regional popular musics may have incorporated some aspects of film music and utilized parts of its production and distribution infrastructure. However, on the whole they suffered from competition with film music, which some likened to a great banyan tree under which little else could grow. Indeed, Indian popular music culture from 1940 to around 1980 was marked by the near hegemony of film music (see §1 above). The concentration of the film music industry itself was extreme, with a single multinational (EMI) and a tiny coterie of Bombay- and Madras-based singers and music directors producing a relatively standardized mainstream style of music for a vast and diverse mass audience. Although eclectic and vital in its own way, film music embodied little of the heterogeneity of South Asia’s regional music cultures and, firmly embedded as it was in the commercial cinematic context, offered little scope for oppositional or idiosyncratic personal expression.

(ii) The impact of cassettes.

From the late 1970s the Indian music industry underwent a dramatic restructuring that ended the monopolistic domination of EMI and of mainstream film music culture. The democratization of the industry was precipitated primarily by the spread of cassette technology subsequent to the liberalization of state economic policies in 1978. Cassettes proved to be a far more suitable mass medium for music in India than vinyl records. Cassettes and cassette players are inexpensive, durable, portable, and have minimal power requirements. As such, by the mid-1980s they had become widespread in rural regions and among lower-class communities previously enjoying little access to phonographs. Most importantly, cassette production is incomparably cheaper than the production of records (not to mention films or CDs). The advent of cassette technology thus enabled several hundred music producers, large and small, to emerge throughout the nation, effectively decentralizing the music industry as a whole.

The transformation of the Indian popular music scene, however, happened over a period of several years, involving certain transitional stages. The most visible initial result of the spread of cassettes, aside from the rapid decline of vinyl record production, was the flowering of cassette-based piracy in the form of unauthorized duplication of extant commercial recordings. Until the enforcement of revised copyright legislation in the late 1980s cassette piracy plagued EMI, Polydor, and emerging legitimate cassette producers in India, although it also promoted the spread of cassette players and in that sense laid foundations for the growth of legal enterprises.

Ultimately more significant a development than the rise of piracy was the emergence, from the late 1970s, of popular music genres that had no direct connection with cinema. The first of these was a modernized version of the Urdu ghazal, initially popularized by Pakistani singers Mehdi Hasan and Ghulam Ali. The new ‘crossover’ ghazal, with its leisurely vocal improvisations and sparse instrumentation (tablā and harmonium), retained some of the aura of its light-classical predecessor while featuring a softer, crooning vocal style and a more populist approach to bol banāo. Around 1980 a new set of Indian, mostly non-Muslim, performers such as Jagjit Singh further popularized the ghazal using simplified Urdu, soft, silky, string-based accompaniments, and an improvisation style that classical aficionados regarded as tame and bland. The pop ghazal (disseminated primarily via cassettes) soon came to enjoy prodigious pan-regional popularity, especially among members of the growing Hindi-speaking bourgeoisie, who sought a music that sounded more refined than the increasingly disco-orientated film songs but that would at the same time be more accessible than classical music or, for that matter, the traditional light-classical ghazal. The cassette-based pop ghazal thus became the vehicle for the first group of singers to achieve mass popularity independently of cinema and for the rise of several independent recording companies that eclipsed HMV’s former domination of the music industry. The ghazal vogue represented a transitional stage in the cassette boom, at a point when cassette usage had spread among the urban middle classes but not significantly beyond them.

Concurrently, Hindu vocalists Anup Jalota, Pankaj Udhas, Hari Om Sharan, and others popularized a modernized form of the devotional Hindu bhajan, the style of which derived primarily from the pop ghazal and earlier ‘stage bhajans’ of such singers as V.D. Paluskar. Like the modern ghazal, the pop bhajan was disseminated primarily on cassettes to a pan-regional, Hindi-speaking, predominantly middle-class audience. The commercial bhajan has played a substantial role in the incorporation of Hinduism into mass-mediated popular culture and its continued reorientation toward bhakti (see §VI, 1 above) rather than ritual and orthodoxy.

By the mid-1980s, as cassette technology spread to rural communities and the lower classes, cassette producers of various sizes proliferated throughout the country. Many of these are small companies marketing specialized, regional-language genres to local audiences whose musics and dialects had been ignored by the film music and vinyl record industry. Much of the output of these ‘cottage cassette’ producers has consisted of traditional genres, such as narrative epic ballads, which had never before been disseminated via mass media. Of greater relevance here are the folk-pop hybrids, the styles of which seem in various ways to reflect the impact of commercialization. Perhaps the most conspicuous of these innovations is the common usage of accompanimental ensembles combining traditional and modern instruments, playing pre-composed passages during and between sung verses. While producers have found that certain consumers, such as Rajasthani villagers, generally prefer the traditional, sparse, drum-and-harmonium accompaniment, audiences in the less isolated regions of India tend to prefer the perceivedly more modern sound of ensemble orchestration or, at the least, an electronic keyboard. Nevertheless, such accompaniments are seldom as elaborate as those typical of mainstream film music, with its violin sections and juxtapositions of contrasting orchestral timbres.

One category of the new cassette-based popular musics comprises the vast and diverse forms of devotional cassettes, sung in regional languages and honouring various deities or saints whose renown may be similarly regional. Like other folk and folk-pop recordings, such cassettes may adhere to traditional melodic and textual models, or they may reflect the more elaborate approaches of studio production, often setting new verses to melodies of familiar film songs.

Even more numerous than devotional music recordings are cassettes of diverse, secular, regional-language genres, many of which are best seen as modernized and commercialized versions of extant traditional styles. The Punjab (which straddles India and Pakistan) has been a particularly dynamic region for modern music, with performers like Gurdas Maan self-consciously combining traditional and modern elements in a popular song idiom generically labelled Bhangra, whose rise parallels that of a similar British-based Punjabi pop genre of the same name. Modern Gujarati popular music styles such as ‘disco ḍanḍia ’ draw liberally from the genres of rās and garba traditionally associated with the Navrātri festival. Commercial recordings of Braj-region rasiya and Bhojpuri birhā remain stylistically closer to their local roots, although enjoying unprecedented mass dissemination. Particularly popular among working-class consumers in the Bombay region are stylised versions of koli gīt or fishermen’s songs. Other regions throughout India have generated various local pop musics, whether marketed by grassroots producers or by large, urban-based companies such as New Delhi’s T-Series (‘Super Cassettes’). In north India, ‘Hindi pop’ has emerged as a substantial pan-regional genre, which includes many Hindi-language versions of American pop hits. These cassette-based popular musics have attained mass dissemination despite receiving little or no airplay on radio, which remains state-owned in India.

Unlike film music, which almost invariably deals with sentimental love, song texts in regional cassette-based musics reflect a prodigious amount of topical variety, in accordance with local conventions. As amateurs join established singers in releasing cassettes, regional folk-pop lyrics deal variously with local folklore, satire, politics, and current events, as well as perennial romantic concerns. Particularly popular among lower-class male consumers are ribald, ‘spicy’ songs portraying titillating sexual encounters, often involving the traditionally flirtatious liaison between the young wife (in north India bhābhī or sālī) and her husband’s younger brother (devar or jījā). Some such songs were traditionally performed at weddings and other informal festivities by women in sexually segregated contexts. Others, such as Marathi popat and Punjabi truck-drivers’ songs, appear to be more modern in origin. Their widespread dissemination on commercial cassettes is controversial, as they are seen as crude and vulgar by many women, elders, and bourgeois listeners.

In general, critics have charged that much of the cassette-based regional music is of low quality, that it represents a commercialization of traditional music cultures and that in some cases it may be thriving at the expense of live performance traditions. However, the latter allegation, and the effects of cassette marketing in general, are in many respects contradictory. Genres like birhā and Rajasthani kathā seem to be flourishing both live and on cassette. Cassette dissemination may further be seen to stimulate interest in certain traditional genres and to provide access to some styles that are otherwise declining. Similarly, while cassettes have served to disseminate film music even more extensively than before, they have also come to offer an unprecedented abundance of alternatives. Thus, due to the expansion of the music industry as a whole, sales of film music recordings have increased, but their share of recorded music sales has dropped dramatically.

In recent years, as income inequalities in India have heightened, the compact disc has become an increasingly popular format for the dissemination of classical music, film music, ghazals, and other genres aimed at the wealthy. Disco-orientated re-mixes of old and new Hindi film songs using digital sampling techniques represent another sort of eclectic innovation popular among upper-class youth. The intensification of diaspora connections, the expansion of media networks and the ongoing integration of India into the global economy have further increased exposure to and popularity of Western music among the urban bourgeoisie. Accordingly, the exponential growth of the Indian music industry has accommodated tendencies both toward Westernization (as in genres such as Hindi pop and Gujarati rap) as well as indigenization, in the form of proliferating recordings of folk and folk-pop musics. As a result of such developments, the Indian popular music scene is considerably richer, more diverse, and more receptive to its heterogeneous audiences than ever before.

3. Jazz.

  • Warren Pinckney

European colonial influence in India paved the way for the emergence of African-American music on the Indian subcontinent. During the mid-19th century black-face minstrel troupes, which had arrived first in Australia and subsequently went to India, provided the channels through which black American music and musicians were introduced into Indian urban culture.

Jazz arrived in India during the 1920s, when travelling dance bands from overseas (England, Canada, and the United States) and local Indian bands began to perform at the major hotels in Bombay and Calcutta. Jimmy Leguime’s Grand Hotel Orchestra and Abriani’s Six were among the best-known foreign bands that performed in India around this time. These bands provided entertainment primarily for Europeans living in India.

While travelling in Europe in the 1930s, well-to-do Indians had discovered African-American jazz musicians, particularly in Paris, and subsequently arranged for Indian hotels to hire them for parties and other social occasions. Among such musicians were Leon Abby and Crickett Smith, who led bands in India and worked at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay. Musicians from Goa also led groups and performed with jazz-orientated dance bands in India, while players from South Asia such as the clarinettist Reuben Solomon and the guitarists Cedric West and Pushkar Bahadur (George Banks) were making recordings in Calcutta. The African-American pianist Teddy Weatherford played at the Taj Mahal Hotel during the 1930s. Later he went to Calcutta, where he led dance ensembles from 1942 to 1944.

During the mid-1940s live big-band jazz declined in popularity in India for several reasons, including the prohibition movement following India’s independence in August 1947 and the ensuing backlash against Western culture. The decline in the popularity throughout the world of big-band jazz in general also contributed to this phenomenon. By this time it had become increasingly difficult to earn a living playing jazz in India. By the late 1940s and early 1950s the hub of the local Indian jazz scene was the Bombay Swing Club, which was patronized largely by Anglo-Indian fans and featured primarily Anglo-Indian players until the mid-1950s, when many musicians decided to move to England. This left a void in the Indian jazz scene. One attempt to fill the gap began in the early 1950s, when jazz impresario Niranjan Jhaveri founded and edited Blue Rhythm, regarded as the first Indian jazz periodical, and established the Blue Rhythm jazz society, which sponsored performances by American jazz musicians in India.

As employment opportunities for jazz musicians decreased, some players were able to find employment in the Bombay film music industry. In the 1950s studio pianist Kersey Lord introduced film music composers such as Laxmikant Pyarelal and Rahul Dev Burman to jazz, which they incorporated in their scores into the next decade. The 1950s also marked the beginning of the career of Goan saxophonist Braz Gonsalves, one of the first Indians to play modern jazz and to master rāga-based improvisation in jazz. Gonsalves would go on to become one of the best-known Indian jazz musicians on the international scene.

The US State Department sponsored concert tours in cities such as Bombay, Madras, and Bangalore; these served as the main source of live jazz in India during the 1950s and 60s. In the early 1960s in Bombay the Duke Ellington Orchestra gave a series of concerts that stimulated interest in jazz there. Ellington’s concerts spawned jam sessions featuring local players. This contributed to a new-found appreciation of traditional jazz and swing among local fans into the early 1970s. Sponsored by the US Information Center in conjunction with local musical organizations and colleges and Bombay’s American Center, numerous jazz appreciation classes and performance workshops were held in Bombay in the 1970s and 80s. In 1975 Niranjan Jhaveri founded Jazz India, a non-profit organization for the promotion of jazz. In 1978 that organization sponsored the first Jazz Yatra (‘pilgrimage’), India’s biennial jazz festival, regarded as one of the most international jazz festivals in the world.

Throughout this period Niranjan Jhaveri, in consultation with Braz Gonsalves, the pianist/arranger Louis Banks, the vocalist Rama Mani, and others, promoted Jhaveri’s concept of Indo-Jazz, a musical mélange that fuses the elements and instruments of modern jazz with those of Hindustani and Karnatak music.


and other resources

  • B. Gargi: Folk Theater in India (Seattle, 1966)
  • D. Mukhopadhyay, ed.: Lesser Known Forms of Performing Arts in India (New Delhi, 1974)
  • L. Tewari: Folk Music of India: Uttar Pradesh (diss., Wesleyan U., 1974)
  • B. Chandavarkar: ‘The Great Film Song Controversy’, Cinema Vision India, 1/4 (1980), 66–75
  • Hamraz [Har Mandir Singh] comp.: Hindi film gīt kosh [Encyclopedia of Hindi film songs] (Kanpur, 1980–91)
  • S.T. Baskaran: The Message Bearers: the Nationalist Politics and the Entertainment Media in South India 1880–1945 (Chennai, 1981)
  • P. Gronow: ‘Record Industry Comes to Orient’, EthM, 35 (1981), 251–84
  • J.E. Berendt: Nada Brahma: die Welt ist Klang (Frankfurt, 1983, 2/1987/R; Eng. trans., 1987/R)
  • A. Ranade: ‘Indian Film Music: Changing Compulsions’, On Music and Musicians of Hindoostan (New Delhi, 1984), 68–78
  • J. Marre and H. Charlton: ‘There’ll Always Be Stars in the Sky: the Indian Film Music Phenomenon’, Beats of the Heart: Popular Music of the World(New York, 1985), 137–54
  • B. Chandavarkar: ‘Growth of the Film Song: the Tradition of Music in Indian Cinema’, Cinema in India, 1/3 (1987),16–20
  • A. Arnold: ‘Popular Film Song in India: a Case of Mass-Market Musical Eclecticism’, Popular Music, 7/2 (1988), 177–88
  • S. Bose: ‘From Dambur Bahadur to Louis Banks: a Jazz Wizard’s Success Story’,Filmfare, 37/2 (1988), 44–9
  • G. Farrell: ‘Reflecting Surfances: the Use of Elements from Indian Music in Popular Music in Jass’,Popular Music, 7/2 (1988), 189–205
  • E.O. Henry: Chant the Names of God: Musical Culture in Bhojpuri-Speaking India (San Diego,1988)
  • G.N. Joshi: ‘A Concise History of the Phonograph Industry in India’, Popular Music, 7/2 (1988), 147–56
  • P. Manuel: ‘Popular Music in India: 1901–1986’, Popular Music, 7/2 (1988), 157–76
  • P. Manuel: Popular Musics of the Non-Western World: an Introductory Survey (New York, 1988)
  • P. Oliver: ‘Introduction: Aspects of the South Asia/Western Cross-Over’, Popular Music, 6 (1988), 119–22
  • W.J. Pinckney: ‘Jazz in India: Perspectives on Historical Development and Musical Acculturation’,AsM, 21/1 (1989–90), 35–77
  • G. Booth: ‘Brass Bands: Tradition, Change and the Mass Media in Indian Wedding Music’, EthM, 34 (1990), 245–62
  • A. Arnold: Hindi Filmi Gīt: on the History of Commercial Indian Popular Music (diss., U. of Illinois, 1991)
  • G. Booth: ‘Disco Laggī: Modern Repertoire and Traditional Performance Practice in North Indian Popular Music’, AsM, 23/1 (1991), 61–83
  • C. Das Gupta: ‘Why the Films Sing’, The Painted Face: Studies in India’s Popular Cinema (New Delhi, 1991), 59–69
  • A. Arnold: ‘Aspects of Production and Consumption in the Hindi Film Song Industry’, AsM, 24/1 (1992), 122–36
  • S. Marcus: ‘Recycling Indian Film-Songs: Popular Music as a Source of Melodies for North Indian Folk Musicians’, AsM, 24/1 (1992), 101–10
  • G. Farrell: ‘The Early Days of the Gramophone Industry in India: Historical, Social and Musical Perspectives’, British Journal of Ethnomusicology, 2 (1993), 31–53
  • P. Manuel: Cassette Culture: Popular Music and Technology in North India (Chicago, 1993)
  • B. Bharatan: Lata Mangeshkar: a Biography (New Delhi, 1995)
  • D. Raheja and J. Kothari: The Hundred Luminaries of Hindi Cinema(Mumbai, 1996)


  • Shakti with John McLaughlin, rec. 5 July 1975, Columbia, PC 34162 (1976)
  • Jazz and Hot Dance in India: 1926–1944, Harlequin, HQ 2013 (1985)
  • There’ll Always Be Stars in the Sky: the Indian Film Music Phenomenon, videotape, dir. J. Marre, Shanachie 1209 (1992)
  • The Golden Collection: Duets of Asha Bhosle and Kishore Kumar, EMI-India CDF 131059–60 (1996)
  • The Golden Collection: Bhajans from Films, EMI-India CDF 13107–80 (1997)
  • The Golden Collection: Duets of Lata Mangeshkar and Mukesh, EMI-India CDF 131109–10 (1997)
  • The Golden Collection: Ghazals from Films, EMI-India CDF 131083–84 (1997)
  • The Golden Collection: the Great Composers, EMI-India CDF 131073–74 (1997)
  • Legends: Lata Mangeshkar ‘The Nightingale’, EMI-India CDF 132324–28 (1997) [digitally remastered songs from 1949 to 1997]
  • Legends: Mohammad Rafi ‘The Virtuoso’, EMI-India CDF 132336–40 (1997)
  • Kunan Saigal: The Immortal, Inreco-Pyramid IP-6041–43 (1997) [digitally remastered songs of the 1930s and 40s]

IX. Dance

  • Kapila Vatsyayan
  • , revised by Maria Lord

There are seven Indian dances regarded as ‘classical’: bharata-nāṭyam,kathak, kathakaḷi, kūcipūḍi,manipuri, mohiniāṭṭam, and oḍissi. The patronage of dance has been maintained in India’s fast-expanding urban centres, and knowledge of a classical dance style has become an important social accomplishment for young, middle-class women. In addition to the classical styles, India has a vast number of local traditions. The set pieces of the huge South Asian film industry draw on many dance traditions. New influences, in the form of popular styles of dance music from expatriate communities abroad, feed back into the South Asian popular music scene.

1. Classical dance styles.

Dances are deemed ‘classical’, or not, by the central Sangeet Natak Akademi in Delhi, a governmental organization. Achieving the status of a classical art confers benefits, not only in the sense of ‘respectability’ but also in terms of eligibility for funding in the form of grants and the patronage of an urban, middle-class audience. The choice of what is and what is not ‘classical’ is to a certain degree arbitrary, as many dance traditions can claim equal degrees of complexity, history, and textual support, all of which might be considered part of a ‘classical’ canon. The choice of the seven dances discussed below can be seen as an aspect of the central government’s project of national integration – ‘unity through diversity’ – in light of the dances’ geographic and stylistic spread (Table 22). A local tradition which has received support and funding from the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the chau dance of parts of Orissa, West Bengal, and Bihar, is noted by von Lamsweerde as being ‘often included in the classical dance-forms of India’ (1969, p.23).

Classical dance styles of India

View large

Table 22 Classical dance styles of India

(i) Theory and sources.

The earliest references to dance in South Asian literature are found in the Ṛgveda (c1500–1000 bce): Uṣās (‘dawn’) is personified as a dancer, and Indra, the most powerful god of the vedic pantheon, is often called the ‘leader of dancers’. His associates, the Āśvin (twin gods who ride in front of Uṣās) and Marut (‘wind’) are also dancers. Gamblers and dancers are described as meeting in an assembly called samana. Descriptions include solo, duet, and group dances. The language of mime, with special reference to the symbolic gestures of the hands, distinctive in South Asian classical dance, has its origins in the elaborate rituals described in the Kṛṣṇa yajur-veda and the Atharva-veda. Although dance is associated with many ceremonial rituals in the Vedas, there is no evidence in this early literature of temple dancing, which is closely associated with Indian dance of later times.

References can also be found to dance in the Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata, the dramatic and poetic Nāṭaka and Kāvya (11th century bce to 8th century ce) and the 18 Purāṇa s. In the Harivaṃśa-purāṇa (a supplement to the Mahābhārata) a graphic description is given of Kṛṣṇa and the gopīs dancing. In the Rāmāyaṇa, Rāma is taught dance as part of his general education, and in the Mahābhārata, Arjuna is accomplished enough to play the part of a professional (female) dancer while in exile. In these texts dance is the vocation of the gaṇikā (professional musicians and dancers), the precursors of the court dancers. The god Śiva dances to preserve the cosmos and is often portrayed in his characteristic pose as Nātarāja (‘king of the dance’).

The Nāṯyaśāstra of Bharata (pre-3rd century ce) describes in some depth gestures for different parts of the body: for instance, 67 hastā (hand gestures) and 32 cāri (movements of the lower limbs). A combination of these with movements of the other parts of the body, especially the torso, is called a karaṇa, of which 108 are mentioned. The first exclusive treatise on dance as distinct from both theatre and music is the Abhinaya-darpaṇa, attributed to Nandikeśvara and written between the 5th and 10th centuries. Particular emphasis is placed on postures and movements of the hands and feet. Nāṯya (the dramatic element) and nṛtya (sentiment and mood) are defined, and abhinaya (dramatic expression) is described.

Dance features prominently in classical Sanskrit drama, which is an amalgam of spoken word and mime. The choreography follows elaborate conventions and is based on spatial divisions of the stage, the use of musical modes, and mime that uses stylized movement. The tradition continued in the medieval period after the 10th century. Drama gave rise to the musical play, known as Saṅgīt-nāṭaka, which has a rich repertory stretching from the 12th to the 19th century. In earlier compositions the actor would speak, sing, and enact the lines; at a later stage, speech and enactment were omitted, and the part was only sung. Finally the actor became the musician who sang the lines, providing an accompaniment for the dancer who interpreted the words through mime and dance. It is from these plays that many elements of the contemporary classical dance forms evolved.

The Saṅgīta-ratnākara (13th century) devotes the whole of its last chapter to dance, and between the 13th and 19th centuries texts on the dances of particular areas were written with theoreticians codifying regional variations. These important sources include the Nṛtta-ratnāvali of Jayasena (1253) from Andhra Pradesh; the Saṅgītopaniṣat-sāroddhāra of Sudhākalaśa (1350) from Gujarat; the Nṛṭya-ratnākośa by Kumbhakarṇa (1443–68) from Rajasthan; the Saṅgīta-dāmodara of Raghunātha and the Abhinaya-candrikā from Orissa (16th–17th century); the Hasta-muktāvalī from Assam (1650); the Saṅgīta-mālikā of Muhammad Shāh (17th century) from Uttar Pradesh; the Bālarāma-bharatam of Bālarām Varma from Kerala (18th century); and the Saṅgita-sārāmṛta by Tulajā-rāja of Thanjavur (18th century). (For differing views on authorship and dating see §§I–III, Bibliography above.)

In South Asian classical dance the main parts of the body, known as aṅga, are identified as the head, torso, and upper and lower limbs. The upāṅga (the minor parts) are the facial features, ranging from the eyebrow to the chin. Little emphasis is placed on the muscular system; more is focussed on the joints and the bone structure. The poses that the dancer adopts follow the rules used in sculpture, where the vertical and horizontal axes (sūtra) and the deflection of the body (bhaṅga) are of fundamental importance. Compound movements give rise to two distinct aspects of classical dance. The first, known as nṛtta, is an abstract pattern of movement of the limbs with musical accompaniment. It does not set out to express mood or sentiment, and therefore no facial expression is used. In the second, nṛtya, mood and sentiment are conveyed by the use of facial expressions and appropriate gestures.

Other important classifications used are tāṇḍava and lāsya. Tāṇḍava is used to describe all dance that expresses actions and feelings with strength and vigour. There are seven types of tāṇḍava, said to have been danced by Śiva. Lāsya is that element of the dance that is graceful and delicate and expresses emotion on a gentle level. Kṛṣṇa’s dance with the gopī (milkmaids) is in lāsya. In dance, abhinaya is the means by which the mood and sentiment of nṛtya is conveyed to the audience; it can be subdivided into four categories (Table 23).

Abhinaya in Indian dance

View large

Table 23 Abhinaya in Indian dance

(ii) Bharata-nāṭyam.

Originating in the temple dances of the Tamil devadāsīs,bharata-nāṭyam has become the most widespread and popular Indian classical dance, not only within South Asia but also internationally. Temple dancing was formally outlawed in the ‘Madras Prevention of Dedication of Devadasis Act’ by the then State of Madras in 1947. This followed a long campaign that had identified the dancers with prostitutes and courtesans. Gaston (1996) reports that in addition to the ritual and sacred dance of the temples, there was a parallel secular dance of the courts known as sadir or dāsiāṭṭam, and it is from this that bharata-nāṭyam largely derives.

At the same time as the Indian middle and upper classes, mainly Brahmans, were agitating to have the dance banned from the temples, they were also keen on seeing bharata-nāṭyam (as the dance became known, to distinguish it from that of the devadāsīs) established as a ‘pure’ art form. Instrumental in this was the Brahman dancer and teacher Rukmini Devi, at whose school, Kalakshetra (established 1936), the ‘improved’ dance was taught to the girls of respectable Madrasi families. One of the last dancers to have undergone devadāsī training and initiation was Thanjavur Balasaraswati, who, on moving to the concert stage, continued to perform in the traditional devadāsī style. While men of the Icai Vēḷāḷar community had always been the teachers of and musicians for the devadāsīs, it was not until the 1930s that non-hereditary male dancers took up bharata-nāṭyam. The dancing of female roles by male dancers was, and to a certain extent still is, controversial.

Teaching was traditionally a hereditary profession, carried out by the males of a dancer’s family for whom the ability to dance themselves was not a prerequisite. With the emergence of bharata-nāṭyam as a concert art many non-hereditary dancers, both male and female, have begun to take on students. In addition, dance academies, modelled on Kalakshetra, have been set up in large towns and cities. Many of the female students passing through the academies or being trained by a private teacher are not learning to dance with the aim of becoming professionals, but as a social accomplishment. The teacher and student work towards his or her araṅkeṟṟam, the dancer’s first full public performance, which is considered to complete the student’s training. A successful araṅkeṟṟam is personally important for the student and also, in terms of reputation, for the teacher.

A performance of bharata-nāṭyam is accompanied by the ciṉṉa meḷam ensemble (see §III, 6(v) above) led by the naṭṭuvanār. The naṭṭuvanār, a male hereditary profession like that of the teacher, keeps time with tāḷam (cymbals) and calls out the dance patterns, or jāti. The sound of the dancer’s ankle bells, keccai (see Ghaṇṭā), is represented by the syllables of a jāti called śolkaṭṭu;jāti played on the mṛdaṅgam are called śollu.

Ideally, a bharata-nāṭyam programme consists of seven items – alārippu, jātisvaram, śabda,varṇam, padam, tillānā, and a concluding śloka – even if this pattern is now not often followed in full. The alārippu is an invocation to the deity; it is a short dance during which some of the basic positions of bharata-nāṭyam are used. The most important of these is known as ardhamaṇḍali. The jātisvaram, consisting again of nṛtta, emphasizes rhythm through the interaction between the dancer and drummer, accompanied by vocal passages of svara and śolkaṭṭu. Before the jāti begins, the dancer beats out the rhythm with his or her feet. The śabda introduces nṛtya for the first time. The śabda begins with a short series of aḍavu (movements of the feet), known as a tīrmāna, before interpreting the song. The varṇam is the most complex piece in performance, alternating between nṛtta and nṛtya. The melody is sung using both the text and svara s. Padam deal with love; in order to explore fully the abhinaya of the nāyikā (the beloved) yearning for the nāyaka (the lover), the dance movements are slow in comparison to the varṇam. In the much faster tillānā the dancer combines movements of the waist and shoulders, fingers, hands, feet, neck, and eyes. The performance concludes with the recitation of a śloka in a rāga; there is no rhythmic or melodic accompaniment, and abhinaya is used to express the text.

(iii) Kathak.

Historical sources for kathak dance are mainly found in Hindi and Braj-bhāṣā literature and schools of miniature painting dating from the 15th–18th centuries. Poetry of the 16th–18th centuries shows that a dance-style flourished from the 14th century to the 18th in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi. Treatises such as the Nāṯya-ratnākośa (15th century), Nartananirṇaya (16th century) and the Saṅgīta-mālikā (17th century) show that, as elsewhere, the style derived theoretical sanction from written sources. The history of kathak is also closely connected with the growth of Hindustani music, particularly Khayāl, ṭhumrī, and dādrā (see §IV, 1 above). The rāsalīlā and the rāmalīlā of the areas around Mathura, Ayodhya, and Varanasi (see §2(i)(b) below) have strong affinities with kathak, as do many other traditional forms in the north.

In the movement technique of kathak there are no deflections and no sharp bending of the knees; in the basic stance the dancer stands straight, holding one hand at a higher level than the head and the other extended at shoulder level. Nṛtta is all-important: complex rhythmic patterns are created through an intricate system of footwork, involving the use of flat feet and the control of 100 or more pellet bells (ghuṅgrū) attached to the dancer’s ankles. Nṛtta is also built in sequences combining different units of movement. The cadences are known as ṭūkṛā,toṛā, and paran, which indicate the dance syllables used and the accompanying rhythmic instrument. In the sequence termed ṭhāṭ, gliding movements of the head, eyebrows, and wrists are introduced. The āmad (entry) is a series of slow movements; the salāmī (salutation) is based on the Muslim greeting of raising the hand to the face. Characteristic of kathak are the permutations and combinations of rhythmic passages interspersed with and culminating in pirouettes (cakkar), arranged in multiples of three. Loud recitation of the dance syllables (bol) is common: the dancer often pauses to recite these to a specific tāla, after which they are interpreted in the toṛā, turkṛā, and paran sections.

The nṛtta portion of kathak is performed to a repeating melodic line known as the nagmā. Two instrumentalists, one of which is either a pakhāvaj or tablā player, and a singer usually provide the accompaniment. The singer is traditionally accompanied by a sāraṅgī player, now often replaced by a harmonium. Tālas of 16 (Tintāl), 10 (Jhaptāl) and 14 (Dhamār) beats provide the foundation for the dance. The nṛtya section follows the ṭhāṭ with elements called gata, based on stories from mythology, particularly those featuring Kṛṣṇa. In other nṛtya elements the texts of genres such as dhrupad,kīrtan, hori, dādrā, and ghazal are portrayed in dance, with a close synchronization between word and gesture.

Like some other dance-styles of north India, kathak was exclusively performed by women known variously as tawāif, nautch dancers etc. (see Courtesan), and had for a long time been associated with brothels. Kathak was revived as a concert dance by performers in Lucknow, assisted by the patronage of some princely states, such as Rampur. The three main styles are from Jaipur, Lucknow, and Varanasi. Since the 1950s it has gained remarkable popularity and is performed by both professional and non-professional artists.

(iv) Kathakaḷi.

This is a dance-drama (see also §2(i) below) of Kerala, traditionally performed only by male dancers. Its origins lie in a range of ritual and traditional dances and traditional dance-dramas, including local kūttus (theatres) and the Sanskrit kūṭiyāṭṭam dance-drama. Kathakaḷi emerged in the 18th century out of the dance-dramas kṛṣṇāṭṭam (which closely follows the Gīta-govinda in narrating the life of Kṛṣṇa and which can be traced back to the 15th century) and rāmānāṭṭam (on the life of Rāmā and traceable to the 17th century). Like many other K