- What is Hindustani classical music?
The classical music of North India is called Hindustani Classical Music.
- How is Indian classical music different from Western classical music? What are their
Melody and rhythm are the common grounds for music, be it Western or Indian. Indian
music is essentially monophonic (single melody format or homophonic) while Western music
can be polyphonic (multiple notes played or sung in harmonised unison), monophonic or a
combination of both.
Western classical music is based upon the equal tempered scale,
and rests upon melody, harmony and counterpart while Swara and Tala are the two basic
components of Indian classical music.
Swaras are the twelve notes and the intervening semitones , while a Tala is a cycle of
beats, starting with a stress point called the Sam and ending with a release point called
the Khali. It is this (sam & khali) that brings life to a Tala.
- What is meant by 'Hindustani' and 'Carnatic' music?
Indian classical music has two distinct styles-Hindustani classical music and Carnatic
music. Hindustani music is prevalent all over India except in the Southern States, where
Carnatic music is practiced.
- What is the origin of these two styles of music and which is older?
No definite answer can be given about the antiquity of either of these styles of
music. The tradition of Indian music practiced and developed is nearly three thousand
years old. Indigenous musical styles and schools evolved and developed in different
regions of the country by blending purely ritualistic music and folk music. The basic
elements remain the same. The semantic divide between the two styles started from the time
of the 'Sangeetaratnakara' of Sharangadeva (1210-1247 AD). This was later enhanced by the
Muslim influence and this musical bifurcation was described for the first time as
Hindustani and Carnatic music by Haripaladeva in his text the 'Sangeetsudhakara'
- What are the similarities and differences between 'Hindustani' and 'Carnatic' music?
Both the styles are monophonic, follow a melodic line and employ a drone (tanpura)
with the help of one or two notes against the melody. Both the styles use definite scales
to define a raga but the Carnatic Style employs Shrutis or semitones to create a Raga and
thus have many more Ragas than the Hindustani style. Carnatic ragas differ from Hindustani
ragas. The names of ragas are also different. However, there are some ragas which have the
same scale as Hindustani ragas but have different names; such as Hindolam and Malkauns,
Shankarabharanam and Bilawal. There is a third category of ragas like Hamsadhwani,
Charukeshi, Kalavati etc. which are essentially Carnatic Ragas. They share the same name,
the same scale (same set of notes) but can be rendered in the two distinctively different
Carnatic and Hindustani styles. Unlike Hindustani music, Carnatic music does not adhere to
Time or Samay concepts and instead of Thaats, Carnatic music follows the Melakarta
- What is a raga?
Each Raga has its own scale consisting of minimum five and maximum seven notes
(swaras). A raga has specific ascending (Aaroh) and descending (Avaroh) movements,
specific dominating notes (vadi) and specific notes complementing the Vadi (Samvadi)
notes. The characteristic phrases of a raga (Pakad) establish its identity and mood.
- How many ragas are there?
Originally, there were six Ragas and thirty-six Raginis (melodies with softer
emotions). Hundreds of Ragas were created with the help of these Ragas and Raginis, many
of which have become obsolete. In recent times, musicians have composed many more ragas.
There are today, approximately, 120-150 ragas in use.
- Are these ragas used in classical music only?
Ragas are used in semi-classical and light music as well.
- What is a Thaat?
9. Thaat is a system by which different sets of complete scale of seven notes, in
ascending order, are formulated to categorize the maximum number of ragas under it. Thaat
or Mela is known as the Parental scale. There are ten Thaats under which most of the
Hindustani ragas can be catagorised. These Thaats have the names of ragas and they are
Bilawal, Khamaj, Poorvi, Kafi, Bhairavi, Kalyan, Bhairav, Marwa, Asavari and Todi.
- How significant is 'Thaat' in classical music? Is it relevant in other types of music
For a performer, Thaats have little significance but for a student of music, the
system comes as a great help to understand the classification of ragas. Thaat does not
have relevance in other types of music.
- What is a 'Tanpura'? How does it help the singers?
Tanpura or Tambura is a drone instrument, usually consisting of four or six strings
tuned to Pa or Ma or Ni, Sa, Sa, Sa (Sol or Fa or Ti, Doh, Doh, Doh). The two strings in
the centre are Sa of middle octave. The Pa or Ma or Ni and the last Sa are of the lower
octave. The droning of the Tanpura helps singers to get set on the scale and it resonates
to create a musical atmosphere.
- What are the other instruments for vocal support? What is their origin? Why has the
Harmonium become so popular in comparison with other instruments?
Sarangi, Violin and Harmonium. The Sarangi originated from a folk instrument of
Rajasthan, while the origin of the Violin and the Harmonium is from the West. The
Harmonium is easy to master and therefore became very popular, though it is not worthy of
pure Indian classical music. Its equal tempered notes, like the piano, cannot capture the
embellishments (Shruti, Meend, Gamak etc.). It came into vogue not very long ago.
- What are the prominent percussion instruments used for accompaniment?
Tabla is the most prominent percussion instrument, apart from the 'Pakhawaj'_ an old,
traditional instrument played to accompany Dhrupad singers. All other forms of Hindustani
classical music use tabla, which came into being with the evolution of Hindustani
classical music. The Tabla is believed to have been devised by Hazrat Amir Khusro.
- Do vocalists and accompanists rehearse together for a long period of time like their
counterparts in the West?
No. Accompanists of the performers of Indian classical music do not necessarily
rehearse together. Indian music is essentially, solo music. The training of a tabla player
is not complete till he masters the art of accompaniment or stagecraft. He practices with
many musicians to develop his skills as an accompanist just as the main performer does
with different tabla players. In some cases, a musician may continue to practice with an
accompanist of his choice for a long time.
- For a vocal or instrumental performance, other accompanying artistes are seen with
the main performer. How is it then a solo music?
As the vocalist performs and music flows, the accompanists on the tabla and harmonium
provide support by keeping the beats and following the mood of the performer. It is
therefore, essentially, solo music.
- What is a Khayal? How many such forms are there?
Khayal is a form of rendering a raga. The essential component of a khayal is a
composition (Bandish) and the expansion of the text of the composition within the
framework of the raga. The nuances and sub forms employed to improvise and embellish the
rendition vary from singer to singer. There are two forms of Khayal. Bada-Khayal in slow
tempo and Chhota-Khayal in medium to fast tempo.
- What is a Dhrupad? What are the differences between Dhrupad and Khayal?
Dhruvapada or Dhrupad is another form of rendering a raga. It has a specific
composition, consisting of four parts and is sung in different styles. The percussion
accompaniment is the Mridang or Pakhawaj, a one-piece drum, as opposed to the two-piece
drum, the tabla in khayal. The main difference between these two musical forms is that the
Dhrupad is rigidly bound by the composition and the tala, within which all improvisation
has to be made. The Khayal, on the other hand, has the freedom to free itself from the
rhythmic beat and then return to the beginning of each time cycle (tala). Also, the two
essential idioms used in Khayal, which are absent in Dhrupad, are the Sargam and Taan.
Sargam is the singing of the notes (sa, re, ga,..), per se, instead of words while Taan is
the sequential movement through the different notes using the vowel "Aa".
- What is a Thumri?
The Thumri is yet another form of rendering ragas. However , this very popular, light
classical form of Hindustani music, is limited to specific ragas whose key emotion is
lyricism and eroticism, e.g. Bhairavi, Gara, Pilu. Effective word-play usually
characterizes a Thumri. Chiefly associated with folk songs of UP and Punjab, the Thumri is
composed in dialects of Hindi.
- Sometimes the words of a Khayal or Thumri are difficult to follow. Why is it so?
Sometimes the words are not intelligible because they are sung in a stylized manner
and do not always follow the necessary scansion and get elongated with the notes.
- Very often some artistes utter a small portion of the text three times and arrive at
a stressed beat. What is it called and what is its significance?
Very often musicians repeat a particular phrase thrice and arrive on the first beat of
the rhythm known as 'Sam'. This division of any Tala, or rhythm cycle, into three equal
parts to create variation and musical thrill is known as 'Tihaayi'. Artistically phrased
tihaayi enhances the beauty of a performance.