1200 AD – 1700 AD

In 1262, when he was nine years old, Amir Khusro began to compose poetry. He composed almost half a million verses in Persian, Turkish, Arabic, Braj Bhasha, Hindawi and Khadi Boli. He is supposed to have enriched or invented qawali, qasida, qalbana, naqsh and many others forms of music. Varying degrees of secularity permeated these musical forms. The zeelaph and sarparda ragas are also associated with Amir.

Khusro lived for 70 years. During 60 of those years, that is, between 1265 and 1325, Khusro spent time in the courts of as many as ten different Muslim rulers. Each court he stayed in was culturally active and different from the others. Khusro’s stay in Multan brought him in contact with Persian music, while his visit to Bengal exposed him to the music of the Vaishnavite tradition.

During his time at the ruler Kaikubad’s court, Avadh-based music and musicians secured a firm footing in Delhi. Three Khilji monarchs became his patrons successively. Each signalled a musico-cul-tural change. Jalaluddin, the first Khilji, was enthusiastic about secular music. Allauddin Khilji worked with Sufi saints through Khusro, and was instrumental in introducing diverse musical elements in Delhi.

The number of different patrons that Khusro had, and the places he worked in, enabled him to get exposed to and assimilate diverse musical influences. Khusro is said to have created a new system of musicology, called ‘Indraprastha Mata’ or ‘Chaturdandi Sampradaya’ . He also brought into circulation the two specific musical genres of ‘tarana’ and ‘kaul’, which complemented the prevalent array of musical forms. Neither, however, was novel to the Indian musical scene. This only reinforced the fact that Khusro’s Indianisation of the Islamic musical tradition complemented the Hindu tradition.

Sangeet Ratnakara

The medieval age was characterised by an impressive and varied musical expression. There was an abundance of musical instruments. Drums and rhythm-instruments, in particular were widely used.

Sharangdeva (1210-1247 AD), the author of the famous Sangeet Ratnakara, explains the construction and the techniques of playing 14 kinds of drums. This musicological treatise is so highly regarded that the two important systems of art music in India, Hindustani and Carnatic, try to trace their basic concepts to it. The mention of names of ragas like the Turushka Todi and the Turushka Gaud in this text show the percolation of the Islamic influence into Indian music.

Ratnakara emphasised the ever changing nature of music, the increasing role of regional influences on it, and the increasing complexity of musical material that needed to be systemised time and again. Sharangdeva is firmly tethered to the prevalent musical practices of his time. His stress is consistently on the ‘lakshya’, the music ‘in vogue’ as against ancient music..

Raja Mansingh

Raja Mansingh Tomar of Gwalior (1486-1516 AD) was the driving force behind introducing and consolidating Dhrupad, a genre of Hindustani music that enjoys esteem even today. He replaced traditional Sanskrit songs by Hindi songs. He is also credited with composing three volumes of songs: (i) Vishnupadas (songs in praise of lord Vishnu), (ii) Dhrupads, and (iii) Hori and Dhamar songs associated with Holi. Mansingh’s support gave pride of place to these genres. He also thus related music to the lives and language of the laymen.
He was a generous patron of the arts. Both Hindu and Muslim musicians were employed in his court. With the talent available in his court he initiated a major project to systematise the prevalent music. It was this project that resulted in the creation of that comprehensive treatise on music in Hindi, ‘Mankutuhal’.

The Bhakti movement

This was a devotional movement emphasising the intense emotional attachment of a devotee towards his personal god. The term ‘Bhakti’ is first used around 800 BC in Pali literature. The devotional fervour of the Alwars and the Nayanars, the saints who lived in South India between the 5th and the 10th centuries, also travelled north. In due course ‘Bhakti’ became a widespread Hindu religious movement and way of life, inspiring copious volumes of superb religious poetry and art.

The ‘Bhakti’ cult spread to the north in the 14th and 15th centuries, where it resonated with the Rama and Krishna devotional cults. Theoreticians like Ramanujacharya and Ramananda and saint-poets like Kabir and Tulsidas belonged to the Rama tradition. Vallabhacharya and his contemporary Sri Chaitanya spearheaded two separate Krishna cults in the 17th century. The Vallabha cult directly contributed to the theory and practice of music. This impacted Hindustani Art Music as well through Ashtachap, Pushti and Haveli sangeet.
By the 15th century, large parts of the areas under the sway of Hindustani Art Music were well ahead in linguistic and literary development. Using the regional language, Braj, Avadhi or whatever, as the vehicle, saint-composers were able to reach to people in social strata otherwise impervious to the influence of art and music.

In the Bhakti movement as in Hindustani Art Music, songs and composite presentations, using elements of speech, dance and drama, played a major role in propagating ideas in art and music. The works of composers like Jayadeva (11th century), Vidyapati (1375 AD), Chandidas (14th-15th century), Bhakta Narasimha (1416-1475 AD) and Meerabai (1555-1603 AD) are ready cases in point.

The Bhakti movement remains an isolated example of a collective use of the structures and stylistic features of art music.

Ashtachap, Pushti and Haveli sangeet

Vallabhacharya propounded the Shudhadvaita Vedanta (pure non-dualism) or Pushtimarga (the road to grace). His sect was known as the ‘Rudra Sampradaya’. The Vallabhacharya cult revived an older stream of music. The religious and musical procedures of the cult were systematized by Vallabhacharya’s son Goswami Vitthalnathji (1516-1698 AD). The ‘Ashtachap’ stream of music was thus established (1607-8 AD). It was named after the eight musical acharyas or preceptors who composed the music of the cult. The legendary Tansen too came under its influence.

‘Haveli sangeet’ was the temple music practised by the ‘Pushti Margi Sampradaya’. Nathadwara in Rajasthan was the main seat of this Vaishnava devotional cult. The cult has created a rich historical tradition of temple-based music described as ‘Haveli sangeet’. ‘Haveli’ is a temple visualised as a palace that the deity chooses to live in.

The musical history of the post-Ashtachap period of Pushti-sangeet coexists with many developments in Hindustani Art Music The advent of the Dhrupad, Khayal and Tappa, the dissociation of dance from music, and the shift from the pakhawaj to the tabla, all happened during this period.


Tansen, the legendary musician of Akbar’s court, had his early training in the school founded by Raja Mansingh Tomar of Gwalior. Among the many works attributed to him are a treatise named the ‘Ragamala’, many ‘Dohas’ describing the ‘lakshanas’ or the attributes of ragas, ‘Sangeet Saar’, and ‘Shri Ganesh Stotra’. According to some scholars, Tansen reduced the 4000 ragas and raginis of his time into a system of 400. He also reduced 92 talas to 12. He is said to have created many ragas like ‘Miyan Malhar’ and ‘Miyan ki todi’.
Tansen’s Senia gharana divided into two streams. His elder son Bilaskhan headed the Rabab-players gharana and his second son Suratsen the sitar-players gharana.

The Mughals – Music in Akbar’s court

During the Mughal period, and especially under Akbar’s reign, temple music took a back seat and Darbar Sangeet came into being. Music was composed mainly to eulogise patrons.

Information about music in Akbar’s court comes from the “Ain e Akbari” of Abul Fazl (1551-1602 AD). Abul was a courtier in Akbar’s darbar. There were numerous musicians in the court, Hindus, Iranis , Kashmiris and Turanis, both men and women. The musicians were divided into seven orders. There was one for each day of the week. Headed by the legendary Tansen, there were 19 singers, three who chanted and several instrumental musicians. The main instruments were the sarmandal, bin, nay, karna and tanpura. The musicians came from far and wide, and the music was rich and varied. Akbar’s court was witness to a complete fusion of the Persian and Indian music systems.

Muslim influence on music

India in the sixteenth century was politically and geographically fragmented. There were also multiple cultural forces at work. More than nine rulers vied with each other to promote their own respective court cultures. Commoners were allowed freedom in matters like religion. In various courts a sophisticated court culture evolved and crystallised. This enabled the emergence of a chunk of art or classical music distinct from devotional or folk music. This court music exhibited a great deal of Muslim influence.

The Kitab-e-nauras of Ibrahim Adil Shah-II (1580-1626 AD) of Bijapur vividly describe the court music of this period. The work reflects the confrontation between the prevalent and flourishing musical traditions in the South and the one taking shape under Muslim influence. Ibrahim Adil Shah was the moving spirit behind the famous Ragamala painting, pictorially representing the musical modes.

Jehangir (1605-27 AD) was genuinely interested in music and generously patronised the art. His ‘Jehangirnama’ describes in detail the music enjoyed by his court.
Aurangzeb (1618-1707 AD) was a puritan unfavourably disposed to music. But he patronised one major effort to shed light on the music current in his times. He enabled the publication of ‘Ragadarpana’. This was Fakirullah Saifkhan’s translation into Persian, in 1665-6 AD, of Raja Mansingh’s ‘Mankutuhal’ written two centuries earlier. It was not a complete translation of ‘Mankutuhal’. But it contained the history of music between the times of Mansingh and Aurangzeb. It also describes the art music of the 17th century.