The Origin of Indian Classical Music

Devdiscourse News Desk | Updated: 01-08-2022 09:40 IST | Created: 01-08-2022 09:40 IST
The Origin of Indian Classical Music
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Nature has created us all in a way that even our bodies are living, breathing instruments of music. Everything that happens in nature, be it birds chirping, the sound of thunder, flowing water or the sound of the wind, and many more sounds present in nature, form the very basis of the music.For instance, a human heart beats 72 times every minute and if you close your eyes and listen carefully then you will hear the music composition that your body sings. The amazing thing is that we all are born musicians. If we speak more technically, every sound that you make or create using musical instruments, and when arranged rhythmically forms a music composition.

One of the oldest forms of music is Indian Classical Music, which is believed to have originated during the Vedic era, and its first mentions can be found in the 6000 years old Vedic scriptures. Vedic chants and prayers developed a system of musical notes and rhythmic cycles forming the basis for Indian Classical Music.

There are two types of ancient Indian music, one is North Indian Music or more popularly known as Hindustani music, and South Indian Music or Carnatic music. There is no evidence to prove exactly when Hindustani music came into existence, as it is believed to have emerged from the Vedic scriptures and as per some others it was brought to India by the Aryans during their invasion of northern India.The Carnatic or "Karnatik" music was made popular by a sage namely "Purandara Dasa" also referred to as "the Grandfather of Carnatic music", in the early 16th century, in Hampi of the Vijayanagara Empire. The sage intensively studied Indian classical music and systematized the music learning practices by developing exercises for musicians to perfect their art. He traveled to places in South India and Maharashtra sharing his teachings and ideas and influenced numerous musicians of Bhakti Movement.

Hindustani music is mainly practiced in North India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. It is more vocal-centric and is based on the Raga system consisting of seven basic notes "Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni". It has four major forms namely Dhrupad, Khayal, Tarana, and Thumri. Dhrupad is the more ancient form with mentions even in "Natyasashtra" (200 BC-200 AD). It evolved into Khyal, which further evolved into Thumri. Hindustani music is a combination of elements from the ancient Hindu tradition, Vedic philosophy, and Persian tradition as well. The primary musical instruments used in this form are Tabla, Sarangi, Sitar, Santoor, Flute, and Violin. Hindustani music was made popular by the world-famous musician "Tansen" during his time in the court of the Mughal Emperor, Akbar, who was himself an art and music lover. For the first sixty years, Tansen dedicated his life to studying music and introducing musical innovations under the patronage of the Hindu king Ram Chand of Gwalior, before performing in the court of Akbar. Many musicians consider Tansen as the "Father of Hindustani Music". Some of the other most known contributors to Hindustani music are Ustad Bismillah Khan (legendary Shehnai player), Pandit Ravi Shankar (magnificent Tabla player), Hariprasad Chaurasia (phenomenal flutist), Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (renowned Santoor player), AR Rahman (modern-day legendary music composer), and the list goes on.

Carnatic music is primarily practiced in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka. It is more rhythmically intensive and structured as compared to Hindustani music. Even today, Carnatic music is being performed in its original form as it used to be during the time of Purandara Dasa in the 16th century. It remained untouched by external influences and has a homogenous Indian music tradition.It has improvised music forms such as Alapana, Niraval, Kalpnaswaram, and Ragam Thana Pallavi. It is a more spiritual and intellectual form of classical music and involves worshipping of gods which makes it more close to ancient Indian classical music. The main elements in Carnatic music are Sruti (musical pitch), Swara (assigned tone for specific music notes), Raga (formulae for musical notes), and Taala (predetermined pattern of musical notes). The major instruments used are Tamboori, Mridanga, Violin, Harmonium, Flute, Ghatam, and Veena. Besides Purandara Dasa, there have been many other greats in Carnatic music, like Tyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar, who were exceptional composers of Kritis, and Syama Sastri, together they were known as the "Musical Trinity". Then there are modern-day legends of Carnatic music such as Aruna Sairam (Padmashri award winner), M. Balamuralikrishna (over 400 music compositions), M. S. Subbulakshmi (Bharat Ratna and Ramon Magsaysay award winner), Nithyasree Mahadevan (Indian playback singer with over 500 albums released to her name), and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer ("Piatamha" of modern Carnatic music).

The history of Indian classical music is so intriguing and deep that you have to take a dip yourself in this ocean of music to understand it.

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