Hindustani and Carnatic Music

“Vocalist Abhishek Raghuram and his ensemble at a carnatic music concert in Chennai, India. Raghuram’s cousin, Anantha Krishnan (far right) plays the mridangum, a barrel drum.” http://www.pri.org/stories/2012-01-09/video-season-carnatic-music-chennai-india. Online.

Music has been a tradition in India for nearly three thousand years. The blending of purely ritualistic music and folk music allowed indigenous musical styles to evolve and develop in different regions of the country.

Swara and tala are two basic components of Indian classical music. According to the ITC Sangeet Research Academy, “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 and khali—that brings life to a tala” (ITC).

Indian classical music has two distinct styles—Hindustani classical music and Carnatic music. The beginning of the semantic divide between these two styles is said to have started from the time of the Sangeetaratnakara of Sharangadeva (1210-1247 CE). The two styles are also prevalent in different regions of India. That is, Hindustani classical music is prevalent in northern and central regions. In contrast, Carnatic music is more often practiced in the peninsular regions.

Hindustani classical music dates back to Vedic times around 1000 BCE and further developed around the 13th and 14th centuries CE with Persian influences and existing religious and folk music. In this way, Hindustani music was influenced by the Persian performance practices of the Mughal era.

Carnatic music developed around the 15th to 16th centuries CE, and “Carnatic” in Sanskrit means “soothing to ears.” Most Carnatic compositions are meant to be sung, and even when they are performed on instruments, they are meant to be performed in a singing style.

Both styles are monophonic, follow a melodic line and employ a drone (tanpura). Even though both styles use scales to define a raga, the Carnatic style employs semitones, and therefore it has many more ragas than the Hindustani style. A raga has its own scale consisting of a minimum of five and a maximum of seven notes, with specific ascending and descending movements, dominating notes, and notes complementing the vadi notes. In addition, unlike Hindustani music, the Carnatic style does not adhere to time (samay) concepts, but rather follows the melakarta concept, which is a collection of fundamental musical scales from which other ragas may be generated.

The tabla is the most prominent percussion instrument of Indian classical music. It is believed to be designed by Hazrat Amir Khusro. The tabla is essentially the art of accompaniment or stagecraft, as Indian classical music is mostly solo music.

Indian classical music is fundamental to the lives of Indians today as it remains a source of spiritual inspiration, cultural expression, and entertainment. An example of both Hindustani and Carnatic music can be found at the following link:


Works Cited:

ITC Sangeet Research Academy, <http://www.itcsra.org/sra_faq_index.html>.

“Indian Music,” Hindu Online, <http://hinduonline.co/HinduCulture/IndianMusic.html>.