Decoding the magic of Indian Classical Music

Text by: Bilakshan Santosh Harsh

“Though music transcends language, culture and time, and though notes are the same, Indian music is unique because it is evolved, sophisticated and melodies are defined.” Dayanand Saraswati, Indian Social Leader.

Decoding the magic of Indian classical music. Photo credit: Jan Kraus
Decoding the magic of Indian classical music. Photo credit: Jan Kraus

Evolution of the Indian Classical Music:

The origin of the Indian classical music is said to be around during the ancient Vedic period 2000 B.C. Hindu sages during the Vedic period used to sing devotional songs in praise of their lords while their wives played musical instruments such as the Veena.

Some mythological Hindu references during the age of Mahabharta and Ramayana state that the seven SwarsSa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa…came into existence during the songs sung in praise and worship of Hindu deities. The evolution of the Indian Classical Music can be classified into three time periods: Ancient, Medieval and Modern period.

Classification of Indian Classical Music

Hindustani Music

This form of music is most popular in northern India. It became popular during the Mughal period. It has the influence of Persian and Arabic culture as well. As we all know, Tansen, one of the nine jewels at Emperor Akbar’s court was considered to be one of the forerunners of Indian classical music. In fact, one of the iconic ragas sung by the maestro such as the “Mian ki Malhar” is also the root of several new ragas. There are 10 styles of Hindustani music and some of the most popular styles include Dhrupad, Khayal, Tappa and Thumri.

Carnatic Music

This form of music is more popular in southern India. It is thoroughly oriented to the voice and they are played to imitate singing within a vocal range and more vocal music-driven. This music has got no Mughal influence and has mainly evolved from Hindu traditions. The popular states for Carnatic music are Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. Alapana, Niraval, Pallavi, Ragam, Tanam are some traditional forms of improvisation in Carnatic music. Bombay Sisters, P Unni Krishnan, Bombay Jaishri, and M Balamuralikrishna are some of the great names in the Indian Carnatic Music.

What Makes Indian Classical so Popular in Western Countries

The western fascination with Indian music is not new. It dates back from the 1960s where people from the West in search of spiritual awakening, started connecting to Indian classical music. Its major contribution goes to Sitar Maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar who collaborated with the legendary George Harrison, from Beatles, the English rock band from the ’60. This was probably one of the most iconic musical collaboration that showcased the essence of Indian classical music to the western audience.

By the time of Shankar’s death in 2012, he left behind an Indian classical music legacy. He was felicitated with many accolades over his lifetime, including five Grammy awards in the world music.

His effort opened numerous doors for Indian musicians to perform and collaborate with western music. One of the significant influences was the formation of ‘Shakti’ that had a group of famous musicians right from Guitarist John McLaughlin, Indo-American Violinist L Shankar and the famous tabla player Ustad Zakir Husain which drew inspiration from Hindustani and Southern Indian Carnatic music traditions.

The popularity of Indian classical music is growing at such a tremendous pace that has made American musicians like Shankar Tucker are taking Indian classical music lessons from the renowned music composer and flute player like Hariprasad Chaurasia. The unmatched essence of Indian classical music is growing beyond jazz and trying to find its space in other popular musical forms.

Is the Indian Classical Music dying in India?

Indian classical musicians and the music fraternity are under this notion whether traditional Indian music is losing its charm. However, many famous Indian musicians have denied this notion. Two-time Oscar winner A R Rahman says India’s musical heritage may lack attention and platform but it is not dying as its roots are deeply connected in traditions and people of India are connected spiritually with it.

Does the Indian Classical provide anything Special?

Indian Classical music is very powerful and therapeutic. Here are some astounding benefits of listening to Indian classical music:

Exercise Booster: It is scientifically said that listening to Indian classical music, boosts workout performance and also eases the mind.

Comfort during pregnancy and childbirth: One of the studies reveals when pregnant women listen to Indian classical music, it helps the child to develop better hearing capabilities and language skills.

Advancement of Memory: It helps in memory development. It is said that listening to Indian classical music of 60 beats per second can help in the activation of the right and left part of the brain.

Musician Nigel Osborne along with the University of Edinburg has been using music to help people who have been affected with trauma. He also spoke about this on his recent trip to India where he mentioned how Indian music incorporates the entire human evolution, the same way the ragas were formed. He cited an example where he explained how the swar ‘saa’, is not just a note but consists of all harmonic elements. He said that Indian music encompasses the whole evolution.

Indian classical music has transcended over generations for over 3000 years and that’s a matter of great national pride for us. It has influenced commercial Bollywood music and classically trained Shankar Mahadevan who has given us several hit songs.

Electronic DJs also have been inspired by classical music like DJ Ritviz who is very popular in the electronic music scene. Indian classical music is the purest form and many other artists like to keep it that way. However, it needs more support from corporates and platform just like how we have reinvented other popular sports like Indian Kabbadi.

About our writing program student:

Bilakshan Santosh Harsh
Bilakshan Santosh Harsh

Bilakshan Santosh Harsh

Harsh holds a Bachelors Degree in Social Work and TV Broadcast Journalism. After a successful stint as a TV producer with NDTV, he’s on a sabbatical to study law in Delhi. His interests include photography, film making, fine art and music and culture.

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