Music of India

Music in India has a history spanning thousands of years and numerous cultural eras. It was and remains a fundamental part of Indian life. India has dozens of ethnic groups, each with its own languages and dialects, very distinct culture, and musical traditions. As such, music in India spans a vast range of styles and genres, with purposes from spiritual ritual, and cultural expression, to simple entertainment. These genres include the many varieties of folk music as well as classical music, and of course pop. For brevity’s sake, this post will deal primarily with India’s folk and classical musical traditions.

Classical Music
Classical Indian music can be divided into two primary traditions: Hindustani music, originating in the northern and central regions, and Carnatic music, found predominantly in the southern peninsular regions. Both Hindustani and Carnatic music have roots in Vedic culture, originating from a common musical tradition, becoming two distinct traditions sometime in the 13th century.

Hindustani music dates back to around 1,000 BC during the Vedic era, evolving in the 13th and 14th centuries AD under the influences of Persia and existing folk music. Though both Carnatic and Hindustani music have their origins in ancient Hindu and Vedic musical tradition and philosophies, Hindustani music differs with the inclusion of the Persian traditions of the Mughals. Songs based on musical notes and scales were already popular in Vedic times, and even sacred texts were sung rather than chanted. This legacy is apparent in Hindustani music and its several semi-classical offshoots, such as the traditions of thumri, dadra and tappa.

The history of Carnatic music can be traced back some 2,500 years through Sanskrit works and classical musical traditions. It evolved into its present state sometime during the 15th and 16th centuries AD. Carnatic is primarily meant to be sung, with strong melodic qualities, layered with improvisation. Even when Carnatic music is written for instruments it is in a “signing style” known as gāyaki.

Folk Music
Indian folk music mirrors the pluralistic and diverse nature of the country itself. The boom of Bollywood and pop music diminished the popularity of folk music for a time, but the growing availability and economy of recording devices has helped revive these important traditions. Indian folk music often draws inspiration and melodies from classical music, to which it often defers as a higher form of art. Much of Indian folk music revolves around festivals and celebrations and, as such, is often meant for dancing. Among the numerous recognized genres are Bauls, Bhangra, Dandiya, and Rajasthani music.

The music of the Bauls of Bengal dates back to the 17th century, with roots in Vaishnavism, Sufism and Buddhism. The word “Baul” derives from the Sanskrit word “batul”, meaning divine inspiration or insanity. The Bauls of Bengal are a group of mystic minstrels and singer-poets whose music reflects on the Earth, Man and love.

Bhangra originated in the Punjab region and is a lively form of music historically used to celebrate the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi. Bhangra music plays an important part in India’s oral history as songs often catalog the long and colorful history of the Punjab. Bhangra music evolved over time to be incorporated into wedding, harvest festivals, and New Year celebrations. Abroad, Bhangra music has gained popularity in dub and remixes of reggae and hip hop, both in the UK and the US.

Dandiya is a highly dance-oriented style of folk music, which is often adapted or remixed in pop music. The present style of Dandiya music has its origins in traditional folk dance.

Rajasthani music is a very diverse collection of soulful, full-throated song, harmonies and a variety of instruments including strings, percussion, and wind instruments. The stringed instruments include Sarangi, Rawanhattha, Kamayacha, Morsing and Ektara. Percussion instruments come in all shapes and sizes from tiny Damrus to huge Nagaras and Dhols. Flutes and bagpipes range according to local tradition from Shehnai and Poongi, to Been and Bankia. The haunting melodies of Rajasthani music have earned it a respectable presence in Bollywood film.