Delve in to Know About the History of the Melodious Indian Music

Indian Music
Indian music is versatile with numerous homegrown instruments that complement it. Learn about the history of Indian music in this Buzzle article.
Music is the purest form of art... therefore true poets, they who are seers, seek to express the universe in terms of music... The singer has everything within him. The notes come out from his very life. They are not materials gathered from outside.
― Rabindranath Tagore

Music is truly one of the most expressive art forms, which has a universal appeal. As long as you can feel the rhythm and the harmony of the beats, you can comprehend and enjoy any type of music around the world. Indian music inherits a rich musical culture, and is replete with rhythm, harmony, and emotion.

History of Indian Music

It dates back to the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC, during the Indus valley civilizations. Archaeological studies have validated the presence of several musical instruments like harps and drums during this era. The Samaveda which is one of the four Vedas (scriptures) that include hymns and descriptions of Indian music. The Samaveda states that music originated as a tool for meditation and spiritual awakening. The era starting from 1500 BC to 500 BC witnessed the Vedic music. Vedic music was supposed to be closely intertwined with the Vedic religion, since music was an imperative element of the religious Vedic rituals.

Vedic music was mainly played for two reasons - please the Gods and as an accompaniment to the sacrificial offerings in the Vedic rituals. The prominent instruments of the Vedic era include veena, tunav, dundubhi, bhoomi-dundubhi, and talav. The Rigveda contains the richa which are the recited Vedic hymns. Samaveda is supposed to be the origin of Indian music. The word sama is actually a compound word made up of sa that refers to the hymns and ma, which refers to the musical notes.

The Vedic period also gave rise to the Gurukul system of imparting knowledge. In this system the shishya (pupil) lived in the house of his guru (teacher) and studied the Vedas and other subjects under the guidance of the teacher for as many as 12 years. The Shiksha referred to the first branch of Vedic learning which dealt with the science of correct pronunciation of vowels, syllables and consonants.

Some of the well-known Shikshas are Paniniya, Yagnyvalkya Vashisthi, Katyayani, Manduki, and Naradiya. As regards to music the teachers had to teach the students the six basic aspects of Vedic music which included Varna, Swara, Matra, Bala, Sama, and Santana. The varna refers to the syllables, the Swara refers to the musical notes, matra refers to the duration, bala refers to the articulation,sama refers to the balance in overall utterance, whereas santana refers to the spacing of the words. The history of Indian music during 500 BC to 200 BC includes references of the Ramayana which was the first Indian epic composed sage Valmiki, and the Mahabharata, composed by sage Vyasa, and also sage Bharata's Pathya Sangeet.

The Pathya Sangeet was primarily developed to spread information and not considered as an entertainment tool. The Pathya Sangeet is based on six basic elements, which include the Saptaswara, which are the seven musical notes, the Sthanas, which are the three vital locations for tone production, Varnas, which are the four ways of tonal arrangements, kakus which are the two basic modes of intonation, Alankaras, which are the sic embellishments and lastly the Angas or the six aspects of the music. Several references in Buddhist and Jain literature also have references to music during this time period.

According to the Indian mythology, Narada was the first sage to whom the laws of music were revealed. It is also believed that Tumburu was the first singer, Saraswati was the goddess of music and learning and Bharata created the Natyashastra or the rules for theater between 200 BC and 200 AD, which also focused on music. The Natyashastra includes descriptions of various classes of instruments, Gandharva music and also provides detailed information about the Talas, which refers to the rhythmic element of Indian music.

The Gupta Period from 300 AD to 600 AD was marked by the masterpieces created by Kalidasa, who was a lyrical poet and a writer of several great epics and plays. His work includes numerous references to musical instruments of his era which included Parivadini vina, Vipanchi vina, Pushkar, Mridang, Vamshi, and Shankha. There also existed several types of songs like the Kakaligeet, Streegeet, and Apsarogeeti. In addition to this there are references of various technical terms for defining voice quality and other nuances of music, which included terms like Murchana, Swarasaptaka, and Tana.

The next landmark towards the evolution of the Indian ragas was the emergence of gandharva gaan which is recorded in the text Dattilam dated roughly 400 AD. The Dattilam discusses parent tonal frameworks or the grama, the twenty-two micro-tonal intervals srutis, sequential re-arrangement of notes or the murchana, and the permutation and combinations of note-sequences which are known as the tanas. This text also describes eighteen Jatis which are synonymous with the contemporary Indianragas.

The Period from 600 AD to 1200 AD, was marked by the emergence of the regional music, classical Hinudstani music and also the influences of Islamic music. The first major text describing ragas was written by Matanga and was known as Brihaddeshi, which literally means 'The Great Treatise on the Regional'. Brihaddeshi also introduced the sargam which is the musical notation in Indian music. Deshi or regional music was described as that music sung by women, children and everyone else in their regions, capturing a wide range of emotions from several different regions. After this, the 9th century saw a strong influence of Sufi music. Music was an inseparable part of the Basant and Rang celebrations.

The period from 1200 AD to 1700 AD was marked by several other benchmarks in Indian music including the maestro Khusro who composed verses in Persian, Turkish, Arabic, Braj Bhasha, Hindawi and Khadi Boli. Khusro was the one who is supposed to have invented qawali, qasida, qalbana, naqsh and many others forms of Indian music. Khusro is said to have created a new system of musicology, called 'Indraprastha Mata' or 'Chaturdandi Sampradaya' and also brought into circulation the two unique musical genres called 'tarana' and 'kaul'.

Another important work called the Sangeet Ratnakara written by Sharangdeva provides a detailed explanation regarding the construction and the techniques of playing fourteen types of drums. The next benchmark in the history of Indian music was the Bhakti revolution in 800 BC, which spread in the north during 14th and 15th centuries. This was the emergence of music as a form of devotion, and belonged to the saint poets like Tulsidas and Kabir. Then there was the emergence of several music streams like Ashtachap and Haveli Sangeet.

Information about music during Emperor Akbar's court comes from the text Ain e Akbari which mentions the rich music culture of Akbar's time. The history includes information about instruments like sarmandal, bin, nay, karna, and tanpura and numerous musical maestros including the legendary Tansen. After 1700 AD, music in India went through a continuous metamorphosis process for four centuries and finally resulted into the Hindustani as we know it today.

Contemporary Scenario of Indian Music

Contemporary Indian music is a blend of classical music, pop music, and the popular Indian film music. Several genres of music exist in India. Let us have a look at some of the contemporary music genres in Indian music.


Indian Classical music is now basically dividend into two broad categories namely the Hindustani music and the Carnatic music. Both the streams of classical Indian music rest on two basic elements which are the raga which refer to the melodic formulae made up of constituent musical notations, and the tala which are the rhythmic cycles in Indian classical music. The Carnatic music has its roots in the musical traditions from the southern part of the Indian subcontinent. Carnatic music emphasizes on vocals. Most of the compositions in Carnatic music are sung. Even when played on instruments Carnatic compositions are meant to be played in a peculiar fashion called gayaki which means singing. On the other hand Hindustani music is a traditional from North India. The basics of the Hindustani classical music include melodic modes called thaats that are a part of the ragas. Hindustani music is based on the basic system called sargam which is similar to the Western solfege, thus the Indian sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni corresponds to the western do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti.


Folk music is an inseparable part of the Indian music scenario. The songs of the rural lands, emerging from various regions of India, are distinctive and are embedded with a strong element of the regional culture. Bhavageet which literally translates as 'emotional poetry' is quite popular in many parts of India and especially in Karnataka and Maharashtra. A very popular genre in Indian folk music is the Punjabi Bhangra music which is an accompaniment to the folk dance called Bhangra done by farmers to celebrate the spring season that marks the time of harvest. There are various folk traditions including the folk music of Maharashtra called Lavani and Gaulan and the Dandiya music from Gujarat and the Baul from Bengal.


Indian pop music is a blend of almost everything starting from folk, classical, and even western music beats. Much of Indian pop music is a part of the Indian film music however there exist bands and singers that have individually ventures into pop albums and singles. Some of the notable pop singers worth mentioning include Usha Utthup, Peenaz Masani, and Sharon Prabhakar from the early nineties. The successive generation of pop singers includes Baba Sehgal, Alisha Chinai, Shaan, Sagarika, Lucky Ali, and Sonu Nigam. Indian pop bands include Colonial Cousins (Hariharan, Leslie Lewis), Euphoria, Band of Boys, Asma, and Viva to name a few. More recently the trend of remix songs has been quite popular on the Indian pop scenario. Most of the playback singers in the Indian film industry have tried their hands at this genre.


The Indian film industry is a humongous industry producing thousands of movies in various languages round the year. Indian films have always been popular for their song and dance sequences. Music has been an inseparable part of Indian movies right from the beginning. The popularity of music in Indian films is such that almost every filmmaker incorporates at least four to five songs in the movies. Indian film music is perhaps the most popular genre in the country, which is enjoyed by one and all.