The emergence and legacy of Indian classical music

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When talking of classical music, it is impossible not to mention India. A country famed for its cultural and religious diversity, India has a rich history of classical music forms. The genre is primarily inspired by two key empires that existed in the first AD millennium – the Sufis and the Dravidians.

The Express Tribune

The Sufis, and later the Mughals, inspired the Hindustani classical music, named after Hindustan, the previous name of India. It rose to prominence in the northern part of India, where it still remains the primary form of music. Hindustani places emphases on soul and improvisation. The structure of the composition is not that relevant. What counts is the complexity of the improvisation.

The second type, Carnatic music, traces its origins to the South of India. Unlike Hindustani, which has inspirations from the Persians and Islam, Carnatic music has its entire roots in India. The emphasis here is the structure of the composition. Improvisations and soulfulness is not as relevant. The focus is on the vocal rendering of a composition. Instruments are only present to complement the vocals.

Both forms of Indian classical music consist of a key concept called ‘Raga’. A Raga is in short a framework for the musician to build upon. The framework is a set of five notes that form the chord foundation of a song. Any deviation from the raga is not allowed.

The two forms have formed a part of India’s legacy. Classical rendering is still extremely popular in India, especially when it comes to children and teenagers who go through an initiation phase where they have to perform their first classical recital in front of an audience. Beyond that, it has inspired a lot of other music genres in the country including folk, medieval, modern pop, rock and Bollywood.

Bollywood, which remains the face of Indian entertainment to the outside world, places heavy emphasis on both Hindustani and Carnatic classical music. Playback singers in the industry are expected to have been initiated at one of these two schools of music. Pop songs in Bollywood often involve classical solos or melodies overlayed with more modern instruments such as electric guitar, bass and drums.

Indian classical music continues to inspire artists worldwide. Famously, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin applied an Indian touch to some of their hits such as Norwegian wood and Kashmir. It remains a relevant and dominant force today.

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