Hindustani classical music

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nl:Hindoestaanse muziek kn:ಹಿ೦ದುಸ್ತಾನಿ ಸ೦ಗೀತ

Hindustani (हिन्‍दुस्‍थानी) classical music is an Indian classical music tradition originating in the North of the Indian subcontinent circa the 13th and 14th centuries CE. Developing a strong and diverse tradition over several centuries, it has contemporary traditions established primarily in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In contrast to Carnatic music, the other main Indian classical music tradition originating from the South, Hindustani music was not only influenced by ancient Hindu musical traditions, Vedic philosophy and native Indian sounds but also by the Persian performance practices of the Afghan Mughals.



Outside India, Hindustani classical music is often associated with Indian music in general, as it is arguably the most popular stream of Indian music outside India.

When artists, usually performers (as opposed to writers) have a reached a distinguished level of achievement, titles of respect are prepended to their names. Hindus are referred to as Pandits and Muslims as Ustads.



Music has long been important to Hinduism, especially for many Vaishnavite sects. The advent of Islamic rule under the Delhi Sultanate and later the Mughal Empire over northern India caused the traditional musicians to seek patronage in the courts of the new rulers. These Islamic rulers had strong cultural and religious sentiments focussed outside of India; yet they lived in, and administered kingdoms which retained their traditional Hindu culture. This helped spur the fusion of Hindu and Muslim ideas to make qawwali and khayal. Perhaps the most legendary musician of this period is Amir Khusrau, who is credited with systematizing the Hindustani methodologies by studying the forms of Vedic music theory and spurring a chain of creative composition that melded Indian with Persian sensibilities. He is also credited with inventing most of the major genres of Hindustani music (such as qwualli), and some of its most important instruments (such as the sitar).

Later, the Mughal Empire intermarried with Indians, especially under Jar ad-Din Akbar. Music and dance flourished during this period, and the Hindu musician Tansen is still well-remembered. Indeed, his ragas (which are based on times of the day) were reputed to have been so powerful that according to legend, upon his playing a night-time raga in the morning, the entire city fell under a hush and clouds gathered in the sky.

In the 20th century, the power of the maharajahs (Hindus) and nawabs (Muslims) declined, and thus so did their patronage. The Indian Government-run All India Radio helped to stop this development and replaced the patronage system. The first star was Gauhar Jan, whose career was born out of Fred Gaisberg's first recordings of Indian music in 1902.

Instrumental music

Outside of India, pure instrumental Indian classical music is more popular than vocal music, possibly because the lyrics are not understandable.

A number of musical instruments are associated with Hindustani classical music. Some of the most famous instruments are the sitar, a string instrument, the tabla, a percussion instrument, and other instruments like the sarod and sarangi.

The most famous modern performer is undoubtedly sitarist Pandit Ravi Shankar, who helped popularize Hindustani ragas outside India. Alongside the sitar in popularity are the bansuri (a sort of flute), whose greatest player is Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, and sarod, known among fans through the recordings of virtuosos Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. Pandit Shivkumar Sharma plays the santoor, a type of hammered dulcimer. Both Sharma and Chaurasia play instruments previously associated with folk music, showing the continued ability of the Hindustani tradition to absorb influences from the surrounding culture. The most well-known tabla players are Ustad Zakir Hussain and Ustad Alla Rakha.

Vocal music

Despite the fact that instrumental music is better known outside India, Hindustani classical music is primarily vocal-centric, insofar as the musical forms were designed primarily for vocal performance, and many instruments were designed and evaluated as to how well they emulate the human voice. Some of the best known vocalists are Pandit Jasraj, Bhimsen Joshi, and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.

Types of Compositions

The major vocal forms associated with Hindustani classical music are the khyal, ghazal, and thumri. Other styles include the dhrupad, dhammar, and tarana.


Dhrupad is a Hindu sacred style of singing traditionally performed by men with a tanpura and pakhawaj accompanying. The lyrics are in a medieval form of Hindi and typically heroic in theme, or else praising a particular deity. A more ornamented form is called dhamar. The dhrupad was the main form of song a few centuries ago, but has since given way to the somewhat less austere, more free-form khyal.


A form of vocal music, khyal is almost entirely improvised and very emotional in nature. A khyal consists of around 4-8 lines of lyrics set to a tune. The singer then uses these few lines as the basis for improvisation. Though its origins are shrouded in mystery, the 15th century rule of Hussain Shah Sharqi and was popular by the 18th century rule of Mohammed Shah. The best-known composer of the period was Sadarang, a pen name for Niamat Khan. Later performers include Faiyaz Khan, Abdul Karim Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Amir Khan and Mallikarjun Mansur. Some of the present day vocalists are Bhimsen Joshi, Nagraj Havaldar, Kishori Amonkar, Ulhas Kashalkar, Ajoy Chakraborty, Prabakar Karekar, Pandit Jasraj, Rashid Khan, Aslam Khan, Shruti Sadolikar, Chandrashekar Swami and Mashkoor Ali Khan.


Another vocal form, Tarana are songs that are used to convey a mood of elation and are usually performed towards the end of a concert. They consist of a few lines of rhythmic sounds or bols set to a tune. The singer uses these few lines as a basis for very fast improvisation. It can be compared to the Tillana of Carnatic music.


Thumri is an accessible and informal vocal form said to have begun with the court of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, 1847-1856. There are two types of thumri: Punjabi and Lucknavi. The lyrics are typically in a proto-Hindi language called Braj bhasha and are usually romantic. Performers include Shobha Gurtu, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Girija Devi.


Hindu religious vocal music, bhajan is the most popular form in northern India. Famous performers include Kabir, Tulsidas and Mirabai. It arose out of the Alvar and Nayanar bhakti movement of the 9th and 10th century.


Ghazals are an originally Persian form of vocal music that is popular with multiple variations across Iran, Central Asia, Turkey and India. Ghazal exists in multiple variations, including folk and pop forms. Notable performers include Ghulam Ali, Jagjit Singh, Mehdi Hasan and Pankaj Udhas. Themes range from ecstatic love to religious piety.

Principles of Hindustani music

The two main streams of Indian classical music, Hindustani and Carnatic, have the same structuring principles. The rhythmic organization is based on rhythmic patterns called tala. The melodic foundations are "melodic modes" called ragas.

Ragas may consist of up to seven pitches, or swara. Hindustani music organizes these pitches using a system called sargam, the equivalent of Western solfege. The intervals between the swara can be further subdivided into microtones called sruti. Use of these pitch nuances is important in the performance of Indian music.

Other personalities

Pandit Pran Nath is an influential teacher of Hindustani vocal music whose students include Don Cherry, Terry Riley, and LaMonte Young.

See Also

External Links


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