The music of India includes multiple varieties of folk, popular, pop, classical music and R&B. India’s classical music tradition, including Carnatic and Hindustani music, has a history spanning millennia and, developed over several eras, it remains fundamental to the lives of Indians today as sources of spiritual inspiration, cultural expression and pure entertainment. India is made up of several dozen ethnic groups, speaking their own languages and dialects, having very distinct cultural traditions.
The two main traditions of classical music which have been Carnatic music, found predominantly in the peninsular regions and Hindustani music, found in the northern and central parts. While both traditions claim Vedic origin, history indicates that the two traditions diverged from a common musical root since c. 13th century.
Hindustani music is an Indian classical music tradition that goes back to Vedic times (around 1000 BC), and further developed circa the 13th and 14th centuries AD with Persian influences and from existing religious and folk music. The practice of singing based on notes was popular even from the Vedic times where the hymns in Sama Veda, a sacred text, was sung as Samagana and not chanted. Developing a strong and diverse tradition over several centuries, it has contemporary traditions established primarily in India but also in 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 enriched by the Persian performance practices of the Mughals. Besides pure classical, there are also several semi-classical forms such as thumri and tappa.
The present form of Carnatic music is based on historical developments that can be traced to the 15th – 16th centuries AD and thereafter. From the ancient Sanskrit works available, and the epigraphical evidence, the history of classical musical traditions can be traced back about 2500 years. Carnatic music is completely melodic, with improvised variations. The main emphasis is on vocal music; most compositions are written to be sung, and even when played on instruments, they are meant to be performed in a singing style (known as gāyaki). Like Hindustani music, Carnatic music rests on two main elements: rāga, the modes or melodic formulæ, and tāḷa, the rhythmic cycles.
Purandara Dasa is credited with having founded today’s Carnatic Music. He systematized the teaching method by framing a series of graded lessons such as swaravalis, janta swaras, alankaras, lakshana geetas, prabandhas, ugabhogas, thattu varase, geetha, sooladis and kritis. He introduced the Mayamalavagaula as the basic scale for music instruction. These are followed by teachers and students of Carnatic music even today. Another of his important contributions was the fusion of bhava, raga and laya in his compositions.
Purandara Dasa was the first composer who started commenting on the daily life of the people in compositions. He incorporated in his songs popular folk language and introduced folk ragas in the mainstream. The most important contribution he made was the fusion of bhava, raga and laya into organic units.
He also composed a large number of lakshya and lakshana geetas, many of which are sung to this day. His sooladis exhibit his mastery of the techniques of music, and are considered an authority for raga lakshana. Scholars attribute the standardization of varna mettus entirely to Purandaradasa.
Purandaradasa’s era was probably the beginning of Carnatic music’s movement towards krithi based classical music (one of its distinguishing characteristics compared to Hindustani). The peripatetic dasas who followed him are believed to have followed the systems he devised, as well as orally passing down his compositions.
Purandaradasa was a performer, a musicologist and the father of Carnatic musical pedagogy. He is credited with having elevated Carnatic music from religious and devotional music into the realm of a performing art. For all these reasons and the enormous influence that he had on Carnatic music, musicologists call him the “Sangeeta Pitamaha” or the grandfather of Carnatic music.
Popular Carnatic vocalists of today include M. Balamuralikrishna, Nithyashree Mahadevan, Sudha Ragunathan, P. Unni Krishnan, Aruna Sairam, Priya Sisters, S. Sowmya, Sanjay Subrahmanyan, Sreevalsan J. Menon, Bombay Jayashri Ramnath, Ranjani & Gayatri, Vijay Siva, O. S. Arun, O. S. Thyagarajan, T. M. Krishna, Malladi Brothers – Sriram Prasad & Ravikumar, Sriram Parasuram & Anuradha Parasuram, Sikkil C. Gurucharan, Vishakha Hari, S. Kasthurirangan and Singapore V.S.Hari.
The Bauls of Bengal were an order of musicians in 18th, 19th and early 20th century India who played a form of music using a khamak, ektara and dotara. The word Baul comes from Sanskrit batul meaning divinely inspired insanity. They are a group of mystic minstrels. They are thought to have been influenced greatly by the Hindu tantric sect of the Kartabhajas as well as by Sufi sects. Bauls travel in search of the internal ideal, Maner Manush (Man of the Heart).
Bhangra are a lively form of music and dance that originated in the Punjab region to celebrate Vaisakhi the festival of the Sikhs. As many Bhangra lyrics reflect the long and often tumultuous history of the Punjab, knowledge of Punjabi history offers important insights into the meaning of the music. While Bhangra began as a part of harvest festival celebrations, it eventually became a part of such diverse occasions as weddings and New Year celebrations. Moreover, during the last thirty years, Bhangra has enjoyed a surge in popularity worldwide, both in traditional form and as a fusion with genres such as hip-hop, house, and reggae, and in such forms it has become a pop sensation in the United Kingdom and North America. Rabbi Shergill is not a Bhangra artist, but is a Punjabi singer, and is a great example.
Bhavageete (literally “emotion(al) song”) is a form of expressionist poetry and light music. It is a popular genre in the states of Maharashtra (marathi language) and Karnataka (kannada language). Some notable Bhavageete performers include Gajananrao Watawe, Jyotsna Bhole, Sudhir Phadake, Hridaynath Mangeshkar, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosale, Ghantasala, P. Kalinga Rao, Mysore Ananthaswamy, C. Aswath, Shimoga Subbanna, Archana Udupa, and Raju Ananthaswami.
Dandiya is a form of dance-oriented folk music that has also been adapted for pop music. The present musical style is derived from the traditional musical accompaniment to the folk dance. It is practised in (mainly) the state of Gujrat.
Lavani comes from the word Lavanya which means beauty. This is one of the most popular forms of dance and music that is practiced all over Maharashtra. It has in fact become a necessary part of the Maharashtrian folk dance performances. Traditionally, the songs are sung by female artistes, but male artistes may occasionally sing Lavanis. The dance format associated with Lavani is known as Tamasha. Lavani is a combination of traditional song and dance, which particularly performed to the enchanting beats of ‘Dholak’, an drum like instrument. Dance performed by attractive women wearing nine-yard saris. They are sung in a quick tempo. The verve, the enthusiasm, the rhythm and above all the very beat of India finds an expressive declaration amidst the folk music of India, which has somewhat, redefined the term “bliss”. Lavani originated in the arid region of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
The biggest form of Indian popular music is filmi, or songs from Indian films, it makes up 72% of the music sales in India. The film industry of India supported music by according reverence to classical music while utilizing the western orchestration to support Indian melodies. Music composers like Naushad, C. Ramchandra, Salil Chowdhary, S.D. Burman and Ilaiyaraaja employed the principles of harmony while retaining classical and folk flavor. Reputed names in the domain of Indian classical music like Pt. Ravi Shankar, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Pt. Ramnarayan have also composed music for films. Independent pop acts such as Asha Bhosle, Alisha Chinai, Shaan, Madhushree, Shreya Ghoshal, Nihira Joshi, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Sonu Nigam, Sukhwinder Singh, Kunal Ganjawala, Sunidhi Chauhan, Alka Yagnik and rock bands like Indus Creed, Indian Ocean, and Euphoria exist and have gained mass appeal with the advent of cable music television. Since 1991 Music of India witnessed the musical phenomenon of a different kind of Ethno-Electronic music genre introduced by Grammy/Oscar winning musician A.R.Rahman. He became the most famous musician of all times in the history of Indian recorded music, selling around 250-350 million albums world wide.
Qawwali is a Sufi form of devotional music based on the principles of classical music. It is performed with one or two or many lead singers, several chorus singers, harmonium, tabla, and dholak.
Rabindranath Tagore was a towering figure in Indian music. Writing in Bengali, he created a library of over 2,000 songs now known by Bengalis as ‘rabindra sangeet’ whose form is primarily influenced by Hindustani classical, sub-classicals, Karnatic, western, bauls, bhatiyali and different folk songs of India. Many singers in West Bengal and Bangladesh base their entire careers on the singing of Tagore musical masterpieces. The national anthem of India and national song of Bangladesh are Rabindra Sangeets.
Rajasthan has a very diverse cultural collection of musician castes, including Langas, Sapera, Bhopa, Jogi and Manganiyar(lit. the ones who ask/beg). Rajasthan Diary quotes it as a soulful, full-throated music with Harmonious diversity. The haunting melody of Rajasthan evokes from a variety of delightfully primitive looking instruments. The stringed variety include the Sarangi, Rawanhattha, Kamayacha, Morsing and Ektara. Percussion instruments come in all shapes and sizes from the huge Nagaras and Dhols to the tiny Damrus. The Daf and Chang are a big favourite of Holi (the festival of colours) revellers. Flutes and bagpipers come in local flavours such as Shehnai, Poongi, Algoza, Tarpi, Been and Bankia.
The essence of Rajasthani music is derived from the creative symphony of string instruments, percussion instruments and wind instruments accompanied by melodious renditions of folk singers. It enjoys a respectable presence in Bollywood music as well.
Ganasangeet is generally sung in chorus carrying some social message. The songs are usually about Freedom, community strength, patriotism. Due to the British occupation in India, a lot of protest songs about anti-imperialism/pro-socialism has been written in India. Examples: Apni Azadi Ko Hum Hargis Mita Sakte Nahin, ajadee hoyni tor, Kadam kadam badhaye jaa, Vande Mataram, etc.
Interaction with non-Indian music
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, rock and roll fusions with Indian music were well-known throughout Europe and North America. Ali Akbar Khan’s 1955 performance in the United States was perhaps the beginning of this trend.
Jazz pioneers such as John Coltrane—who recorded a composition entitled ‘India’ during the November 1961 sessions for his album Live At The Village Vanguard (the track was not released until 1963 on Coltrane’s album Impressions)—also embraced this fusion. George Harrison (of the Beatles) played the sitar on the song “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” in 1965, which sparked interest from Shankar, who subsequently took Harrison as his apprentice. Jazz innovator Miles Davis recorded and performed with musicians like Khalil Balakrishna, Bihari Sharma, and Badal Roy in his post-1968 electric ensembles. Virtuoso jazz guitarist John McLaughlin spent several years in Madurai learning Carnatic music and incorporated it into many of his acts including Shakti which featured prominent Indian musicians. Other Western artists such as the Grateful Dead, Incredible String Band, the Rolling Stones, the Move and Traffic soon incorporated Indian influences and instruments, and added Indian performers. Legendary Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia joined guitarist Sanjay Mishra on his classic cd “Blue Incantation” (1995). Mishra also wrote an original score for French Director Eric Heumann for his film Port Djema (1996) which won best score at Hamptons film festival and The Golden Bear at Berlin. in 2000 he recorded Rescue with drummer Dennis Chambers (Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin et al.) and in 2006 Chateau Benares with guests DJ Logic and Keller Williams (guitar and bass).
Though the Indian music craze soon died down among mainstream audiences, diehard fans and immigrants continued the fusion. A 1985 release shook the US airwaves with a ground shaking, beat oriented, Raga Rock hybrid called Sitar Power. It was from Indian sitar wizard Ashwin Batish. Ashwin had been heavily involved with classical North India music and was classically trained by his father Pandit Shiv Dayal Batish. Sitar Power, with its catchy melodies and humorous song titles like the Bombay Boogie, Raga Rock, New Delhi Vice and Sitar Magic, quickly garnered heavy airplay amongst NPR and college radio in US and Canada. It drew the attention of a number of record labels and was snapped up by Shanachie Records of New Jersey to head their World Beat Ethno Pop division. Sitar Power 1 was followed up by Sitar Power 2 with more fusions of rock, jazz, hip-hop, country, R&B and jazz. Ashwin’s special brand of fusion music has today become a favorite download on iTunes and Amazon.com
In the late 1980s, Indian-British artists fused Indian and Western traditions to make the Asian Underground. Since the 90’s, Canadian born musician Nadaka who has spent most of his life in India, has been creating music that is an acoustic fusion of Indian classical music with western styles. One such singer who has merged the Bhakti sangeet tradition of India with the western non-India music is Krishna Das and sells music records of his musical sadhana.
In the new millennium, American hip-hop has featured Indian Filmi and Bhangra. Mainstream hip-hop artists have sampled songs from Bollywood movies and have collaborated with Indian artists. Examples include Timbaland’s “Indian Flute”, Erick Sermon and Redman’s “React”, Slum Village’s “Disco”, and Truth Hurts’ hit song “Addictive”, which sampled a Lata Mangeshkar song, and the Black Eyed Peas sampled Asha Bhosle’s song “Yeh Mera Dil” in their hit single “Don’t Phunk With My Heart”. In 1997, the British band Cornershop paid tribute to Asha Bhosle with their song Brimful of Asha, which became an international hit. British-born Indian artist Panjabi MC also had a Bhangra hit in the U.S. with “Mundian To Bach Ke” which featured rapper Jay-Z. Asian Dub Foundation are not huge mainstream stars, but their politically-charged rap and punk rock influenced sound has a multi-racial audience in their native UK. Recently international star Snoop Dogg appeared in a song in the film Singh Is Kinng.
Sometimes, the music of India will fuse with the traditional music of other countries. For example, Delhi 2 Dublin, a band based in Canada, is known for fusing Indian and Irish music, and Bhangraton is a fusion of Bhangra music with reggaeton, which itself is a fusion of hip hop, reggae, and traditional Latin American music.
Indian pop music, often known as Indipop or Indi-pop, is based on an amalgamation of Indian folk and classical music, and modern beats from different parts of the world. Much of Indian Pop music comes from the Indian Film Industry, and until the 1990s, few singers like Usha Uthup, Sharon Prabhakar, and Peenaz Masani outside it were popular. Since then, pop singers in the latter group have included K.K, Baba Sehgal, Alisha Chinai, Shantanu Mukherjee aka Shaan, Sagarika, Colonial Cousins (Hariharan, Leslie Lewis), Lucky Ali, and Sonu Nigam, and music composers like Jawahar Wattal, who made top selling albums with, Daler Mehndi, Shubha Mudgal, Baba Sehgal, Swetha Shetty and Hans Raj Hans 
Besides those listed above, popular Indi-Pop singers include Zubeen Garg, Daler Mehndi, Raghav Sachar Rageshwari, Devika Chawla, Bombay Vikings, Asha Bhosle, Sunidhi Chauhan, Bombay Rockers, Anu Malik, Jazzy B, Malkit Singh, Hans Raj Hans, Raghav, Jay Sean, Juggy D, Rishi Rich, Sheila Chandra, Bally Sagoo, Punjabi MC, Bhangra Knights, Mehnaz, and Sanober.
Recently, Indian pop has taken an interesting turn with the “remixing” of songs from past Indian movie songs, new beats being added to them.
Rock & Metal music
The rock music “scene” in India is extremely small when compared to filmi or fusion music “scenes” but has of recent years come into its own, achieving a cult status of sorts. Rock music in India has its origins in 1960s and 70’s when international stars such as The Beatles visited India and brought their music with them. These artistes’ collaboration with Indian musicians such as Ravi Shankar and Zakir Hussain have led to the development of Raga Rock. International short wave radio stations such as The Voice of America, BBC, and Radio Ceylon played a major part in bringing Western pop, folk, and rock music to the masses. You can hear some of the songs that were heard over these stations during the 60’s here. However Indian Rock Bands began to gain prominence only much later, around the late 1980s. It was around this time that the rock band Indus Creed formerly known as The Rock Machine got itself noticed on the international stage with hits like Rock N Roll Renegade. Other bands quickly followed. As of now, the rock music scene in India is quietly growing day by day and gathering more support. With the introduction of MTV in the early 1990s, Indians began to be exposed to various forms of rock such as grunge and speed metal. This influence can be clearly seen in many Indian bands today. The cities of Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore have emerged as major melting pots for rock and metal enthusiasts. Some prominent bands include Indian Ocean, Dementra, Parikrama, Pentagram,Reverrse Polarity, Hologram, Thermal and a Quarter, No Idea, Zero, Half Step Down, Scribe, Indus Creed, Demonic Resurrection, PRITHVI, Agni, Exiled, Cassini’s Division, The Supersonics, Span, Camouflage, Five Little Indians and Nexus. The future looks encouraging thanks to entities such as Green Ozone, DogmaTone Records, Eastern Fare Music Foundation, that are dedicated to promoting and supporting Indian Rock.
One of the most famous rock musicians in the world is the late Freddie Mercury of Queen. Born Farrokh Bomi Bulsara to Indian parents in Zanzibar, he was raised in Panchgani near Mumbai. Mercury was influenced early on by the Bollywood playback singer Lata Mangeshkar along with western influences such as Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and The Beatles.
Western classical music
The spread and following of Western Classical Music in India is almost entirely non-existent. It is mainly patronized by the Indian Zoroastrian community and small esoteric groups with historical exposure to Western Classical Music. Another esoteric group with significant patronage is the Protestant Christian community in Chennai and Bangalore. St Andrews and St Georges in Chennai and St Marks in Bangalore are churches with regular pipe organ recitals. Western Music education is also severely neglected and pretty rare in India. Western Keyboard, drums and guitar instruction being an exception as it has found some interest; mainly in an effort to create musicians to service contemporary popular Indian music. Many reasons have been citied for the obscurity of Western Classical Music in India, a country rich in its musical heritage by its own right, however the two main reasons are an utter lack of exposure and a passive disinterest in what is considered esoteric at best. Also, the difficulty in importing Western Musical instruments and their rarity has also contributed to the obscurity of Classical Western music.
Despite more than a century of exposure to Western classical music and two centuries of British colonialism, classical music in India has never gained more than ‘fringe’ popularity. Many attempts to popularize Western Classical Music in India have failed in the past due to disinterest and lack of sustained efforts, most notably in the setting up of the Bombay Symphony Orchestra by Mehli Mehta in the 1930s.
In 2006, the Symphony Orchestra of India was founded, housed at the NCPA in Mumbai. It has since presented to short concert seasons per year.
Some prominent Indians in Western classical music are:
- Zubin Mehta, Renowned music conductor.
- Mehli Mehta, Father of Zubin, violinist and founding conductor of the Bombay Symphony Orchestra.
- Naresh Sohal, British Indian-born composer.
- Param Vir, British Indian-born composer.
- Sandee Bhagwati, German Indian-born composer.
- Opera singers: Amar Muchhala, Anando Mukerjee