The music of India is said to be one of the oldest unbroken musical traditions in the world. It is said that the origins of this system go back to the Vedas (ancient scripts of the Hindus). Many different legends have grown up concerning the origins and development of Indian classical music. Such legends go a long way in showing the importance that music has in defining Indian culture.
However the advent of modern historical and cultural research has also given us a good perspective on the field. This has shown that Indian music has developed within a very complex interaction between different peoples of different races and cultures. It appears that the ethnic diversity of present day India has been there from the earliest of times.
The basis for Indian music is “sangeet”. Sangeet is a combination of three artforms: vocal music, instrumental music and dance. Although these three artforms were originally derived from the single field of stagecraft. Today these three forms have differentiated into complex and highly refined individual artforms.
The present system of Indian music is based upon two important pillars: rag and tal. Rag is the melodic form while tal is the rhythmic.
Rag may be roughly equated with the Western term mode or scale. There is a system of seven notes which are arranged in a means not unlike Western scales. However when we look closely we see that it is quite different what we are familiar with.
The tal (rhythmic forms) are also very complex. Many common rhythmic patterns exist. They revolve around repeating patterns of beats.
The interpretation of the rag and the tal is not the same all over India. Today there are two major traditions of classical music. There is thenorth Indian and the south Indian tradition. The North Indian tradition is known as Hindustani sangeet and the south Indian is called Carnatic sangeet. Both systems are fundamentally similar but differ in nomenclature and performance practice.
Many musical instruments are peculiar to India. The most famous are the sitar and tabla. However there are many more that the average person may not be familiar with.
All of this makes up the complex and exciting field of Indian classical music. Its understanding easily consumes an entire lifetime.