Indian Classical Music

Indian classical music or shastria sangeet has its origins in the Vedas, which are the oldest scriptures in the Hindu tradition dating back to 1500 BCE. It is believed that the music emerged from hymns derived from the Vedas.

Shastria sangeet has two distinct forms – Hindustani or North Indian, and Carnatic, which is predominantly from South India. There are considerable commonalities and overlap between these two forms; however, these remain two clearly distinct approaches in the presentation of classical music in the Indian subcontinent. At this time, this website is primarily about Hindustani music, and some reference to Indian classical music or shastria sangeet will often be to Hindustani music.

As is the case in western music, shastria sangeet divides the octave into seven swars (tones) S R G M P N(corresponding to Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti in western music), and 5 semitones r, g, M’, d , n, referred to as Komal swars (Tivra in the case of M’)

A Raag is the basis for melody in Indian classical music.  A simplistic definition of a Raag is that it is a combination of tones and characteristic phrases that create a distinct melodic experience. More explanation is available under the “Raags” tab.

A Taal is the rhythmic framework to which a Raag is performed. The principle instruments of percussion are the Tabla and Pakhawaj.

A Tanpura is a stringed instrument that provides a steady drone which is tuned to the artist’s key or tonic. One can say that the drone creates a soundscape/canvas on which the artist paints his or her performance of the Raag.

Shastria sangeet is primarily an oral tradition. Known as Guru Shishya Parampara, knowledge is transmitted from a teacher to the student through intense interaction between the two over several years.  While it is relatively rare these days, not too long ago a student would live with the guru and would also be required to perform chores for him or her.

Given that it is an oral tradition, Gharanas (literally ‘households”)have developed over a period of time in various regional centres, often around a charismatic musician. Gharanas have distinctive styles that can be identified by their approach to various aspects of performance of a Raag and/orTaal.

Dhrupad is the oldest existing form of Indian classical music, based on the singing of the hymns of the vedas – the maestros of Dhrupad say that rather than to entertain the audience, Dhrupad’s purpose is Aradhana(worship).

Khayal is the predominant form of presentation in shastria sangeet. Meaning “imagination” or “fancy”, the Khayal form emerged in the 13th century. It generally starts with an Alaap, a gradual unfolding of the structure of the Raag, followed by a Bandish (composition) that is performed to the accompaniment of Tabla.

Raag-Mala Music Society of Toronto has been promoting shastria sangeet in the Greater Toronto Area since 1981, through our annual concert series, lecture demonstrations and workshops.  Our concerts have featured senior musicians from India, as well as upcoming talent in Canada.We are delighted to increase our contribution to the promotion of shastria sangeet globally through this website.