History of Indian Classical Music

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There are some things in this world which when put to question of first instance of their existence, can only be assumed about, for there is no particular point or period that can define the official beginning of theirs. Music is one of those things. However, ignorance cannot be excused as intelligence, hence exploration of ancient is important, for there might not be a point of official beginning, but, there is a journey.

The point of discussion today is this journey of music in Indian Subcontinent. We shall be exploring the musical rise in terms of subcontinent as India with its current territorial boundaries is comparatively new, in the times prior to colonial rule the territorial boundaries of Indian subcontinent were unrecognisably different and our journey wades back to Stone Age, hence we shall arrive in India along with ages and times.

Indian classical music

As was cleared in the very beginning, exact point of music’s official beginning cannot be traced or plotted in time, however, it is known that forms of entertainment existed in the Stone Age such as dance, for excavations have led to discovery of stone sculptures showcasing dance postures, and instruments made of stone and wood, but these evidences are from Neolithic era of Stone Age. The early Stone Age cannot be particularly attributed to the entertainment forms, however, as there is no clear starting point, and there are carvings which suggests the formation of community and society, it can only be assumed that forms of entertainment existed but were crude and particularly for enjoyment purposes only. 

It must be intriguing that why forms of entertainment and their evidences are being linked to music, isn’t it? It is so because they are most basic forms of entertainment that hominoids could have indulged in, for they come to us naturally. One could be a bad musician or singer or dancer but that doesn’t stops people from expressing and indulging in the art, however crudely, at some point of life, as medium of expression. These are the most natural of the art forms and also mediums of expression, and so it is assumed that they were indulged in by the homo sapiens of the Stone Ages. However, these are not the part of our exploration, these are merely reflections of the foundations of Music culture; these are ancients of our ancient music culture. What concerns us is the culture which has evolved into the present day music scenario we are observing today.

Indian Classical music,The Beginning?

The roots of the present day Indian subcontinent music culture are found in Natya Shastra and its development. The Natya Shastra as a concept is often confined to definition of dance, which is foundationally and applicably wrong. Even today the core Indian music culture is an amalgamation of performing arts. The streams of Music, Dance and Acting might have evolved into independent studies today but their roots, their sangam, is Natya Shastra. The study can be plotted back to the Indus valley civilisation. It was in the period range of 200 B.C. and 200 A.D., that the study was formally coded in form of Shlokas (6000) by Bharat Muni. This could be assumed as the point which marks the birth and foundation of present day music culture and scenario. The form of Indian music which is apparent today has evolved from the same.

The ancient Natya Shastra, was a coded study on the various forms of performing arts and their various influences. They were practised and performed on basis of time (prahar), occasion (tyauhar), region (sindhi, persian, etc.) and communities (kalbelia, bihu, etc.). In term of exact musical arts, the surs (Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni), formed the crux and base of the music. The civilisations which acted as the base were well developed and advanced, even when compared to the era of 21st century, hence they were also well connected to different civilisations around the world, and access through both roadways and waterways were well established. In fact The Silk Route, the trade path passing through India, is considered as one of the most successful trading routes that ever existed. This trading connection brought to India many artists of foreign nationals, such as Persian, Portugal, Middle East, Mongolian, Greek, etc. Apart from these peaceful exchange of art, even annexations brought different art forms to come and merge with that of Indian. 

The base of Music theory is simple and same around the world, based on Seven Notes, and therefore the collation gave way to variation to the Indian Music culture. If the effect is plotted, then not only Indian subcontinent but even mainland continents can be seen as adjusted to the Indian Music.

The version we see today is therefore a cross-gene of various civilisations and cultures. Yet there can be attributed two bifurcations; Carnatic and Hindustani. The two branches are though different but follow the same path as the Dravidians and Aryans for the Indian subcontinent. The Carnatic Music Culture had developed in the regions of Southern Indian subcontinent. There are many forms of it which are practised according to regions, and though they share similarity to Hindustani music culture, they are mostly classical to the times of their origin. The Southern Indian subcontinent is known for its certain stubbornness in non-adoption of new and foreign art forms, the mentality of rigidness has been passed down through various generations, and this is one of the reason that despite the richness and authenticity of this culture, its reach and awareness remains the game of pioneers and natives. 

On the other hand is Hindustani music culture which started with the forms of Northern Indian subcontinent music styles, but due to openness of thoughts and opinion it has undergone so many transitions, that today not only it is a base of varying culture influences, but it has evolved itself to include the styles of music as its part, which were once beyond its sphere of existence. Hindustani Music in the present day includes styles such as Ghazals, Shayari, Thumri, Qawali, Sufi, Raagas, Bhakti Raas, Kathak, Ghoomar, Punjabi, etc. In expansion of Hindustani music there has been a major part of the fact that Northern parts were the entry gates of Indian subcontinent, and hence the region has witnessed innumerous annexations, and this has led to culture gaining its recognition and addition too. 

It is notable that probably even northern music culture might have secured rigidity but it was the survival instinct that made it open and accept new cultures into itself. Similarly, overseeing the situational crisis of Northern region, it was the survival instinct of the Southern region which made them grow overly-protective and rigid in favour of their culture. Ultimately, it rests upon the situations of the people which make the cultures evolve and prosper. Even today when the Indian music culture is facing a crisis of rigidity in classic terms and degradation in supposedly modern terms, there is a need of revivals and rejuvenation. The individual artists who are working independent of big companies and those who are true to their art need to be promoted and prompted. On the other hand the few handful who have made it into the books of fame and higher ups need to realise that the churning techniques of these companies are not only ruining music culture but their integrity as artists as well. 

Evolution is welcome, but it also must be practised with originality and integrity.

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