Friday 20 June 2014

North Indian (Hindustani) Classical Music

This brief note is to acquaint the uninitiated about North Indian (Hindustani) Classical music.

The main form of Hindustani Classical music upto about 250 years ago was dhrupad, whereas the main form thereafter has been khyaal. About the middle of the 18th century khyaal gradually replaced dhrupad as the main form of Hindustani classical music, and now dhrupad is largely out of vogue, though it still has some exponents e.g. the Dagar brothers. Tansen, the famous court singer in Emperor Akbar's court, mainly sang dhrupad.

Khyaal is regarded more melodious than dhrupad. It permits greater improvization, and is freer and more flexible than dhrupad. It has greater variety of embellishment and ornamentation than dhrupad, which was relatively much more rigid. Khyaal is modal, each mode being called a raag. It is the most popular genre of Hindustani classical music today, though there are other forms like thumri, tappa, taraana, ghazal, etc.

The shift from dhrupad to khyaal is often attributed to Niamat Khan ( also known as Sadarang), the court singer in the court of the Mughal Emperor, Mohammed Shah Rangila, who ruled from 1719 to 1749. Even now many of the bandishes (songs) in khyaal music mention the names of Mohammed Saheb ( this is Mohammed Shah Rangila and not Prophet Mohammed) and Sadarang.
Hindustani classical music had several gharanas (literally 'households'), e.g. Gwalior gharana (regarded by some as the parent of all gharanas), the Jaipur gharana, Kirana gharana, Agra gharana, etc. These gharanas had slight differences in their mode of presentation of music. The cause of the growth of these gharanas was that in the old days there was not much interaction between musicians in different parts of the country, because in those days there were no aeroplanes, trains and motor cars. Musicians were isolated from each other, and so could not create a mode common to everyone. Musicians usually taught their sons or close relatives only, and were patronized by feudal princes.

The two persons who made the greatest contribution to the development of Hindustani classical music towards the end of the 19th century were Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande and Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, the former's contribution being in the realm of theory, while the latter's being in the practical field.
Bhatkhande travelled extensively in North India to visit singers of the various gharanas. He carefully studied their methods, and found slight defects (ashuddhis) in many gharanas. In the old days the disciple had to copy his master exactly, and hence if there was some ashuddhi in the master's style, it was repeated by the disciple, and then his disciple in turn replicated the same. This way many defects were perpetuated. 

Bhatkhande studied all this and then wrote books explaining and removing these defects. He also sought to create a coherent theory of Hindustani classical music.

Paluskar's contribution, as mentioned before, was in the practical realm. Upto the 19th century singing was not regarded a respectable occupation by the genteel society. Paluskar made it respectable. He opened up music schools in various parts of India, often sending his disciples to head the new school., He set up the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in 1901 in Lahore (later transferred to Bombay), for teaching Hindustani classical music. He organized music conferences in various places for popularizing Hindustani classical music.

Great names in Hindustani classical music are D. V. Paluskar, Faiyyaz Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Malikarjun Mansur, Bhimsen Joshi, Kumar Gandharva, Pandit Jasraj, Rashid Khan, Girja Devi, etc. Of the singers in recent times Malikarjun Mansur, was regarded by some as a shade above others.
The communities which have made the greatest contribution in Hindustani classical music are Maharashtrians and Pathans ( the Khans). 

Hindustani classical music is often close to nature. For example, the malhar raag ( there are many forms of malhars, each having slight differences from the others e.g. mian ka malhar, megh malhar, sur malhar, gaud malhar, ramdasi malhar, shudh malhar, nat malhar, etc) is a raag of the monsoon season. On hearing it one feels that the clouds are coming, the lightning is flashing, and then it is raining.
Some raags are sung in the morning, and gently wake one up, e.g. jaunpuri, bhairav, etc Others are night raags and they gently put one to sleep, e.g. malkauns, darbari, etc, others are sung in the afternoon e.g. bhimpalasi, vrindavani saarang, etc, and some in the evening e.g. yaman. Some raags like bhairavi can be sung at any time.

Since the rainy season is coming I suggest the reader to hear Bade Ghulam Ali Khan or Rashid Khan singing a malhar on the Youtube. In the morning please hear raag jaunpuri, and enjoy the ambience of the early morning !

I have deliberately not gone into greater detail on the subject as I thought the uninitiated should first be presented a broad outline. Later when he develops more interest in Hindustani classical music we can go into further details.


  1. Great, Sir. Wish you had also mentioned the name of Kumar Gandharv, a child prodigy who excelled in his amazing range of raga and bandish. A great exponent of Hindustani Music..

    1. I have mentioned his name. Please read the blog again

  2. i'ts always awesome and pleasant to read your blogs as these are full of knowledge and one can enjoy to read them throughout as everywhere the lines take you in different imaginations as these are full of variations too. also, you can never satisfy while reading katju sir's blog as you would never want to see the finishing of the columns as you only want to flow with the flow in which you want to sink, swim and never allow you to come out of such an occean of knowledge...good , very good sir, I knew a lot about ragas and hindustani music and more importantly, it created an interest inside me to know it,..thank you sir

  3. Dear sir, in now generation along with ut rashid khan please try to listen pt mukul shivputra also.

  4. "tanSEN was bengali my dear friend, so were a lot of other people! want to see the entire list as it stands today?

    and i can name a million others and i am proud to say our greateness can be exerted beyond our national borders."

    Product Manager - Mobile Internet & Data
    Aircel Maxis Ltd.
    Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

    1. Par unke bachpan ka Naam Tanna Mishra tha to bengali kaise huye....Aur agar bengali, Musalmaani, ya Marathi ya fir koi bhi cast hone se agar Aadmi Sangitagya or Kalawant ho jata hai to Bhai please Suggest me main Wahi Inter cast ho jaunga...

  5. Who told you that Tansen was Bengali idiot?