The origins of Indian classical music, the classical music of India, can be found from the oldest of scriptures, part of the Hindu tradition, the Vedas. Samaveda, one of the four Vedas, describes music at length.
The two main streams of Indian classical music are Hindustani music, from North India, and Carnatic music (Karnataka Sangeeth), from South India.
The prime themes of Hindustani music are Rasleela (Hindu devotionals) of Krishna and Nature in all its splendour. Bhimsen Joshi, Ravi Shankar, Hariprasad Chaurasia and Zakir Hussain, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Ali Akbar Khan, Imrat Khan, Kishori Amonkar, Satyasheel Deshpande are the arts’ most popular living performers. Carnatic music is similar to Hindustani music in that it is mostly improvised, but it is much more influenced by theory and has stricter rules. It is also less influenced by Persian music. It emphasizes the expertise of the voice rather than of the instruments. Primary themes include Devi worship, Rama worship, descriptions of temples and patriotic songs. Among the most popular living performers are Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna, T V Sankaranarayanan, Madurai T N Seshagopalan.M.S. Subbulakshmi one of the greatest carnatic vocalists ever, died about an year ago. M L Vasanthakumari, G N Balasubramaniam, Dr.S Ramanathan are famous musical legends who lived in the last century.
Indian classical music is monophonic and based around a single melody line. The performance of a composition, based melodically on one particular raga and rhythmically on one tala, begins with the performers coming out in a ritualized order: drone instruments, then the soloist, then accompanists and percussionists. The musicians begin by tuning their instruments; this process often blends imperceptibly into the beginning of the music.
Indian musical instruments used in classical music include veena, mridangam, tabla, kanjira, tambura, flute, sitar, gottuvadyam, violin, and sarangi.
Players of the tabla, a type of drum, begin by tapping the edges with a hammer to make sure it is in tune with the soloist. Another common instrument is the stringed tambura (sometimes also called tanpura), which is played at a steady tone (a drone) throughout the raga. This task traditionally falls to a student of the soloist, a task which might seem monotonous but is, in fact, an honour and a rare opportunity for the student who gets it.
The raga begins with the melody being developed gradually, and proper rendering of any raga will take more than half an hour. The beginning of the raga is called an alap in Hindustani music and an alapana in Carnatic music. Many aficionados consider the alap their favourite part, but the alap is often inaccessible to others.
In Hindustani music, once the raga is established, the ornamentation around the mode begins to become rhythmical, gradually speeding up. This section is called the jor. After the jor climaxes, everything stops and the audiences applaud. Finally, the percussionist begins to play, interacting with the soloist, eventually reaching the spontaneous and competitive jhala section.
Carnatic raga elaborations are generally much faster in tempo and shorter. The opening piece is called a varnam, and is a warm-up for the musicians. A devotion and a request for a blessing follows, then a series of interchanges between ragams (unmetered melody) and thaalams (the ornamentation, equivalent to the jor). This is intermixed with hymns called krithis. This is followed by the pallavi or theme from the raga.