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Music of India

The music of India includes multiples varieties of folk and pop music, along with Karnatic and Hindustani classical music.

Table of contents
1 Pop music
2 Folk music
3 Classical music
4 Vocal music
5 References
6 External links

Pop music

1907 EMI International poster featuring
goddess of music Saraswati and a gramophone
The biggest form of Indian
pop music is filmi, or music originated in films. Other forms of pop musicians include Alisha Chinai and rock bands like Bally Sagoo.


The capital of the Indian film music industry is Mumbai (Bombay); consequently, the film industry there is referred to as Bollywood. Films in other regional languages are produced in the respective regions. Popular composers include Ilayaraja (Tamil, Telugu), Rajesh Roshan (Hindi), A.R. Rahman (Tamil, Hindi) and Raamlaxman (Hindi). Many of the films tend to be idealized visions of Indian life, and much of the music is similarly jolly and romantic. Prominent vocal stars include Lata Mangeshkar and S.P. Balasubrahmaniam.

Cinema began taking shape in India in the late 19th century, and silent films soon became very popular. In 1931, Ardeshir M. Irani's Alam Ara was adapted from a piece of Parsi theater and launched Indian talkies. The music became extremely popular, and was soon heavily advertised. One reason for the push was that India's linguistic diversity meant dialogue would be incomprehensible for a large portion of the audience, no matter what language it was made in. Music provided a neutral option.

A form of filmi based on ghazal (see below) is called filmi-ghazal and was introduced by Talat Mahmood; it was eventually modernized into ghazal-song.

Western fusions

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, rock and roll fusions with Indian music were well-known throughout Europe and North America. Ali Akbar Khan's 1955 performance in the United States was perhaps the beginning of this trend, which was soon centered around Ravi Shankar.

In 1962, Shankar and Bud Shank, a jazz musician, released Improvisations and Theme From Pather Pachali and began fusing jazz with Indian traditions. Future pioneers like John Coltrane continued this fusion, called indo jazz. George Harrison (of The Beatles) played the sitar, which he had learned from Shankar, on the song "Norwegian Wood" in 1965. Other Western artists like the Grateful Dead, Incredible String Band, Rolling Stones, The Move and Traffic soon incorporated Indian influences and instruments, and added Indian performers.

Though the Indian music craze soon died down among mainstream audiences, diehard fans and immigrants continued the fusion. In the late 1980s, Indian-British artists fused Indian and Western traditions to make the Asian Underground.

Folk music

The arrival of movies and pop music weakened folk music's popularity, but cheaply recordable music has made it easier to find and helped revive the traditions. Folk music (desi) has been influential on classical music, which is viewed as a higher art form. Instruments and styles have impacted classical ragas.

Brass bands

Brass bands, descended from English traditions, are now very popular especially at weddings and other special occasions.


Bhangra is a form of dance-oriented folk music that has become a pop sensation in the United Kingdom. The present musical style is derived from the traditional musical accompaniment to the folk dance of Punjab called by the same name, Bhangra.


A form of folk music adapted for clubs is called dandiya. It is based on Gujarati folk music, and includes best-selling artists like Falguni Pathak.


Rajasthani has a diverse collection of musician castes, including langas, sapera, bhopa, jogi and manganiyar.


The Bauls of India and Bangladesh are a mystical order of musicians and played a form of music using a khamak, ektara and dotara.

Classical music


see: Indian classical music


see: Carnatic music.

Vocal music

Hindustani vocal music can be divided into several sorts, including bhajan and ghazal, while Karnatic vocal music is typically a hymn called kriti.


Dhrupad is a sacred style of singing traditionally performed by men with a tampura and pakhawaj accompanying. The lyrics are in a midieval form of Hindi and typically heroic in theme, or else praising a particular deity. A more ornamented form is called dhamar.


Religious vocal music, bhajan is the most popular form in northern India. Famous performers include Kabir, Tulsidas and Mirabi. It arose out of the Alvar bhakti movement of the 9th and 10th century.


Ghazals are an originally Persian form of vocal music that is popular with multiple variations across Iran, Central Asia, Turkey and India. Ghazal exists in multiple variations, including folk and pop forms.


An informal form of vocal music, khyal is partially improvised and very emotional in nature. Though its origins are shrouded in mystery, the 15th century rule of Hussain Shah Sharqi and was popular by the 18th century rule of Mohammed Shah. The best-known composer of the period was Sadarang, a pen name for Niamat Khan. Later performers include Faiyaz Khan, Abdul Karim Khan, Bhimsen Joshi, Shweta Jhaveri, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Amir Khan.


Kritis are a form of Hindu hymn especially popular in southern India. It is commonly composed in Telugu, Tamil or Sanskrit.


Tarana, and its southern equivalent Tillana, are rhymic songs with nonsense lyrics.


Thumri is an accessible and informal vocal form said to have begun with the court of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, 1847-1856. There are two types of thumri: Punjabi and Lucknavi. The lyrics are typically in a language called braj bhasha, and are usually romantic. Performers include Shobha Gurtu, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Girija Devi.


External links

See also Indian musical instruments, History of Indian music, Natya Shastra, Dattilam, Brihaddeshi, Sangita-Ratnakara , List of regional genres of music