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Ancient Indian Music

Ancient Indian Music - An Overview

Music has remained an integral part of the Indian culture since antiquity. Musical instruments like the sarod, sarangi, tabla and sitar which are very popular in the world of music today had also been a part of the ancient Indian music. Gazals, khayal, tala, gharana and raga are the musical genres of the Indian classical music. In ancient India, music used to be a part of the famous Sanskrit dramas like Mirchakatika and Abhijnana Shakuntalam. The origin of the ancient Indian music began in the age of the Aryans, with the chanting of the Vedas.

History of Indian Music

As earlier said, chanting of the Vedas in Aryan age brought the concept of music in ancient Indian culture. The hymns chanted by the priests in the temples followed a musical tone. The priests also pronounced the Sanskrit vocalizing syllables in their chants. These were called Sthobhaksaras. The music was finally created with the rhythm and melody. References of the ancient Indian music can be found in the Vedas, Puranas, Upanishads, epics and Srimad Bhagavata Gita.

Here is chronological sequence of the eras and the civilizations which had a gradual influence on the ancient Indian music and its evolution:

2500 BC - 1500 BC

  • Several musical instruments, drums and statuettes representing dancing poses were found from the excavations at the Indus Valley Civilization.

  • Statuette of Rudra who is worshipped as the deity of dance, music and drama was also found.

1500 BC - 500 BC

  • The arrival of the Aryans marked the beginning of Vedic Literature. This was when priest chants, and poetries came into being. The contents of the Rigveda were mainly poems chanted by priests and passed onto generations.
  • Then came the Yajurveda, Samaveda and the Atharvaveda. The vedic literature describes musical instruments and singings which were performed during sacrifices and as part of rituals for the God.
  • Gradually Hindustani Art music came into being and instruments like veena, dundubhi, tunav, talav and bhoomi-dundubhi were also introduced.
  • Drinking of Soma-ras or an intoxicating liquor believed to be sacred became a part of Vedic sacrifices.
  • Then came the Shiksha literature where ritual and mantra became the basis of music.
  • Then came the concept of Guru-Shishya Parampara which we also called the Gurukul system or the teacher pupil system.

500BC - 200BC

  • Ramayana was composed by Valmiki during this time in shloka form which has rhythm and tempo.
  • Pathya sangeet – a special musical mode in Indian musicology was introduced.
  • Mahabharata was composed by Krishnadvaipayana Vyasa and it contained 24000 shlokas. It had enough mention of gandharva or music in the form of musical instruments, dance and singing.
  • Ancient Indian music also evolved in the Buddhist era where monks sang. Music was mentioned in the Jain literary sources.

200 BC - 300 AD

  • Harivamsha was added to conclude Mahabharata. It contained 16,374 shlokas. It mentioned Chhalikya and Hallisaka. Chhalikya was a form of ancient Indian music and Hallisaka was a dance form.
  • Natyashastra or theatre science was introduced.

300 AD - 600 AD

  • The Gupta period considered the Golden Age of arts, culture and education in ancient India brought in the works of Kalidasa. He was a lyrical poet cum writer whose famous works like 'Raghuvamsha' and 'Shakuntala' are remember even in the modern days.
  • Kamasutra was composed which had referred to various arts forms like singing, dancing playing musical instruments and living.
  • Gupta king Harshavardhan was also a singer.
  • Samaj, ghata-nibandhan and other forms of music came into being.
  • Music was mentioned in Puranas like Vayupurana, Markandeyapurana and Vishnudharmottarapurana.
  • Dattilam text was introduced which taught about ragas.

600 AD - 1200 AD

  • Brihaddeshi text took ragas to a new dimension and sargam was introduced.
  • Deshi music was introduced.
  • Concept of Talas and tala-music was also brought into ancient Indian music.
  • In the beginning of the 11th century Hindustani art music and underwent many transformation.
  • Sufis introduced sufi music and Hindi and Farsi songs began to gain popularity.
  • At the end of 12th century Persian music was introduced.

1200 AD - 1700 AD

  • During the period of the Delhi Sultanate, Amir Khusro’s poetry became popular.
  • Music forms like qawali, qalbana, qasida, naqsh and others were performed.
  • Ragas like Zeelaph and sarparda were also performed.
  • Sangeet Ratnakara text mentioned drums and rhythm-instruments.
  • Turushka gaud and turushka todi Ragas were sung.
  • Gwalior’s Raja Mansingh Tomar introduced Dhrupad which was genre of Hindustani Classical music
  • Hindi songs replaced Sanskrit songs and songs like Vishnupadas, Dhrupads and Hori and Dhamar became popular.
  • The 'Bhakti' cult became popular in North India in the 14th and 15th centuries and devotional songs were suung worshipping Rama and Krishna.
  • Kabir and Tulsidas and Sri Chaitanya became popular with their devotional songs.
  • Songs like Pushti, Ashtachap and Haveli sangeet.
  • The Bhakti movement played a major role and was made more popular by Meerabai.
  • The legendary musician Tansen brought a new genre of music in the history of Indian music which was called Senia gharana. His sons carried forward the legacy with Rabab-players gharana and the sitar-players gharana.
  • In the Mughal period the main musical instrument were sarmandal, nay, tanpura, bin, and karma.
  • In the sixteenth century court music became more popular and found mention in text books like Kitab-e-nauras, Jehangirnama and Ragadarpana.

1700 AD onwards

  • This marked the beginning of modern music in India.
  • Hindustani music began to be published in English and other regional languages.
  • Musical forms like Khayal and thumri took birth.
  • Bengali tappa was given a new genre.
  • During this era musical stalwarts like Sourendramohan Tagore, Pandit Vishnu Narayana Bhatkhande V. D. Paluskar and Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar revolutionized the concept of Indian music.
  • Music forms like Gharanas became popular in Gwalior, Patiala, Agra, Jaipur, Indore and other places.

Ancient Indian Musical Instruments

With the evolution of Indian music, a number of musical instruments which were once popular in ancient India have now gone silent. Some of the ancient musical instruments in India are:

  • Been (flute)
  • Bhopung
  • Khangling (flute used by Ladakhis)
  • Bone flutes, scrapers, rattles and bull roarers (per-historic musical organs)
  • Nag phani(flute)
  • Yazh (harp)
  • Kuzhal (flute)
  • Maddalam (drum)
  • Bana veena
  • Eddaka (drums)
  • Sangu (conch shell)
  • Talam (cymbals)
  • Ravan-hatti
  • Dahara
  • Pena
  • Morchang (Rajasthani harp)
  • Jhika (wooden clappers earlier used in Bengal)
  • Ghuma (a typical Goanese drum)