From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Saṅgīta literally means ‘well-sung; music.

If drawing and painting can strike the eyes, saṅgīta or music has the power to rouse the heart. It has the potential to express the moral and spiritual sentiments to the highest degree. It is not only the medicine that can cure an aching heart but also help a spiritual aspirant to raise his soul to God. That is why the sages have sometimes christened it as ‘nādayoga’. God has entitled it as ‘Nādabrahmā’. Music has almost always allied itself with religion and spiritual values.

Musical Notes of Vedic Chanting[edit]

The three basic notes of Vedic chanting are:

  1. Udātta
  2. Anudātta
  3. Svarita

They are the fundamental notes of Indian music.

Musical Notes as per Sāmaveda[edit]

These three notes developed later into seven in the Sāmaveda. They are:

  1. Kruṣta - It corresponds to the note pañcama. It is pa.
  2. Prathama - It corresponds to the note madhyama. It is ma.
  3. Dvitīya - It corresponds to the note gāndhāra. It is ga.
  4. Tṛtīya - It corresponds to the note ṛṣabha. It is ri.
  5. Caturtha - It corresponds to the note ṣaḍja. It is sa.
  6. Mandra - It corresponds to the note daivata. It is da.
  7. Atisvāra - It corresponds to the note niṣāda. It is ni.

Hence, the Sāmaveda has been considered to be the origin of Indian music.

Saṅgīta of Ancient Era[edit]

During the earliest period, saṅgīta or music was considered to be an integral part of nṛtya or nāṭya or dancing. Dancing, music and drama[1] were treated to be one unit. This unit was defined as Nātyaśāstra or the science of dramaturgy.

Works on Saṅgīta[edit]

Bharata’s Nātyaśāstra[2] is considered to be the original systematic treatise on this subject. The other standard works often referred to are:

  1. Sañgitaratnamālā by Mammaṭa[3]
  2. Sañgītaratnākara by Sarṅgadhara[4]
  3. Sañgītasāra by Vidyāraṇya[5]
  4. Sañgitadarpana by Dāmodara[6]
  5. Svaramelakalānidhi by Rāmayāmātya Todaramalla[7]

Important Notes of Indian Music[edit]

Notes of the Indian music are:

  1. pa
  2. re
  3. ga
  4. ma
  5. da
  6. ni

Out of these the two invariable ones are sā and pa. Sometimes 16 notes are described, though for all the purposes 12 are enough. A permutation and combination of these notes produce a variety of rāgas or tunes. Those tunes in which all the seven notes are present are called ‘melakartā’ or ‘janaka’ rāgas. The derivatives are known as ‘janya’ rāgas.

Types of Janaka Rāgas[edit]

Veṅkaṭamakhi[8] in his magnum opus, the Caturdandiprakāśikā, written in Sanskrit verses, has grouped the 72 janaka-rāgas into two groups of 36 each. He has also dealt with many other fundamental aspects of music in this great work which has remained as an invaluable guide to all musicians.

As far as the janya or the derived rāgas are concerned, they can be limitless. Even now, talented musicians are inventing new rāgas. The various rāgas or tunes are capable of expressing a variety of feelings and sentiments such as love, anger, tenderness, sorrow, disappointment, pity, joy and so on.

Specification of Rāgas[edit]

Another speciality of Indian music is that specific rāgas are assigned to specific periods of the day or night. If certain rāgas like Māyāmālava-gaula or Bhairav are to be sung early in the morning, Kalyāṇī or Yaman is to be sung in the night. The atmosphere at that time is said to enhance its power to rouse the particular sentiment to which it is tuned.

Base of Indian Music[edit]

If symphony is the heart of Western music, the base for Indian music are:

  1. Śruti - drone or basic musical sound as the one produced by the tānpura
  2. Rāga - tune
  3. Tāla - fixed number of beats for each unit
  4. Laya - uniform speed for the beats

Thirty-five varieties of tālas have been evolved.

Branches of Indian Music[edit]

Though Indian music had been one for several centuries, due to the Persian influence exerted during the Mughal period, there was a gradual branching into two schools:

  1. The uttarādi or the North Indian
  2. The dakṣiṇādi or the South Indian

South Indian music style is also called Carnāṭic. There are many similarities as well as notable distinctions between the two schools. The uttarādi school further got subdivided into gharāṇās or traditions which are alive and active even today.

South Indian Style Music[edit]

A music performance in south Indian style is generally centered round the vocalist. In the South Indian classical music the vocalist is accompanied by the violinist and another who plays on the mṛdaṅgam.[9] Of course, the tānpura should always be there as the basic instrument. Sometimes other percussion instruments are also added like:

  1. Ghaṭam - a mud pot
  2. Khañjīra - a disc-like percussion instrument
  3. Morsing - a small stringed instrument played by mouth

North Indian Style Music[edit]

In the North Indian classical music performances, the vocalist is generally accompanied by the harmonium and tabalā[10] players. Occasionally stringed instruments similar to the violin like the sāraṅgī or the dilrṅbā are also used. However, Tānpura is a must.

Instrumental Music[edit]

Ancient Musical Instruments[edit]

Apart from vocal music, Indian music system is rich in instruments too. Even in the Vedic and allied literature there are references to:

  1. Vīṇā - lute
  2. Vāṇa - an instrument with 100 strings
  3. Dhanurvīṇā
  4. Dundubhi - drum
  5. Āḍambara
  6. Etc.

The dhanurvīṇā is said to be the precursor of the violin now imported from the West.

Latest Musical Instruments[edit]

Many other instruments like:

  1. Bānsuri
  2. Flute
  3. Sitār
  4. Sarod
  5. Goṭuvādyam
  6. Pakhvāj
  7. Khol
  8. Clarionet
  9. Nādasvarm
  10. Shehnai
  11. Etc.


  1. Drama was called as nātaka.
  2. He lived in A. D. 100.
  3. He lived in A.D. 1100.
  4. He lived in A. D. 1260.
  5. He lived in A. D. 1380.
  6. He lived in A. D. 1380.
  7. He lived in A. D. 1600.
  8. He lived in A. D. 1600.
  9. Mṛdaṅgam is a percussion instrument.
  10. Tabalā is a percussion instrument in two pieces.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore