Music of India

For the resources relating to the Indian connection with ancient Greece via Alexander the Great, visit this page.

Vedas - The religious texts forming the basis of the Hindu religion, which date from 1500–1000 BC. They were learned and transmitted orally for most of their history.
Hear examples of Vedic Chanting here, here, and here. (Here's a tutorial on Vedic Chanting)
The pathas are the poetic/musical methods of reciting the vedas, for memorization.
Mantra - An individual verse from the Vedas, recited for ceremonies. The most famous example is the "Gayatri Mantra", a prayer that priests (Brahmins) are supposed to recite daily. Notice its use of "om." Words: "Throughout all realms of experience, that essential nature illuminating existence is the adorable One. May all beings perceive through subtle and meditative intellect the magnificent brilliance of enlightened awareness." Here is a more "popular song" version of the same mantra.

Important Metaphysical/Religious, and character-shaping, concepts in Hinduism:
  • Dharma - upholding the principle of natural order which regulates and coordinates the operation of the universe and everything within it.
  • Dhyaan - concentration of the mind, associated with meditation; dhyana (meditation) is one of the eight limbs of Yoga.
  • Bhakti - religious devotion in the form of active involvement of a devotee in worship of the divine.
  • Om or Aum - a sound-syllable which names the totality of existence, including the psyche and the material world (but with no distinction between the two). Examples of "om" meditation here and here.
  • Sanatana Dharma - another name for Hinduism, meaning "the dharma that has neither beginning nor end"--eternity, unchanging or cyclical time.
Here is a good essay by Ravi Shankar On Appreciation of Indian Classical Music.

Raag (or Rag or Raga) - An emotion-category defined by a particular scale pattern and characteristic turns of melody; the main concept of Indian classical music.
Three parts of a traditional Raag performance, which lasts about 40 minutes. They are distinguished mostly by rhythm
  • 1. Alap - which means "going ah" - a kind of "warm-up" for the singer and audience, getting into the sounds without any percussion
  • 2. Madhya Laya - which means "speed" - percussion added, giving more of a sense of steady tempo and more momentum
  • 3. Drut - meaning "fast" - the increasingly active and "busy" climactic passage, which then breaks to end rather quickly

Prahar - the time of day with which is associated with a given Raag

Two Styles:
  • Hindustani - the style of northern Indian music, which over time mixed with Islamic and more Western influences.
  • Carnatic - the style of southern Indian music, which is more ancient and "purely" native. (Carnatak is the name of a province in the south.) Southern India was inhabited earlier, and there is a different racial makeup of the Southern Indians who have darker skin. The language families in the south are are Dravidian, not Indo-European like the north.
Bandish - A set song (from the northern, Hindustani tradition) used as the material for improvisation in a performance
Kriti - A set song from the southern, Carnatic tradition

Dhrupad style - the most ancient and "authentic" vocal style in the Hindustani tradition, which is slow and dreary, and which uses much more pitch-bending

Pitch-bending - the technique of ornamenting the pitch with fluctuations from or around fixed, stable notes; Shrutis are the theoretical smallest divisions of pitch the ear can distinguish. "Shruti" also means the conept of religious listening or hearing. Here is a podcast comparing a melody sung with and without pitch-bending.

Human Voice - the primary focus in the vast majority of Indian Classical music

Sitar - (sample here) a very resonant plucked stringed instrument used to provide the drone-notes that are the background of a performance. In modern times this is usually replaced with a drone synthesizer device. Ravi Shankar is a very famous performer of Indian Classical music on the Sitar. In this performance, he plays in the Yaman Raag. He is called a Pandit, meaning "scholar, or master."

Violin - the Western instrument, adopted into the Indian tradition after the presence of Britain in Indian culture.
Bansuri - bamboo flute; see this example
Sarod - plucked stringed instrument similar to the sitar, see this example
Santur -
Harmonium -

  • Tabla, a pair of drums high and low -- traditional for Hindustani music.
  • Mridangam - a barrel-shaped drum with two drumheads, one at each end -- traditional for Carnatic music.
Swara - a note in the scale; the notes are named with syllables.
  • Western Music:          Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do,
  • Indian Classical Music: Sa-Re-Ga-Ma-Pa-Dha-Ni-Sa.
SwarGanga - on online database of information on Indian Classical Music

  • Kathak -- Northern/Hindustani
  • Bharat Natyam -- Southern/Carnatic
Compare the improvisation in Indian classical music to the "toying" with the notes of the scale by Ella Fitzgerald in "Blue Skies"; also, listen to the improvisation around the familiar melody "Oh When the Saints" by Louis Armstrong.

Raga Kafi -- many examples here.

Some shorter, "popular" versions of religius songs:

Om Namha Shivay Dhun (Anuradha)

Jai Ganesh Deva

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi sings the abhang "Adhik dekhane tari" by Sant Dnyaneshwar

This website compares Indian and Wester Classical traditions. Here's an article about the use of Indian classical music in the Western counterculture.

Hindu Temple

Hindu temple gopura (tower). Menakshi Temple, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India

Western Music pertaining to India

Già il sole dal Gange by Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725), from his early opera L'honestà negli amori (Honesty in Love).
Here are some wonder performances by Pavarotti and Bartoli.
Here is the text and translation.

The Pearl Fishers (Les pêcheurs de perles) is an opera by Georges Bizet, premiered in 1863 at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris. Set in ancient times on the island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), the opera is a story of how two men's vow of eternal friendship is threatened by their love for the same woman, whose own dilemma is the conflict between secular love and her sacred oath as a priestess.
The friendship duet "Au fond du temple saint" (In the Depths of the Temple), generally known as "The Pearl Fishers Duet", is one of the best-known numbers in Western opera. It is sung by Nadir (tenor) and Zurga (baritone). Performances here, here and here.

At the back of the holy temple,
decorated with flowers and gold,
A woman appears!
I can still see her!
The prostrate crowd
looks at her amazed
and murmurs under its breath:
look, this is the goddess
looming up in the shadow
and holding out her arms to us.

Love takes our hearts by storm
and turns us into enemies!

Let nothing part us!
Let us swear to remain friends!
Oh yes, let us swear to remain friends!
Yes, it is her, the goddess,
who comes to unite us this day.
And, faithful to my promise,
I wish to cherish you like a brother!
It is her, the goddess,
who comes to unite us this day!
Yes, let us share the same fate,
let us be united until death!

Lakmé is an opera by Léo Delibes, premiered in 1883 in Paris. Set in British India in the mid-19th century, Lakmé is based on the 1880 novel Le Mariage de Loti by Pierre Loti.
The Flower Duet (Sous le dôme épais) is for Lakmé, the daughter of a Brahmin priest, and her servant Mallika. Performances here and here.

Thick dome of jasmine
Under the dense canopy where the white jasmine,
Blends with the rose,
Bank in bloom, fresh morning,
On the flowering bank, laughing in the morning,
We call together.
Come, let us drift down together.
Ah! Let's glide along
Let us gently glide along; With its enchanting flow
Let us follow the fleeing current;
On the rippling surface,
With a lazy hand,

But, an eerie feeling of distress
overcomes me.
When my father goes into their damned city
I tremble, I tremble with fright!

In order to be protected by Ganesh
Let us go to the pond
Where swans with wings of snow joyfully play
And pick blue lotuses.
The Bell Song (L'Air des clochettes) is another famous one from this opera using coloratura vocals. Performaces here and here and here.
The king of Lahore (Le roi de Lahore) is an opera by Jules Massenet, premiered in Paris in 1877.
I fled the bridal chamber (J`ai fu la chambre nuptiale) is the most famous song. A dramatic and powerful performance here.

Satyagraha, a 1979 opera by Philip Glass. The title is Hindi for "the search for truth;" the term was coined by Ghandi and is associated with his conception of non-violent resistance. The opera is loosely based on the life of Ghandi and includes sections on major cultural figures. The second act is titled "Rabindranath Tagore," an Indian poet. Here is the beginning of the second act. The text is in sanskrit. Here is a Met advertisement excerpt for the opera.

Friendship in Hinduism

is one of the five forms of formal traditional greeting mentioned in the Vedas. This is normally understood as prostration but it actually refers to paying homage or showing respect to one another, as is the practice today, when we greet each other. In Sanskrit the word is namah + te = namaste which means “I bow to you” - my greetings, salutations or prostration to you. The word ‘namaha’ can also be literally interpreted as "na ma" (not mine). It has a spiritual significance of negating or reducing one's ego in the presence of another. Namaste has a deeper spiritual significance. It recognizes the belief that the life force, the divinity, the Self or the God in me is the same in all. Thus namaste honors the god in the person we meet.

During prayers, Hindus not only do namaste but also bow and close their eyes, as it were, to look into the inner spirit. This is also quite common when two devout Hindus meet - indicating the recognition of the divinity within ourselves and extending a warm welcome to each other.

Pranama -

Puja -