Music of South Asia:
Indian classical music
This chapter introduces the art music of South Asia, also known as Indian Classical Music. By this we mean:
comprises the whole of the Indian sub-continent, including the modern nation-states of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal
and Sri Lanka.
Art music or Classical music
is music that is performed primarily for the purpose of listening with enjoyment, though it may also have
religious or spiritual connotations. It may be played in public or in private, and it is governed by aesthetic principles and musical
systems, especially the melodic systems of
and the metrical systems of
. These principles and systems form the subject of
discussion in a theoretical literature, developed over many hundreds of years; but for practical purposes the music is taught and
learned orally, with little or no reference to written sources, and is performed from memory and/or improvised in varying degrees.
In this chapter, we shall present the North Indian music (also known as
) is practised in the remaining parts of the
region. We shall also study examples of both vocal and instrumental music. These are not fundamentally different, since Indian
Classical Music is based primarily on vocal music, which instruments emulate as far as possible. However, instrumental music has to
some extent developed its own forms and techniques, especially in the North.
Introducing a culture and a musical tradition as varied and complex as Indian Classical Music—to say nothing of the many other types of musical
performance to be found in South Asia—poses considerable problems of selection and presentation. Since some readers may not have previously
experienced this music, this chapter presents the music first, in the form of a Key Example This has been chosen to represent a type of music, as
explained above. This example is a short but a complete performance, and illustrates the main features of a full-length performance.
We shall explore the various aspects of Indian Classical Music that it illustrates. These include:
the cultural context: historical, religious and social perspectives
the instruments and ensemble
the performers, and their background
The presentation of the Key Example will conclude with a Listening Guide.
Note on pronunciation
In this presentation we have spelled Indian terms according to academic convention, with diacritics to indicate the pronunciation. The following
equivalences are approximations only. Other sounds are similar to the corresponding English letters.
Similar sounds in English (underlined