Music of India: Indian Classical Music

Indian classical music is the classical music of the Indian subcontinent. It has deep roots in Hinduism.


Saraswati is the goddess of music and knowledge in the Hindu tradition.

In general, Indian classical music has three foundational elements:

1) Raga: a series of five or more musical notes used to form a melody — similar to modes or scales in Western music. Raga make much more use of microtones than Western music (many notes fall in between notes in Western scales in terms of pitch). Raga are often associated with specific times of day and/or seasons.

2) Tala: a rhythmic pattern that determines the larger rhythmic structure of a piece. Tala literally means “clap”.

3) Improvisation around a raga is the basis for most Indian classical music.

Indian classical music has two major traditions:

* North Indian music is also called Hindustani is influenced by Arabic and Persian musical practice as a result of the Islamic conquest of the region in the Middle Ages. Hindustani music emphasizes improvisation and exploration of all aspects of raga and gives slightly more prominence to instrumental forms.
Here are a couple of links to catalog records for Music Library resources featuring Hindustani music:
India: Hindustani Music (streaming via Alexander Street)
North Indian Classical Music (CD)

* South Indian music is also called Carnatic music. It is much more oriented toward vocal music (even when instruments are played alone, they are played in a style meant to imitate singing). Improvisation is employed but Carnatic music also makes use of composed devotional pieces.
Here are a couple of links to catalog records for Music Library resources featuring Carnatic music:
Flowers of Southern Indian Classical Carnatic Music(CD)
Ragas from South India (streaming via Alexander Street)

The types of instruments used in North and South Indian music also differ.
Hindustani music makes use of the sitar, sarod, tabla and tampura.

Hindustani instruments

A sampling of instruments most commonly used in Hindustani music

Carnatic music makes use of instruments like the vina, mridamgam, and shruti.

Carnatic instruments

A sampling instruments most commonly used in Carnatic music

Here are a few more resources the on Indian classical music that can be found in the Music Library’s holdings:
Indian Classical Music (DVD) (also available streaming via Infobase)
The Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music (Book)
The Raga Guide: A Survey of 74 Hindustani Ragas (Book)
Classical Music of India (Book)
“Music and Emotion: A Case for North Indian Classical Music” (journal article)
“Perception of Modulations in South Indian Classical (Carnātic) Music by Student and Teacher Musicians: A Cross-Cultural Study” (journal article)

One might also stop by Parsons Music Library and check out our current display on the Music of India which will be available to visit until the end of February!

Music of India