Hindustani Music

It is believed by many that Hindustani music started to take a distinctive form since the medieval period. Many credit Amir Khusro for this evolution. However, this remains contested. The forms of Hindustani classical music were designed primarily for vocal performance, and many instruments were designed and evaluated according to how well they emulate the human voice.

Some of the salient features of Hindustani classical music:

  • The six primary ragas in Hindustani classic are- Bhairava, Kausika, Hindola, dipak, sriraga and Megh
  • Ragas in Hindustani classic music used to strictly observe the time theory. Ex: Bhairavi at dawn, Megh in the morning
  • Ragas in Hindustani music are also associated with feelings and moods. Ex: Bhairavi with awe and fear, Kausika with joy
  • It has a highly formalized grammar, dictated by textual as well as oral tradition.
  • Hindustani music places more emphasis on improvisation and exploring all aspects of a raga
  • Slow and sometimes even leisurely introductory section (alap) followed by solfege and fast section with fast melodic phrases and rhythmic play
  • There is significant emphasis on space between the notes
  • Hindustani classical music has been influenced considerably by Persian traditions
  • Musical instruments used in Hindustani are Tabla, Sarangi, Sitar, Santoor, Flute and violin.
  • Main styles in Hindustani music– Dhrupad, Khayal, Tappa, Chaturanga, Tarana, Sargam, Thumri and Ragasagar, Hori and Dhamar.

Major Hindustani musical compositions and their features


  • It is ancient form, probably developing from the Prabandha
  • Raja Man Singh Tomar of Gwalior and Emperor Akbar played a significant part in the growth and development of Dhrupad
  • Other personalities who contributed to the development of Dhrupad are: Tansen, Baiju bawra, Swami Haridas
  • The lyrics are generally in Braj Basha and involve veera and sringar rasas
  • Some of the major gharanas of Dhrupad are– dagarvani gharana, bishnupur gharana, darbhanga gharana, mallik gharana, bettiah gharana

Hindustani Music

Figure: A miniature painting of Akbar and Tansen Visiting Haridas

What is a Gharana?

It is a system of social organization in the Indian subcontinent, linking musicians or dancers by lineage or apprenticeship, and more importantly by adherence to a particular musical style.


  • The term Khayal has Persian origins and means ‘idea or imagination’
  • Its origin is attributed to Amir Khusro and Sultan Mohammed Sharqui
  • Khayal is a delicate and romantic composition
  • It provides more freedom in structure and composition
  • Some of the major gharanas associated with this style include: Gwalior, Kirana, Patiala, Agra, and Jaipur Gharana
  • It is usually accompanied by a tabla(pair of drums) and a tambura (lute) in a variety of talas (metric cycles).


  • It is a light form based on the romantic-religious literature inspired by the Bhakthi movement
  • It became famous under the patronage of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah
  • It employs folk scales and text of the songs is of primary importance
  • Themes from the lives of Lord Krishna and Radha are common
  • Lyrics are primarily in Braj basha
  • Main gharanas of this style are: Benaras, Lucknow and Patiala.


  • It is believed to have been developed from the songs of camel drivers
  • It is noted for its quick turns of phrase
  • Poetry full of expressions of love and physical intimacy is the salient feature of Tappa.
  • It was developed as a form of classical music by Mian Gulam Nabi Shori or Shori Mian, who was a court singer for the Nawab of Awadh, Asaf-Ud-Dowlah.
  • Tappa employs Ragas like Khamaj, Jhinjhoti, Kafi, Tilang, Bhairavi, Des, which conveys affection and light tempers or sadness, with its vigorous Taan and irregular musical tones of voice.
  • The lyrics in Tappa are very short and not as richly controlled as in Khayal or thumri.
  • This style of Tappa singing is a specialty of Gwalior gharana, with its beautification with geetkari, khatka, mukri and harkat.


  • It is a product of Persian influence
  • It is composed of independent couplets
  • Though love theme is predominant, it also has the element of Sufi
  • The traditional Ghazals are similar to the Hindustani classical music forms such as “Dadra” and “Thumri”.
  • The Golconda and Bijapur rulers encouraged this tradition of Urdu. Some important patrons of Ghazal and Urdu were Nusrati, Wajhi, Hashmi, Mohammad Quli Qutab Shah and Wali Dakhini. 
  • Then there are some Ghazal forms that are similar to Qawwali. India has produced some of the exceptional talents in the field of Ghazal singing like Begum Akhtar, Jagjit Singh and Pankaj Udhas.

Hindustani classical music was used extensively during the Bhakthi movement to preach the gospel of love and devotion by various reformers in the country. Ex: Kirtans of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Abhangs of Eknath, Jnanesvar and Tukaram etc.