Indian classical music is as ancient as India herself. However, it was the 11th century that marked the beginning of qualitative improvement of the musical style. Since then, Indian classical music has branched out into various genres, each finding its audience in different pockets of the world.
Much like jazz, improvisation is at the heart of Indian classical music, thus allowing players to personalise the performance. The ragas on which Indian classical music is based often share the same scale, and many of them share the same melodic theme.
But know that a raga may not be necessarily instrumental, and if vocal, is not necessarily accompanied. However, when accompanied by percussion, the rhythm is often intricate because it is constructed from a combination of fundamental taals.
Since the Vedic period, the tradition of Indian classical music has been upheld by a long lineage of gifted musicians belonging to various gharanas, or schools. And disciples from each gharana have contributed immensely towards developing a style.
~200 BCE The dhrupad style of music takes shape, and is described in detail in The Vedas. A millennium later, Miyan Tansen becomes its most creative exponent in the 16th century. Today, Uday Bhawalkar, Ritwik Sanyal amongst others are its principal proponents.
1200’s Amir Khusro pioneers khayal, a vernacular version of dhrupad. He later goes on to introduce ghazal and qawwali styles of song into India. Later, Gopal Nayak incorporates khayal in his works. Amir also invents the tarana style that is further developed significantly by Sadarang and Adarang in the 18th century.
1400’s Purandara Dasa conceptualises and develops Carnatic music, which is mostly vocal and devotional in nature. Its fundamental format is the ‘kirti’ that’s usually set in the style of raga. Sadra, another vocal genre, starts gaining popularity in subsequent centuries.
1700’s Shori Mian develops songs of cameleers into tappa. Nidhubabu gives us the Bengali tappa, which is secular in content and light-hearted.
1800’s The thumri form gains popularity in the court of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. Some recent performers of this genre are Abdul Karim Khan, Barkat Ali and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Pt Ajoy Chakrabarty, Shobha Gurtu amongst others.
1900’s Abdul Karim Khan creates the kirana gharana in the early decades of the 20th century. Pt. Bishnu Digambar Paluskar, and Pt. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande invent music notations that are followed by Indian Classical musicians today. Soon, the century witnesses a flurry of notable musicians, including Ustad Faiz Khan, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, Ustad Amir Khan, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Pandit V.G Jyog amongst others.
It is now up to the current crop of musicians to steer Indian classical music to new frontiers. A remarkable, and necessary feat that can only be achieved with the support of listeners.