Music Theory/Indian

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The term 'Indian music' spans a multitude of forms and styles, from tribal and folk traditions to intellectual classical structures and electronic-enhanced modern dance tracks. Of course, the distinctions between the forms are often slippery. It is not uncommon, for example, for 'filmi' composers to employ folk, religious, regional or classical elements into their songs to enhance the mood and relevance to the story. Likewise, classical music has absorbed and transformed folk elements while the rural traditions themselves have always been influenced by wider regional and international musics. As with literature, dance and the visual arts, Indian music is a complex interweaving of influences and ideas.

Periods and Styles[edit]


Literary evidence points to the existence of codified musical traditions in early times. Classical Tamil poetry from South India was composed by itinerant and court-settled musicians and accompanied by instruments such as the harp, barrel-drum and flute. Set scales, known as pans, provided a framework for the singers and musicians. The pans were tuned to the strings of the harp. The 7th century epic Silappadikkaram features music and dance from this formal tradition as well as current folk and tribal styles.

While much of the ancient Tamil tradition has been lost, there is speculation that some of the pans referred to in the literature made their way into the Carnatic tradition. In addition, the specialist temple singers of the Meenakshi temple in Madurai still include some songs set to pans (rather than ragams) in their repetoire.


The classical tradition of Indian music can be divided into two major movements, Hindustani and Carnatic.