Indian classical music and Types of Gharana

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Indian classical music and Types of Gharana

Indian Classical Music

Indian classical music has contributed in a significant way towards the development of the composite culture of India. Besides, with regards to Indian classical music, it should be noted that the term ‘Classical’ only suggests that it has its foundations in the standard convention or shastra, in accordance with the textual tradition. The Indian name for this music is ShastriyaSangit. It is sometimes also known as Raga Sangit since it is the Raga that is at the centre of the structure of this art form. Thus, the term ‘classical’ doesn’t connote any old style or a specific time period, as the way it exists in the Western tradition.

Many different legends have grown up concerning the origin and development of Indian classical music.

Also, Read Folk dances in India

History of Indian Classical Music

The history of Indian classical music spans over several centuries and is deeply rooted in the rich cultural and spiritual traditions of the Indian subcontinent. It is a complex and diverse musical system that has evolved through various influences and regional styles.

Ancient Origins:
The origins of Indian classical music can be traced back to the ancient Vedic period, around 1500 BCE. The Vedic scriptures contain hymns and chants known as Sama Veda, which formed the basis of early musical practices. These musical traditions were intertwined with religious rituals and were primarily vocal in nature.

Development of Raga System:
Around the 1st to 6th centuries CE, the concept of raga (melodic framework) and tala (rhythmic cycle) began to develop in Indian music. The treatise “Natya Shastra,” written by Bharata Muni, played a significant role in codifying these concepts and defining the aesthetics and performance aspects of Indian classical music.

Medieval Period:
During the medieval period, between the 7th and 13th centuries, Indian classical music underwent further developments. Persian and Islamic influences, brought by rulers and scholars, contributed to the evolution of new musical forms and instruments. The courts of various kingdoms and the patronage of emperors played a crucial role in promoting music and nurturing talented musicians.

The Renaissance:
The period from the 14th to the 19th centuries witnessed a renaissance in Indian classical music. Notable contributions were made by renowned musicians, scholars, and composers such as Swami Haridas, Tansen, and Miyan Tansen. The Dhrupad and Khayal styles emerged during this period, marking a shift in the performance practices of vocal music.

Gharana System:
From the late 19th century onwards, the gharana system became prominent in Indian classical music. Gharanas refer to the distinct stylistic lineages and traditions passed down through generations of musicians. Each gharana has its own unique approach to ragas, techniques, ornamentation, and interpretation.

Noteworthy Figures:
Throughout its history, Indian classical music has been enriched by the contributions of numerous legendary musicians and composers. Prominent figures include Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Ustad Bismillah Khan, M.S. Subbulakshmi, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, and many others. These artists have not only preserved the tradition but also explored new dimensions and collaborations with artists from different genres.

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Contemporary Scenario:
Indian classical music continues to thrive and evolve in the modern era. Musicians experiment with fusion, collaborations, and global outreach while maintaining the core principles and essence of the classical tradition. The gurukula system, where students live with and learn from their gurus, remains an important aspect of imparting knowledge and expertise.

Indian classical music remains deeply ingrained in Indian culture, serving as a medium of spiritual expression, artistic beauty, and emotional resonance. Its rich history and diverse styles contribute to its enduring appeal and global recognition.

Hindustani music

  • Hindustani classical music originated in North India around the 13th and 14th centuries. In contrast to Carnatic music, Hindustani classical music was not only influenced by ancient Hindu musical traditions and Vedic philosophy, but also by the Persian elements.
  • Hindustani music is based on the Raga system. The Raga is a melodic scale, comprising of notes from the basic seven – Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, and Ni.
  • On the basis of notes included in it, each raga attains a different character. The form of the raga is also determined by the particular pattern of ascent and descent of the notes, which may not be strictly linear.
  • Hindustani classical music is primarily vocal-centric. The major vocal forms associated with Hindustani classical music are khayal, ghazal, dhrupad, Tappa, Tarana, and thumri.


It is a form of vocal music and is adopted from medieval Persian music. It is based on the imagination and improvisations of the performer.


It is the oldest form of Hindustani music and male singers traditionally perform this Music form. It is mostly a poetic form. Tansen Sang in dhrupad style.


It is developed in the 18th century from the folk songs of camel riders of Punjab. They are essentially folklore of love and passion and the language is Punjabi. Developed as a form of classical music by Mian Ghulam Nabi Shori.


It is a medium to a fast-paced song usually performed towards the end of the concert. It consists of a few lines of poetry with rhythmic syllables.


It is an informal vocal form of Hindustani classical music and is said to have begun with the court of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the Nawab of Oudh.


It is an ancient form that originated in 6th-century Arabic poetry but is also popular in India. Being in Poetry form, it consists of rhyming couplets on love and devotion and spread into South Asia in the 12th century, due to the influence of Sufi mystics.

Indian Classical Music – Gharanas

What is Gharana?

There is a rich tradition of Gharanas in classical Hindustani music. These schools or Gharanas have their basis in the traditional mode of musical training and education. Every Gharana has its own distinct features.

Types of Gharana in India

Gwalior Gharana

This is the oldest among all the Khayal Gayaki (vocal) styles. Its distinctive features are its lucidity and simplicity. Hassu Khan and Nathu Khan were the founders of Gwalior Gharana.

The Gwalior Gharana is one of the most prominent and influential schools (gharanas) of Hindustani classical music in India. It takes its name from the city of Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, which has been a significant center for music and arts for centuries.

The Gwalior Gharana traces its origins back to the 16th century and has a rich musical heritage. It is known for its emphasis on traditional rendering of ragas, precise intonation, intricate ornamentation, and clarity of expression.

The gharana’s earliest notable figure was Haddu Khan, who was a court musician in the Gwalior state during the mid-18th century. His descendants, including Hassu Khan, Natthan Khan, and Nathu Khan, played a pivotal role in shaping and expanding the Gwalior Gharana’s musical legacy.

The Gwalior Gharana is renowned for its renditions of dhrupad and dhamar, the ancient and structured forms of Hindustani classical music. The gharana also excels in khayal, thumri, tappa, and other lighter musical forms.

Some of the notable musicians from the Gwalior Gharana include Ustad Haddu Khan, Ustad Hassu Khan, Ustad Natthan Khan, Ustad Nathu Khan, Ustad Inayat Hussain Khan, Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan, and Ustad Amir Khan, among others. These maestros have made significant contributions to Indian classical music and have trained generations of musicians.

The Gwalior Gharana has had a profound influence on the development of Hindustani classical music. Its aesthetic and stylistic features have been incorporated into other gharanas, contributing to the richness and diversity of the classical music tradition in India.

Agra Gharana

The Agra Gharana places great importance on developing forcefulness and deepness in the voice so that the notes are powerful and resonant founded by Haji Sujan Khan.

The Agra Gharana is one of the prominent schools (gharanas) of Hindustani classical music, known for its unique style and repertoire. It takes its name from the city of Agra, which served as its center of development.

The Agra Gharana emerged in the late 19th century and flourished during the 20th century under the guidance of legendary musicians. It is characterized by its emphasis on the use of intricate ornamentation, melodic elaboration, and emotional expression in its renditions.

The gharana’s founder, Ustad Haji Sujan Khan, played a pivotal role in shaping its early development. Later, his disciple Ustad Faiyaz Khan became one of the most prominent exponents of the Agra Gharana and contributed significantly to its growth and popularity.

The Agra Gharana’s style is deeply rooted in dhrupad, the ancient and structured form of Hindustani classical music. It places importance on the exploration of complex ragas, unique taans (fast melodic patterns), and meend (gliding between notes) to create a distinct musical expression.

Notable musicians from the Agra Gharana include Ustad Faiyaz Khan, Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan, Ustad Khadim Hussain Khan, Ustad Yunus Hussain Khan, Ustad Sharafat Hussain Khan, and Ustad Latafat Hussain Khan, among others. These musicians have contributed to the gharana’s repertoire, trained disciples, and left a lasting impact on Hindustani classical music.

The Agra Gharana has had a significant influence on the development of Hindustani classical music. Its contributions in the areas of raga exploration, melodic ornamentation, and expressive renditions have been appreciated by audiences and musicians alike. The gharana’s distinct style continues to be preserved and propagated by subsequent generations of musicians, contributing to the richness and diversity of Indian classical music.

Kirana Gharana

The Kirana Gharana is a renowned school (gharana) of Hindustani classical music that emerged in the late 19th century. It takes its name from the town of Kirana, located in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India.

The Kirana Gharana is known for its distinct style, characterized by its emphasis on intricate note ornamentation, delicate and nuanced approach to melodic improvisation, and a meditative and introspective quality in its renditions. It is particularly known for its specialization in the khayal genre of Hindustani classical music.

The gharana’s founder, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, was a legendary musician and one of the pioneers of the Kirana style. His innovative techniques and aesthetic sensibilities helped shape the unique characteristics of the gharana. Later, his disciples, including his nephew Sawai Gandharva and Bhimsen Joshi, further popularized and expanded the gharana’s legacy.

The Kirana Gharana places a strong emphasis on the purity and subtlety of ragas, focusing on the expression of emotions through the use of microtones (shrutis), delicate murkis (grace notes), and the exploration of intricate melodic patterns. The gharana also employs the use of sargam (solfège), taans (fast melodic patterns), and bol-baant (dividing the melody into distinct syllables) to enhance the musical experience.

Prominent musicians from the Kirana Gharana include Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, Sawai Gandharva, Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal, Firoz Dastur, and Prabha Atre, among others. These artists have not only preserved the gharana’s heritage but also contributed to its evolution and innovation.

The Kirana Gharana’s influence has extended beyond Hindustani classical music. Its contemplative and introspective approach has also influenced other genres, such as devotional music and fusion music.

The Kirana Gharana’s contribution to the world of Hindustani classical music has been significant, and its distinct style continues to inspire and captivate audiences and musicians alike. Its melodic intricacies and soulful renditions have made it a cherished and respected gharana in the rich tapestry of Indian classical music.

Rampur Sahaswan Gharana

In Rampur Sahaswan Gharana, there is stress on the clarity of swara and the development and elaboration of the raga are done through a stepwise progression. Founded by Inayat Khan.

Patiala Gharana

Founded by Inayat Khan. Regarded as an off-shoot of the Delhi Gharana, the Patiala Gharana is characterized by the use of greater rhythm play and by Layakari with the abundant use of Bols, particularly Bol tans founded by Ustad Fateh Ali Khan.

The Rampur Sahaswan Gharana is a prominent school (gharana) of Hindustani classical music that originated in the towns of Rampur and Sahaswan in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. Known for its rich heritage, the gharana developed under the patronage of the Nawabs of Rampur during the 18th and 19th centuries. It is characterized by its emphasis on vocal music, intricate rhythmic patterns, and graceful melodic improvisation. Notable musicians from the Rampur Sahaswan Gharana include Ustad Faiyaz Khan, Ustad Rashid Khan, and Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan. The gharana’s contributions have enriched the landscape of Indian classical music with its unique style and compositions.

Delhi Gharana

Tanras Khan and Shabbu Khan represent the Delhi Gharana. The highlights of Delhi Gharana are pleasing vistaar and exquisite compositions. Founded by Ustad Mamman Khan.

The Delhi Gharana, also known as the Delhi-Atrauli Gharana, is a renowned school (gharana) of Hindustani classical music that traces its roots to the city of Delhi, India. Founded by Ustad Ata Khan in the late 19th century, the gharana gained prominence under the guidance of his disciple Ustad Wahid Khan. The Delhi Gharana is known for its melodic richness, intricate taankari (fast melodic patterns), and the use of sargam (solfège) in its renditions. Prominent musicians from the Delhi Gharana include Ustad Rahim Fahimuddin Khan, Ustad Sharafat Hussain Khan, and Ustad Shujaat Khan, who have carried forward its musical legacy with distinction.

Banaras Gharana

The Banaras Gharana evolved as a result of the great tilting style of khayal singing known by Thumri singers of Banaras and Gaya. founded by Pt. Gopal Mishra.

The Banaras Gharana, also known as the Benares Gharana or Varanasi Gharana, is a renowned school (gharana) of Hindustani classical music that originated in the city of Varanasi (Banaras) in Uttar Pradesh, India. It is celebrated for its distinct style, deeply rooted in the traditions of dhrupad and khayal genres. The gharana places great emphasis on precise and intricate note ornamentation, powerful vocal projection, and rhythmic improvisation. Notable musicians from the Banaras Gharana include Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, Girija Devi, Pandit Chhannulal Mishra, and Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra. The gharana’s contributions have enriched the classical music landscape with its unique approach and expressive renditions.

Mewati Gharana

The Mewati Gharana gives importance to developing the mood of the raga through the notes forming it and its style is Bhava Pradhan. It also gives equal importance to the meaning of the text.

The Mewati Gharana is a renowned school (gharana) of Hindustani classical music that originated in the Mewat region of Rajasthan and Haryana, India. Known for its distinctive style and emphasis on vocal music, the gharana was established by Ustad Ghagge Nazir Khan in the late 19th century. The Mewati Gharana is characterized by its soulful and emotive renditions, intricate melodic patterns, and a unique approach to taan (fast melodic passages). Prominent musicians from the Mewati Gharana include Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan, Ustad Ghulam Farid Nizami, and Ustad Ghulam Sadiq Khan. The gharana’s rich musical heritage continues to be celebrated for its emotive depth and virtuosity.

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FAQs on Indian classical music

Q: What is Indian classical music?

A: Indian classical music is a traditional art form that encompasses two major traditions: Hindustani classical music and Carnatic classical music. It is a complex system of melodic and rhythmic patterns that has evolved over centuries, characterized by its emphasis on improvisation, intricate melodies (ragas), rhythmic cycles (talas), and emotional expression.

Q: What is the difference between Hindustani classical music and Carnatic classical music?

A: Hindustani classical music is predominantly practiced in North India, while Carnatic classical music is practiced in South India. Both have distinct melodic structures, rhythm systems, and musical compositions. Hindustani music is known for its improvisational nature and greater influence from Persian and Islamic traditions, while Carnatic music is highly structured and emphasizes intricate rhythmic patterns and intricate compositions.

Q: What are ragas and talas in Indian classical music?

A: Ragas are melodic frameworks or scales that form the basis of improvisation in Indian classical music. Each raga has a specific set of ascending and descending notes, along with characteristic phrases and melodic patterns associated with it. Talas, on the other hand, are rhythmic cycles that provide a framework for the rhythmic organization of the music. They consist of a fixed number of beats grouped into divisions and subdivisions.

Q: What are the main instruments used in Indian classical music?

A: Indian classical music employs a wide range of instruments. In Hindustani classical music, popular instruments include the sitar, sarod, tabla, harmonium, flute, and sarangi. In Carnatic classical music, prominent instruments include the veena, violin, mridangam, ghatam, flute, and kanjira. Vocal music, however, is considered the most important and central aspect of Indian classical music.

Q: What is the role of improvisation in Indian classical music?

A: Improvisation plays a significant role in Indian classical music. Musicians explore and expand upon the melodic and rhythmic structures of ragas and talas, creating unique and spontaneous compositions during performances. Improvisation allows musicians to showcase their creativity, virtuosity, and understanding of the intricate nuances of the music.

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