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The basic must-knows of Indian Classical Music Part 2

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The basic must-knows of Indian Classical Music Part 2

As concert season rolls around, here’s some more insight on different aspects of Hindustani Classical music for budding music revellers who wants to be a better listener and audience member!

The Gharana System


Gharana, rooted in the word for ‘house’, is just that, a specific house of music. The guru-shishya tradition calls for the student to live with the teacher to glean as much as possible from his/her knowledge, and this is where the concept of gharana began. As gurus began establishing themselves with their base of students in a certain city or region, that region began to be known for that guru’s singing style. Though all gharanas exist under the same umbrella of Hindustani Classical music, each has certain unique characteristics. Though people in the US, UK, and Australia all speak English, natives of each country have their own way of speaking. Just like that, if you ask someone from the Agra gharana to sing a group of notes, they would sing it in a very powerful, straightforward fashion, while the Mewati gharana may sing the same group of notes in a very gentle, smooth fashion. There are gharanas of khayal, sitar, tabla, etc. and each adds to the richness of Hindustani classical tradition.

Advanced Vocabulary:


Shruti: Shruti is qualified as any identifiable change in frequency. Though there are only 7 swars, there are 22 identifiable, distinct shrutis.


Shuddh: Of SRGMPDN, there are certain notes that can be altered to be lower or higher. The unaltered versions of the notes shuddh swar. Here is a raag, Bilawal, that only uses the shudh swars.


Komal: Of SRGMPDN, the notes R,G,M,D,N can be altered to one half-step lower, referred to in Western music as ‘flat’. These lower versions are called komal swars.


Teevra: Known in Western music as ‘sharp, ’M is the only note that can be raised a half-step,


Aaroh and Avroh: This is the map of notes of a raag. Each raag has a set of notes that is used while ascending up the scale (aaroh) and a set of notes while descending (avroh). For example, in the aaroh of Raag Bageshree, there is no rishabh (2nd scale degree). However, it can be used in descending phrases.


Meend: This is a technique in which the singer or player glides from one note to another, giving the impression of fluidity. Ustad Shahid Parvez uses a lot of meend in his style of playing. You can listen here. Right from the 30 second mark, you can listen to how he very liberally slides from one note to another, instead of just hearing very mechanical, distinct separated notes.


How can you sing the same raag for hours without it getting boring?

Well, first of all, people sing the same raag for years! Pt. Bhimsen Joshi reportedly sang only Raag Yaman for many years, claiming it had cast a spell on him. The whole point of classical music is to do a deep study of the music, not just to sing for pleasure or to expel boredom. And as one grows as a musician and a listener, things become clearer and clearer. For example, imagine you are someone who needs glasses. You look at a very colorful painting, and though you cannot see the details, you can appreciate the colors. Then, putting on your glasses, you realise it is an intricate painting of a colorful forest, and thousands of details become apparent: the different types of trees, the varying animals. Then, coming even closer, you begin to see even more details, the expressions on the faces of the animals, the fruit on the trees, the colors of the little insects sitting on the flowers. These details were always there, but you didn’t have the means to see them before. All of these small details exist in one raag; an experienced musician can focus on even just four notes and make permutations and combinations out of them, varying rhythm to bind together the unique features of the raag.

Why do people refer to artists using titles like Pandit, Ustad, Begum, Devi, etc.?

Here is an interesting fact! The titles like Begum and Devi began to be widely used when female artists started singing on public radio. There was a certain reputation that female singers would get. In the past, women who would sing were assumed to be promiscuous or involved in prostitution. To avoid these misconceptions, it was decided that their names, when announced, would be prefixed with Begum for Muslim artists, and Devi for Hindu artists. This implied a certain social standing which gave the singers the respect they deserved. The titles Pandit and Ustad are also used to give respect to musicians, honoring the immense sadhana, extensive study and meditation of senior artists. These titles have recently been controversial and there’s no specific rule as to at what stage in an artist’s career they receive this honour.

The basic must-knows of Indian Classical Music Part 1


Ravikumar, Dr Geetha. The Concept & Evolution of Raga in Hindustani and Karnatic Music. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

ITC Sangeet Research Academy Website

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