India's Musical Heritage

Throughout the ages, man has sought to express the stirrings of his soul, the search for something beyond the mundane through the medium of the arts.

The evolution of poetry, painting and other visual arts has been preserved on stone, leaves and paper but music being auditory, no such evidence exists. As such it is not possible to listen today to the music of the ancient times.

The history of the system of music that prevailed in India from ancient times, goes back to the Vedas. The Indian musical system shows to what heights the genius of man could soar in quest of new forms of musical expression. Apart from its entertainment value, music was cherished and practised for its quality of lifting mankind to a nobler plane, enabling the soul to attain eternal bliss. The perfect tone system and the extensive raga and tala systems of Indian music, make it comparable with any other sophisticated musical system of the world.

The earliest treatise we have on music is the Natya Sastra of Bharata. Other treatises on music after Bharata, such as the Brihaddesi of Matanga, Sangeeta Ratnakara of Sharangadeva, Sangeet Sudhakara of Haripala, Swaramelakalanidhi of Ramamatya, etc., provide us a fund of information about the different aspects of music and its development during the different periods.

Inspite of such a variety of cultural interactions, our music has remained essentially melodic. In melody, one note follows the other, making for a continued unity of effect, whereas in harmony musical sounds are superimposed on one another. Our classical music has retained its melodic quality.

Today we recognise two systems of classical music, apart from regional music

1) The Hindustani and 

2) The Carnatic

The ancient Tamils of South India had also developed an highly evolved system of music with its solfa methods, concordant and discordant notes, scales and modes, etc. A number of instruments were also used to accompany song and dance. The Tamil classic of the 2nd century A.D. titled the Silappadhikaram contains a vivid description of the music of that period. The Tolkappiyam, Kalladam and the contributions of the Saivite and Vaishnavite saints of the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. also serve as resource material for studying musical history.

Carnatic music is confined to Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The classical music of the rest of the country goes under the name, Hindustani Classical Music. Of course. there are some areas in Karnataka and Andhra where the Hindustani Classical system is also practiced. Karnataka has given us in the recent past some very distinguished musicians of the Hindustani style.

It is generally believed that the music of India was more or less uniform before the 13th century. Later it bifurcated into the two musical systems.

The present Indian music has grown from ancient times. Almost every tribe or people have lent their own share in this growth. What therefore, we now call a raga might have started as a tribal or folk tune.