Indian music attempts to assign each of the standard notes of its octave (Sa, Re, Ga ,Ma, Pa, Tha, Ni, Sa) to some sound in nature.
Music, which is held as the highest level of sanctity finds exhaustive treatment in concept, theory and practice in the world's most ancient texts of wisdom, the Vedas. In India from ancient times, music is treated with reverence befitting a divinity. The first adoption of music appears to have been for the purpose of chanting hymns of the Rig Veda.
Indian tradition recognized the "Saptasvara" or seven basic notes and later on the existence of 22 srutis or standards, based on the number of sound vibrations produced by a note every second called pitch. Raga is the soul of Indian music, with its uniqueness and aesthetic quality. Associated with every Raga are a divine mood, belief, restrictions, and rituals. The major elements of a complete musical rendering in classical style may be said to be Sruti, (base note) Sahitya, (lyric) Raaga, (combination of notes) Laya (rhythm) and Tala (beats).
Western music emphasizes harmony while Indian music is melody- based. Melody is the pursuit of a single note, a stamp of individuality while harmony stands for harnessing and systematization and coordination of various notes. In the past two decades there have been vigorous attempts at fusion.
The North Indian school of music is called Hindusthani and that of the South as Carnatic. These two systems have maintained their individuality, which got so deeply rooted that there appears to be a little chance of a merger, except during music festivals where they appear in the form of Jugalbhandhis. Southern musical literature has been developed in Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam while the Northern one is that of Hindi.
During the reign of Alauddin Khilji during the last few years of the 13th century, Hindustani music took a different course. The earliest form of Hindustani music called Dhrupad, showed itself in India. Baiju Bawra, a wandering Sadhu, is credited with having popularized it, as also Nayak Gopal and Amir Khusru, musicians of the court of Allaudin. The innovation of ragas by them and developed by Haridas Swami and later by his disciple, the legendary Tansen of Akbar's court, enriched the Dhrupad to a highly refined form.
Mirza Ghalib introduced the ghazal, simple, melodious, romantic and soulful and popular among the common folks. The important periods of the development of Hindustani music are Allaudin Khilji's (1296-1316), Akbar's (1556-1603) and post Mughal (1760 onwards).
Rabindra Sangeet is another form of music developed by the great Rabindranath Tagore who churned out some 2500 lyrics. Rabindra Sangeet in Bengal and Subramania Bharathi in the South used music and verse as powerful media to stir up the national sentiment. Rabindra Sangeets have a good integration of Carnatic, Hindustani and Western music.
The progress in South Indian music is only in the current millennium because we are unable to garner any information about its previous history. Carnatic music came to be systematized only around the beginning of the 15th century. Around that time Kritis came into great popularity. Purandaradasa systematized Carnatic music, particularly for learning and practicing. His is perhaps the only instance in South India where pure musical form without words was emphasized.
From the 18th to the 19th century period, the Southern musical Trinity, Syaama Sastri, Muthusamy Dikshitar and Tyagaraja flourished with their immortal compositions on their "Ishta Devatas" or their favorite deities, each one penetrating the heart of the listener. Syama Sastri extolled Amba and Tyagaraja pleaded with Sri Rama in Telugu and Dikshitar paid obeisance to Devi in Sanskrit. Subbarama Dikshitar (1859-1906) did great service to Carnatic music through various publications. In the same time other musicians like Veenai Dhanammal, Mahavaidyantha Iyer and Arryakudi Ramanuja Aiyangar contributed in great measure to the systematization and popularization of music in the South.
Aryakudi Ramanuja Iyer was responsible for bringing South Indian music concepts to the precise and concise "Cutcheri" format which is widely prevalent today in many temples. Other famous musicians-lyricist composers of the South are Maharaja Swati Tirunal of Travancore, Mysore Vasudevachar, Patnam Subramania Aiyar and Papanasam Sivan of the erstwhile Madras Presidency.
In Hindustani music, the major stringed instrument is usually the sitar, a long necked fretted lute, or the sarod, a plucked lute without frets and with a considerable shorter neck than the sitar. Other major stringed instruments include the Sarong, a short-necked bowed lute and the Surbahar, which is much like the sitar but is larger. Wind instruments include the Shehnai, which has no keys and the Bansuri, a Bamboo flute blown from the side and with six or seven holes. Rhythmic accompaniment is provided by the Tabla, a pair of small drums played with the fingers and the Tampura provides the Drone.
The Sarong is associated with almost solely with Ram Narayan and the Shehnai with Bismillah Khan. One of the notable Tabla players is Zakir Hussain who has combined with many Western musicians to produce many fusion recordings. Shiv Kumar Sharma brought the Santoor into Classical Indian music. In the West, the most known Indian musical Instrument is the Sitar being famed by Pandit Ravi Shankar.
The richness of musical tradition remains undimmed in India down the ages. Foreign invasions and cultural impositions only helped expand the horizon of Indian music.