Skip to main content

Hindu music

Hindu music: The music of India is entirely monodic. To Westerners it is the most accessible of all Asian musical cultures. Its tonal system divides the octave into 22 segments called srutis, not all equal but each roughly equal to one quarter of a whole tone of Western music. The basic scales are sa-grāma and ma-grāma. The more important of these, the sa-grāma, closely approximates the C Major scale. Ma-grāma, which differs from the sa-grāma in only one interval, is said to have disappeared from use about the 16th cent. Other scales are derived from these by the sharping or flatting of some of the intervals or by leaving out some of the tones. Melody is based on the system of rāgas, which are melody types used as the basis for improvisation. There are innumerable rāgas, and with each there is an accompanying set of rules for improvisation in that rāga. To each is ascribed certain ethical and emotional properties, and each is associated with a certain season and a certain time of day. For a single rāga, however, these connotations vary in different parts of India. The rāgas were the inspiration for much Rajput miniature painting, the iconography of which varied according to its period, place of production, and creator. Legend celebrates the powers of the rāgas; e.g., a rāga associated with darkness could, if sung in the middle of the day by a singer whose skill was great enough, bring darkness upon the earth. In the performance of the rāgas, great importance is attached to the gamakas, the ornaments, or graces, that are characteristic of this music. Accompanied song is considered the highest type of music. In the accompaniment, rhythm is very complex and is based on certain rhythmic patterns, called talas, which are often combined in the most intricate ways. The oldest instrument is the drum, of which there are several types, an example of which is the tablā; it can be tuned by means of special kinds of coating given the skin. The most important instrument is the vina. In antiquity the name was given to a harp, but the modern vina is a zither with gourd resonators. A similar instrument is the sitar, the most popular instrument in N India. It has movable frets, is played with a plectrum, and has greater volume than the vina. In addition, various types of bagpipe, lute, fiddle, oboe, trumpet, flute, cymbal, and gong have been known in India. Many of the instruments are of Islamic origin. Hindu music has, through its influence on the Beatles in the 1960s, enjoyed considerable popularity in the West. Ravi Shankar is known internationally for his sitar playing.

See A. Daniélou, Northern Indian Music (new ed. 1969); H. A. Popleg, The Music of India (3d ed. 1970); D. Chaitanya, An Introduction to Indian Music (2d ed. 1981); S. Bishan, Theory of Indian Music (1987).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Hindu music." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 15 Apr. 2019 <>.

"Hindu music." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (April 15, 2019).

"Hindu music." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved April 15, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.