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An Introduction to Indian Music

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Item Code: NAK668
Author: B. Chaitanya Deva
Publisher: Publications Division, Government of India
Language: English
Edition: 2021
ISBN: 9788123019994
Pages: 168 (46 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 9.5 inch x 7.0 inch
Weight 340 gm
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Book Description

About the Book


To many a Westerner, Indian music may be a melody without a specific beginning or a definite end. To many Indians it is more a gymnastics in sound. A help to listen has, therefore, to be provided sometimes.


There are two section: the grammatical which describes the structure of Indian music, the raga and tala and the prabandha which helps the listener to understand the actual way of the construction of the music. The second part is the socio-historical background and the aesthetics of Indian music which gives the necessary orientation and viewpoint required for the appreciation of this art. This book is therefore an attempt to introduce mainly the classical music of India to both kinds of listeners who are earnest but find the technicalities little baffling.


About the Author


The author Dr. B. Chaitanya Deva, was a founder fellow, Acoustical Society of India and Associate Founder Fellow, Acounstical Society of India and Associate Founder Fellow of the Musicological Society of India. He studied Ravindra Sangeet in Santiniketan and later on, Hindustani vocal music with reputed gurus like pandit Vinayakarao Patwardhan, Ustad Aman Ali Khan and Pandit Keshav Buwa Lngle. He has to his credit a number of research papers in Psycho-acoustics, ethnomusicology and organology in various Indian and International journals. His book, Psycho-acousrics of Music and speech has received international acclaim as a pioneering work. Dr. Deva, has also to his credit, a monograph on the Tonal Structure of Tamboora, other books by him are Indian Music, Musical Instruments of India: Their History and Development.




There are quite a number of books on Indian music, a few of them excellent. Some are highly technical, of interest only to the specialists; some, though simpler, are out dated. A few have restricted themselves either to the Northern or the Southern system of classical music. An attempt has been made here, therefore, to present an introduction to our music in a comprehensive but simple manner. While this volume is not a learned to me, neither is it a bedside book, much less a tourist guide. Certain amount of earnestness and interest are expected of the reader. Also the book is intended both for Indian and foreign friends. It may even interest a specialist, because of its analytical methods.


The approach throughout has been: go from the known to the unknown. Hence current musical practice is always given prominence; for this is the only music one can hear, appreciate and understand. The historical material goes only to give a backdrop against which the present art can get a perspective. So, history has a secondary place here. Even there, I have tried to relate music to the larger social dynamics of Indian culture.


The historical process of cultural development has given us two systems of sophisticated music: the North Indian (Hindustani) and the South Indian Carnatic. Whether these two resulted from the bifurcation of a more ancient single 'Indian' music or are the consequence of fusion of regional styles is a question that need not be discussed here. But both are 'Indian', howsoever one may define that word; they have a high degree of commonness, though quite clearly distinctive also. Hindustani music is performed and understood throughout North India and the Northern district of Karnataka and Andhra; 'Carnatic music is confined to the Southern peninsula. The present book treats both together, though not necessarily as 'one' music.


The reader may recognize two sections: the grammatical and the socio- historical. The first is a description of the structure of Indian music; this analyses the raga, the tala, the prabandha and so on. It helps the reader- listener to understand the actual way of the construction of the music. The second part is the socio-historical background and the aesthetics of Indian music. This gives the necessary orientation and viewpoint required for the appreciation of this art.


True understanding is always a total comprehension which is different from synthesis. The latter implies putting together things which are different; but understanding is total immediate perception which cannot be communicated by 'words' and 'notes'. So analytical has the modern mind become, that it has entailed a 'guide to listening'. To many a Westerner, Indian music may be a melody without a specific beginning or a definite end. To many Indians it is more a gymnastics in sound. A help to listen has, therefore, to be provided sometimes. This book is an attempt to introduce mainly the classical music of India to both kinds of listeners who are earnest but find the technicalities a little baflling.

The best beginning is to listen to, and if possible, produce the music.


The second may not be possible to all. But with modem adjuncts like the gramaphone, the radio and the tape-recorder it is always possible to hear music. To assist the reader, therefore, a discography and also a small bibliography are added at the end; the author is grateful to Shri O. Varkey, Librarian, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, for assistance in the preparation of these, from the material available in their archives.




The word for music now used in India is sangeeta. There is, however, a slight mistranslation here. For sangeeta in its original or more traditional usage did not mean music but a comprehensive 'performing art' of singing, playing of instruments and dancing. Moreover, the art was generally a part of drama, and even Bharata, the earliest writer on dramaturgy, had only a few chapters on music in his great treatise, Natyasastra. Notice, again, the great respect to vocal music-for sangeeta had geeta (singing) as its main limb followed by instrumental music and then by dancing.


Once upon a time, a king, desirous of learning sculpture, went to a learned sage and asked to be taught the art. But the teacher said, "How can you know the laws of sculpture, if you do not know painting?". Teach me the art of painting, Master", said the disciple. "But how will you understand painting, without the knowledge of dance?" "Instruct me in the techniques of dance, 0 Wise One", requested the royal student. The teacher continued, "But you cannot dance without knowing instrumental music". "Let me learn the laws of instruments", prayed the king. The guru replied, "Instrumental music can be learnt only if you study deeply the art of singing". If singing is the fountain head of all arts, I beg you, 0 Master, to reveal to me the secrets of vocal music". This prime place given to the voice in ancient times still abides and many of the qualities of Indian music derive their characteristics from this fact.


The music of India is essentially melodic. Whether it be the yell of the most primitive tribes or the sophisticated art form, whether it is vocal or instrumental, the music is 'linear'. Sounds follow one another expressing an emotional state and an aesthetic unity; they are not sounded simultaneously, which is harmony. Not that harmony is absent, but it is an incipient condition and has not been developed to the extent as in the West. Tonal qualities and colours do clash creating grades of consonance and dissonance. The melodic form may be just a monotone (a song sung in a single note) as in the songs of corn grinding, a grunt of an expletive of the Nagas, a chant of the Vedic hymn or a most complicated raga. A humble tune of the roadside snake charmer may even be developed into raga Punnagavarali. But basically all these are 'tunes', that is, an up and down of sound with a certain sense of rhythm and emotional appeal.


This rise and fall of tones has a certain accent in time or time division. This is the simplest meaning of the rhythm of a song. In a primitive stage this rhythm is a bodily activity of stamping and clapping which are developed and stylised into the complicated system of the 108 talas of classical music.


Thus in the study of our music the two major ideas or 'terms' which have to be understood are : (a) the structure of melody and (b) the structure of rhythm.


Melodic structure involves various questions such as: How does the sound rise and fall? Are the rise and fall linear or meandering? Are there 'areas' of a melody or raga which find more emphasis than others and so on. These and other aspects become the technical points of the grammar of raga.


Similarly, rhythmic organization comprise facets like: How is time divided? What is the meaning of tempo? How are the divisions of time arranged? Do these arrangements make for patterns? How does rhythm control melody?" Such queries form the basis of the grammar of tala.


Of course, what has been said above is only about the technicalities of music. But a land which has had millennia of civilization, a fantastic variety of culture and geographic distribution of great immensity presents a multitude of social and cultural problems related to music. A study of these gives the necessary background for understanding the present. So the history, social relations, aesthetic attitude and such matters will have to be discussed.


At the foundation of the music of any land is the 'unsophisticated' art of the people-the folk music. For it is out of this matrix, which often is undistinguishable from mere expletives in the most primeval state, has grown the art music of the 'civilized'. Moreover, music at this level is functional, unlike in the society of the 'leisured' class. It is an integral part of the various social activities. Therefore, it gives us many clues to the socio- economic and the religious lives of the people.


One of the most interesting and informative aspects is the part played by musical instruments. Just as the 'invention' of a manual tool must have changed the life of man, the 'invention' of a musical instrument must have changed the music of man. It has affected (and has been affected by) vocal music. It has made possible the development of a musical theory. Also, of great significance is the study of migration of musical instruments, as, if one follows the routes of their travel, one becomes aware of the movements of human civilizations.


This migration and mixing of cultures is of particular interest for this peninsula. On the plains and mountains of this land have lived and died many a tribe and culture, each contributing its own, to the music of India. The interaction of these musical styles, indigenous and foreign, has resulted in the two broad systems of classical music-North Indian (Hindustani) and South Indian (Carnatic). They are similar to the extent of being melodic and having the same general concepts of raga and tala. But there are also differences-major and minor-that still distinguish them very clearly. With the coming of quicker and wider means of communication, the two are coming closer; stylistic characteristics, ragas and attitudes are being exchanged. Western influences are gaining ground, as did mid-western music some centuries ago. All this may result in a music of a different mould in the future. Even more far reaching in effect is industrial technology and the consequent urbanization, again an import from the West: not necessarily a 'great leap' in a 'forward' direction, though there have been salutary effects. These may yet give Indian music a new direction. But none knows what is in the womb of time and it would not be proper to speculate vaguely on the future music of India.






The First Term-Melody


Genus and Species


The Second Term-Rhythm


Form and Style


Musical Instruments


Folk and Traditional Music


Mind and Music


Then and Now


Among the Great


Suggested Further Reading







Sample Pages

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