Difference between Carnatic & Hindustani music

A number of people seem to ask this question – What is the similarity or difference between Hindustani and Carnatic music? I try to answer this in a brief manner, though the answer could delve into much more detail which is beyond the scope of this blog.

History – Indian Classical music has had a very long history. There are many temples and historical artefacts that depicts that Indian classical music existed many 1000s of years back. Both Carnatic and Hindustani music have evolved over this long period and has undergone various changes through this fascinating journey in history. On broad terms, Hindustani music seems to have originated and stayed in the Northern part of Indian, while Carnatic seems prevalent in the South. Having said that, either music transcends the North South divide and both forms are practised in the North as well as the South. Additionally, mesmerizing tunes have evolved in the form of Fusion between the 2 classical forms.

Influence – Indian classical music has its origins from Sama Veda/Rigveda which consists of hymns sung in Musical form. In the 12th Century this music underwent a Persian influence which lasted through the Medieval period spanning over 700-800 years. The resultant was Hindusthani music. Hindustani music has seens its origins from Sangita Ratnakara of Sarangdeva.  Carnatic music remained unaltered and remained the same right from the ancient times. References to Carnatic music exists in Natya Shastra (Bharatanatyam). The Carnatic music that is seen today is largely based on the original treatises. Carnatic music has had its influence from musical stalwarts like Purandaradasa, Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri.But, does anyone know that Carnatic music has had an English influence during the colonial era which has resulted in the Nottuswarams (Notes Swarams)?

Ragas – Both the music forms use the Taanpura to maintain Shruthi and are hence termed as monophonic. The Ragas pertain to definite scales like in Western music, but they have a floating starting point or Sam. In Carnatic particularly, there exists Semitones which has resulted in many many Ragas. We have 72 Sampoorna or Melakartha Ragas in Carnatic and 10 Thaats in Hindustani. While the Carnatic Melakartha Ragas have some derivatives called Janya Ragams, the 10 Thaats in Hindustani have derivatives too.

Raga EquivalentsThis topic shows a number of similarties between Hindusthani and Carnatic Ragas. We have many Raga Equivalents that exists. For example – Hindusthani Yaman is Carnatic Kalyani, Hindustani Bilawal is Dheera Shankarabharanam in Carnatic and Kaafi is KaraharaPriya. We have many more such equivalents. Do you know that Hamsadhwani is the same in Carnatic and HIndusthani?

Rules of Practice – Carnatic is more rigid than Hindustani to practise. While Hindustani music has had a Persian influence in the vast Northern Geography of India, Carnatic music did not undergo much change. Hindustani music ended up creating Gharanas/Clubs based on Styles of Singing. We have Tabla Gharanas for Farukhabad, Delhi, Punjab, Benares etc. We have Singing Gharanas in Hindusthani and the famous ones being Jaipur and Gwalior. Each of these Gharanas had their own unique styles and differences in performances. However, Carnatic form of music is largely the same wherever you go.

InstrumentsEven the musical instruments seem to bear a difference between the 2 music cultures. While the Tabla is used in Hindustani, the Mridangam is more widely used in Carnatic. The Veena in Carnatic transforms to the Sitar in Hindusthani. The Hindusthani Sarangi, Santoor and Clarinet becomes the Violin or the Mandolin in Carnatic.

There are much more differences between the 2 music forms. But now the question – “Which music form should I learn – Carnatic or Hindustani?”.  The Answer to this is not straightforward. It depends on your interest, your cultural background and your personal choice. It depends on what you have been listening to all these years and what sounds better to you. “Beauty is in the hands of the beholder”, Similarly music is in the ears of the Listener.  Both Carnatic/Hindustani have their own soulful and soothing music within them. It is difficult to say one against the other.

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