Tansen, one of the “nine jewels” in the court of Emperor Akbar. Hindu music appears to have adopted elements of other cultures, such as the Persian – although some consider that these music forms originally came from India.

Indian music, called sangeet, is considered to have mythological roots and is associated with the heavenly singers, the Gandharvas. The first recipient of this celestial art form was the ancient sage Narada.The oldest musical texts are the Sama Veda, consisting of melodies for recitation of hymns during ritual sacrifice. From very early days, music was considered a means of moral and spiritual redemption rather than mere entertainment. Indeed, the process of learning to play music closely resembles traditional spiritual disciplines. According to Ravi Shankar, it contains three key elements:

  1. The guru – coming in parampara (disciplic succession)
  2. Vinaya – humility (a key personal characteristic required in many spiritual disciplines)
  3. Sadhana – regular and disciplined practice

Bharata Muni, of the 2nd century BCE, laid the foundations for two important principles upon which Indian music is now based: (1) raga, the melodic scale, and (2) tala, the rhythm. Both are carefully chosen to invoke the appropriate mood (rasa). In discussing the aesthetics of dance and music, Bharata Muni delineated nava-rasa, nine principle “moods” or “tastes.” Some bhakti theologians, especially from the Chaitanya and Vallabha schools, further developed the whole science of rasa to encompass spiritual sentiment. Not surprisingly, these bhakti

Ladies from Manipur, in the far east of India, sing bhajan. They are playing the harmonium and small hand-cymbals.

movements, with their emphasis on spiritual emotion, integrated music into their worship. It was considered not only adoration but a means towards a higher consciousness. Perhaps the most famous musician was Tansen (1480–1575) accredited with performing miracles simply through his singing.

Today music is evident in worship through bhajan (hymns) and kirtan (the musical chanting of mantras). Common instruments include drums, such as the tabla and mridangas, the manjira (small hand-cymbals), and the harmonium, imported and adapted from the West. Classical instruments, in addition to tabla, include the flute, vina, sitar, sarangi, santoor, and shenai.