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A walk through India's history

For those who wish to take a walk through India's history, the journey would begin in Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh. Close to the capital city of Bhopal, are a series of primitive rock shelters. Huddled within a radius of a few kilometres, the shelters have paintings that give a marvellous view of the life of man, right from pre- historic times.

Beasts are drawn m larger than life sizes, as they depict man's fear of the unknown. But the man himself was a settled creature, who lived off the land rather than wandering from place to place.

The earliest recorded history lies in rums now, in the west of the country, in the fertile valley of the Indus. The urban settlements at Mohenjodaro and Harappa (both in Pakistan) around 3000 BC belonged to the Indus Valley Civilisation Even today the ruins of these cities point to the existence of an astonishingly evolved people. Built only slightly later than the world's oldest cities in Mesopotamia, these settlements show a sophisticated understanding of urban design, following a rectangular grid of paved roads, well-built brick houses, granaries, public baths and even a drainage system.

The people of this predominantly agrarian culture also utilised money, engaged in trade and actually used a written script. Excavated seals give some indications of the life and times. The most frequently seen ones that depict a bull, symbolize the agrarian culture; while others depicting the mother goddess indicate the honour given to women. Perhaps the most engaging find is the statue of the dancing girl - confident, uninhibited, attitudes arising from a peaceful, settled existence.

A major change took place with the arrival of the Aryans in 1500 BC. Some historians believe they were invaders, others that they were migrants who came in successive waves. There is an ongoing debate on whether they forced the inhabitants of the Indus Valley Civilisation southwards or whether this migration was due to other factors like earthquakes and floods. In either case, the result was that the early Aryans established themselves in the Greater Indus Valley and became primarily agricultural societies, and established small village communities in Punjab.

Beyond living off the land, the Aryans also made some contribution to the Indian diversity. They brought with them the horse and their own religion. Cavalry warfare led to the rapid spread of Aryan culture across north India, and we see the beginnings of large empires. Sanskrit, their language, is the basis and the unifying factor in many Indian languages while the Aryan pantheon of gods and goddesses and myths and legends, became the foundation of Hindu religion.

This settled lifestyle brought administrative systems, a form of government, and complex social patterns, foremost among which was the establishment of the caste system Meant to function initially like a guild system, it degenerated into a rigid social and political system based on birth The period also saw the emergence of kingdoms and republics, the events of the two great Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, both of which are supposed to be set around this time Allegorical and highly symbolic, the two epics provide some of the best known lectures on worldly wisdom This is best seen in the Bhagwad Gita, a part of the Mahabharata which forms the god Krishna's advice to the Pandava prince Ar)una It is not surprising to find other texts such as the four vedas, all of which collectively helped to transform a crude, brash and aggressive culture to a refined, sophisticated civilization.

By the 6th century BC, the true spirit of Hinduism became locked m ritual and rigid interpretation causing thinkers like Mahavir and Gautama Buddha to seek and offer alternate paths - Jamism and Buddhism respectively Common to both religions is an emphasis on tolerance, self discipline and non-violence. In Jains, this is expressed more visibly. Traditional Jains wear cloth masks on their faces and sweep the area before them when they walk, so no creature can enter their mouths or nose or be crushed by their feet. Buddhists give expression to this belief through an attitudinal approach. Jainism spread mainly within the country, mostly in the western regions, while Buddhism was exported to other lands, beginning with Sri Lanka and spreading through east and south-east Asia.

Foremost among those responsible for the spread of Buddhism was the Mauryan emperor, Ashoka the great (268 231 BC), grandson of the first great Indian emperor, Chandragupta Maurya The kingdom Ashoka inherited from his father Bmdusara extended over almost the entire sub- continent. Giving vent to imperial ambitions, Ashoka successfully annexed several kingdoms, the last of which was Kalmga.

This event was to change the life of the king and the course of Indian history. Overcome with remorse at the sight of so much bloodshed, Ashoka realized the futility of worldly power. He became a Buddhist but never forced his religion on his subjects However, he spared no effort, whether in the form of rock or pillar edicts or ambassadors to other countries, to facilitate the spread of Buddhism.

The four lions shown atop the Ashokan capital, the Indian national emblem, are said to be symbolically spreading the Law in four directions.

By the second century, north India was fragmented into several petty principalities Down south, however, three major dynasties rose, the Cholas, the Pandyas and the Cheras who battled for supremacy in the region It was during this period that contact was first established with seafaring Roman traders St Thomas is said to have landed in Kerala in the first century AD and established a Christian community there.

In the north, the period between 320 AD and 480 AD saw the emergence and flowering of the Gupta empire in Magadha This period, also referred to as the Golden Age of India, saw the development of classical art forms The art, architecture and most notably sculptures of the period were at once technically perfect, yet sparkling in their novelty Creative expression was varied and new strains of thought flourished Erudite treatises were written on the art of love -  Kamasutra.

All this was to be shortlived The Hun invasions in the northwest hastened the fall of the Gupta empire and a long period of political instability followed.

The focus of development consequently shifted south of the Vindhya mountains For 600 years after the mid sixth century, four major kingdoms were involved in a see saw conflict - the Chalukyas, Cholas, Pallavas and the Pandyas The period saw the flowering of Tamil culture with distinct styles of art and architecture (as well as a distinct script) which reached its zenith in the 12th century, under the Cholas.

The southern kingdoms exhibited a democratic give-and-take that is, in a sense, essentially Indian During the Chola regime, seafarers took Indian culture and Hinduism across the seas to countries in south-east Asia, where it spread and acquired local flavours Back home in Kerala, the Cheras hosted an influx of Arab traders who had discovered the fast route to India, using the monsoon winds. Many chose to settle m India, and were allowed to freely practice their religion Their descendants are the Maplahs or Malabar Muslims. This cross cultural character is most evident in the Lakshadweep archipelago, off the coast of Kerala, where traditional Islamic religion is followed as strictly as the un-Islamic matriarchal tradition imported from the mainland.

The Muslim impact in the south was echoed in the north Lured by tales of the fertile plains of Punjab and the wealth of the Hindu temples, Mahmud of Ghazni from Afghanistan first attacked India in the 10th century AD. He was followed by other Central Asian raiders Late m the 12th century Qutb-ud-din Aibak founded the Slave Dynasty in Delhi, setting up the nucleus of the Delhi Sultanate, or the rule of Turkish or Afghan sultans - Khiljis, Tughlaqs, Lodis.

But a far more permanent impact was created by the Mughals, a central Asian tribe founded m the 16th century by Babur Though the conquest of Hindustan was his ambition, Babur never looked towards settling in India - a land bereft of the famous "Ferghana melons" that he was so fond of. But destiny had other plans for him. After the first battle of Panipat, which he won from Ibrahim Lodi, Babur found himself the father of the Mughal dynasty.

His son, Humayun established the Mughal base more firmly, but greatness for the dynasty was reserved for his grandson, Akbar (1562-1605). Worldly might was not the only reason why this emperor was referred to as Akbar the Great. Apart from adding vast lands into his empire, he attempted one of the more effective forms of administration, followed for centuries after him. But his legacy will always be that he tried to create a culture that included the best of Hinduism and Islam in his Din-i-Ilahi. To put his ideas into practice he even married Hindu princesses, while the architecture of Sikandra and his created city, Fatehpur Sikri near Agra, amalgamated Hindu and Muslim strains. Mughal culture reached its zenith during the reign of his grandson. Shah Jahan, known as a great builder and patron of the arts. Shahjahan moved the capital to Delhi from Agra although he reserved the banks of the Yamuna in Agra as the immortalized resting-place for his beloved queen, Mumtaz Mahal - the Taj Mahal. An exquisite example of architecture and pietra dura work, the Taj now draws, heads of state and ordinary tourists with the same sense of wonder and beauty. As a visiting US president observed, "the world is divided into those who have seen the Taj and those who haven't."

Aurangzeb, the last major Mughal emperor, expanded the empire even further into south India, but between his habitual intolerance of other religions and the rise of Rajput and Maratha clans challenging the empire, his was a disturbed reign. It was the beginning of the end, because subsequent emperors could not contain the growing uprisings and after the British empire took hold in India, became more and more ineffective. The last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar was even banished from India by the British to Burma, where he died a lonely death.

The impact of Islam on Indian culture has been immense. It permanently influenced the development of all areas of human endeavour, language, dress, cuisine, all art forms, architecture, urban design, social customs and values.

In the religious sphere, the teachings of the two great religious figures of the 14-15th centuries, Kabir and Nanak, reflected the absorption of both cultures. Drawing on the devotional Hindu Bhakti and Islamic sufi cult, the tolerance of Hinduism and the ideas of equality of Islam, they practised a religion that advocated simple living and practical common sense. Kabir emphasised the oneness of the divine in his couplets, while Guru Nanak founded Sikhism which has a large following in the Punjab.

The next wave of influence that changed the course of Indian history came from the Europeans, and finally the British The great seafarers of north-west Europe, British, French, Dutch and Portuguese arrived on Indian shores early in the 17th century and established trading outposts along the Indian coast. These newcomers soon developed mutual rivalries and sought the help of local rulers to fight on their side and consolidate their territorial or trading positions In time, this metamorphosed into political ambitions and they manipulated disunity among Indian rulers to their advantage. The ultimate victors were the British, who established political supremacy over eastern India after the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and by the time of the first war of independence m 1857 had established their sway over a large part of the subcontinent.

Unlike their predecessors the British did not settle in India to form a local empire Instead India provided an enormous boost to the nascent industrial revolution in England by providing cheap raw materials, capital and a large captive market for British industry The land was reorganised under the harsh zamindari (landlord) system to facilitate collection of taxes and in certain areas, farmers were forced to switch from subsistence farming to commercial crops such as indigo, jute, tea and coffee This resulted m famines and uprisings on a large scale.

A century of accumulated grievances resulted m what used to be known as the great mutiny and is now known as the First Indian War of Independence in 1857. It precipitated a spontaneous conflagration against British laws such as Dalhousie's Doctrine of Lapse. The Princely states, aristocracy and the peasantry together rose up against the British The uprising was brutally suppressed and in 1858 India came under the British crown.

But the seeds of independence had been sown From then onwards, through education and social reform to armed uprisings and political movements, the soul of India stirred against the shackles of British exploitation. The vast railway network established by the British gave tangible idea to Indian unity, because with the travel of people traveled ideas and independent thought Since it was impossible for a handful of foreigners to govern this huge country the British set out to create a local elite to help them in this task These elite educated in the best British tradition and ideas, inculcated western concepts into India's social and intellectual fabric Largely through the efforts of this westernized intelligentsia, ideas of democracy, individual freedom and equality spread to the Indian masses which culminated in the freedom movement. This was also a period of great social ferment with Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Vidyasagar, all from Bengal leading great social reform movements The Indian National Congress was formed in 1885 and the psychological concept of national unity was forged.

At the turn of the century, the freedom movement reached out to the common man through the launching of the Swadeshi Movement by leaders such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Aurobindo Ghose. But the full mobilization of the masses came about only through the appearance of one of India's most charismatic leaders.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was an Indian lawyer who studied law in England In South Africa he won his political spurs by organizing the expatriate Indian community against apartheid He later developed a technique of protest, called satyagraha, and was given the title of Mahatma, or Great Soul On his return to India in 1915 he became the lifeblood of the Congress which was searching for just such a leader. As Jawaharlal Nehru said, "He was a powerful current of fresh air that made us stretch ourselves and take a deep breath and revitalize the Freedom Movement."

Under his leadership. Congress launched a series of mass movements - the non-violent, non-cooperation movement (1920-22), the civil disobedience movement (1930) and triggered by the Salt March, Gandhi captured the imagination of Indians by leading a band of followers from Sabarmati to Dandi, 200 miles away, to make salt, violating the British salt laws. The independence movement grew in strength. In August 1942, the Quit India movement was launched against the British and they, in turn resorted to brutal repression It became evident to the British that it could maintain its empire in India only at an enormous cost At the end of the Second World War the British government initiated a number of constitutional moves to effect the transfer of power to India.

India achieved independence on August 15,1947 In his midnight speech in the Indian Parliament, the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru said, "Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny and now the time comes when we will redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but substantially At the stroke of midnight, when the world sleeps India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance ".

In the next three years India gave herself a constitution that remains the skeleton of her modern democracy, fashioned largely on the British parliamentary model, but including ideas from at least nine other world constitutions India became a republic on January 26,1950 when the constitution came into force and Indians were granted universal suffrage, guaranteed freedom of speech, expression and belief and protection against discrimination of all kinds.

India adopted a parliamentary system of governance, with two houses, the Lok Sabha (House of the People) and Rajya Sabha (Council of the States) as the supreme law-making authorities in the nation The process is replicated in the states, though some states have dispensed with the upper house The executive and the judiciary form the two other arms of governance in the country A huge bureaucratic system, devised by the British, continue to be the "steel frame" of governance, charged with implementing laws.

The earlier governments followed the ideals of socialist and secular thought, which sought to elevate the Indian state from favouring any particular religion, ethnicity or caste or social divides It remains the ruling credo of this nation with a billion-plus population of every imaginable religious and social persuasions In domestic policy, this led to a series of affirmative action and land reform policies to create a more equitable order.

In foreign policy, it led the nation's leaders to favour a more socialist outlook, which led Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister to become one of the founding fathers of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) consciously staying away from either the western bloc led by the US or the Soviet bloc led by the USSR Despite this though, after 1971, India did indeed ally itself more closely with the former Soviet Union, developing a deep and abiding relationship With the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the USSR into Russia and other successor states, India's relationship expanded to include the new republics.

Meanwhile, the mixed economy model followed by India for over 40 years was dismantled after 1991. The spate of economic reforms enhanced substantially India's relations with the United States of America (USA) which is now India's largest trading partner. The growth of high technology sector in India too added more substance to the Indo-US relationship, indeed to India's relations with the rest of the world, as India seemed better able to grapple with the complexities of the new economic order emerging the world.

In the international trading order that has now emerged, India as one of the earliest members of the GATT and later, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been working tirelessly to ensure that the benefits of global trade accrue as much to the developed world as the developing world. Globalisation has shrunk the world and the death of distance is rarely understood better than, for instance, among the fishermen of Kerala, who even while out at sea can check on the latest fish prices in the wholesale markets.

With the onset of the 21st century, India now can boast of several achievements. It is the largest functioning democracy in the world with a billion-plus Indians participating actively in the political and social processes of this country. India is a vibrant and growing economy, moving steadily into high technology areas and a society based on secular and equitable principles.


Art and Culture

A spectacular blend of creativity and aesthetics

Rangoli, also known as alpana or kolam is a traditional household decoration art. Made of a powder of rice flour, lime and other vegetable dyes, it is used mainly by the women of the house to draw ritualised and intricate designs either m the household courtyard or around deities during religious festivals. One doesn't need formal training in rangoli art, and it is drawn mainly with fingers, which impart to floral motifs a unique distinction every time.

Rangoli is a perfect example of the place, art has in Indian life and culture. It shows the creative expression that is a part of the Indian persona. Whether religious ritual or serving food, a measure of creativity and aesthetics is omnipresent.

The sub-continent has enjoyed a virtually uninterrupted history of developments in the realm of art and architecture and many classical art forms are rooted in a folk or tribal base and connected to religion, not only in its mystical aspects but even the secular. From their folk base, Indian art, architecture and culture evolved into classical forms, and reached their zenith during the Gupta empire.

Buddhist art flourished during the Gupta period, which has often been described as a golden age. As in all periods, there is little difference in the images of the major Indian religions Buddhist, Hindu, and Jam-though from simplified structures, art also took on ornamental details.

The Ajanta caves, built around 650 AD, contain beautifully crafted Buddhist frescoes. The Kailash temple at Ellora consists of a huge courtyard 81 m long, 47 m wide and 33 m high at the back, with the main structure rising up in the centre. The temple itself is an engineering feat in itself, carved out of a single monolithic rock.
Under the Kushans, conquerors from central Asia, two of India's most important artistic styles were developed between the 2nd and 5th centuries AD: Gandhara art and Mathura art. Gandhara art presents some of the earliest images of the Buddha, profoundly influenced by 2nd century Hellenistic art and was itself highly influential in central and eastern Asia. (In fact, the famous Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan were striking examples of Gandhara art). Stupas and monasteries were adorned with relief friezes, showing figures in classical poses with flowing Hellenistic draperies.

Around the 11th to 13th centuries, the Dilwara Jain temples on Mount Abu exhibited filigree carvings in marble as to appear almost transparent. Although there were innumerable hill-top forts constructed by the Rajputs, it wasn't until later that these rulers learnt to build enormous palaces within these forts and evolved techniques of insulating them from the heat, and palace architects found ways of ensuring optimal ventilation and exposure to light. Most of these palaces were richly decorated and provide tremendous insight into the artistic and decorative choices that were favoured by the royalty.

A distinctive feature of the Rajput forts was the fanciful use of colour, mirror-work, mother-of-pearl and gilt in the decoration of their fortress-like palaces. Although not remarkable in architectural terms, the Jharokhas and Aangans, and richly decorated gateways make these palaces unique and interesting. Indian art has been strongly influenced by the rich tradition of rational and spiritual philosophy that informed Indian thought. Stupas and temples incorporated a symbolic language based on visual representations of important philosophical concepts, like the Chakra - the revolving wheel of time; the Padma - or the lotus embodying creation; Ananta symbolizing water, the life-giving force; Swastika - representing the four-fold aspects of creation and motion; Kalpavriksha - the wish-fulfilling tree that symbolizes imagination; Mriga - or deer symbolic of erotic desire and beauty; and lingam and yoni- the male and female fertility symbols.
Therefore, Indian temples and stupas were also cultural centres, which explains the numerous images of everyday life. After the 10th century, erotic themes begin to make their mark. Sensuality and sexual interaction is displayed in the temples of Khajuraho, Konarak and Bhubaneshwar and in the Kakathiya temples of Palampet. These depicted that, in that particular period of Indian history, there was complete compatibility between human sexuality and human spirituality.

Hindu temple architecture exhibits masterpieces of sculptural decoration. The famous shore temples of Mahabalipuram and Kanchipuram near Chennai built by the Pallavas are examples of such decoration, though the Cholas of Thanjavur took it further with the magnificent Brihadeshwara temple. Bengal has been the home of several great civilizations. The temples in Bankura and Burdwan, with their terracotta reliefs adorning the entire brick surface, serve as lavish decoration but also a realistic depiction of rural Bengal life through the ages, all the way up to the British empire.

Islamic influence on Indian architecture was seen after the 11th century with the Turkish and Afghan invasions Qutb-ud-din Aibak, founder of the so-called slave dynasty built the first mosque in Delhi as well as the Qutub Minar. The Mughal emperor Akbar welded Hindu and Islamic styles of architecture in his city Fatehpur Sikri, while his grandson, Shah Jahan distinguished himself by building the magnificent ode to love, the Taj Mahal.
When the British conquered India, the Victorian Gothic style gained currency (though some Art Deco buildings were notable) which was used in public buildings in Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta. In the early decades of the 20th century, Edwin Lutyens designed New Delhi in the neo-classical style. Modern Indian architecture has come into its own, first with the designing of the city of Chandigarh by Le Corbusier. Other notable architects now are Charles Correa, Balkrishna Doshi and Laurie Baker, who have been innovating with both material and design.


Painting in India has a very old tradition, with ancient texts outlining theories of colour and aesthetics and anecdotal accounts suggesting that it was not uncommon for households to paint their doorways or facades or even indoor rooms where guests were received. Cave paintings from Ajanta, Bagh and Sittanvasal and temple paintings testify to a love of naturalism-both in the depiction of the human form and in the depiction of nature. The most famous surviving Buddhist paintings are from the caves at Ajanta. In Ajanta, we also see the emergence of a style that appears agam and agam -  the ability to draw abstractions from nature in a manner that is both aesthetically pleasing and very effective as a decorative embellishment Illustrations on palm-leaf manuscripts of Jain and Buddhist texts in Gujarat around the 12th century have strong resonances with folk paintings.

These also influence the famous Indian miniature paintings. Many of the finest Indian miniatures were based on Ragmalas - i.e. moods associated with different musical ragas. Here the emphasis was on conveying a particular sentiment or mood, or atmosphere. Through the bold use of colour, abstract touches, and deliberate flattening of three-dimensional textures, the artist succeeded in bringing out certain hidden nuances that simply would not be possible any other way.

One can appreciate the earnest lyricism of the Orissa palm-leaf miniatures, the decorous elan of the Bundelkhand wall paintings, the bold and dark colours of Lepakshi, and the vivacious renditions in the palaces and temples of Madurai, Thanjavur and Ramanathapuram. In all these varied traditions of Indian painting, an important element that infused Indian painting with charm and vivacity was the folk idiom that found its way in the art of the regional kingdoms.

The fusion of Persian and Mughal arts with Indian created a wholly distinctive art form in the 15th-16th centuries resulting in hybrid schools like the Pahari, Rajasthan and Deccan schools of painting. The British imported western classical art, which Indian painters like Raja Ravi Varma adapted to Indian religious themes Indian artists adapted Western techniques and produced gouache paintings to suit the tastes of European buyers. While the paintings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were pervaded by a decidedly nationalist sentiment, contemporary Indian art is now a part of the international movement.

Music and Dance

Classical Indian music too has folk origins. The heart of all Indian classical music is the 'raga', a Sanskrit term, and each raga has a distinctive colour and mood Most ragas today are highly refined and grammatised codifications of tribal and folk melodies. Each raga has its own ethos, to be sung at a particular time of day, season and invokes a specific mood. The greatness of Indian music lies in the freedom given to each singer, because beyond set parameters the musician is free to innovate. This has also created the various 'gharanas' of music. There are two major traditions of Indian classical music - Hindustani (north Indian) and Carnatic (south Indian). Though both are based on the same fundamental concept, there are differences in tones, etc. The sitar is the most famous Indian musical instrument, but there are a host of others including the veena, sarod, santoor, shehnai, flute, all accompanied by percussion instruments like the tabla, pak

hawaj, mridangam and ghatam. All have evolved from simple folk instruments made from reeds, bamboo and gourds.

Music and dance before the birth of classical dance forms revolved around the activities of rural and tribal people. Rural communities even today celebrate the rhythms of daily and seasonal life with dances and music, which have great similarities to each other. While in the Himalayan belt men and women hold each other and sway gracefully, in Punjab, dancing is more vigorous, called the Bhangra (performed by men) and Giddha (performed by women.) In Rajasthan, women with covered faces, whirl round and round in the Ghoomar while their counterparts in Gujarat perform the Garba.

There are many existing forms of dance drama or folk theatre such as Nautanki in Rajasthan, UP and Bihar, Bhavai of Gujarat, Tamasha in Maharashtra, Jatra in Bengal, Yakshagana m Karnataka and Theyyam in Kerala. Martial art forms have been stylized to quasi dance forms in the northeast, Lazin dances of Maharashtra, Kalaripayattu of Kerala and Chhau of Orissa. Classical dances in India too have their own variety. There are six major classical dance styles in India -  Bharatanatyam from Tamil Nadu, Odissi from Orissa, Katbak from Uttar Pradesh, Manipuri from Manipur, Kathakali and Mohini-attam from Kerala and Kuchipudi from Andhra Pradesh. They all adhere to the canons of classical dance as laid down in Natya Shastra, written by sage Bharata in the second century BC. Over the centuries, a complex repertoire of hand movements, rhythms, facial gestures and body movements have been developed to convey subtle meanings.


Fabric weaving and printing in India is regarded as an art form by itself. From the fabled gossamer muslins of Bengal to thick, earthy tribal shawls, shimmering silk embroidered with gold thread to simple cottons with block prints, jamavars to mirror-work, Indian textiles are a treasure trove. As an example, zari is the fine glittery thread of gold or silver and the embroidery made using them. The stitches are extremely fine and are worked with dexterity and skill, with the embroidery starting from the centre and proceeding to the outer edges in a circular fashion. Zari designs are used for table linens and also for making articles of personal wear.
The famous pashmina shawls of Kashmir are made of the finest wool and have a luxuriant silky texture. Indian shawls depend on embroidery or on weaving for their ornamentation. The Kashmiri embroiderer takes great pride in embroidering shawls which have a pattern identical on both sides. The motifs used for embroidery or weaving in shawls follow Indian traditions, and include the motifs of an elephant, mango, lotus and others.


Motion pictures came to India in 1896, when the Lumiere Brothers' Cinematographe unveiled six soundless short films in Mumbai). India's first feature film - Raja Harishchandra - was released in 1913. It was made by Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, popularly known as Dadasaheb Phalke (1817-1944). This was a silent movie. By 1920, film making had taken the shape of an industry.

The first talkie made in India was Alam Ara (produced by Imperial Film Company) released in 1931. Until the 1960s, film-making companies, many of whom owned studios, dominated the film industry. Artistes and technicians were either their employees or were contracted on long-term basis. Since the 1960s, however, most performers went the freelance way, resulting in the huge escalations in film production costs. India today has the world's biggest movie industry in terms of the number of movies produced (around 800 movies annually), mostly in the Hindi language, besides Tamil, Telugu, Bengali and Malayalam languages.
A shift from popular to creative cinema came after Independence, as social realities and injustices were highlighted. But this gave way in the 70s to chocolate box films with tired, repetitive content and lots of music and dance. This also saw the genesis of the blockbuster and the growth of superstars like Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna. In reaction, a parallel cinema movement grew and was very successful.

Satyajit Ray made movies like Father Panchali, and he was the first Indian to have won the Palm D'Or in Cannes and an Oscar award for lifetime achievement. Today, the technology of film-making m India is perhaps the best among all developing countries.

However, the popular culture purveyed through films has a strong influence on Indian people. It is also one of India's enduring exports to countries throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Since films are almost wholly centred around songs, a whole new genre of popular film music now dominates the popular music scene.

The Department of Culture in the Ministry of Human Resource Development plays a vital role in the preservation, promotion and dissemination of art and culture. The aim of the Department is to develop ways and means by which the basic cultural and aesthetic values and perceptions remain active and dynamic among the people.

It also undertakes programmes of preservation, encouragement and dissemination of various manifestations of contemporary creativity. The Department is a nodal agency for commemorating significant events and celebrating centenaries of great persons.



To promote and propagate understanding of Indian art, both within and outside the country, the Government established Lalit Kala Akademi (National Akademi of Fine Arts) at New Delhi in 1954. To decentralise its activities, the Akademi has set up regional centres called Rashtriya Lalit Kala Kendra at Lucknow, Calcutta, Chennai and Bhubaneswar as well as a small office at Mumbai. The Akademi has also set up Community Artists Studio Complex with workshop facilities in painting, sculpture, print-making and ceramics at Garhi village in New Delhi. The regional centres and workshops are headed by experts to give technical guidance in these disciplines.

Since its inception, the Akademi organises national exhibitions of contemporary Indian art with 10 national awards, each of Rs 25,000. Three to four special exhibitions every year are organised with some concept involving known and eminent artists of India. Every three years, the Academy also organises Triennale India, one of the most significant exhibitions of contemporary art in this part of the world. The Akademi honours eminent artists and art historians every year by electing them as Fellows of the Akademi. To propagate Indian art outside, the Akademi regularly participates in International Biennales and Triennales abroad and also organises exhibitions of works of art from other countries. To foster contacts with artists from outside, it sponsors exchange of artists with other countries under the various Cultural Exchange Programmes and Agreements of the Government of India.

The Lalit Kala Akademi accords recognition to art institutions/associations and extends financial assistance to these bodies as well as state Akademis every year. It also gives scholarships to deserving young artists of its regional centres. Under its publication programme, the Akademi brings out monographs on the works of Indian contemporary artists in Hindi and English and books on contemporary, traditional, folk and tribal arts authored by eminent writers and art critics. The Akademi also brings out bi-annual art journals, Lalit Kala Contemporary (English), Lalit Kala Ancient (English) and Samkaleen Kala (Hindi). Apart from these, it brings out large size multi-colour reproductions of contemporary paintings and graphics from time to time. The Akademi has started a regular programme on research and documentation. Scholars are given financial assistance to undertake projects in contemporary folk, field projects on various aspects of Indian society and culture for better understanding, salvage and revitalisation of the rich cultural heritage of the country.



Two main schools of classical music Hindustani and Carnatic continue to survive through oral tradition being passed on by teachers to disciples. This has led to the existence of family traditions called gharanas and sampradayas.


Dance in India has an unbroken tradition of over 2,000 years. Its themes are derived from mythology, legends and classical literature, two main divisions being classical and folk. Classical dance forms are based on ancient dance discipline and have rigid rules of presentation. Important among them are Bharata Natyam, Kathakali, Kathak, Manipuri, Kuchipudi and Odissi. Bharata Natyam though it derives its roots from Tamil Nadu, has developed into an all India form. Kathakali is a dance form of Kerala. Kathak is a classical dance form revitalised as a result of Mughal influence on Indian culture. Manipur has contributed to a delicate, lyrical style of dance called Manipuri, while Kuchipudi is a dance form owing its origin to Andhra Pradesh. Odissi from Orissa, once practised as a temple dance, is today widely exhibited by artistes across the country. Folk and tribal dances are of numerous patterns.

Both classical and folk dances owe their present popularity to institutions like Sangeet Natak Akademi and other training institutes and cultural organisations. The Akademi gives financial assistance to cultural institutions and awards fellowships to scholars, performers and teachers to promote advanced study and training in different forms of dance and music, especially those which are rare.


Theatre in India is as old as her music and dance. Classical theatre survives only in some places. Folk theatre can be seen in its regional variants practically in every region. There are also professional theatres, mainly city-oriented. Besides, India has a rich tradition of puppet theatre, prevalent forms being puppets, rod puppets, glove puppets and leather puppets (shadow theatre). There are several semi-professional and amateur theatre groups involved in staging plays in Indian languages and in English.


Sangeet Natak Akademi, the National Akademy of Music, Dance and Drama, was founded in 1953 to promote the performing arts in collaboration with the states and voluntary organisations. By arranging free performances by talented artists, the Akademi seeks an enhanced public appreciation of music, dance and drama, together with exchange of ideas and techniques for the common gain of Indian performing arts. Kathak Kendra, Delhi, and Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy, Imphal, are training institutions run by the Akademi. While the Kathak Kendra imparts training in Kathak Dance and Music, the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy imparts training in Manipuri dance and allied arts. The management of the two institutions vests in the Executive Board of the Akademi, which is assisted by the Advisory Committees of these constituent units.

In furtherance of its objectives, the Akademi is supporting training programmes in Chhau dance of Mayurbhanj and Seraikella as also Koodiyattam in Kerala. The Akademi also runs the following schemes: assistance to theatre directors and playwrights, promotion and preservation of traditional performing arts, support to art forms which are in danger of extinction, inter-state cultural exchange programmes, cultural exchange programmes with foreign countries, documentation and dissemination, etc. The Akademi also annually honours artistes in the field of performing arts and holds festivals, seminars, workshops, etc.


The National School of Drama (NSD) - one of the foremost theatre training institutions in the world and the only one of its kind in India was set up by Sangeet Natak Akademi in 1959. Later in 1975, it became an autonomous organisation, financed entirely by Department of Culture, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India. NSD has produced a galaxy of talents - actors, directors, script-writers, designers, technicians and educationists who work not only in theatre but in film and television also - winning several awards, national and international. The training in the School is based on a thorough, comprehensive, carefully planned syllabus. The systematic study and practical performing experience of Sanskrit drama, modern Indian drama, traditional Indian theatre forms, Asian drama and western drama give the students a solid grounding and a wide perspective in the art of the theatre. In order to establish links between traditional theatre forms of India and modern expressions, the School brings in experts to train the students in these forms and also sends students to regional centres for training in traditional theatre. The School has also attracted to its training faculty some of the finest creative talents from within the country and abroad. The school has its performing wing, a Repertory Company, and Theatre-in- Education Company called Sanskaar Rang Toli that perform for Children and does workshops for children and teachers. Jashn-e-Bachan, a festival of plays for children was organized by NSD. Another important annual event started by NSD is Bharat Rang Mahotsava - a major festival of significant theatre productions, the first of its kind in India. NSD has its Regional Resource-cum-Research Centre at Bangalore.


Rediscovery of ancient and medieval Indian literature and development of modern literature in major Indian languages and English mark the literary activities of present-day India. A large number of literary periodicals and magazines, literary institutions and All India Radio have given impetus to the growth of modern Indian literature.


Sahitya Akademi is the Indian National Academy of Letters meant to promote the cause of Indian literature through publications, translations, seminars, workshops, cultural exchange programmes and literary meets organised all over the country. The Akademi was founded in March 1954 as an autonomous body fully funded by the Department of Culture, Government of India. It was registered as a Society in 1956. Sahitya Akademi has a written constitution to guide and shape the modalities of its various functions. The Akademi has recognised 22 languages. It has an Advisory Board of ten members in each of these languages that suggests various functions and publications in the concerned languages. There are four Regional Boards to promote regional interaction among the languages of the north, west, east and south. Besides with its Head Office in New Delhi it has four offices in Calcutta, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. It has a Library stocking about two lakh books in different languages. Sahitya Akademi recognises eminent writers through 22 Awards for creative writing, 22 translation prizes, fellowships for distinguished contribution to literature, Bhasha Samman meant to promote peripheral languages, Ananda Coomaraswamy Fellowship for South Asian scholars and Honorary Fellowships for foreign scholars who have done significant work in Indian literature. The Akademi publishes books in 22 languages including translations of Award-winning works, monographs on the great pioneers of Indian literatures, histories of literature, Indian and foreign classics in translation, anthologies of fiction, poetry and prose, biographies, Registers of Translators, Who’s Who of Indian Writers and Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature. So far the Akademi has published around 3,000 books in these different categories. The Akademi has three journals, Indian Literature (bi-monthly in English), Samakaleena Bharatiya Sahitya (bi- monthly in Hindi) and Samskrita Pratibha (half-yearly in Sanskrit). Sahitya Akademi holds about 30 regional, national and international seminars every year on various topics in literature, literary history and aesthetics. Besides, it organises a series of programmes, such as Meet the Author, Kavisandhi, Kathasandhi, Asmita, Mulakat, Men and Books, Through My Window, Loka, The Many Voices Avishkar, Antaral, and Literary Forum. The Akademi also regularly holds Translation Workshops. The Akademi holds annually a week-long Festival of Letters usually in February. It has certain special projects like the Ancient Indian Literature, Medieval Indian Literature and Modern Indian Literature together constituting ten volumes of the best of Indian writing over five millennia. Another project for the translation and publication of Tribal Literature has been established at Vadodara as its headquarters. The Akademi has also launched a collaborative project with the Natioinal Book Trust, India to bring out 100 Indian classics in translation. Another project is the Archives of Indian Literature that is meant to document literature through films, videos, audios, CDs and to preserve manuscripts, photographs and other materials associated with eminent Indian writers. The Akademi gives Travel Grants to young authors to interact with writers in other parts of India. It also has a cultural exchange programme where Indian writers and scholars are sent abroad and foreign writers and scholars received in India.


1814 The Indian Museum, Calcutta founded.

1861 The Archaeological Survey of India established.

1891 Khuda Baksh Oriental Public Library established in Patna.

1931 The Allahabad Museum established.

1945 The Anthropological Survey of India established.

1951 The Salar Jung Museum Hyderabad established.

1954 The National Gallery of Modern Art established.

  •  The Sahitya Akademi founded (March)
  •  The Lalit Kala Akademi (National Akademi of Fine Arts) established at New Delhi.
  •  Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy established.

1960 The National Museum set up.

1967 The Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies established.

1972 The Raja Rammohan Roy Library Foundation set up in Calcutta.

1978 The National Council of Science Museums set up in Calcutta (April).

1984 Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti formed (September).

1987 The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts formed (19 March).

1989 The National Museum Institute of History of Arts, Conservation and Museology started functioning.

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Feature films are being produced in India since 1912-13. While R.G. Torney along with N.G. Chitre made Pundalin in 1912, Dhundiraj Govind Phalke (1870-1914) produced Raja Harishchandra in 1913. The era of silent films was overtaken by the talkie era in 1931 when Ardeshir Irani (1886-1969) produced Alam Ara, tthough silent movies continued to be produced till 1934. India leads the world in the annual output of feature films.


Films can be publicly exhibited in India only after they have been certified by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). The Board set up under the Cinematography Act, 1952, consists of a Chairman and a minimum of 12 and a maximum of 25 non-official members, all appointed by the Government. The Board functions with headquarters at Mumbai and nine regional offices at Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chennai Thiruvananthapuram, New Delhi, Cuttack and Guwahati. The films produced in 14 languages are certified by nine offices all over the country. The regional offices are assisted in the examination of films by members of advisory panels which include eminent educationists, art-critics, journalists, social workers, psychologists, etc. The Board examines films for certification in accordance with the provisions contained in the Cinematography Act, 1952, Cinematography (Certification) Rules, 1983 and the guidelines issued by the Central Government. The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal, New Delhi hears appeals against the decision of the CBFC. In 2000, the Board certified 855 Indian and 252 foreign feature films, 1,058 Indian and 194 foreign short films. 111 Indian video feature films and 38 foreign video feature films, 503 Indian video short films and 167 foreign video short films.


The Films division was established in 1948 to record, propagate and preserve the achievements of a resurgent independent India on celluloid. It has been the vital link between the people and the Government apart from its pioneering role in spreading the documentary film movement in India and the world. It is the largest national agency devoted to the production and distribution of newsmagazines, quickies and documentaries.

 Apart from its newsmagazines and documentaries the Films Division also produces story-based featurettes and educational films both in-house for various ministries and departments of the Government of India and other State Governments. Its cartoon unit has a unique place of pride in the country churning out most delightful and educative animation shorts.

The Films Division produces and dubs all the released films in all the regional languages apart from Hindi and English. It has ten distribution branch offices located at Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Chennai, Madurai, Nagpur, Thiruvananthapuram, and Vijayawada. Films Division has an archive with more than 8,000 titles on variety of subjects.

Films Division started the Mumbai International Film Festival for Documentary, Short and Animation Films (MIFF) in 1990. Since then MIFF has grown in stature. At the sixth MIFF held during 3-9 February 2000, 542 entries from 34 countries were received. The seventh MIFF is scheduled to be held in February 2002.

The Films Division organises film festivals in different parts of the country. During 2000-2001 the Documentary Film Festivals were organised in Jamshedpur, Jaipur and Chennai. The first ever Delhi International Film Festival for Documentary, Short and Animation Films (DIFF 2001), was a non-competitive festival. Over 100 films from 15 participating countries were ned during the Festival.

During 1999-2000, the Films Division produced 34 news magazines and 84 documentaries/short featurettes and video films and earned revenue amounting to Rs.13.77 crore.


National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) Limited incorporated in 1975, was restructured in 1980 after amalgamation of the Indian Motion Picture Export Corporation (IMPEC) and Film Finance Corporation (FFC). The primary objective of NFDC is to foster excellence in cinema and to develop state-of-the-art technology in audio-visual and related fields. The main activities of the corporation include financing and producing films with socially relevant themes, creative and artistic excellence and experimental in form; distribution and dissemination of films through various channels. NFDC also provides essential pre-production and post-production infrastructure to the film industry, in pace with the latest technology, which includes financing of theatre construction. NFDC also endeavours to promote culture and understanding of cinema by organising film weeks, Indian panorama and film festivals in collaboration with film societies, National Film Circle and other agencies representing Indian and foreign films.

NGDC encourages the concept of low-budget films which are high in quality, content and production values. During 2000-01 (up to November 2000) production of three films in different languages were completed and six films were under production. The Corporation acquired 28 foreign films for television satellite rights and exported 46 films during the same period. NFDC’s film centre, Kolkata provides production and post-production facilities to the film industry of eastern-region. At the NFDC's laser sub-titling unit, Mumbai sub-titling in all the Latin character foreign languages and Arabic are being done. The unit also undertakes video sub-titling in various regional and foreign languages.

The Cine Artists' Welfare Fund of India, set up by NFDC, is the biggest ever trust in the Indian Film Industry with a corpus of Rs.4.16 crore. During 2000-2001 (up to November), an amount of Rs.35 lakh was disbursed as pension to cine artists.


The National Film Archive of India (NFAI), established in 1964, has three principal objectives, viz., (i) to trace, acquire and preserve the national film heritage for posterity; (ii) to clarify and document data and promote research relating to films and (iii) to act as a centre for dissemination of film culture. NFAI has been a member of the International Federation of Film Archives since May 1969, which enables it to get expert advice and material on preservation techniques, documentation, bibliographies, etc., and to exchange rare films with other members. As a part of its activities under dissemination of film culture, NFAI's headquarters at Pune and three Regional Offices at Bangalore, Kolkata and Thiruvananthapuram extend distribution library facilities to the members throughout the country. NFAI also conducts joint screening programmes at Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Thiruvananthapuram, Cochin, Jamshedpur and Pune. Long and short-term courses in Film Appreciation are conducted in collaboration with FTII and other educational institutions and cultural organisations.


Children's Film Society, India (CFSI) also known as National Centre of films for Children and Young People (N'CYP) was established in 1955 to provide value-based entertainment to children through the medium of films and is engaged in production, acquisition, distribution and exhibition of such films. The head office of the CFSI is located in Mumbai with branch/zonal offices in New Delhi and Chennai. Films produced/procured by the Society are exhibited through state/districtwise package programmes. During 2000-01, 88 programmes comprising over 2,064 shows with an audience of 12.11 lakh were organised. The films produced by CFSI screened in various National and International Film Festivals have won many awards. CFSI holds it International Film Festival every alternate year.


The Directorate of Adbvertising and Visual Publicity (DACP) is the central agency of the Government of India for undertaking advertising and audio visual publicity campaigns on behalf of various Ministries, Departments and autonomous bodies, except Railways and provides them a single-window service. The means of communication used are press advertisements, outdoor publicity, exhibitions and audio-visual and printed publicity materials like posters, folders, brochures, booklets, etc.


Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), Kolkata, an autonomous academic institution under the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, was registered in 1995 under the West Bengal Societies Registration Act, 1961. The Institute is a National Centre offering post-graduate diploma courses of three year duration in (i) Film Direction & Screenplay Writing; (ii) Motion Picture Photography; (iii) Editing (Film & Video) and (iv) Sound Recording. Films Bhor and Meena Jha produced by the first batch of students have won three national awards.


The Westerner coming to India who seeks contact with the arts will find that they are not all equally accessible to him on first acquaintance. The least accessible one will probably be India’s classical music, which will not surrender many of its pleasures to the unguided Westerner ear.

Some preparation is necessary to prevent the Westerner from being misled by his previous ideas of music and habits of listening, which are quite different from those of an Indian.

The differences between Indian and Western musical thought can be illustrated in many ways. Take, for example, the factor in music which in drama would be called “pacing”. In music, this is not just the speed of a piece (tempo), but the rate at which new ideas are introduced. The pace, if we may use this term, in Indian music is much slower than in most Western music. For this reason, the pieces on an Indian program, especially in the North, are long, taking from a half hour to an hour, the whole program often running three hours or more. Further, an entirepiece may be developed mainly from one tonal idea while a Western symphony
or sonata of comparable length (few of them exceed forty minutes, anyway) will usually be formed from a number of ideas of varied nature. And while most Indian pieces are indisputably long (by clock time), they seem even longer to a Westerner because of drones sounding in the background, which do not change pitch during the piece, or even during the whole evening. It is as though an organist were to perform a whole concert with his feet resting continuously on one pair of pedal notes. It is not surprising, then, if one considers only the slow pace and drones, that the Westerner, listening passively, finds Indian classical music monotonous, or even soporific, on first acquaintance.

If the Westerner observes Indians at a concert, however, he will see that they are not affected as he is. Their eyes are alert, they wag their heads in response to certain melodic turns, and they seem to be participating vicariously in the performance, even when, to the Westerner, the music is in its most static phases. Unlike the Westerner brought up on too much of our Romantic and Impressionistic music, which he “appreciates” by allowing it to pour over him, the Indian is inclined to be actively analytical as he listens. It is this analytical activity which fills the time of performance for an Indian, accounting, at least partly, for his feeling in regard to the length of a piece or concert, which is so different from that of the uninitiated Westerner. To share in the cultivated Indian’s pleasures with classical music, the Westerner has to know some of the technical points on which this listening pleasure is based. Indian classical music is an intimate art, nearer to the solo and instrumental music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance then to the well-known music of what has been called the “period of common practice” (about 1700-1900). As with all intimate arts, its pleasures are all the sweeter for the effort required in obtaining them.

Raga is the first technical feature of Indian music with which the Western listener must become familiar. A raga is a group of tones from which a melody is formed. One thinks immediately of the scale in Western music; this, too, provides the tones from which the melody (and the harmony) is formed. While certain ragas may consist of an ascending and descending series of tones like our do, re, me, fa, sol, la, ti, do, the total concept of raga is more than such a mere schematic statement of the tones, by certain characteristic turns in the direction of the melody (in descending, especially), by certain deflections from normal pitch, and even by graces or ornamental notes used with certain tones. For example, there are a number of ragas using the tones of what we call the C major scale (the regular do, re, mi,…). But these ragas are quite different in effect because of the special ways certain tones are treated.

One of the functions of the slow improvised introductory sections in many Indian pieces, called alapa, is to show the listener the tones of the raga, and the characteristic melodic figures, slowly and carefully, giving both the performer and the listener a chance to feel all the emotional and structural implications of the particular raga. One must give close attention to the alapa, or one will not be thoroughly ready for what follows.

To fully grasp the raga, one really should have an ear trained well enough to recognize whole-steps, half-steps, and other intervals. In our common scale, for example, we have whole-steps between do-re and re-mi, but there is a half step between mi and fa; all the other steps are whole except for ti-do. This particular pattern of steps is so ingrained in our culture that anyone can sing it without realizing exactly what he is doing. More than half of our music uses this pattern in one way or another, as it happens to produce felicitous harmonies when the tones are sounded together in chords. But Indian music, which does not systematically use chords, finds this one pattern, though it is a popular one, inadequate as material for melody.

Indian theorists have worked out by permutations the various combinations of not more than seven tones within an octave. There are 72 of these combinations, which are called melas. A raga, whether traditional or newly constructed, necessarily relates in pattern to a mela.

In contrast to the systematic approach used in the theory of melas, a raga, which is the real substance of Indian tonal fabric, is defined simply as “that which appeals to the ear”. One must really use one’s ears to cope with some ragas which differ greatly in mela from any common European scale - even if we include in our list the patterns of the “modes” of early church music (Gregorian chant).

It is difficult or impossible to determine how many ragas there are, or might be theoretically, as the slightest change in the treatment of the tones of the mela means a different raga. But the number known to have been used is in the thousands, and there are performers who can reproduce hundreds of them. The popularity of certain ragas, however, tends to bring the effective number to a much lower figure, and many performers get along with not more than about fifty ragas.

Each raga is assigned to a certain time of the day, and the character of the raga is somehow appropriate to that time, even in the technical demands made upon the voice. There are some musicians of the older school in the North who would not think of performing a raga except at the proper time. Consequently, at evening concerts, one may hear only evening ragas. In the South, where public concerts have a longer tradition than in the North, the older restrictions stemming from the practices of temple and royal court are freely broken. At a South Indian concert given in the evening, one may hear ragas from various times of the day.

So far, we have mentioned mainly what could be called horizontal aspects of the ragas - the step patterns, emphases, and characteristic ornamentations. We have said, too, that Indian music has no chords. That is true. But it does not mean, really, that Indian music has no “harmony”, if harmony means two or more tones sounding together. As mentioned previously, Indian music usually employs a drone, which is do, sounded continuously against the other tones of the raga as they occur in the melody. Each tone, then, has not only its horizontal, melodic aspect; it also forms a vertical, harmonic combination with the drone. The quality of this harmony(actually, just a harmonically sounded interval) gives much of the individual expression of each tone in the raga. Hindu writers have gone into great detail in explaining the emotion conveyed by each tone; fa may be said to portray “peace”, while a sharpened fa may portray “anxiety”, and so forth. It is not only the location in the spatial scheme of the raga which causes these effects, but also the harmonic intervals formed as the melody notes sound against the drown, do.

While there can be much difference of opinion as to the meaning, character, or ethos of intervals, the Indian designations for their raga tones correspond fairly closely with Western ideas about intervals and scale tones. In our music, for example, much is made over the third note of the scale. A low, or minor third is characterized as “sad”, and a high, or major third is “gay”. One finds the same general meaning attached to these tones in ragas. The interval formed by a sharpened fa with do, or between natural fa and ti, long given special attention in the West (it was called diabolus in musica in medieval theory), is also accorded meaning in Indian music which recognizes its difficulty of intonation, and unique effect.

I give these few examples not to try to show that the sensibilities of the East and West are the same, but only to suggest that conditioning within a culture is not wholly responsible for what we feel in music, and that some of our reactions may depend on universal factors which are as valid in one culture as in another. What moves an Indian will move us, once we learn to apply our attention in the proper way. It goes without saying that the same is true for an Indian trying to appreciate Western music.

Not only are harmonic intervals present in Indian music, but chords (three or more different tones sounded together) as well, even though their occurrence is not deliberately planned, as in Western music. The drone on do often has a companion drone on sol. This means that when a singer dwells on mi, we hear do-mi-sol, the common major chord. Or, if he sings a flattened mi, we hear a minor chord. Still other combinations are formed when the second drone is fa, or ti. In the latter form, ti, with its many reiterations, seems to strive constantly to move upwards into do. Some of the effects formed with this sort of drone sound like a familiar progression in Western pieces, when what is called the “dominant” chord moves to the “tonic”, or principal chord in the key.

Indian music does have chords of a sort, then, and what they are will depend on the raga and type of drown used with it. The occurrence, over and over again, of certain chord combinations between melody notes and drones helps to set the mood of a raga in a manner quite analogous to the repetitious employment of certain chords in Western music to produce a given mood.

The instrument which sounds the vitally important drone in Indian music is the tambura, a long instrument (near double-bass size) with a gourd-like soundbox at one end. The drone strings are carefully tuned before the performance (this is one of the reasons why Indian concerts get a very leisurely start, often a half hour to an hour after the announced time). The performer, who is often a student or friend of the soloist, plucks the strings in no particular rhythm, but simply keeps them vibrating. The reverberation is unusually long, and the instrument produces a buzzing and humming, rather than a plucked sound.

If a tambura is not used with certain solo instruments of the guitar or mandolin type, the playing technique requires striking the lower strings from time to time; these tones serve as drones.

The next main technical feature of Indian music after raga is tala. Just as a raga is an organized group of tones on which melody is based, a tala is an organized group of beats on which rhythmic structure is based. Approximately insofar as a raga corresponds to a scale in Western theory, a tala corresponds to a bar, or measure. Here again, as in the case of scales, Indian music, not distracted by the elements of harmony or counterpoint, has explored many more possible combinations that Western music*(*That is, more than Western music of the previously mentioned “period of common practice”. Contemporary music of the West has become imaginative and freely experimental in the sphere of rhythm. It should also be pointed out that medieval music, towards the end of the 14th century in France, was extremely complex rhythmically, touching the limits of performability). While beats in Western music are generally grouped in bars of two, three, four, or six, with some large measures of 3 x 3 (9) and 4 x 3 (12), Indian talas make general use also of the uneven metres such as five and seven. Quite frequently the tala contains a large number of beats, ten and sixteen being the number of units in two very popular talas.

An Indian keeps time with his right hand and fingers, clapping his knee on strong beats, and waving his hand on some of the weaker ones. You will see members of the audience at a concert keeping time in this way. Great importance is attached to the first beat of the tala, which is called sam. At this point there will be emphatic gestures all over the auditorium. No intelligent listener at an Indian concert will fail to try to keep time, and to be aware of the arrival of each sam. This accounts in a large measure for the active interest observable among Indian listeners, as opposed to the often passive listening of many Western audiences.

In the North Indian ensemble, the commonest percussion instrument is the tabla, actually a pair of drums, the smaller one being tuned to blend with the drone. Tablas are played with a great variety of touches by the palms of the hands and the fingers.

In South India, the main percussion instrument is long drum with a drumhead at each end, called the mridangam, which is tuned in the same manner as a pair of tablas. This instrument is used for some types of pieces in the North also, where it is called pakhawaj.

The tabla player does much more than merely strike out the beats of the tala. He is free to improvise any number of little strokes, subdividing the beats into smaller units. These rhythms fitted into the tala by the drummer are called tabla bols. No matter how complex the bols, the basic beats of the tala are always clearly set out by the tabla player as a guide to the soloist. But in the South, the mridangam player may not show the basic beats of the tala at all, but may very nearly duplicate the intricate patterns of the soloist. For this reason, someone sitting with the performers at a Southern concert will beat out the tala. This is a great help to the Western listeners; at North Indian concerts he may have more trouble to catch the tala, in the absence of visual help. Good drummers have many tricks of syncopations, false accents and strange rhythmical combinations which do not appear to fit together with the tala until sam is reached. The audience, keeping time, is held in suspense, wondering what is going on. When the performers and audience arrive together at sam, the audience will be so pleased that it will applaud spontaneously. Sometimes an instrumentalist or singer will engage in interplay with the tabla player, in which each one will use all his tricks to make the other lose the beat. The good soloist holds his own, to the delight of the audience, which will reward the performers with applause after sam is reached. The atmosphere at such a concert, as far as enthusiasm is concerned, is more like that of a sports event than a concert in the West! The audience’s lack of inhibition shows, too, in that (with all their attentiveness) they do not hesitate to come in, move around, or get up and leave freely in the middle of a piece, if they feel like it, just as a Westerner might do at sports event.

Even when a raga is like a Western scale in its tone pattern, the Indian way of singing it can be quite confusing to the Westerner. Indian signers add flourishes, grace notes, or embellishments (called gamakas) to nearly every tone, even when merely demonstrating the tones of a raga. Without gamakas, the notes seem unclothed and inexpressive to an Indian musician. Many gamakas are executed very rapidly, and Indian singers cultivate facility in rapid execution which exceeds that of Western singers, on the whole. On the other hand, we lay great emphasis on a certain mellow roundness in tone production, with a slight wavering of the pitch, called vibrato, while Indian singers pay less attention to “beauty” of tone, as such. Indian singing, by our taste, is inclined to be too nasal, and the softening effect of vibrato is almost totally absent. But the tone of an Indian singer is one which permits clarity in the execution of the gamakas, and the beauty sought by the singer lies more in imaginative ornamentation than in the tone color of individual notes.

The gamakas include a large amount of sliding from pitch to pitch, which we call portamento. Western musicians are inclined to look down on this sort of melodic movement, perhaps having gotten the idea from keyboard instruments that melody should consist, ideally, of isolated pitches. Modern violinists in the West take considerable trouble to eliminate even those slides which are indigenous to their instrument, in the interest of “purity”. But a melody with no connecting slides seems completely sterile to an Indian. His ideal is to connect the pitches as much as possible, which gives the melodic line the same kind of undulating curve that one can observe in the hand motions of Indian dancers.

Solo instruments use somewhat the same style of performance as the voice, as far as ornamentation is concerned. In fact, as in the West, it is difficult to say whether the voice imitates instruments, or whether the instruments imitate the voice. The instruments most like the voice, however, are the bowed instruments, the sarangi, dilruba, and israj. In a vocal concert, these instruments, held upright in the lap like some of our ancient viols, accompany the voice not in unison, but by nearly exact imitation a short time after the leading melody. The player’s imitation of melodic figure 1 is going on at the same time the singer starts melodic figure 2. But one does not feel the clashes, which are inevitable, because these instruments are very soft, with only about a quarter of the volume of the singer. It may be noted that what goes on here is a polyphonic device called canon in the West.*(* Rounds, like “Row, row, row your boat” use the canon technic.)

The Violin of Western design is also used to accompany singers, and as a solo instrument, mainly in South India. Since much of South Indian music consists of fixed pieces, known to both the singer and the violinist, the violinist often plays not slightly tardy in imitation of the singer (like the sarangi player), but together with him, using somewhat different embellishments. Indians tune the violin differently from the Western way, and play (as with all Indian instruments) sitting on the floor, or a low platform, holding it against the chest, resting the scroll on one foot. They bow is sometimes held not at one end, as in the West, but further along the stick, nearer to the middle. Many players use mainly two fingers, getting most of the notes by sliding up and down the string. When played in this manner, the violin sounds like the typical Indian bowed instruments, except that it produces a little more volume. However, loosening the tension on the strings, according to the Indian way of tuning, makes the violin sound much softer than it does in the East, and the Indian bow technic, too, is not calculated to produce a great volume of tone.

In the playing of plucked instruments (of which the sitar in North India and the Saraswati veena in the south are the most prominent), the consequences of having the note pitch definitely fixed at the moment of plucking are often avoided by pulling the string with the fingers of the left hand, deflecting the pitch in various ways. The ornaments on plucked instruments have a very subtle effect, as the volume dies down after the string is plucked, making each additional note gained by stretching or relaxing the string softer than its predecessor.

The popular sitar and South Indian veena have fretted finger-boards of approximately cello length. One may also encounter the veena in the north (mahati veena). In playing the vichitra veena, which has no frets, a glass egg is used in place of the fingers of the left hand. Since the egg has to glide up and down the string between the different notes, sliding effects are a feature of this instrument.

The plucked instrument group includes several mandolinsized instruments, of which the most popular one in the north is the sarode, a brilliant solo instrument. The rabab is distinguished by the use of gut rather than metal strings, which gives it a soft quality. The susringar, something like the rabab, uses metal strings.

It is a curious fact that there is no popular brass instrument in India. These instruments have often had martial associations, and it may be that their absence can be explained variously in terms of Indian history, tradition, and temperament. But there are instruments similar to our woodwinds. There is an oboe called the shehnai, traditionally used in temples and on religious ceremonial occasions, which is now becoming a popular concert instrument. There are flutes, usually called bansari, which are played vertically (like the recorder), or in transverse position (like our flute). There are fingering holes, but no keys on these instruments, which is really an advantage in Indian music. The players develop remarkable skill at adjusting the pitch by lip, and by partly covering some holes. They are able to produce the characteristic Indian ornaments and slides on these instruments in a manner which would not be possible on Western keyed instruments.

At a North Indian concert, no composers’ name will be given on the program, as most of the fixed (i.e., not improvised) elements of the music are of ancient and anonymous tradition, and the free elements are the responsibility of the performer himself. The types of pieces most likely to be encountered are :

1. Kheyal (“Imagination”) : The texts may be on almost any subject from religious devotion to love. The style, especially in slow kheyal, which has a prose text, allows great freedom in the use of ornaments and embellishments. The words tend, for this reason, to become secondary to the musical development. In fast kheyal (rhymed text) there is less freedom. Kheyal singing varies according to the region from which the performer hails.

2. Dhrupad (“fixed”) : The most serious and dignified style, having some of its earliest antecedents in pre-Muslim India. The subject-matter is usually noble, martial, or heroic. There is less freedom for ornamentation and improvisation than kheyal. Rhythmic variations are a feature of dhrupad, and this kind of singing is always accompanied by the big drum, the pakhawaj. As with kheyal, there are a number of regional varieties of dhrupad.

3. Thumri : (derived from the name of a tala): More importance is given to the text than in Kheyal. The subject-matter of thumri is always love, or erotic feeling. This is the lightest style, quite opposite to dhrupad.

4. Ragamala: While it is usual for Indian music to retain the same raga throughout a piece, this form calls for a different procedure. The singer uses a number of ragas - those which have associations with the imagery in the text - changing from line to line, or word to word, as the case may be. In spite of the changes of raga, a good performer will weave the piece together in a manner which gives some impression of unity.

5. Songs without text: In general, the words play a less important part in North Indian vocal music than in Western vocal music. There are three kinds of signing which have no text at all :

a) Sargam: Singing with the Indian syllables equivalent to our do, re, mi.. They are : sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni. The name of this style of singing derives from the first four syllables. Sargam may take place within other kinds of pieces.

b) Tarana: The singer uses the euphonious syllables usually employed in alapa, such as nom, tom, tana, dir-dir, etc, or the syllables employed by tabla players to describe strokes on the drums, such as ka, ga, gha, ta, da, and so forth.

At a South Indian concert, one may find composers’ names given.

South Indian music, called Carnatic, has common roots with the northern, or Hindustani variety. But it did not come under the Muslim influence which reshaped the character of music in the North. Carnatic music uses many of the same ragas and talas, but the names are different in most cases from those used in the North.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Carnatic music flowered with the work of certain great composers, the three most famous ones being Tyagaraja, Shastri and Dikshitar. We can speak of “composers” almost in the Western sense in this case, as much of the music by those saintly and revered men has been written down in Indian notations and published. There are few manuscripts directly from the composers, but the traditions are very strong, and the pieces have been written down by descendents, and by musicians whose teachers’ teachers learned them directly from the composers. The existence of this repertoire of more or less fixed music, in itself, makes for a consideration difference between the music of the North and the South. Similar, however, is the use of an improvised alapa before the fixed piece begins, setting the mood of the raga, and a further brilliant type of improvising within a tala at the end, called swaram (“notes”).

The main composition types of South Indian music are :

1. Kriti : A form to texts of fervent, devotional character, especially cultivated by Tyagaraja. It has three large sections, called pallavi, anupallavi and charanam. The height of development of the raga is reached in the charanam. A strain of the pallavi returns at the end of the anupallavi, and again at the end of the charanam, giving unity, and rounding off the form much in the manner of some types of Western music.

2. Varnam : There are few words in these pieces, their purpose being mainly to exploit all the note combinations and characteristic ornaments of a raga. They are a little like what we call an “etude” in the West, and both singers and players use them for developing technique.

3. Padam: A piece in three sections, like the kriti, but less elaborate.

4. Javali: A two or three section piece, similar in text matter to the North Indian thumri (the subject is love).

5. Ragamalika: The South Indian equivalent of the northern ragamala - a piece using various ragas. The form is typically South Indian, however. The various ragas are introduced in successive charanam sections.

In both North and South India, one may encounter a type of piece called lakshanageeta, in which the text gives the rules of the raga, and the melody provides illustrations. This is an important sort of piece, since it provides, in the absence of regularly used notation, a means of carrying on the tradition of ragas entirely by aural means.

Ultimately, the most important factor in releasing the pleasures of Indian classical music to the Western listener is not so much a knowledge of technical details as it is a receptive attitude, and one not tinged with condescension. We must guard against the too easy assumption that the West, being ahead of India in many technological developments, is necessarily ahead of her in other things as well.

In music, the Western symphony orchestra is often taken by the Indians themselves as a symbol of our progress. But the size of a performing apparatus has never had any relation to the artistic quality of music; in any case, the finest musical art of the West is most probably not that for orchestra. Harmony, too, is a unique Western development, and it would seem to be a mark of progress over purely melodic cultures, such as ours also was, prior to about the year 1000 AD. Again, if one considers artistic quality, one must realize the harmony, in itself, is no advantage. If this were not so, any harmonized song would be artistically on a higher level than our finest folk melodies, or the soaring unaccompanied chants of the church. One can easily think of examples which make nonsense out of the proposition that harmony necessarily carries with it an increase of artistic quality.

Artistic quality results not from the technical devices of external sound, but from the inner emotional, or spiritual state of the creative artist. External sound is only the means of expressing that state, and complexity of means may hinder such expression as often as it helps it.

In the case of Indian music, the means, although they do not include harmony or orchestral ensembles in the Western sense, are far from primitive. On the contrary, two elements, melody and rhythm, are carried to a higher degree of development in many respects than in Western music. These elements, being primary ones, carry greater expressive potential than harmony (in itself) or the devices of tone color exploited in the modern orchestra. What Indian music can express, then, is limited, as in all music, simply by the creative force of the musician. The finest Indian musicians have an abundant supply of this creative force, and the sensitive Westerner who learns to respond to the sound externals of Indian music can get from these artists musical experiences of the highest type. Having once arrived at this realization, the Westerner need never compare the music of East and West; he can take each one on its own terms, and be glad that he has two channels rather than one to that inner source to which music provides one of the most effective means of communication.