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Difference between North Indian music and South Indian music

Is that ‘Much Ado About Nothing?’ No certainly not…as both the basic types of Indian Classical Music, i.e. North Indian classical music and Carnatic Classical Music have some fundamental variations. Today, instead of using long-winded narration, I would prefer tabular form to explain the same, which I’m sure, is easier to understand.

Indian Classical Music has two broad classifications: North Indian classical music (Hindustani classical) and South Indian classical music (Carnatic classical), which have only two common factors as Raga and Taal.  North Indian classical music has similarity with the music of Afghanistan and Persia and the South Indian music has with the South.

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Vidwan Balmurali Krishanan sharing same stage
“Pandit Bhimsen Joshi” the famous vocalist of North Indian music and “Vidwan Balmurali Krishanan” famous vocalist of South Indian music sharing same stage.
Photo Credit

Before the 13th century, India had a unique classical music. Yet, thereafter Classical Music was divided into two different styles. In North India, Persian and Mughal authority started making its place powerfully with Amir Khusro. Tansen and his existing musicians typically presented in Dhrupad style and soon after Khayal singing was made famous by Sadarang-Adarang. And many Gharanas (Schools) in diverse regions of India developed.

In contrast, Saint Purandardas, Tyagraja, Muthuswamy Dikshitar and Shyama Shashtri had a great influence in the development of Carnatic Music. These days, most of the classical training orbits around Kritis by these saint musicians. But it is not sure when and why the Violin was launched in Carnatic Classical Music? Certainly it’s not an Indian instrument, but is very popular complementary instrument with Carnatic Classical singers.

Contrasting North Indian classical music, Carnatic classical music does not stick to Time concepts and as a replacement for Thaats, Carnatic music uses the Melakarta theory.  Carnatic ragas vary from Hindustani ragas. The names of ragas are also different. Yet, there are some ragas with the same scale as Hindustani ragas but with the different names; e.g. Hindolam and Malkauns, Shankarabharanam and Bilawal. I think it is very difficult to understand theoretically but I am sure you get it easily with below video. There is same Raga sung in different style one is Carnatic style by Vidvan Balamurali and another is Hindustani style by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. Enjoy it!

Vidwan Balamuralikrishna and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi

Hindolam Thillana


You can also read : 

Following tables may be very helpful to recognize some fundamental difference between North Indian classical music and Carnatic classical music.

Factors Hindustani Music Carnatic Music
Raga System Based on 10 Thaats and 32 Ragang Ragas Based on 72 Melakarta or Janak Raga
Time-Cycle of Ragas Follws Time Cycle Doesn’t follow it
Taal Popular 10-12 Taal Popular 35 Taal
Composition or Kriti Forms Khayal, Dhrupad, Tarana, Thumri, Dhamaar divide into parts like -Sthayi, Antara, Snachari and Abhog Varnam, Kriti divided into part as Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charnam
Composers Experts from various ‘Gharana’ in different regions of Northern India Saint Purnadardas, Tyagraja, Dikshitar and Shyama Shastri
Area of influence Famous in North, central, West and Eastern India and also in Pakistan and Bangladesh Famous in South India (Tamilnadu, Karnataka, AP and Kerala)
Shuddha Swara Saptaka (Primary Notes Scale) Raga Bilawal (Similar to Carnatic Raga Dheer Shankarbharnam) Raga Maya Malav Gaula (Similar to Hindustani Raga Bhairav)
Performance Improvisation is more valued. Composition is more valued.

Difference in Swara or Notes: (if Sa is on Key C in Piano)

Position Hindustani Swara Carnatic Swara Short name
C Shadja Shadja Sa
C# Komal Rishabh Shuddh Rishabh Re or Ri
D Shuddh Rishabh Chatusruti Rishabh /Shuddh Gandhar Re or Ri
D# Komal Gandhar Shatsruti Rishabh /Sadharan Gandhar Ga
E Shuddha Gandhar Antar Gandhar Ga
F Shuddh Madhyam Shuddh Madhyam Ma
F# Tivra Madhyam Prati Madhyam Ma
G Pancham Pancham Pa
G# Komal Dhaivat Shuddh Dhaivat Dha
A Shuddha Dhaivat Chatusruti Dhaivat/Shuddha Nishad Dha
A# Komal Nishad Shatsruti Dhaivat/Kaishiki Nishad Ni
B Shuddha Nishad Kakali Nishad Ni

Some Similar Raga with different Names

Hindustani Carnatic
Bilawal Dheer Shankarabharnam
Bhopali Mohanam
Yaman or Kalyan Mech Kalyani
Khamaj Harikambhoji
Bhairav Maya Malav Gaula
Bhairavi Todi
Asavari Natbhairavi
Poorvi Pantuvarali
Kafi Kharharpriya
Marwa Gamanashram
Malkauns Hindolam
Kedar Kamavardhini
Todi Shubha Pantuvarali
Alhaiya Bilawal Bilahari

Watch below video for more information. Neela Bhagwat is front-ranking exponent of Gwalior style of singing.

What is Difference between Hindustani Classical and Carnatic Classical music?
Answer by Neela Bhagwat

If you have any query leave a comment. And if you found this useful, please share with the buttons below!

About Pratik Kashallu

Hey Cassicals , I am Pratik Kashallu and I am steady followers of Indian Classical Music…just like you. I’ve have a passion for collecting antique classical gramophone records and record players. Thousands of antique gramophone records and many record players are available in my collection. With this zeal, I am a Admin of world famous Facebook fan page "Indian Classicl Music Fan Club" which is loaded by more than 22K facebook fans and it's total weekly reach is around 90K

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10 comments

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  2. Glad to know thiis is here. Pl include me in ur foroum. Thnx. BR.

  3. Salim Ragamalika

    The similar karnatic scale to Kedar is not Kamavardhani.Its Hameerkalyani only. Kamavardhani & Pantuvaraali are same.

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  5. Indeed two very different styles based on similar fundamentals! I would also add the difference in accompanying instruments (jaw harp, tabla, sarangi, harmonium) and length & style of composition exposition and style in which swaras are sung.

  6. Such a valuable share it is .I am glad to have found your blog and will keep following it now on

  7. Fantastic.Absolute Treasure For Newbies Of Indian Classical Music Like Me.

  8. In this post, the author provides background for differences between the two types of classical Indian music – Hindustani and Carnatic. I find this piece to be very informative in clearly presenting a historical background and compositional breakdown of each type of music. There is a lot information that I am able to add to my minimal current knowledge as a Carnatic Vocalists.
    I thought it was really cool how both styles were once one before the 13th Century – I always had this idea that both Carnatic and Hindustani music had completely independent origins. I was taught that different composers fueled the growth of Carnatic and Hindustani music. I had never really thought about why the violin is a Carnatic instrument, since the origins of the instrument are most definitely Western. I think this inclusion hints at the era of British influence from colonization in the 19th and 20th centuries, and is yet another example of music acting as a blueprint of history (i.e. Caribbean music influenced by American jazz / Latin rhythms / French music / African – not intending to generalize the entire content – styles, etc). I also agree that the raga names / amounts / styles differ between the two types of classical music, but some share the same scales. I was taught about how the note names differ but are essentially still mostly parallel to Western intervals.
    I think there are a few things that could be added to this post. In regards to raag and tall, one ragam and one talam per composition don’t necessarily take into account songs where there really isn’t a strict ragam at all, or when there are multiple ragas for one piece, or when a simple count beat (not a strict talam) is used. I think, therefore, that both styles of classical Indian music do share these two concepts, but that doesn’t mean that there is strict raag and / taal for all types of Hindustani / Classical songs. In addition, looking at musical textures could be pretty interesting. For example, when looking at popular Hindustani ghazals, the solo vocals with taal (beat) would be considered monophony, but the addition of sitar and / or tabla (which are pitched drums) would result in homophony (vocal melody with rhythmic and / or melodic accompaniment) and / or possibly in heterophony (where the sitar plays a similar but slightly different melody as the vocalist). When looking at Carnatic Krithis, the alapana (which can be referred to as an acapella vocal solo with a common instrumental following) could be monophonic (if only a vocalist, otherwise heterophonic). The actual song, however, with the violin and the mridangam (yet again, a pitched drum) along with the tanpura would be more likely be homophony and heterophony (because of the rhythmic mridangam accompaniment and the follow the leader style violin accompaniment). It’s interesting to look at how the textures are so variant amongst and within songs.
    I think it might also be important to mention that going into both forms of music (whether as a vocalist or an instrumentalist) requires lots of training, where training for each form of indian classical music is very different. The timbre and pitches commonly heard in Carnatic music, for example, are very different that those heard in Hindustani music. Also, in the comparison chart, it might also be useful to mention how transitions make it so that “straight” western pitches aren’t entirely parallel to the oscillated Hindustani / Carnatic notes.
    Overall, this post was really really well written and did a good job of setting the foundation for some ideas that bridge the difference between these two types of classical music.

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