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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


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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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8 comments

  1. Heavenly. Two Gurus combining so well. Seamlessly Liked

  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.

  4. Carnatic music lessons teachers of GO4GURU are possessed with extensive performance experience, wide collections, and have taught carnatic music lessons at the international level.
    http://www.onlinecarnaticmusic.com/

  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

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