Cross-cultural influences in Indian music

Indian music has imbibed various techniques and practices to become what it is today: flawless.

Music has been prevalent in the Indian subcontinent for millennia and is a big part of India’s heritage. Indian music practices date back to the Vedic times (3000 B.C.), with references in Rigpratishakhya, which explains the phonetic aspects of the Rigveda, Samaveda(contains the seven notes of the raga) and Natya Shastra, which elaborates on the octave system. From the ancient Sanskrit notations to the modern Sa Re Ga Ma, Indian music has imbibed various techniques and practices to become what it is today: flawless.




To understand how modern Indian music came to be, we have to understand what it was. Besides entertainment, music was used as a form of communication between the human and the divine. Ceremonies were celebrated by chanting verses in a repetitive fashion with minor vocal and instrumental improvisations or Alap. Several forms of music were common, like Samgana, Jatigan and Prabandh Sangeet. While all of them were based in Sanskrit, a form of music called Dhruvapada, hailed during the Gupta period, used Hindi as a medium. Dhruvapada is the Indian music form that paved way for the development of the Indian classical music we listen to today.



Indian music has over 4 million ragas or melodies that can be roughly categorized into Hindustani music and Carnatic music, which are majorly received in the northern and southern regions respectively.

Hindustani music acquires a lot of its embellishments from Tibetan and Persian music cultures. It relies on vocal and instrumental improvisations with idiom-based lyrics set in a loop.

Carnatic music is more lyric-based and follows the traditional octave pattern.

While both styles arose from the same form of classical music, Carnatic style is more in touch with its roots while Hindustani style has imbibed multiple folk tunes and regional melodies.

Sufi style music has had a great impact on Indian music. It has contributed to the Indian classical culture and has been prevalent since the Islamic era (9th century). Amir Khusrau has enhanced Indian classical music by introducing Persian and Arabic features in it. He is also known as the “father of Qawwali”.



Connectivity is a major factor in encouraging fusion techniques in music. Indian music has had a major reformation in the last score because of networking and media. Ease of access to creative collaborations among people from different forms of life has led to new ideas and genres. Entities like TEDxDharamshala have promoted and celebrated these ideas time and again and have enhanced the musical creativity of this generation. Examples of such collaborations include Coke Studio, The Dewarists, MTV Unplugged and many more. Contrary to popular belief, social conformity is not a bad thing if it leads to wondrous and creative music. Accepting opinions and opening our minds to new possibilities is what its all about!

Here is a list of famous collaboration you may have heard of:


Indian music is praised as one of the most versatile and innovative cultures all over the world. That’s because, when it comes to music, we are intricate, observant and adaptable. In a population of 1.3 billion, there are musicians who are jointly working on almost every style of music. In India, music is not a profession. It is a way of life.



Author: Amish Mathur

Feature Image: Michael Tompsett

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