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Durga Krishnan's Carnatic Music School NESCM: Topic of the Month

March 2007 Article:

Common Foundations of the Hindustani and Karnatik Music Systems

   (This is a Continuation of Last Month’s Topic) by
Dr. Suresh C. Mathur

As described in the last month’s article, the Hindustani and the Karnatik music systems have evolved from common roots. This is immediately evident from the fact that both of these systems, as well as the music of the West, are based on similar 12-semitone scales. The chart at the end of this article illustrates this commonality and one-to-one correspondence of the twelve semitones of the octave. Each system of course uses its own nomenclature and notation for the musical notes. It may also be noted that the two musical systems of India have evolved as predominantly melodic in character, whereas the Western music is predominantly harmonic in character. The Hindustani and the Karnatik music systems are virtual twins with distinct personality and temperament. After many centuries of evolution, each system is majestic in its musical and spiritual expanse and reflects the culture, history, philosophy, and spirituality of the peoples of the North and the South.

The common roots of the two systems have led to a constant exchange of musical ideas between the musicians of the North and the South. This exchange has picked up a great deal of momentum in the 20th century. A large number of ragas from the Karnatik system have been assimilated in the Hindustani system, e.g., HAMSADHWANI, ABHOGI, SARASWATHI, VACHASPATHI, AHIRI, VASANTHAMUKHARI, NARAYANI etc. Similarly, many ragas of Hindustani origin have become part of the repertoire of the Karnatik musicians, e.g., VRINDABAN SARANG, KAFI, DES, KHAMAJ, JAIJAIWANTI,YAMAN KALYAN etc. Also, there exists even a larger number of ragas with close counterparts in the two systems, e.g., MOHANAM – BHUPALI, HINDOLAM – MALKOUNS, JANJUTI – JHINJHOTI, MOHAL KALYANI – SUDDHA KALYAN, MADHYAMAVATI – MADKMAT SARANG, SUDDHA SAVERI – DURGA, NATTA – JOG, KANADA – SHAHANA KANADA, PURVI KALYANI – PURIYA KALYAN, HAMSANANDI – SOHINI etc.

During the century, a large number of Hindustani musicians gained enormous popularity in South and have been performing in prestigious music festivals. Among these are the vocalists Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, late Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Pt. Jasraj, Smt. Parveen Sultana, and the instrumentalists late Shri Pannalal Gosh (Flute), Ustad Bismillah Khan (Shehnai), Pt. Ravi Shankar (Sitar), Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia (Flute), and others. Similarly, the masters of Karnatik music who are equally revered in the North are late Smts. M.S. Subbulakshmi and M.L.Vasanthakumari, late Shri Chowdaiah (Violin), Shri M.S. Gopalakrishnan (Violin), late Shri Palghat Mani Iyer (Mridangam) and many others. There are also a growing number of musician-scholars with equal expertise in the Karnatik and the Hindustani systems, such as, Shri M.S. Gopalakrishnan, Dr. N. Rajam (Violin), Smt. Shyamala Bhave, Smt. Lakshmi Shankar and many others.

With graduate degree programs in music in many universities and many national academies of music in India, the process of dissemination of knowledge, understanding, and appreciation between the two systems is accelerating among the present generation. This process has also been helped enormously with the National Programs of Karnatik and Hindustani music instituted by A.I.R. in early 1950’s and later the programs on Doordarshan (T.V.). Music has always been a unifying force among the peoples living on the Indian subcontinent as evidenced by the enormous contributions made to Hindustani music by the Muslims over the centuries. It is to be hoped that our music will continue to be a unifying element in the future as well.

12 Semitones of the Indian and Western Musical Scales

The musical octaves in the Western, Hindustani, and Karnatik music systems are based on similar 12 semi-tones as shown below…..

C# D# F# G# A# Western C D E F G A B C Db Eb Gb Ab Bb 12 Semi-tones 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Hindustani Sa Re Re Ga Ga Ma Ma Pa Dha Dha Ni Ni Sa (North India) Ri Ri Dha Dha Karnatik 2 3 2 3 Sa Ri Ga Ma Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa 1 3 1 2 1 3 Ga Ga Ni Ni 1 2 1 2

Indian Nomenclature of Notes


Shadjam Pa - Panchama Ri 1 – Suddha Rishabha Dha 1 – Suddha Dhaivata Ri 2 – Chatussuruti Rishabha Dha 2 – Chatussruti Dhaivata Ri 3 – Shatasruti Rishabha Dha 3 – Shatasruti Dhaivata Ga 1 – Suddha Gandhara Ni 1 - Suddha Nishadha Ga 2 - Sadharana Gandhara Ni 2 - Kaisiki Nishadha Ga 3 – Antara Gandhara Ni 3 - Kakali Nishadha Ma 1 – Suddha Madhyama Ma 2 – Prati Madhyama


Sa – Shadja Pa - Panchama Re – Komal Rishabha Dha – Komal Dhaivat Re – Shuddha Rishabh Dha – Shuddha Dhaivat Ga – Komal Gandhar Ni - Komal Nishadha Ga - Shuddha Gandhar Ni - Shuddha Nishadha Ma – Shuddha Madhyama Ma – Tivra Madhyama

NOTE: Please read RAGA under the title Carnatic Music from the home page to know more about the 72 melakartha system of Carnatic Music and development of Ragas in general.