Indian music has a very long, unbroken tradition and is an accumulated heritage of centuries it is believed that the sage Narada introduced the art of music to the Earth. The origin can be traced back to Vedic days, neatly two thousand years ago. It is said that the sound that pervades the whole universe, i.e. Nadabrahma, itself represents the divinity. Organized Indian music owes its origin to the Samaveda. The Veda has all the seven notes of the raga karaharpriya in the descending order. The earliest Raga is speculated to be ‘Sama Raga’. Theories and treatises began to be written, how the primitive sound ‘Om’ gave rise to the various notes.
First reference to music was made by Panini (500 BC) and the first reference to musical theory is found in Rikpratisakhya (400 BC). Bharata’s Natya Shastra (4th Century AD) contains several chapters on music. This is probably the first work that clearly elaborated the octave and divided it into 22 keys.
The next major work on music was Dathilam, which also endorses the existence of the 22 Shrutis per octave and even goes to suggest that these 22 Shrutis are the only ones a human body could make. This view was expressed again by another musicologist of the 13th century AD Saranga Deva in his famous work Sangeeta Ratnakara. Saranga Deva, among other things, defined almost 264 Ragas, including some Dravidian and North Indian ones. He also described the various ‘kinds’ of ‘microtones’ and also classified them into different categories.
Of the other important works on Indian music, mention may be made of Brihaddesi 9 AD written by Matanga, which attempts to define the word ‘Raga’, Sangeeta Makaranda 11th century AD written by Narada, which enumerates 93 Ragas and classifies them into masculine and feminine species, Swaramela-Kalnidhi of Ramamatya 16 AD and Chaturdandi-prakashika of Venkatamakhi 17 AD. It took a long time for music to come to its present-day form. In the beginning music was devotional in content and was purely used for ritualistic purposes and was restricted to temples.
During the late Vedic period 3000-1200 BC, a form of music called Samgana was prevalent which involved chanting of the verses set to musical patterns. Various forms of music like Jatigan were evolved to narrate the epics. Between 2nd to 7th AD a form of music called Prabandh Sangeet, which was written in Sanskrit, became very popular. This form gave way to a simpler form called Dhruvapad, which used Hindi as the medium.
The Gupta period is considered as the golden era in the development of Indian music. All the music treatises like Natya Shastra and Brihaddeshi were written during this period. One of the influences on Indian music has perhaps been that of Persian music, which brought in a changed perspective in the style of Northern Indian music. In the 15th century AD, as a result of the patronage given to the classical music by the rulers, the devotional Dhruvapad transformed into the dhrupad form of singing. The Khayal developed as a new form of singing in the 18th century AD.
The Indian classical music, thus, developed from the ritualistic music in association with folk music and other musical expressions of India’s extended neighborhood, developing into its own characteristic art. It is then that the two schools of music resulted, the Hindustani (North Indian music) and the Carnatic (South Indian music). Historical roots of both Hindustani and Carnatic classical music traditions stem from Bharata’s Natyashastra. The two traditions started to diverge only around 14th Century AD. Carnatic music is Kriti based and saahitya (lyric) oriented, while Hindustani music emphasizes on the musical structure and the possibilities of improvisation in it. Hindustani music adopted a scale of Shudha Swara saptaka (octave of natural notes) while Carnatic music retained the traditional octave. Both systems have shown great assimilative power, constantly absorbing folk tunes and regional tilts and elevating many of them to the status of ragas. These systems have also mutually influenced each other.