Chapter 8
From Raga to Bollywood:
Developments and Intercultural Crossings in Indian
Two perspectives on Indian music are explored in this unit:
the Hindustani raga tradition and the modern history of
Indian/Western intercultural musical encounters.
Key words:
Barhat –refers to the note-by-note expansion of the
melodic range of a raga during performance. Also
applies to cultural growth and the experience of
Gharana – “musical families” that have preserved and
developed schools of raga performance in India, often
throughout generations.
Indian Music in Context
India has a diverse population:
200+ languages; 1,600 dialects.
In 1500 BCE, the indigenous population was pushed south.
This may be the root of the north/south division
Indian classical music and the Hindu religion have close
ties, as in the bhajan devotional songs and hymns.
In the 5th c. BCE, Buddhism and Jainism originated in India.
Islam was introduced in the 8th c. CE.
Hindus and Muslims have formed many bonds through culture,
including music.
Sufism, a mystical form of Islam, features music as a
pathway to the divine.
CD ex. #2-20 features vocalist Shafqat Ali Khan in the
performance of a Sufi devotional song. This style of
music is distinct from but related to the Sufi musical
style called qawwali, which gained considerable
international popularity through the late qawwali
superstar Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
European influence on India began in the 15th century when the
Portuguese, French, Dutch, and English arrived for spice trade.
Christianity was imported with limited success.
Britain became the dominant colonial power in 1858.
India achieved national independence in 1947. After much
bloodshed, two largely Muslim areas in the north became
Pakistan and East Pakistan.
India is officially secular, but over 80% of the population is
Musical Diversity and
Two Great Traditions
India is exceptionally diverse musically, as it is culturally.
Film song is the dominant popular music. The fan base for
film songs from industries like Bollywood extends to
millions and millions of people, in India and beyond.
Bhangra is a major component of Bollywood music, and
features folk songs and dances accompanied by a large
drum (dhol) and rhythmic shouts.
CD ex. #1-22 features the bhangra tune “Kudi
Notice the dhol drumming, electronic drum grooves,
synthesizers, and syncopated shouts of “hoi!”
There are two main traditions of Indian classical music, the
Karnatak of the south and the Hindustani of the north.
The Hindustani tradition is more well known globally due to the
popularity of Ravi Shankar and general Indian immigration
Differences and similarities between the two traditions are due to
political histories, differences in languages, religious ideas, and
local cultures.
Both traditions build on complex melodic systems called raga
and employ rhythmic and metric systems called tala.
Singing is viewed as the highest form of musical expression. It
is thought to be the sound closest to Nada Brahma, the “Sound
of God.” This is the divine source of all music.
Standard instrumental ensembles in both traditions include
instrumental trios, which feature a single-line melody, drone,
and rhythmic accompaniment.
Karnatak: vina (melodic), tambura (drone), and
mrdangam (rhythmic).
Hindustani: sitar (melodic), tambura (drone), tabla
The Hindustani Raga
of Northern India
Ravi Shankar is the most well-known representative of the
Hindustani raga tradition internationally.
He encountered Western musicians like the Beatles and
influenced many synergistic musical productions.
The recordings by John Coltrane, John McLaughlin
and Shakti, Bombay Dub Orchestra, and A. R. Rahman
included on your CD set illustrate various dimensions
of Shankar’s direct and indirect influences on ragainspired intercultural music making.
Ravi Shankar and the Maihar Gharana
The only Indian musician “to have
become a household name in the
West.” (Farrell)
Was born into the priestly Brahman
caste in 1920 and joined a music-anddance troupe while still in his teens.
He toured Europe as a sitar player and
dancer, befriending classical violinist
Yehudi Menuhin along the way.
In Europe, he met the raga master
Allaudin Khan and later returned to
become a musical disciple of Khan
(also known as Baba.)
Shankar spent some eight years as a musical disciple of
Baba, who became his guru; Shankar part of the Maihar
Gharana established by Baba.
Shankar is known as one of the great sitar masters, and his
interactions with George Harrison of the Beatles gave him
global superstar celebrity.
Two of Shankar’s daughters are also musicians: Anoushka
Shankar is, like her father, a sitarist; Norah Jones is a highly
successful jazz and popular music singer and songwriter.
Insights and
The Caste System in
India has traditionally recognized a caste system, which
divides society into social classes based on family birthright or
occupational specialization.
Efforts to eradicate the caste system are inspired by concerns
about the lowest caste, the Dalit, or “Untouchables.” They
have been subject to many abuses and limited opportunities.
The caste system is legally banned, but survives in many areas
of social and cultural life.
The five castes are: Brahmin (priest), Kshatriya (warrior),
Vaishya (merchant), Shudra (peasant), and Dalit (untouchable.)
Insights and
The Gharana
The gharana is the social institution through which the
knowledge of raga is passed through generations.
Gharana is sometimes translated as “musical family,” but
does not require blood or marriage between members.
Members of the gharana trace their heritage through their
own guru, the guru’s guru, and so forth to the founder of the
Like the ragas they teach, gharanas develop through a
process of growth. Each generation and each member is
like a branch of leaf on the gharana “tree,” blossoming from
the same root.
Insights and
Anoushka Shankar:
Carrying on the
Anoushka Shankar is the only classical sitarist trained
exclusively by Ravi Shankar.
Like her father, she has charisma, talent, and eclectic
musical interests.
Her chart-topping CDs include Rise (2005) and Breathing
Under Water (2007).
“An Introduction to Indian Music”
CD ex. #2-21, the Musical Guided Tour track for this unit,
introduces the art of Hindustani raga through a lecture
demonstration by Ravi Shankar.
Follow along with the transcript on page 127. Listen for:
The melodic forms of the raga “scale.”
The melodic ornaments and microtones.
The distinctive sound of the drone.
The beat-counts of the talas.
Musical Guided
“An Introduction to Indian Music”
Follow along with the transcript on page 127 of the text as you
listen to the audio Tour for this chapter, which is CD ex. #2-21 of
the text’s accompanying 4-CD set.
The Sitar-Tambura-Tabla Trio
This is one of many ensembles used in Hindustani music, but
is known on an international scale due largely to the influence
of Ravi Shankar.
It is a long-necked, plucked
chordophone with a woodcovered half-gourd body.
The neck is scalloped,
allowing notes to be
ornamented by “bending”
the strings.
Has 6-7 main strings for
melody and drone tones,
plus 13 sympathetic
resonance strings.
It is dedicated specifically
to droning.
It has four or five strings
with thin, sympathetic
strings running
It is held vertically in the
player’s lap and plucked
continuously to produce a
wavelike timbral effect.
It is a pair of single-headed
drums played by one player.
The higher drum, played by the
right hand, is the dahina (or
tabla.) The lower, left-hand
drum, is the bayan, and is
usually made of metal.
A thick “weight spot” affixed to
both goatskin heads allows for a
large range of distinctive
Insights and
Muslim Musicians
in Hindustani
Musical Society
“Interfaith” musical partnerships are common in the
Hindustani musical world.
One of Ravi Shankar’s greatest tabla accompanists was
Alla Rakha, a Muslim musician.
Although orthodox forms of Islam view music within
religious contexts as suspect, Sufism views musical activity
as a pathway to God.
Sufism is widely practiced in India and its influence
has had much to do with the cross-pollination of Hindu
and Muslim cultures in Hindustani music.
Other Hindustani Melodic Instruments
Sarod: a plucked chordophone. It has a shorter neck than the
sitar, has no frets, and has a body covered with animal hide.
Bansuri: a bamboo flute prized for its voice-like timbre.
Shahnai: an oboe-like instrument.
Sarangi: a bowed chordophone.
Raga Defined
Ragas are “precise melody forms,” and each is a complete and
self-contained melodic system that serves as the basis for
melodic materials of any performance in that raga. Features
An identifying set of pitches, like a scale.
A unique repertoire of melodic ornaments and melodic
A system of rules and procedures.
A repertoire of set compositions.
A host of extramusical associations, for example, with
times of day, seasons, or emotions.
Tala: Meter and Rhythm in Raga Performance
The tala is the rhythmic framework of a raga performance,
and includes the metric cycle in which the music is
Talas range in length from simple cycles of 3 or 4 beats to
complex ones of 100+ beats.
Various beats of the tala receive different degrees of
Insights and
Standard Features
of a Tala
Each tala has a specific number of beats.
The metric cycle has specific patterns of stronger and
weaker beats.
The basic, “skeletal” drumming pattern that defines the tala
is called the theka.
The first beat of each tala cycle, which is also the last beat
of the preceding cycle, is called sam.
How a Raga “Grows”
A raga’s growth in performance is described in terms of its
barhat, or growth.
Like a growing seed containing all of the directions to become a
plant, a raga contains rules for creating a self-contained musical
Unlike a Western piece of music, a raga is a template for
musical action developed through many years of study and
Master musicians like Ravi Shankar both adhere to a given
raga’s rules and push them to their limits in performance.
Form in Raga Performance
Generally speaking, raga performances start with slow and
abstract motion and become progressively faster and more
metrical, ultimately accelerating to a very fast conclusion.
This process of increasing speed is symbolic of the growth
process (barhat) common to much Indian music.
There are several successive formal sections that occur without
pauses between them: alap, jor, gat, and jhala.
The alap is the slow, abstract, improvised introduction. It is
an exploration of the raga’s melodic essence and range, and
there is no drumming or meter. The alap is the true test of
the improvisatory skill of the performer.
The jor is an intermediary section that bridges the alap and
the gat. The solo melodic instrument becomes more
rhythmic and energetic, but there is not yet a metric cycle
(tala) or drumming.
The gat begins when the drums enter. The drumming
establishes the tala, which serves as the foundation for the
remainder of the performance. As the gat proceeds, there is
a gradual increase in tempo and patterns/sections become
increasingly complex.
The jhala drives the performance to an exciting conclusion.
It often begins with an upward jump in tempo and energy,
and continues to accelerate until the end.
CD ex. #2-23 is a raga performance featuring Ravi Shankar
that illustrates raga form and aesthetics. It is discussed and
summarized on pages 138-42 of the text.
Insights and
Two Kinds of Time
In addition to the dimension of time’s passing represented
by the gradual and continuous growth of a raga in
performance, there is a second type of time, cyclic time, that
is represented by the continual recurrence of the tala cycle
(i.e., in the gat and the jhala, not the alap or jor).
As the raga progresses, time thus becomes manifest in two
dimensions: progressive and cyclic.
Keeping Tal with Ravi Shankar
Keeping tal is a method of clapping, touching fingers, and
waving hands to keep time with the music as the musicians
It is akin to tapping one’s feet to the music’s beat, but more
complex; different gestures (claps, finger touches) represent
beats of different strength.
Tintal, a 16-beat metric cycle, has a handclap on beats 1, 5,
and 13; a wave on beat 9, and finger touches on all other beats.
Tintal Counting Pattern
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
X : claps
O : wave
- : finger touches
Insights and
The Rhythm of Tihai
The rhythmic pattern of the tihai is irregular, which creates a
syncopated effect and a sense of rhythmic “dislocation.”
This forms a growing tension that is finally resolved when all
comes together on the final note of the performance.
Musicians carefully control the length of the tihai to ensure it
lands where it is supposed to.
Intercultural Crossings
and Transformations
Ravi Shankar’s wide-ranging influences and impact have
affected cross-cultural developments in the worlds of Western
classical, jazz, and rock music, as well as in Bollywood film
music of India.
The chapter covers some but not all dimensions of
Indian/Western intercultural encounters in music. Some topics
not covered include non-Indian music conservatories that
teach Indian classical music, non-Indian musicians who have
studied in India, and music in South Asian diasporic
communities in the West.
Early Inroads
Ravi Shankar’s collaborations with violinist Yehudi Mehuhin
throughout the 1950s made him well-known by the 1960s.
Shankar acknowledged some similarities between raga and
jazz, namely their shared emphases on virtuosity and
improvised solos. He collaborated with several prominent
American jazz musicians like flutist Bud Shank.
In 1961, John Coltrane recorded “India” (CD ex. #3-1).
Coltrane had spent much time studying Shankar’s recordings.
Although he never recorded with him, he named his own son
Ravi Shankar, the Beatles, and the
“Great Sitar Explosion”
Ravi Shankar, the Beatles, and the
“Great Sitar Explosion”
George Harrison began to teach himself sitar during the filming of
the Beatles movie Help!, and featured the instrument on the song
“Norwegian Wood” (1965). The sitar suddenly reached millions
of new listeners.
In 1966, Harrison began studies with Shankar; raga-like features
figured prominently on “Within You, Without You,” from
Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hears Club Band (1967).
The sitar soon became a favored “exotic” sound and was used by
many bands, including the Byrds, the Yardbirds, and the Rolling
“Sitar rock” had become part of popular music, but most rock
and pop musicians did not have the technical ability, nor the
musical knowledge, to deeply absorb raga or other Indian
features into their music.
Ravi Shankar often found the trite and gratuitous use of Indian
musical devices disturbing, especially the equation of Indian
culture with drug-induced, altered states of consciousness.
A New Level:
John McLaughlin and Shakti
A New Level:
John McLaughlin and Shakti
In the late 1960s, British jazz guitarist John McLaughlin
moved to New York, where he joined Miles Davis’s band.
McLaughlin combined his interests in Western classical music,
blues, flamenco, jazz, rock, and Indian classical music. He,
too, took lessons with Ravi Shankar and later converted to
In 1975, he formed the Indian-jazz group Shakti. Aside from
McLaughlin, all members were Indian classical musicians by
training. CD ex. #3-2 features “Joy,” performed by Shakti,
which is discussed and summarized on pages 147-48.
Bollywood and Beyond
Bollywood and Beyond
A. R. Rahman is one of the most renowned and influential
Indian musicians on an international scale since Ravi Shankar.
He is the preeminent composer and music director in
contemporary Indian cinema.
In India, film music is dominant over other genres in terms of
popularity. Rahman’s success has made him an enormous
presence in contemporary Indian music.
A. R. Rahman achieves balance between adherence to
traditional Indian music elements and pushing Indian music to
the outer reaches of global inclusiveness.
Rahman experienced an early passion for qawwali, and later
adopted Islam as his faith. “I’m a deeply spiritual person.
Sufism is about love—love for a fellow human, love for allaround humanity, and ultimately love for God. For me, it’s
where music and religion meet… That’s my inspiration.”
(Shubhash 2010)
Rahman’s stardom went global with the 2008 international hit
film Slumdog Millionaire, which won eight Academy Awards.
His other films include The Couples Retreat and 127 Hours,
and his compositions are featured in Inside Man, Intervention,
The Accidental Husband, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and
Lord of War.
CD ex. # 3-3 features “Barso Re,” which is discussed and
summarized on pages 150-54. This song is from Rahman’s
soundtrack for the popular Bollywood film Guru.

Chapter 2 How Music Lives: A Musicultural Approach