What is the difference between Hindustani and Carnatic music?

What is the difference between Hindustani and Carnatic music?

Hindustani and Carnatic music
PC Credit: https://learn.podium.school/music/hindustani-and-carnatic-music/

Music is a rich and diverse art form that encompasses various genres and styles worldwide. In India, two prominent classical music traditions have flourished over the centuries: Hindustani and Carnatic music. While both share ancient roots, they have evolved differently, resulting in distinct musical styles that are deeply rooted in their respective regions. This article delves into the top five differences between Hindustani and Carnatic music, shedding light on their origins, languages, styles, rhythms, and instruments.


Hindustani music traces its roots to northern India, particularly in regions like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Rajasthan. It has been greatly influenced by Persian and Islamic cultures, resulting in a unique blend of Indian and Persian musical elements. Carnatic music, on the other hand, originated in the southern parts of India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Kerala. It is deeply rooted in the rich cultural heritage of South India. There are 1000s learning Hindustani vocal music across the world.


Language plays a significant role in distinguishing Hindustani and Carnatic music. Hindustani music is predominantly sung in Hindi, Urdu, and other languages prevalent in North India. The lyrical compositions are often poetic and express emotions of love, devotion, and spirituality. In contrast, Carnatic music is primarily sung in regional languages such as Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, or Sanskrit. The compositions in Carnatic music are highly devotional and often praise deities or express religious themes. There are 1000s of Carnatic Music Lessons on Riyaz app designed for learning Carnatic Vocal for Beginners.


One of the fundamental differences between Hindustani and Carnatic music lies in their musical styles. Hindustani music is known for its improvisatory nature and its intricate exploration of melodic patterns known as ragas. The focus is on the artist’s creativity and expression within the boundaries of the chosen raga. Carnatic music, on the other hand, follows a more structured approach. It relies heavily on fixed compositions called kritis, which are composed by renowned composers and passed down through generations. Carnatic music emphasizes precise rendering of the compositions while showcasing the artist’s virtuosity and ability to embellish within the framework of the composition.


Rhythm plays a crucial role in both Hindustani and Carnatic music, but their approaches to rhythm differ. Hindustani music has a more free-flowing and flexible approach to rhythm. The concept of tala, which denotes rhythmic cycles, is present in Hindustani music but allows for more improvisation and variations. Talas are often performed using percussion instruments like the tabla, providing a rich rhythmic texture to the music. In contrast, Carnatic music adheres to a more intricate and structured rhythmic framework. It follows strict adherence to talas, which are intricate rhythmic patterns with specific beats and subdivisions. The mridangam, a double-headed drum, is a prominent percussion instrument in Carnatic music and plays a vital role in providing rhythmic accompaniment.


The choice of musical instruments in Hindustani and Carnatic music also contributes to their distinctive sounds. Hindustani music is known for its wide array of instruments, including the sitar, sarod, tabla, and harmonium. The sitar, with its resonant strings and intricate fretwork, is one of the most iconic instruments in Hindustani music. The tabla, a pair of hand drums, is integral to Hindustani music’s rhythmic accompaniment. On the other hand, Carnatic music primarily relies on instruments such as the mridangam, violin, veena, and ghatam. The mridangam, with its versatile tonal range, serves as the primary percussion instrument in Carnatic music. The violin is a melodic instrument that plays a crucial role in Carnatic music, adding depth and richness to the compositions. The veena, a plucked string instrument, is known for its soulful and lyrical nature, often used to accompany vocal performances. The ghatam, a clay pot, provides a unique percussive element to Carnatic music, creating rhythmic patterns and accents.


The distinct differences between Hindustani and Carnatic music lie in their origins, languages, styles, rhythms, and instruments. While Hindustani music emphasizes improvisation and melodic exploration within the framework of ragas, Carnatic music follows a structured approach with fixed compositions. To practice and learn to sing both Hindustani and Carnatic music on your own, consider downloading Riyaz app.

The rhythmic aspects differ as well, with Hindustani music offering more flexibility and Carnatic music adhering to intricate talas. The choice of instruments further distinguishes these two classical traditions.

By understanding and appreciating the unique characteristics of Hindustani and Carnatic music, we can delve deeper into the rich musical heritage of India. Whether you are captivated by the emotive nuances of Hindustani music or enthralled by the rhythmic complexity of Carnatic music, exploring both traditions can broaden your musical horizons and deepen your appreciation for Indian classical music.

Leave a Reply