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100 Greatest Indian Classical Musicians

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Explore the 100 best classical Indian musicians!

Explore the 100 best classical Indian musicians!

Indian classical music is associated with two major traditions, Hindustani, which is a classical music tradition in North India, and Carnatic, a classical music expression of South India. While Hindustani music explores various aspects of a raga through improvisation, Carnatic music emphasizes short, complex compositions based on rhythmic improvisations with talas (time cycles). Both Hindustani classical music and Carnatic classical music are hugely popular in different parts of India and the world. The foundational elements in Indian classical music are raga and tala. Below you will find 100 of the best classical Indian musicians, as well as learn which style of classical music they are masters in.

Greatest Indian Classical Musicians #1-30

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1. Ravi Shankar (Sitar- Hindustani Classical)

11. Allaudin Khan (Sarod- Hindustani Classical)

21. M. Balamuralikrishna (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

2. Alla Rakha (Tabla- Hindustan Classical)

12. Bismillah Khan (Shehnai- Hindustani Classical)

22. Vilayat Khan (Sitar- Hindustani Classical)

3. L. Subramaniam (Violin- Carnatic Music)

13. T.R. Mahalingam (Flute- Carnatic Music)

23. Sheik Chinna Moulana (Nadhaswaram- Carnatic Music)

4. Zakir Hussain (Tabla- Hindustani Classical)

14. Shivkumar Sharma (Santoor- Hindustani Classical)

24. Kishori Amonkar (Vocalist- Hindustani Classical)

5. Maharajapuram Santhanam (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

15. Lalgudi Jayraman (Violin- Carnatic Music)

25. Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu (Violin- Carnatic Music)

6. Inayat Hussain Khan (Vocalist- Hindustani Classical)

16. Annapurna Devi (Surbahar- Hindustani Classical)

26. Amjad Ali Khan (Sarod- Hindustani Classical)

7. Palghat Mani Iyer (Mridangam- Carnatic Music)

17. Bhimsen Joshi (Vocalist- Hindustani Classical)

27. Imdad Khan- (Sitar/Surbahar- Hindustani Classical)

8. Hariprasad Chaurasia (Flute- Hindustani Classical)

18. Amir Khan (Vocalist- Hindustani Classical)

28. U. Srinivas (Mandolin- Carnatic Music)

9. M.S. Subbulakshmi (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

19. N. Ravikiran (Chitravina- Carnatic Music)

29. Nikhil Banerjee (Sitar- Hindustani Classical)

10. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (Vocalist- Hindustani Classical)

20. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (Mohan-veena- Hindustani Classical)

30. Anokhelal Mishra (Tabla- Hindustani Classical)

Love is not an emotion. It is your very existence.

— Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Compositions in Classical Indian Music

The melodic structure that forms the fabric of a composition is referred to as raga, while tala is the time cycle that provides a creative framework for rhythmic improvisation. Indian classical music is known to be one of the most complex forms of music in improvisational musical traditions. The free form expression in Hindustani classical music often draws comparisons with varied elements of jazz, while the use of fixed compositions in Carnatic classical music often compared with Western classical. Improvisation techniques in Indian classical music have ancient roots. One of the techniques commonly used in Hindustani classical is Alap, the opening section exploring tonal combinations, followed by Jor which explores speed and tempo and Jhala, referring to complex combinations of fast paced conclusions similar to a fishnet of strokes while keeping beat patterns.

Greatest Indian Classical Musicians #31-60

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31. Zia Mohiuddin Dagar (Rudra Vina- Hindustani Classical)

41. R. Prasanna (Guitar- Carnatic Music)

51. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

32. Bombay Jayashree (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

42. Kadri Gopalnath (Saxaphone- Carnatic Music)

52. Kumar Gandharva (Vocalist- Hindustani Classical)

33. Abdul Karim Khan (Vocalist- Hindustani Classical)

43. D.K. Jayaraman (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

53. Veenai Dhanammal (Vocalist/Sarswati Veena- Carnatic Music)

34. V. Lakshminarayana (Violin- Carnatic Music)

44. S. Sowmya (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

54. M. L. Vasanthakumari (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

35. Jayanthi Kumaresh (Veena- Carnatic Music)

45. Chitti Babu (Veena- Carnatic Music)

55. Sultan Khan (Sarangi- Hindustani Classical)

36. Aruna Sairam (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

46. Girija Devi (Vocalist- Hindustani Classical)

56. Kishan Maharaj (Tabla- Hindustani Classical)

37. Rashid Khan (Vocalist- Hindustani Classical)

47. M.S. Gopalakrishnan (Violin- Carnatic music)

57. Ali Akbar Khan (Sarod- Hindustani Classical)

38. Asad Ali Khan (Radra Veena- Hindustani Classical)

48. Kumar Bose (Tabla- Hindustani Classical)

58. D.K. Pattammal (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

39. Ram Narayan (Sarangi- Hindustani Classical)

49. Guruvayur Dorai (Mridangam- Carnatic Music)

59. Begum Akhtar (Vocalist- Hindustani Classical)

40. Gangubai Hangal (Vocalist- Hindustani Classical)

50. Imrat Khan (Sitar/Surbahar- Hindustani Classical)

60. Mallikarjun Mansur (Vocalist- Hindustani Classical)

Today is a gift from God—that is why it is called the present.

— Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

What Makes These Musicians so Talented?

Indian classical musicians are known for they rigorous practice schedule referred to as Riyaz. The roots of Indian classical music can be traced in the ancient Natyashastra and Vedic literature associated with Hinduism. Sangita-Ratnakara, an ancient Sanskrit text in the 13th century authored by Indian musicologist Sarangadeva is regarded as the definitive text of Indian classical music in both Hindustani music and Carnatic music. Indian classical music has evolved in accordance with numerous regional styles and folk traditions. While the majority of Indian classical musicians stick to their roots, over the years a number of modern-day musicians and composers have incorporated elements of Indian classical in popular music genres.

Greatest Indian Classical Musicians #61-100

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61. Jasraj- (Vocalist- Hindustani Classical)

75. Haridwaramangalam A. K. Palanivel (Thavil- Carnatic Music)

89. M.D. Ramanathan (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

62. N.Ravikiran (Vocalist/Stringed Instruments- Carnatic Music)

76. Mysore Vasudevachar (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

90. Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

63. T.M. Krishna (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

77. Ajoy Chakrabarty (Vocalist- Hindustani Classical)

91. Shubha Mudgal (Vocalist- Hindustani Classical)

64. K.V. Narayanaswamy (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

78. Rajani- Gayatri Sisters (Vocals/Violin- Carnatic Music)

92. T. N. Seshagopalan (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

65. Chembai (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

79. Samta Prasad (Tabla- Hindustani Classical)

93. Vijay Siva (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

66. Mavelikkara Velukutty Nair (Mridangam- Carnatic Music)

80. Nithyasree Mahadevan (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

94. Sanjay Subrahmanyan (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

67. Pannalal Ghosh (Flute- Hindustani Classical)

81. Vedavalli (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

95. T. Brinda (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

68. Shahid Parvez (Sitar- Hindustani Classical)

82. Sundaram Balchander (Veena- Carnatic Music)

96. Neyveli Santhanagopalan (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

69. T.N. Krishnan (Violin- Carnatic Music)

83. Madurai Mani Iyer (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

97. Kaushiki Chakraborty (Vocalist- Hindustani Classical)

70. Musiri Subramania Iyer (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

84. S. Ramanathan (Vocalist/Veena- Carnatic Music)

98. G. N. Balasubramaniam (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

71. L. Shankar (Violin- Carnatic Music)

85. Faiyaz Khan (Vocalist- Hindustani Classical)

99. P. Unnikrishnan (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

72. N. Ramani (Flute- Carnatic Music)

86. S. Somasundaram (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

100. Yogesh Samsi (Tabla- Hindustani Classical)

73. Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

87. Muthiah Bhagavatar (Vocalist/Composer- Carnatic Music)

74. Rahul Sharma (Santoor- Hindustani Classical)

88. Sikkil Gurucharan (Vocalist- Carnatic Music)

The difference between motivation and inspiration: Motivation is external and short lived. Inspiration is internal and lifelong.

— Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Indian Classical Hindustani Music

Hindustani classical is largely prevalent in North India. Improvisation is of prime importance in Hindustani music. With each gharana (teaching school/teaching house) developing it’s unique distinctive technique, varied interpretations stem to form a diverse method and technique. Hindustani classical musicians in India are known for their creative improvisational skills. The four major forms of Hindustani music are Dhrupad, Tarana, Khayal, and Thumri which is semi-classical form of expression. Dhrupad is an ancient form of musical expression whereas Khayal is a modern form of Hindustani classical that has evolved from Dhrupad. Thumri has evolved through the years from Khayal.

Dhrupad typically consists of four stanzas of musical expression called Sthayi, Sanchari, Antara and Abhoga. The Sthayi is melody that uses low octave notes and the middle octave’s first tetrachord. Sanchari is the developmental music structure which builds using parts of Antara and Sthayi which have already been played, using melodic soundscapes that built around three octave notes. The Abhoga is associated with rhythmic variations and diminished notes of the concluding section bringing back the listener to the focal point or starting point of Sthayi. At times a fifth stanza called Bhoga associated with Bhakti (emotional devotion to a God or Goddess) maybe included by performers.

A number of traditional musical instruments and ethnic musical instruments are used in Indian classical music. While different musical instruments are used in Hindustani classical music and Carnatic music, instruments are also used interchangeably in accordance with composition. The table below lists different types of musical instruments used in each tradition.

Musical Instruments Used in Hindustani Classical Music

InstrumentDefinition

Bansuri

A bansuri is a side blown flute found in many parts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal, and a musical instrument that is common in the North Indian or Hindustani classical music.

Sitar

The sitar is a plucked stringed instrument used in Hindustani classical music. The instrument flourished under the Mughals and it is named after a Persian instrument called the setar.

Sarod

The sarod is a stringed instrument, used mainly in Hindustani music. Along with the sitar, it is among the most popular and prominent instruments.

Violin

The violin, also known informally as a fiddle, is a wooden string instrument in the violin family. Most violins have a hollow wooden body. It is the smallest and highest-pitched instrument in the family in regular use.

Tabla

The tabla is a membranophone percussion instrument originating from the Indian subcontinent, consisting of a pair of drums, used in traditional, classical, popular and folk music.

Surbahar

Surbahar, sometimes known as bass sitar, is a plucked string instrument used in the Hindustani classical music of North India. It is closely related to the sitar, but has a lower tone.

Veena

The veena, comprises a family of chordophone instruments of the Indian subcontinent. Ancient musical instruments evolved into many variations, such as lutes, zithers and arched harps.

Tanpura

The tanpura is a long-necked plucked string instrument found in various forms in Indian music. It does not play melody but rather supports and sustains the melody of another instrument or singer by providing a continuous harmonic bourdon or drone.

Santoor

The santoor is an Indo-Persian trapezoid-shaped hammered dulcimer or string musical instrument generally made of walnut, usually with seventy-two strings.

Pakhavaj

The pakhawaj or mridang is an Indian barrel-shaped, two-headed drum, a variant and descendant of the older mridang.

Shehnai

The shehnai is a musical instrument, common in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is made out of wood, with a double reed at one end and a metal or wooden flared bell at the other end.

Esraj

Esraj is an Indian stringed instrument found in two forms throughout the Indian subcontinent. It is a relatively young instrument, being only about 300 years old.

Sarangi

The sārangī is a bowed, short-necked string instrument from India as well as Nepal and Pakistan which is used in Hindustani classical music.

100-greatest-indian-classical-musicians

Indian Classical Carnatic Music

Carnatic music is exceedingly popular in South India. Carnatic music is more complexly structured than Hindustani classical. The rhythmically intensive musical expression in structural parts is similar to musical expressions in Western classical music. The dynamics of ragas in Carnatic music are elaborative. While tempos in ragas are significantly faster, they are shorter than their equivalents associated with Hindustani music. The musical structure in Carnatic music starts with Varnam, which is a warm-up for musicians followed by devotion and blessings. Then follows a series of exchanges or interchanges between unmetered melody referred to as Ragams and Thaalams (ornamentation) intermixed with kirthis (hymns). Following this is the pallavi (theme) from the raga. Carnatic pieces may consist of notated lyrical poems with embellishments in accordance with the performer’s ideologies.

Musical Instruments Used in Cranatic Classical Music

InstrumentDefinition

Veena

The veena, comprises a family of chordophone instruments of the Indian subcontinent. Ancient musical instruments evolved into many variations, such as lutes, zithers and arched harps.

Mridangam

The Mridangam is a percussion instrument from India of ancient origin. It is the primary rhythmic accompaniment in a Carnatic music ensemble, and in Dhrupad, where it is known as Pakhawaj.

Ghatam

The Ghatam is a percussion instrument used in the Carnatic music of South India. A variant played in Punjab and known as gharha as is a part of Punjabi folk traditions. Its analogue in Rajasthan is known as the madga and pani mataqa.

Harmonium

The pump organ, reed organ, harmonium, or melodeon is a type of free-reed organ that generates sound as air flows past a vibrating piece of thin metal in a frame. The piece of metal is called a reed.

Venu

The venu is one of the ancient transverse flutes of Indian classical music. It is an aerophone typically made from bamboo, that is a side blown wind instrument. It continues to be in use in the South Indian Carnatic music tradition.

Thavil

The thavil or tavil is a barrel shaped percussion instrument from Tamilnadu. It is used in temple, folk and Carnatic music, often accompanying the nadaswaram.

Violin

The violin, also known informally as a fiddle, is a wooden string instrument in the violin family.

Gottuvadyam

The chitravina is a 20 or 21-string fretless lute in Carnatic music.

Morsing

A morsing is an instrument similar to the Jew's harp, mainly used in Rajasthan, in the Carnatic music of South India, and in Sindh.

Nadaswaram

The nadhaswaram, nagaswaram, or nathaswaram is a double reed wind instrument from Tamilnadu.

Saraswati

An Indian plucked string instrument. It is named after the Hindu goddess Saraswati.

Veena

The veena, comprises a family of chordophone instruments of the Indian subcontinent.

Udukkai

The udukkai or uduku is a membranophone instrument used in folk music and prayers in Tamil Nadu and it is originated in Tamil Nadu as well.

Maddale

The Maddale is a percussion instrument from Karnataka, India. It is the primary rhythmic accompaniment in a Yakshagana ensemble along with Chande.

© 2018 Ansel Pereira