There are two main schools of Indian classical music: the Hindustani style of the North and the Karnatak (also spelled Karnatak and Karanatic) of the South. The Hindustani style features a number of Turko-Persian musical elements not found in the more varied and, in some ways, complex Karnatak style. Well-known Hindustani styles include Dhrupad, Dhamar, Khayal, Tappa and Thumri. [Main Source for this article: “Rough Guide of World Music”]

A “gharana” (literally meaning "extended family") is a school of music. Certain ones have good reputations. Gharanas are more like philosophical schools than formal institutions. There are ones for singing and various instruments and they often distinguished by style and mode of thought. They have usually been founded by famous musicians.

Traditionally musical traditions have been passed on orally and musical skills have often been taught from father to son or teacher to pupil. Students pay respect to their instructors by kissing their feet. The relationship between teachers (known as “pandits” and “gurus” among Hindus and “ustaad” among Muslims) and their pupils is very important in Indian music. Teachers and pupils are often related, and the spiritual element of the instrument is often as important as technical virtuosity. In northern India, the spiritual relationship is symbolized by a ceremony in which a teachers ties a string around the wrist of a pupil.

Some styles of Indian music are associated with a specific faith. “Bhajans” and “kirtis”, for example, are Hindu devotional songs; and “qawali” is a form rooted in Sufi Islam. As a rule Hindu styles are performed by Hindu performers and Islamic styles are performed by Muslim performers.

Hindustani Music

Hindustani Music is the term used to describe the music of northern India, which is regarded by many people as true Indian music. Influenced by music from Persia and Central Asia, it also refers to vocal styles mentioned below: dhrupad, khyal, dadra and thumri. Music from southern India. features shorter pieces without the long, slow tempo phases. Even though it is less well known in the West it arguably is more accessible to Western ears. [Source: “Rough Guide of World Music”]

Music from the north can be divided into two types: 1) classical and 2) light classical (also referred to as semi-classical). The classical form requires stricter adherence to the raga formula while light classical allows more opportunities for deviations and does not require the intense concentration that classical Indian music requires.

Light classical music is defined as a style of music that follows the rules of raag and taal but adheres to them less strictly than with classical music. The alaap is usually very short or doesn't exist and the melodies are often derived from popular folk music and are rendered in medium (“madhya kaal”) or fast (“teevra gati”) tempo. Types of light classical music include “jugalbandi”, an instrumental duet. “Dadra”, “thumri”, “ghazal” and “qawwali” refer to light classical singing styles as well as music styles (See Below).

Classical ragas have gone though changes similar to those of classical Western music. “Alaaps” have been shortened. Popular ragas are heard over and over again in easily digestible forms.


“Karnatak” (also spelled Karnatak and Karanatic) is the classical music of southern India. It is similar to Hindustani classical music except it is freer and has a more positive and upbeat mood that reflects a lack of influence of music from Persia and Central Asia and the fact it has remained close to its Hindu origins. Purandara Dasa is regarded as the Father of Karnatak music. [Source: “Rough Guide of World Music”]

The structure of Karnatak is similar to that of Hindustani music. Both have ragas (in Karnatak they are called ragams) but the rhythms, musical instruments and melodies used in Karnatak are different from those used in Hindustani. With Karnatak music there is more emphasis on vocal music and the music itself is freer, more complex and more open to improvisation. The thaalam (the equivalent of the taal) is especially rich and complex. During concerts you will often see people in the audience “keeping the tala,” marking the time cycle with hand and finger counts.

Compared to Hindustani music, music from southern India features shorter pieces without the long, slow tempo phases. Even though it is less well known in the West it arguably is more accessible to Western ears. Spirituality and devotion are key to understanding Karnatak music. The lyrics to all the famous traditional pieces are devotional and philosophical in nature and their composers—Tyagaraja (1767-1846), Mutuswamy Dikshitar (1776-1835) and Syama Sastri (1762-1827)— are regarded as saints. The music itself is comprised of 62 Melkarta Ragams, which are composed by seven notes. Seven different “Sapta Talas” provide the basis for rhythm.

A typical Karnatak classical vocal performance begins with a “varnum” (a composition with three parts: pallavi, anupallavu and chittaswaram), dedicated to Ganesh, followed by one or two short tempo-building “kriti” (songs, See Below), which in turn are followed by an “alppana” (the Karnatak equivalent of the alaap) and “thaalam” (the equivalent of a jor) The singer sings without words, concentrating on the notes of the raga, improvising within its structure. A performance might end with a light classical piece such as a ragamalika, bhajan or thirupugazh.

Karnatak musical instruments, See Below


“Dhrupad” is the most austere form of classical singing and playing. Closely connected to the famous Mughal singer Tansen, it is a northern Indian style that features a straight delivery and no embroidery or embellishment. Singers are accompanied by a tanpura and pakhawaj barrel drum. Performance begins with a long, complex alaap and focuses more on the nuances of the raga and the text and less on technical feats. “Dhamar” is a form similar to dhrupad but has more embellishments. [Source: “Rough Guide of World Music”]

Dhrupad is regarded as a sacred art. Ramakant Gundecha, a Dhrupad performer told the Asahi Shimbun, “It is s a music of peace. It has its roots in the Vedas. As it is prayer music that used to be sung in Hindu temples, it addresses the gods.” Dhrupad was played in the courts of the maharajas and was patronized by the Mughals.

Describing the “dhrupad” singer F Wasifuddin Dagar, Mark Jenkins wrote in the Washington Post, "He began the piece with a slow, meditative chant that was only slightly more assertive than the external drone of the two tanpura” players who accompanied him. By the time the 90-minute raga ended, he conjured an entire orchestra....The singer employed a call-and-response style in which his voice produced dueling tones: It was alternatively high and throaty, clear, distorted, sustained and staccato."

A Dhrupad performance often puts more emphasis on the alaap (introductory part of the music) than the raga. Gundecha said, “The “alap” of Dhrupad is fully based on improvisation. The singer behaves as a composer, conductor and performer. We are free to express ourselves within the periphery of the stylistic characteristics...We unfold the melody step by step with increasing tempo.”

Khayal and Thumri

“Khayal” (also spelled khyal, derived rom a Persian word meaning "imagination") is a form of classical singing that is less austere and more popular today than “Dhrupad”. It features elaborate embroidery and embellishments The singer begins with a short alaap in which the characteristics of the raga are developed. No words are sung: the singer concentrates on the notes of the raga while improvising within its structures. Each phase that the singer sings may repeated by the accompanist. [Source: “Rough Guide of World Music”]

Khayals are fixtures of Hindustani light classical pieces. A bandish (Bada Khayal) is often the first composition to begin after the raga has been properly introduced. The tabla meter is often very very slow—with one cycle of the taal taking take a minuet or more to complete. Most of the music is improvised. The composition acts as a refrain for the improvised material.

“Thumri” is another fixture of Hindustani light classical music. Created by Nawab Ali Shah, who governed Lucknow from 1847 to 1856, it is an emotional song style known for its graceful, lyrical melodies. It s regarded as more accessible than dhrupad or khayal and features ragas and taals usually associated with “kathak” dance. Dadri, Hori, Chaiti, Kajri and Jhool are sub genres of Thumri.

“Thumri” is primarily a vocal style of romance music written from the perspective of the woman and sung in a literary dialect of Hindi called “Braj Bhasha”. In the old days it was often associated with court courtesans and prostitutes. Despite the feminine orientation, some of the most famous thumri singers are men such as Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, an overweight, middle aged Muslim who sang about "bracelets slipping off" and being “struck with his magic."

Hindu Devotional Music

“Bhajans” are forms of devotional songs that are especially popular in northern India. They often honor a particular deity or recall an episode from Hindu mythology. Pilgrims chant them at festivals and along the banks of the Ganges. They are chanted by worshipers at temples. Many of the compositions date back to the period of the Hindu reformation in A.D. first millennium, when Hinduism reestablished itself after a period when Buddhism was dominant. Bhajans have also been influenced by Sufi devotional music. [Source: “Rough Guide of World Music”]

“Kriti” is the most important from of devotional music from southern India. Often based on religious text and performed at temples, it pantheon of deities. . Other vocal styles associated with southern India include “bhajan” (Hindu devotional love songs), ragamalika (a series of ragas), or thirupugazh. .


A “ghazal” is a light style of classical Persian love music adored by the Mughals. Originally more of a poetic than musical form, the name is derived from an Arabic word meaning "to talk amorously to women." Although sometimes referred to as the Urdu equivalent of khayal, it is based as often on folk melodies as on ragas. The lyrics are often taken from famous Urdu poems. Famous ghazal singers are mostly women. They include Shabha Urtu, Najma Akhtar and Begum Akhtra (1914-1974). [Source: “Rough Guide of World Music”]

Ghazals are also performed in Central Asia, Iran and Turkey. In India they often heard on the radios or in films popular in northern India. But they are most often associated with court music from the Mughal Golden Age. These songs were often linked with stories of maharajahs who seduced deadly snakes into performing dances, Mughal shahs who transformed day into night with their songs and musicians who calmed rampaging elephants.

Some ghazal stick close to the raga format. Others bring folk rhythms to the forefront and verge on being pop songs. Essential elements found in Ghazal are “shayari” (“eloquent poetry”), “mausiqui” (“gentle music”) and “jazbat” (“fragile emotions”). The music is very slow paced and the lyrics are repeated two ro three times. The first couplet is a “matla”. The second couplet is the “makta”. The remaining couplets are “misra” and “antara”.

Sufi Devotional Music

Sufism is a kind of mystical Islam in followers sometimes go into trancelike states. Sufi spiritual music is often highly-syncopated and hypnotic. One Sufi dancer said, "The music takes you over completely. It's a healing thing." The union of the body, spirit and music lies at the heart of Sufism. Sufis believe: "Music is the food of the spirit; when the spirit receives food, it turns aside from the government of the body."

Sufis are credited with keeping the spirit of music alive in the Muslim world while orthodox Muslims tried to stamp it out. Sufis traditionally criticized those who criticized music. According to 9th-century Baghdad philosopher Abu Suliman al-Darani Sufis believe that "music and singing do not produce in it that which is not in it" and music "reminds the spirit of the realm for which it constantly longs."

Some Sufi songs are popular villages songs about love with lyrics changed so the Mohammed is the object of love rather than a woman or a man. One songs goes, "It is he, it is only he who lives in my heart, only he whom I give my love, our beautiful Prophet Mohammed, whose eyes are made-up with kohl,"

Fixtures of Sufism include secret recitations and annual 40-day retreats known as chilla . Sufi mulids , religious festivals that honor the saints of mosque, sometimes attracts hundreds of thousands of people. Describing a Sufi ritual at such a festival David Lodge wrote in the Rough Guide to World Music: "To a binding hypnotic rhythm, heaving movements and respiratory groans, the leader conducts the congregation by reciting Sufi poetry, guiding them from one maqam mode to another. Bodies sway, head roll upwards on every stroke as they chant religious devotions with spiraling intensity."

Qawwali Music

“Qawwali” is a kind of Sufi devotional music with a high-pitched and fast-paced stye of singing. It developed in the 13th century when Sufism was becoming popular on the Indian subcontinent. “Qawwali” literally means "philosophical utterance" in Arabic and has come to mean performing Sufi poetry to music. “Qawwali” songs are based on devotional Sufi poems and often have romantic themes that can be interpreted as love between a devotee and his God or between a man and a woman. [Source: “Rough Guide of World Music”]

“Qawwali” has a very distinct sound. The "sweeping melodies" and rhythmic hand clapping and the drone of the harmonium is instantly recognizable. It is often featured in Indian films and clubs and gatherings. Describing the appeal of qawwali music, Jon Pareles wrote in the New York Times, it is music "a rocker could love; it favors rock-hewn, hearty voices and an unstoppable beat."

Qawwali music evolved out of Sufi poems and chants of God's name (“zikr”) to achieve a trancelike state. The poems are regarded as links to Sufi saints and ultimately to God. The origin of qawwali is attributed to Amir Khusrau (1253-1325), a talented Sufi poet and composer who has also been credited with inventing the sitar and the tabla. He was a disciple of the Delhi-based Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya. Poems by Khusrau are the core of the qawwali repertoire. Qawwali music has endured through the tradition of “Mahfil-e-Sama” ("Assembly for Listening"), which remains the central ritual today. The act of listening to music (“sama”) is an expression of mystical love and the desire to be unified with the Sufi saints and God.

Qawwali musicians view themselves as religious people entrusted with the responsibility of evoking the name of God. They are trained and led by a religious leader called a “sheik” and traditionally have performed during ceremonies to mark the death of a saint at the saint's shrine. Qawwali musicians also have traditionally performed at shrines on Thursdays, the day Muslim remember the dead; Friday, the day of congregational prayer; and times when many pilgrims arrive. Musicians who perform at Sufi shrines are often descendants of the saints for which the shrine is dedicated.

Sufism, See Islam

Qawwali Songs

Qawwali songs tend to be long and have a structure and organization similar to that of northern Indian music. They feature a singing melodic line supported by drones and rhythms. A typical qawwali song features "solo verses punctuated by a choral refrain and instrumental interludes." Qawwali songs also feature "a steady, accelerating beat, a refrain that is repeated with increased passion” and “ a voice that roses to joyful, inspired testimonials of faith."

Qawwali songs often have a structure defined by strict rules. They usually begin with a slow prelude, featuring the harmonium and drumming. After the prelude ends the singer begin intoning texts quietly as if in payer. As the song the progresses the tempo speeds up with calls of praises of Allah, the Prophet and Sufi saints. This is followed by call-and-response style exchanges between the soloist and the junior singers. The rhythms become more lively and up tempo, building to crescendo-like climax.

Most tradition qawwali songs are written in Persian or an old form of Hindi called “Braj Bhasha”—the languages used by Khursrau. Many new songs are in Punjabi or Urdu. On the surface many qawwali lyrics seem to be about unrequited love. A closer look reveals that are about longing for god. Both musicians and listeners talk about how the music intoxicates them with divine love. The words to one famous Qawwali song goes: "I have forsaken all and I stand forlorn at your doorstep/ Just one glance from you would fulfil my life's dream/ Take one look at me, and I'll never look back on the world I have spurned in order to cling to you.”

Songs are often extended with “girahs”, additional verses added spontaneously in the middle of a song. There is a repertoire of girahs that singer chose from and skilled singers now to thrown in girahs in unexpected way to keep a song fresh. “Tarana” is a vocalization technique "using syllables derived from esoteric Sufi tradition."

Qawwali Music Parties and Performances

A group that plays qawwali music is called a party. It usually includes a lead singer called a “mohri”, secondary singers who usually play the harmonium, and at least one percussionist. Every member of the group joins in the singing and the youngest members provide the rhythmic hand claps.

Describing a qawwali performance, Mark Jenkins wrote in the Washington Post, "The party's lead vocal sang the principal lyrics...His verses were answered by the higher-pitched solo singing of his brother Mehr and the call-and-response and unison of the other eight musicians. While two harmoniums provided the drone." The tabla player "did an exemplary job of keeping and embroidering the beat. Still, much of the evening's music was made simply with trilling voices and clapping hands."

Qawwali refers to a performance and singer as well as a kind of music. At a traditional show, the audiences is made up of exclusively men in accordance with Sufi traditions. In the old days, qawwali was performed at a Sufi shrines on important religious days. These days it is performed in the West at concerts and in Pakistan and India at gatherings call mahfils.

Qawwali has traditionally been performed at a mahfil. Mahfils are social events in which the audiences and performers relax in comfortable positions on the floor. There is great deal of communication between the audience and performers, with performers adapting their music and performances to the likes and spiritual needs of the audience. Many Qawwali performs don't like performing in auditoriums because the feel intimacy is compromised there.

At marfils, musicians often direct their music towards an experienced group of senior listeners, who often show their appreciation by throwing money on the stage or handing musicians gifts (“nazir”) in appreciation for a particular phrase or riff. These gifts date back to a time when they were the performers principal source of income.

See Mahfil Above

Folk Music in India

There are almost as many different kinds of folk music in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as there are ethnic groups and cultures. The most well known styles come from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, the Punjab and Bengal. Bengal has a rich tradition of religious folk music, especially associated with Sufism among Muslims and with the devotional worship of Krishna and the goddess Kali among Hindus. Dogri love songs from the Jammu hills and chants from Uttar Pradesh have done well on the World Music charts.

Folk music is often called “Desi”. It has traditionally been associated with events from everyday life and is often performed at festival and life-cycle events such as marriages and births. It is much more festive, celebratory, for-the-moment and fun than Indian classical music but has suffered as a result of the mass market of Bollywood and Film Music.

Some of the most interesting folk music is music from the tribal areas. The music that comes from tribal areas often more closely resembles the music of Southeast Asia than it does the music associated with India.

Kerala is famous for its ritual drumming featuring chenda drums (hollow meter-long cylindrical drum held like a guitar with a shoulder strap and played standing up), often played with Kuzhai oboes, bronze cymbals and C-shaped kombu horns. Chendra drums are the chief accompaniment for Kathakali and are played in many temples in Kerala. Large drumming groups called chenda melas, play at festivals and other large gatheringa. The performances are exhilarating and entertaining. Sometimes elephant trumpeting is worked into shows and the drumming is so intense and fast it is said to sound like a roaring lion.

See Minorities, Music, Dance

See Weddings

Music from Kashmir and Rajasthan

Chakri is one of the most popular types of traditional music played in Jammu & Kashmir. Chakri is a responsorial song form with instrumental parts, and it is played with instruments like the harmonium, the rubab, the sarangi, the nout, the geger and the chimta. It is performed in folk and religious spheres, by the Muslim and Hindu Kashmiris. Chakri was also used to tell stories like fairy tales or famous love stories. [Source: Wikipedia]

Soofiyna Moosaqi is traditional form of Kashmiri choral music performed by four to five musicians playing traditional Kashmiri musical instruments such as the saze kashmore (a violin-like instrument), the stringed santoor zither, sarang (bowed viol), surnai oboe the Kashmiri sitar and a percussion from loud dhol drums and more subtle dhorkas, a double headed drum made from a hollow tree trunk.

Rajasthan has a very lively folk music scene. Members of the “manganiyar”, a musician caste, perform at weddings, theater events and other gatherings. A pair of male singers often perform a devotional call-and-response style of wailing accompanied by stringed instruments like the “kamayacha”, “ravanhata” (two-string fiddle) and drums. Other musicians include “jogis”, wandering mystics who play the one-stringed “bhapang” and “bhopa”, and epic bards who play the ravanhartha or jantar (a zither supported by two gourds).

The Rajputs love to sing and dance they have songs about everything the monsoon to the trials of everyday life. Their musical instruments include the “satara”, which is sort of like a bag pipe without the bag. It is a double flute with one flute providing a drone and the other playing the melody. Instead of a bag it is uses the musician’s lungs to supply the drone. The “satara” is often the instrument of choice among snake charmers of the “sapera” caste. It and the “sumai” (oboe) and “murali” (double clarinet) are the favored instrument of “langa”, a caste of musicians and camel traders.

Bauls and Bengali Folk Music

Bengali Baul music has found some followers in the world music scene. Western Indo-pop bands such as Fundamental have drown on emotional baul melodies. Bengali singer Paban Das Baul has produced rock-flavored album called “Real Sugar” that has done well on the World Music charts. Bengal has a rich tradition of religious folk music, especially associated with Sufism among Muslims and with the devotional worship of Krishna and the goddess Kali among Hindus.

Bauls are a religious and cultural group most active in West Bengal in India and Bangladesh. They are known as traveling minstrels who perform ecstatic songs and poems and live an unconventional lifestyle. The term “Baul” is understood to mean “madness.”. The Baul often describe themselves as “crazy for God.” Most Bauls are men who sing their songs while playing instruments such as the harmonium, small cymbals, drums or “dotara” (two-string lute with a long neck) . Usually the play a “gopi yantra” (or “ektara”, a one-stringed instrument ,made from a gourd and split bamboo). [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures: South Asia”, edited by Paul Hockings, C.K. Hall & Company, 1992]

Bauls fall into three major groups: 1) those with links to Tantric Buddhism and Shaktism (goddess worship), 2) those associated with Bengali Vaishnava (Vishnu worship); and Muslim fakirs. Some Bauls are married and perform daily rites in their homes. Some are ascetics who go through an initiation ritual, and wander the countryside, living in ashrams or monasteries. Bauls often gather in large numbers at festivals known as melas to sing songs and share stories.

Bauls usually dress in orange or saffron, with small bells around the ankles. The often have beards and longhair tied in a topknots. Sometimes they wear “rudraksha” beads (sacred to the god Shiva). They believe that god dwells within the human body and their songs bring him out. One type of song called “sahaja” emphasizes spontaneity and attempts to induce a state of ecstacy and creativity.

The Bauls reject caste and Muslim-Hindu religious distinctions and sometimes their way of life embraces Tantric ideas about sexuality. These Bauls believe that god dwells in sexual fluids. There are sexual rituals that unite the male and female essence. Many of their songs contain metaphors for unions of these fluid such a catching fish at high tide and piercing the moon. Baul beliefs are influenced by Tantric Buddhism, Sufism, Kundalini yoga and the Shaktism (the worship of Kali).


Bhangra is a funky, beat-driven style of Punjabi folk dance music. Popular in India and Pakistan and among South Asians in Britain and the United States, it combines traditional Punjabi drum-and-percussion music of field workers with Western dance music "in every-shifting East-West hybrids.” It is know for driving, danceable rhythms, ecstatic singing and goofy keyboard riffs.

Traditional bhangra music is performed at harvest festivals called “bisakh”. The name of the music is derived from the word “bhang”—Punjabi for hemp or marijuana—the crop that was often being harvested. The chanting lyrics are meant to entertain fields works and keep their mind off their work. It often incorporates humorous references to wives and mother-in-laws. Bhangra dancing is very popular and performed during the Baisakhi festival in the Punjab. It is performed by men and is very robust and energetic. Drummers playing “dholak” drums usually play at the center of the dancers. The rhythm for the music is intended to match the movement of a reaper with a scythe. It is provided by a “dhol”, a large barrel drum found in many places in western Asia. It is struck with a stick for the basic rhythm on one side. Complicated cross rhythms are played with the hand on the other side and embellished with rhythms from tablas and dholak drums. Dances were developed to accompany the music.

Around 200 years ago, bhangra became a popular form of entertainment. The “dhol” was replaced by the “dlolak”, which is quieter and better suited for playing more complex rhythms. Other instruments such as the “alghoza” (duct flute), “thumbi” (one-stringed fiddle), Indian harmonium, santoori were added.

Modern Bhangra

In the 1970s, second- and third-generation young South Asian Britons began playing Bhangra music at parties and clubs and groups began making their own music. The ground breaking recording was the album “Teri Chuni De Siare” by a group called Alaap, one of many groups in Britain that played for Punjabi immigrants at parties at weddings. They used a violin, accordion, acoustic guitar, dhol and tabla and stayed pretty close to traditional forms.

Over time Alaap and groups like Heera, Premi and Holle Holle began incorporated more modern elements into their music and molding a unique sound. The music because a fixture of all-day or daytimer clubs, geared towards Asian youths, particularly girls, that had trouble getting permission from their tradition-bound parents to go out late at night. It was not long before bhangra concerts were attracting 2,000 people.

As bhangra grew the groups began using electric guitars, synthesizers, Western drum kits and drum machines. By the late 80s, bhanga began showing up in clubs frequented by white and black youths and the London music press began hailing bhangra as a possible next big thing. A lot of modern bhangra has a Jamaican influence, particularly dancehall reggae, and hip-hop influence. Bhangra parties were all the rage at American universities in the early 2000s. Meadow on “The Sopranos” is shown boogying to it in her car.

Kalbelia Folk Songs and Dances of Rajasthan

In 2010, Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan were placed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. According to UNESCO: “Songs and dances are an expression of the Kalbelia community’s traditional way of life. Once professional snake handlers, Kalbelia today evoke their former occupation in music and dance that is evolving in new and creative ways. [Source: UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage]

Today, women in flowing black skirts dance and swirl, replicating the movements of a serpent, while men accompany them on the khanjari percussion instrument and the poongi, a woodwind instrument traditionally played to capture snakes. The dancers wear traditional tattoo designs, jewellery and garments richly embroidered with small mirrors and silver thread. Kalbelia songs disseminate mythological knowledge through stories, while special traditional dances are performed during Holi, the festival of colours. The songs also demonstrate the poetic acumen of the Kalbelia, who are reputed to compose lyrics spontaneously and improvise songs during performances. Transmitted from generation to generation, the songs and dances form part of an oral tradition for which no texts or training manuals exist. Song and dance are a matter of pride for the Kalbelia community, and a marker of their identity at a time when their traditional travelling lifestyle and role in rural society are diminishing. They demonstrate their community’s attempt to revitalize its cultural heritage and adapt it to changing socioeconomic conditions.

The music and dances were placed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity because: 1) Kalbelia folk songs and dances have been creatively adapted by their community of Rajasthani snake handlers to changing socioeconomic circumstances, while maintaining continuity over time and providing them with a strong feeling of identity and pride; 2) The inscription of Kalbelia folk songs and dances on the Representative List could help to raise awareness about the importance of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage by offering an example of a marginalized community’s adaptability and creativity;

Sankirtana, Ritual Singing, Drumming and Dancing of Manipur

In 2013, Sankirtana, ritual singing, drumming and dancing of Manipur was placed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. According to UNESCO: “Sankirtana encompasses an array of arts performed to mark religious occasions and various stages in the life of the Vaishnava people of the Manipur plains. Sankirtana practices centre on the temple, where performers narrate the lives and deeds of Krishna through song and dance. In a typical performance, two drummers and about ten singer-dancers perform in a hall or domestic courtyard encircled by seated devotees. [Source: UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage]

The dignity and flow of aesthetic and religious energy is unparalleled, moving audience members to tears and frequently to prostrate themselves before the performers. Sankirtana has two main social functions: it brings people together on festive occasions throughout the year, acting as a cohesive force within Manipur’s Vaishnava community; and it establishes and reinforces relationships between the individual and the community through life-cycle ceremonies. It is thus regarded as the visible manifestation of God. The Sankirtana of Manipur is a vibrant practice promoting an organic relationship with people: the whole society is involved in its safeguarding, with the specific knowledge and skills traditionally transmitted from mentor to disciple. Sankirtana works in harmony with the natural world, whose presence is acknowledged through its many rituals.

The singing, dancing and drumming of Manipur were placed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity because: 1) Transmitted from generation to generation through formal and traditional education, Sankirtana music and dance reinforce the social and spiritual cohesion among the Vaishnava communities of Manipur; 2) Inscription of Sankirtana on the Representative List could contribute to the visibility of intangible cultural heritage while encouraging intercultural dialogue and promoting respect for cultural diversity;

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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