Not just Bollywood and Classical: The Different Musical Genres of India

By November 12, 2019Video

It’s not an uncommon stereotype that Indian music falls into one of two genres; Bollywood music – bright and loud in its’ nature, usually assumed to be accompanied by over-animated dance moves, or, the opposite end of the spectrum; classical music, made complete with mellow, “zen”, sitar- strummed sounds.

However, there are a vast range of musical genres within the Indian culture given the breadth, depth and history of the subcontinent of India. Luckily for you, I’m here to take you on brief journey of these cultures…

Indian Classical

There are two main schools of classical Indian music; Hindustani music which found in the Northern, Eastern and Central regions of India, and the Karnatak style of the South. The tonal system of Hindustani classical music divides the octave into twenty-two sections – these are called Shrutis. They are not all exactly equal but each roughly equal to a quarter of the whole tone of Western music.

The tradition of Hindustani music dates back to Vedic times where the hymns in the Sama Veda, an ancient religious text, were sung as Samagana and as opposed to being chanted. The contemporary traditions of Hindustani Indian Classical music were established in India as well as Pakistan and Bangladesh, also influenced by the Mughals.

On the other hand, Karnatak classical music traces back to the 14 th and 15 th centuries, originating in South India during the Vijayanagar Empire. Similar to Hindustani music it is melodic with improvised variations but tends to have more fixed compositions. There is an emphasis on the vocals of the music as most compositions are written to be sung, and even when played on instruments, they are meant to be performed in a singing style (known as gāyaki).

There are many types

of Indian classical music which are categorised as ‘light classical’ or ‘semi- classical’, some of which include Ghazal, Qawwali, Thumri, Dadra, Chaiti, and Natya Sangeet. These semi-classical musical forms put emphasis on seeking emotion from the listener as opposed to the classical musical forms.

Folk Music

India is home to a vast range of folk music due to its cultural diversity, some of which include Bhangra, Garba, Lavani, and Rajasthani.

Bhangra and Giddha

Bhangra and Giddha derive from the state of Punjab, they are forms of dance-oriented folk music with the current musical style of bhangra descending from non-traditional musical accompaniment to the riffs of Punjab. Giddha is the female dance of Punjab.

Bihu of Assam

Bihu is the New Year festival of the state of Assam in north-eastern India which falls in April. Bihu music and dances are performed using traditional Assamese drums and wind instruments as part of the celebration. Bihu songs are energetic to welcome the Spring festival.

Garba, Dandiya and Raas

Dandiya, Raas and Garba are forms of a Gujarati cultural dance usually performed during the festival of Navratri every Autumn. The musical genre of garba and dandiya and raas has derived from the traditional musical accompaniment to the folk dance.

Jhumair and Domkach

Jhumair and Domkach are forms of folk music derived from Nagpur in Maharastra. The musical instruments used in folk music and dance are the dhol, mandar, bansi and nagara, amongst others.


Lavani is one of the most popular forms of music that is performed all over Maharashtra. Traditionally, Lavanis are sung in quick tempo by female artists, accompanied by the beats of the dholki, a drum-like instrument, but male artists can also occasionally sing Lavani songs.


Rajasthani music is derived from Rajasthan in northern India with a combination of string instruments, percussion instruments and wind instruments accompanied by renditions of folk singers. String instruments include the sarangi, kamayacha and ektara. Percussion instruments include nagaras and dhols, as well as flutes such as shehnai, poongi and tarpi.

Tamang Selo

This musical genre of Nepali folk music is popular amongst the Tamang people and Nepali speaking community in West Bengal and Sikkim. A Tamang Selo can be lively and energetic or slow and melodious. It is usually sung to convey emotion such as sorrow, love, happiness, as well as everyday occurrences and stories of folklore.

Filmi Music

This is arguably India’s most popular genre of music. According to research, it makes up for 72% of music sales in India. Predictably, the term ‘filmi’ derives from the word ‘film’ and with Indian Bollywood films being laced with songs which contribute to the storyline, this musical genre of Indian film songs can be seen as the equivalent to Indian pop.

The style of music used in the Filmi genre varies depending on the film, mood and emotion being portrayed however, much of music will give reverence to traditional genres such as Indian classical with Western orchestration to support these filmi melodies. Traditionally, in Indian films, the voice for the songs is not provided by the actors but by the professional playback singers, to sound more melodious, professional and developed, while actors lip-sync on the screen. Playback singers vary in their specialise genres but will often be known to be the voice of a particular actors. In recent years, the filmi genre has recently taken an interesting turn with the “remixing” of songs from past Indian movie songs, new beats being added to them – this can also be referred to as Indian pop.

So, that is that! There’s a brief overview of a few of the different genres of Indian music. It always amazes me how diverse yet, poignant and familiar Indian music sounds, regardless of its genre… In recent years, Indian genres have become more experimental in nature, taking inspiration from the West and from other Indian subcultures, leading to an evolution in the style and genres of music created in India.

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Author Bhavik Haria

I’m Bhavik Haria, a young upcoming vocalist and have been singing for over 10 years. Along with a team of talented professional musicians, we provide live music for all occasions including weddings, corporate events, memorial events and much more.

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