Indian Classical Style Comparisan- Hindustani and Carnatic Music

There are mainly two styles of classical music in India. Hindustani and Carnatic Music. Learn the main difference which is listed below. Carnatic is prevalent style in southern India and Hindustani is popular in rest of sub-continent. Also practiced in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. This is not easy to mention all the similarities and differences in this single article. But I tried to touch some significant areas of these two very old and rich styles of Indian Music.

There was only one classical music in India before 13th century. Post that Era Classical Music has been divided into two distinct styles. In North India Persian and Mughal influence started making its place very strongly with Amir Khusro. Tansen and his contemporary musicians mostly performed in Dhrupad genre and later Khayal singing was popularized by Sadarang-Adarang. And many Gharanas (Schools) in different regions of India evolved.
On the other hand, Carnatic Music was evolved mainly by Saint Purandardas, Tyagraja, Muthuswamy Dikshitar and Shyama Shashtri. Today most of the classical training revolves around Kritis composed by these great saint musicians. But I am not sure when Violin was introduced in Carnatic Classical and Why? Since Violin is definitely not Indian Instrument but became very popular accompanying instrument with Carnatic Classical Vocals.

Some Basic Differences:


Hindustani Music

Carnatic Music

Raga System

Based on 10 Thaats and 32 Ragang Ragas

Based on 72 Melakarta or Janak Raga

24-hr Time-Cycle of Ragas




Popular 10-12 Taal(also 10-12 Rare Taal)

Popular 35 Taal(108 total)

Composition or Kriti Forms

Khayal, Dhrupad, Tarana, Thumri, Dhamaar divide into parts like -Sthayi, Antara, Snachari and Abhog

Varnam, Kriti divided into parts like-Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charnam


Stalwarts from many 'Gharana' or Schools in different regions of Northern India

Saint Purnadardas, Tyagraja, Dikshitar and Shyama Shastri


Popular in North, central, West and Eastern India. Also in Pakistan and Bangladesh

Popular in South India (Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala)

Shuddha Swara Saptaka (Primary Notes Scale)

Raga Bilawal (Similar to Carnatic Raga Dheer Shankarbharnam)

Raga Maya Malav Gaula (Similar to Hindustani Raga Bhairav)


Improvisation given more importance

Composition given more importance

Difference in Swara or Notes: (if Sa or Shadja is on Key C in Piano)

PositionHindustani SwaraCarnatic SwaraShort name
C#Komal RishabhShuddh RishabhRe or Ri
DShuddh RishabhChatusruti Rishabh/Shuddh GandharRe or Ri
D#Komal GandharShatsruti Rishabh/ Sadharan GandharGa
EShuddha GandharAntar GandharGa
FShuddh MadhyamShuddh MadhyamMa
F#Tivra MadhyamPrati MadhyamMa
G#Komal DhaivatShuddh DhaivatDha
AShuddha DhaivatChatusruti Dhaivat/ Shuddha NishadDha
A#Komal NishadShatsruti Dhaivat/ Kaishiki NishadNi
BShuddha NishadKakali NishadNi

As you can see in this table, Carnatic Swara Chatusruti Rishabh and Shuddha Gandhar is same note/pitch with two different names, they don't occur together in any Carnatic Raga. And same applies to Dhaivat and Nishad.

More Similarities:

  • Both the styles give prime importance to melody. Unlike western music Harmony is not given much importance.
  • Both has one dominant swara or Vadi swar in each Raga
  • Both uses Sampoorna Scale(with all 7 notes) to define Janak Thaat or Raga to create Janya Raga.
  • Both uses a Tanpura or Drone with one or two notes to represent Pitch and base in Raga rendition.

Some Similar Raga with different Names:

BilawalDheer Shankarabharnam
Yaman or KalyanMech Kalyani
BhairavMaya Malav Gaula
TodiShubha Pantuvarali
Alhaiya BilawalBilahari

Please feel free to comment and share your views.

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