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Indian music is traced back several millennia, and has been discussed in Sanskrit theoretical treatises (shastras) for around two thousand years. The earliest of these, the Natyashastra, makes a connection between vocal music, instrumental music, and dance which has underpinned the definition and development of sangeet (the term for classical music) ever since. The period of history most relevant to the music of today began around the sixteenth century, by which time the focus of activity was the royal courts. As the north had been ruled by Muslim sultans and emperors since the thirteenth century and had absorbed influences from the Muslim cultures to the west of India, a gradual bifurcation, acknowledged in a sixteenth-century treatise, occurred between the northern Hindustani style and the southern Carnatic style. There are significant differences of repertoire, vocal techniques and instruments but the underlying principles of raga and tala remain. Most of the music heard today (reflected in the Navras catalogue) is Hindustani because in India it covers a larger area and population while in the rest of the world it has been promoted by Ravi Shankar and other famous artists, and there is certainly no question of one tradition being superior to the other. In fact, many of Ravi Shankar’s experiments, which have become part and parcel of the modern Hindustani style, are based on ideas from Carnatic music, and there are signs of a growing rapprochement between the two major styles of Indian classical music, thus concerts and recordings of duets between artists from each tradition, finding the common ground to make the experience intelligible and rewarding, have become very popular.
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