In this article we will discuss about the tradition of music in India during the medieval age.

Music has a very old tradition in India and its origin can be traced back to the Vedic sanhitas. From the earliest times the Hindu rulers patronized musicians. However, the early Muslim rulers were intolerant, puritans and opposed music due to religious reasons.

However, when they came into contact with the cultured Hindus, they developed love for music and offered every possible encouragement. This change was due to number of factors.

Firstly, they were greatly impressed by, the devotional songs and poetry of the Sufis.


Secondly, a number of Hindus converted to Islam continued with their traditional Bhajans, devotional verses and other types of music.

Thirdly, the irresistible appeal and sweetness of the Indian music also made the Muslims change their heart.

No doubt, some of the early Sultans imposed restrictions on music and offered no patronage to it but some other Sultans like Balban, Jalaluddin, Allauddin, Muhammad bin Tughluq, etc. were lovers of music and patronized musicians at their courts.

Razia Sultana was also a great patron of musicians. She listened to the songs of the musicians and rewarded them amply. Balban, though not a serious patron of fine arts, greatly patronized music.


M W. Mirza has written, “Balban was also a great patron of music. He has spoken of Indian music in the highest terms and regarded it as superior to the music of any other country. He is credited with the invention of several new melodies compounded of Iranian and Indian tunes.”

Prince Bughra Khan, was another patron of this art. He founded a society for musicians, dancers and actors. The members often met at the palace of the Prince. Following the example, cer­tain other nobles also formed similar dramatic societies. The famous Hindu poet and musician, Jai Deva also lived during the Sultanate period and charmed the people with his beauti­ful composition, which are popular even today.

“The Magnum opus” of Indian music Sangita Ralnakar, was written by Sharangdev. This work has been described as an encyclopedia of Indian music. In this work Sharangdev tried to cover all aspects of music and dancing but also dealt with various styles and patterns prevalent in different parts of the country.

He has enumerated 15 types of melodies from which all other types of minor melodies spring. This work is considered to be authority by the later scholars in music. Jalaluddin Firoz Khilji had also great love for music.


He patronized great musicians and poets like Amir Khusrau, Amir Khasa, etc. He also maintained a royal orchestra at his court. Allauddin Khilji also continued to patronise music and brought Gopal Nayak, the outstanding musician from South, to his court. He also continued to patronise Amir Khusrau whose rapturous melodies surpassed even those of Gopal Nayak.

Khusrau gave new twist and orientation to the music of the North. He made judicious combination of the Persian and Indian melodies and is considered responsible for introducing certain new rajas, like Saza-gari, Iman, Ushashag and Zilf.

He also started a new variety of music in Qawali, a mixture of Indo-Persian tunes. He is also credit­ed with the invention of sitar. It may be noted that Khusrau wrote songs on all aspects of life and season. The language used by him was the language of masses.

S M. Tagore, observes, “The Muhammedans as a ruling nation came, in contact with the people of India for the first time in the 11th century, and since then, a change has been worked into the music system of the country. The Muhammedans did not encour­age -of theory of the art, but they patronized practical musicians and were themselves instrumental in composing and introducing several styles of songs or devising new forms of musical instruments.”

The progress of music was checked during the reign of Ghiasuddin Tughlaq. He banned it within his kingdom. However, under Muhammad Tughlaq music was again given due encourage­ment. Muhammad Tughlaq was a great lover of music and organis­ed a number of musical meetings in which both Hindu and Muslim musicians participated.

During his time a difference was evolved between the urban and the village music. Ibn Batuta has recorded, “The Indian music was in its better condition. The music was limited like water in a pond, which has no way to flow out, nor water comes from out.The water grows stagnant and such is the condition of music.”

Firoz Shah Tughlaq also showed no less interest in music. It is said that when he ascended the throne, he arranged a feast of music-for 21 days for the entertainment of general public.

Another milestone in the progress of music in Medieval India was the production of Ragatarangini by Locanakavi. In this work the twelve basic melodies of Indian music have been described. The melodies mentioned in this work include, Bhairii, Todi, Gauri, tiamata, Kedara, Yamana, Sardvga, Megha-raga, Dhanaeari, Purvi, Tukhan and Diyaka.

The Sultans of Jaunpur were also lovers and patrons of music. It was under their patronage that the first work on Indian music by a Muslim scholar of Gujarat was produced. This work is entitled, ‘Qhunyat-ul-Munyas’ and was written in 1375 A.D.

Sultan Hussain Shah Sharqi was himself a great musician and contributed Khapal to the music world. It was under his patronage that Sangita Urirhani, a great work on music, was compiled. In the compilation of this work, the Hindu Pandits and musicians from different parts of the country participated.

The rulers of Malwa and Gujarat also patronized musicians. Baz Bahadur of Mandu was a famous and well known lover of music. His wife Rupmati was also a great musician of the medieval times. She had full knowledge of the various Ragas and Raginis.

It is said that Baz Bahadur was so much enameled by charm and songs of his wife that he did not pay any attention to his duties as a ruler. He had to pay the penalty for this excessive indulgence in music by loosing his crown.

In Kashmir, the romantic atmosphere greatly contributed to the growth of music. A number of songs depicting the beauty of nature, life of the people, etc. were composed. Zain-ul-Abidin of Kashmir was outstanding and accomplished musician.

He contribu­ted extensively to the art of music by patronizing singers and musicians. Buddi Dutta, the author of a treatise on music was patronized by him. In Punjab, Guru Nanak stirred the people with his sangeet. Similarly in Uttar Pradesh Swami Ramanand popularized the religious music. Another outstanding musician whose composition were very popular with the public was Chandar Sakhi.

In Gujarat Narsi Mehta composed devotional songs which were very popular with the people. His songs were based on diffe­rent Ragas and melodies. In Sindh, Sadna made outstanding con­tribution to the art of music. His songs were so sweet and melodious that they are still popular in that region.

In Bihar,. Patliputra emerged as a centre of music. The most outstanding musician of Bihar was Chintamani, who is known as Bihari Bulbul. She is given the credit of turning Bilba Mangal, poet, into a musician. The love of Chinta and Bilba Mangal result­ed in the production of number of songs.

These songs gave a new twist to the Indian music and are popular even today. In Tirhut, Vidyapati was one of the most popular singers. His songs of devotion and love were popular with the village folk. One of his songs ‘Kajri’ attained special popularity.

In Bengal, Chaitanya composed devotional songs in praise of Lord Krishna and gave an impetus to the music and Sankirtana. This was one of the most powerful medium of devotional music based on ragas. The religious touch provided to music by Chait­anya became very popular and the general masses adopted it as a medium of prayer. Even at present in Bengal, Shri Krishna Sangeet occupies a prominent place in the art of music.

Another great musician whose compositions were greatly appreciated by the people, was Ramai Pandi. The other important figures who made useful contributions to the art of music in Bengal include, Kritibas, Syed Alawal and Bharat Chand.

Chandi Das was another outstanding composer of medieval times. He sang of the love between Radha and Krishna and his compositions became popular with the masses. Amongst the musicians of Assam, the name of Shankar stands out distinctly. He gave new interpretation to music and produced ‘Barr’ songs. His songs were mainly sung in temples. His disciple, Mahadev was also a great musician and played an important role in popularizing music in Assam.

In the South, Firoz Shah Bahamani, was a great lover of music. He believed that music helped him to think of God. Mahmud Shah Bahmani another ruler of this dynasty was also very much devoted to music. It is said that he was usually surrounded by musicians and could not think of anything else. He was so much devoted to music that he even neglected his state duties, which ultimately cost him his crown.

In Bijapur, Yusuf Adil Shah was a great votary of music. He used music both, for the sake of relief as well as pleasure. It is said that he could play a number of musical instruments and in his delightful he sang songs extempore.

Prof. N.N. Law says that Yusuf Adil Shah’s skill with music was superior to that of many a master musicians of the time, whom he encouraged to attend his court by handsome rewards. Son of Yusuf Adil Shah was also passionate lover of music.

He had special liking for Turkish and Persian music rather than Indian music. Chand Bibi, daughter of Sultan of Ahmednagar, was another great musician of the 16th century. She was an admirer of Indian music and had a special weakness for Dhrupad style of music. It is said that she could play on Vina and Sitar very well.

In Gwalior, Raja Man Singh rendered great service to the development of music. He patronized musicians who introduced a school of Dhruvapada. According to Captain Willard the Dhrupad style may, “be considered as the heroic song of Hindustan. The subject is frequently the recital of some memorable actions of their heroes, or other didactic theme. It also engrosses love matters, as will as trifling and frivolous subjects.

The style is very masculine and almost entirely devoid of studied ornamental flourishes Manly negligence and ease seem to pervade the whole, and the few turns that are allowed are always short and peculiar.

This sort of Com­position has its origin from the time of Raja Man Singh of Gwalior, who is considered as the father of Dhrupad singers. The Dhrupad has four Tooka or Strains, the first is called Sthul, Sthaee or Bedha, the second Untara, the third Ubhag, and the last Bhag, others term the last two Abhag.”

Raja Man Singh was a great musician and patron of deserving singers. One of the famous musicians at the court of Raja Man Singh was Baksu. Baksu left Gwalior after the fall of his patron. Man Singh’s own wife Mrignaini, herself was greatly fond of music. Bay Nath, the well known Baiju-Bawara is said to have been present at the court of Man Singh and produced Dhrupad style.

Some of the ragas like, Bahula-Qujari, Mala-Gujari and Mangala Gujari, were also evolved under the encouragement of Raja Man Singh. Man Singh also wrote Mana-Kutubala, in which he dealt with important features of the Indian music prevailing in northern India.

Thus we find daring the pre-Mughal period, Indian music continued to flourish. According to M.W. “Music both of secular, as well as spiritual character, seems to have reached a high level of perfection, during the period under review. The contributions made by the Muslims to Indian music are generally recognised as of far reaching consequence, and the devotional qawwali music, practiced by skilled artists at the monasteries of the dead or living saints, must have been a powerful factor in strengthening the bonds of unity between the two communities.”

Music under Mughals:

The Mughals were great patrons of music and gave every possible encouragement for its promotion. Babur, the founder of the Mughal empire in India, was greatly fond of music. He believed that music had the power of changing the mind of man.

He is said to have composed many songs which survived many years after him. Lanepool tells us, “The art of improving quatrain on the spot, quoting Persian classics, writing a good hand and singing a good song were appreciated in the time of Babur who himself was fond of music.”

Humayun, the next ruler was also a great lover of music and continued to be its votary till his death. He patronized musicians and singers and greatly cherished their company. He provided maintenance to a large number of musicians and singers. His love for music and musicians is clear from the following instance. While raiding Mandu, Humayun ordered wholesale massacre of all the prisoners.

But when he came to know that Bachchu, a great musician, was one of the prisoners, he not only passed orders for sparing his life but also employed him as a musician at his court. It is said that Humayun, had fixed two days—Monday and Wednes­day for listening to music.   

Akbar, like Babar and Humayun was also a great votary and patron of music. Abul Fazal says, “Akbar paid much attention to music and was the patron of all who practiced this enchanting art. There were numerous musicians at the court, Hindus, Iranis, Turanis, Kashmiris, both men and women. The court musicians were arran­ged in seven divisions, one for each day of the week.” He further says, “Akbar was the master of such a knowledge of the science of music as trained musicians do not possess ; and he is likewise s excellent hand at performing, especially on the naqqara.”

Jahangir has also recorded in his Tutuk-i-Jahangiri that Akbar was “himself a skilled musician and no mean performer ordered naqqara (kettledrum). His knowledge of the science of musicians more profound than that of most professed musicians studied Hindi vocalization under Lal Kalawant who taught him “every breathing and sound that appertains to Hindi language.”

Akbar’s court is said to have been adorned by musicians of create repute. Abul Fazal has mentioned the names of at least thirty-six musicians who were present at the court of Akbar. Barring four or five all other were Muslims.

All these court musicians had been arranged’ into seven groups and one day of the week was allotted to each group and Akbar used to listen to their music with full atten­tion. The most outstanding musician of Akbar’s court was, Tansen. Abul Fazal writes about Tansen, “A singer like him has not been in India for the last thousand years.

Tansen turned Muslim under the blessings of Muhammad Gaus, a Muslim saint at Gwalior. He gave to the music word, Kannra, Milan Ki Sarang and Milan Ki Malhar etc. Nalira Kumar Gangoli writes, “Classical song Dhrupad was transformed into ‘Khayal’, on entrance into the Mughal court. As in Khayal, no change occurred of the Sargam (musical notes) of our classical song.”

Swami Hari Dass, a great saint and musician also flourished during the times of Akbar. His disciples include, Baiju, Gopal, Madan Lai, Ram Dass, Diwakar, Som Nath, Tanu Mishr, Raja Soursen and Tansen. These disciples of Swami Hari Dass created many new ragas and raised music as means of linking the soul with God.

Pundarika Vitthal also made useful contribution to Hindustani music. He was a resident of Burhanpur in Kbandesh and migrated to Delhi when Khandesh was taken over by Akbar. He is credited with the authorship of four books, such as Sadraga Chandra Daya, Ragamala, Ragamanjari and Nartananirnaya, In his Ragamala, Pundarika classified the ragas under nineteen parent scales.

He has also mentioned a number of Persian melodies which had been in­corporated in the Indian music by that time.

The other outstanding composers and singers of Akbar s reign were Mira, Surdas and Tulsidas. During Akbar’s time a number of Sanskrit works on music were translated into Persian. According to the critics synthesis of Iranian and Indian music, during Akbar’s lime led to the rise of a new style of music, which were more refined and charming than the two.

According to Popley, “During Akbar’s reign ragas were considerably modified under foreign influence and, though some of these modifications transgressed the established practice, they were on the whole to the advantage of music and helped to give Northern music some of its more pleasing characterstics.”

Jahangir like his father too was a great lover and patron of music. The most prominent musicians who flourished during his reign were, Jahangir Dad, Parwez Dad, Khurram Dad, Hamjan and Chatur Khan. The emperor spent a good deal of his time in listen­ing to their sorts.

William Finch, an English traveller who visited Agra during Jahangir’s time writes, “Many hundred of musicians and dancing girls attended there day and night, yet as their several turns every seventh day, that they may be ready when the king or his women shall please to call any of them to sing or dance in his Mahal, he giving to every one of them stipend according to their worth.”

Shah Jahan was also a great patron of music. He was himself a good singer and delighted in listening to songs of women. Accor­ding to Prof. J.N. Sarkar, “The voice of Shah Jahan was so attrac­tive that many pure-souled Sufis and holy men with hearts withdrawn from the world who attended these evening assemblies lost their senses in the ecstasy produced by singing.”

His court also had a number of distinguished musicians, the most prominent were Jagannath, Ram Das, Mahapatra, Sukhsen, Sursen, Durang Khan, Lal Khan and Mirza Zulqarnen. Dhurpad was the most favorite tune of Shah Jahan and Lal Khan, son-in-law of Tansen, rendered it in a par excellence form.

Aurangzeb, the last Mughal Emperor was opposed to all fine arts and music. He deprived the musicians of all royal patronage. This was greatly distasteful to the musicians and they are said to have brought a bier in front of the window where Aurangzeb used to show himself daily to the people. They veiled loudly to attract the king’s attention.

When Aurangzeb came to the window and asked what it meant. They replied that, “Melody was dead, and that they were taking him to the graveyard.” The Emperor replied, “Very well, make the grave deep, so that neither Voice nor Echo may issue from it.”

However, despite all these efforts of Aurangzeb, music did not disappear altogether. The nobles and Hindu Rajas continued, to patronise music. A number of works on Hindustani music were produced. For example, Ahobaia, wrote Sangita-Parijata, in which he described the development of Hindustani music, Ahobaia recognised twenty-five shrutis, although he used only twelve to describe his ragas.

Hardayt-Kautuka and Hardaya-Prakasa wrote, three works on music viz., Anup Vilas, Anupankush and Anup Ratnakar.

The later Mughal emperors, from the time of Jahandar Shah, to Bahadur Shah II, were also great lovers of music. They did every possible thing to encourage it. It may be noted that music played an important role in forg­ing unity between the Hindus and Muslims.

Prof. S Abid Hussain has observed, As far as music is concerned, a perfect harmony of taste and sentiment between the Hindus and the Muslims had already developed during the period of Delhi Sultanate, at the courts of smaller independent states and the monasteries of the Sufis.

So the Mughals found a common or national musical art and accomplished fact and had nothing more to do than to foster and promote it through their generous patronage. Music is the medium in which the deepest human feeling and experience express themselves without the help of intellectual concepts.

The community of musical sense which was evident among Indians of all castes and creeds showed that the hearts of the people of India were now beating in unison and the unity of the fundamental cultural consciousness as a permanent basis for a common culture was assured.

It cannot be denied that during the medieval period music became more rich and colorful because of the assimilation of best elements in Muslim music. Indian music drew freely from the Arabic and Persian tunes and naturalized and synthesized them. This assimilation opened out a new field of immense potentialities for future creation.