Hindustani classical music may be traced back to the period of the Delhi Sultanate and to Amir Khusrau (AD 1253-1325) who encouraged the practice of musical performance with particular instruments. He is believed to have invented the sitar and the tabla and is said to have introduced new ragas. Most of the Hindustani musicians trace their descent to Tansen. Different styles of Hindustani music are Dhrupad, Dhamar, Thumri, Khayal and Tappa. It is said that Tansen’s music had the effect of magic. He could stop the rising waves of the Yamuna and by the force of his ‘Megh Rag’ he could cause the rain to fall. In fact his melodious songs are sung in every part of India even now with great interest. Some of Akbar’s courtiers patronised Musicians like Baiju Bawra, Surdas etc.
The most popular ragas are: Bahar, Bhairavi, Sindhu Bhairavi, Bhim Palasi, Darbari, Desh, Hamsadhwani, Jai Jayanti, Megha Malhar, Todi, Yaman, Pilu, Shyam Kalyan, Khambaj.
The compositions in Carnatic music may be attributed collectively to three composers who lived between AD 1700 and 1850. They were Shyam Shastri, Thyagaraja and Mutthuswami Dikshitar. Purandardasa was another great composer of Carnatic music. Thyagaraja is revered both as a saint and an artist and epitomises the essence of Carnatic music. The main compositions are known as kriti and are devotional in nature. The three great musicians experimented with new forms. Some notable musicians of this period are Maha Vaidyanath Ayyar (1844-93), Patnam Subrahmanya Ayyar (l854-1902) and Ramnad Srinivasa lyengar (l860-1919). Flute, veena, nadaswaram, mridangam, ghatam are some of the instruments to accompany Carnatic music.
Despite contrasting features between Hindustani and Carnatic music, one can find some similarities, for example, the Carnatic alapana is similar to alap in Hindustani classical. Tilana in Carnatic resembles Tarana of Hindustani. Both lay stress on tala or talam.