The Classical Music of India has its origins in the chanting of the Vedas dating back to several thousands of years ago. Since then, it has been bequeathed by oral tradition through the generations to its present form. In the course of time, it evolved into two distinct systems, namely, the Karnatic (in the South) and the Hindusthani (in the North).
Indian classical music is based on melody. It can be described as contemplative and introspective. There is no intentional harmonic structure beneath the melodic lines. Such freedom permits almost unlimited melodic possibilities. Another attribute of Indian music is improvisation. Most of the classical music performed is extemporaneous. Even while playing the compositions, the performer attempts variations and embellishments that bring out a unique interpretation of the composition and the artist’s individuality.
It is interesting to note that the seven notes in Indian music, Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni, correspond to Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, in the West. What makes Indian classical music unique is its two important characteristics: the raga and the tala. Every piece played adheres to the confines of raga and tala. A raga defines the melodic aspects of the music. The rhythmic basis of Indian music: the tala, is a cycle of a fixed number of beats repeated over and over again, and played as distinct patterns of strokes on the accompanying drums.
Excerpt from Article: Classical Music of India at Friends of Indian Music and Dance, University of Vermont Global and Regional Studies Program