Ornamentation in Indian Classical Music

If you have a simple melody that can stand on its own, ornamentation is what is added to this to make it more appealing. There are many different kinds of ornaments (alankar) in Indian classical music. Some add finer nuances to the melody, others give it texture. Together, the various ornaments play a very important role in giving body and expressiveness to a simple melody, making it complete in and of itself without the need for accompaniment.

This page introduces some of the main ornaments used in Indian classical and semi-classical music. For convenience, I focus on vocal music, but all of the ornaments below apply to instrumental music too.

The ornaments are demonstrated using solfa syllables and explained using Indian musical notation, so please refer to the “Solfa Syllable” and “Notation ID” columns in this chart. I have also provided Western-style scores for each ornament, but the symbols used are only approximations and cannot be interpreted exactly the way they would be in Western music.

Kan-swar

If I had to pick a single ornament that defines Indian classical music, it would be the kan-swar. Without the appropriate kan-swars, the melody no longer sounds Indian. All the other ornaments listed on this page are optional to some extent. You can sing simple compositions without gamaks or meends or khatkas, but take away the kan-swars, and the music is stripped of its essential identity.

A few examples of kan-swar

Meend

A few examples of meend

Gamak

A few examples of gamak

Khatka

A few examples of khatka

Andolan

A few examples of andolan

Ornaments Used Mainly in Semi-Classical Music

Murki

A few examples of murki

Zamzama

Malini Rajurkar (vocal)
Tappa in Raag Bhairavi

This essay is a part of a series of essays on Indian classical music. Below are the other essays in this series.

Chapter 1. An overview of Indian classical music

Chapter 2. Notes in an octave in Indian classical music

Chapter 3. What is a raga?

Chapter 4. Rhythm (taal) in Indian classical music

Chapter 5. Ornamentation in Indian classical music

Chapter 6. Notating Indian classical music

Chapter 7. Indian classical music compositions

Chapter 8. Improvisation in Indian classical music

Chapter 9. Understanding a raga performance

Chapter 10. Tips & resources for students of Indian classical music

You can also visit the following links to enjoy real performances by renowned artists in some of the most beautiful ragas while learning about raga structure, raga scales, raga families, as well as the time and moods associated with different ragas.

Ragas classified by structure (jaati)

Ragas classified by scale (thaat)

Raga families (raagang)

A few difficult ragas

Originally published at https://raag-hindustani.com.

Hoysala Temple Sculpture (Image by sasi sutrala from Pixabay)

I study, write about, and make audiovisual content to explain Indian classical music. My website: https://raag-hindustani.com