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Updated on November 30, 2011


The period between sixth and second century B.C had witnessed as series of major changes in the religious, social cultural and economic life of the people of the sub continent. ``The religious assumed as orthodox in epics is that which we call Brahmanical. The vedic gods with Brahma at their head are to be worshiped, as a matter of course. In Addition comes the constantly growing tendency to exalt the chieftain demi-god from his position as a clan hero god to a higher power, till he is identified with Visnu, the popular god of many clans”.

To this Brahmanical bigotry the Buddhism gave a humane reply by enunciating a hitherto unknown concept of love and fraternity. And soon it took firm roots and spread far and wide. Side by side with this, another religion, the Jainism, preached by Mahavira, also aimed at doing away with the precepts of Brahmanism which thrived on the concept of discrimination among man. Brahmanism for the first time was on the defense.

At this juncture the Persians invaded the north-western part of the sub-continent (between 558-30 B.C) and Cyrus annexed the territory called Gandhara and adjoining areas which constitute a part of the Persian empire for about 300 years till the invasion of Alexander the great in 327 B.C Alexander’s exploits and the subsequent history already well-known to all.

The Persian or Achaemenians ruled western part of the sub-sequent for about 300 years. The Persians at home adopted the cultures of the contiguous regions such as those of Assyrian, phonecian and the Mesopotamian. With the Achaemenian conquest of the north-western part of the thenIndia, a bridge was established between the cultures of these great civilizations. Slowly the individual identity of each of these cultures gave away to the growth of a homogenous one. In the sub-continent the influence of these cultures become more pronounced in coins, inscription, sculpture, language, architecture and music.

To the Persians the hymnal Vedic chanting sounded more like a fun rather than music. For by that time the Persians had already possessed a higher developed system of instrumental and vocal music, both religious and secular. In the excavations inSusaand Persepoils we have had evidence of their musical instruments which comprise lute, lyre and skin instruments. The Decoration of musical instruments with gold and irvary works was an art inherited by the Persians from the Mesopotamians. Many Presume that the practice of decorating musical instruments particularly stringed ones with inlay of gold or ivary was learnt from the Persians by the ancient Indians after Persians conquest. The Initiated reader may see the Mesopotamian lyre decorated with inlay of gold and ivory inBritishMuseuminLondon. Some Historians also beloved that the early Veena was adapted from the Persian lyre so far as the sound so was concerned.

The people of the sub-sequent were already tired of Vedic Chants and were looking something less ritualistic but more enttning. During the Persian rule of about 300 Years the Vedic heretics moved farther away from the tantales of the hymnal music and were trying to give shape to a system of music of popular appeal. Surprising, the Persian system of music of popular appeal. Surprisingly, the Persian Rulers encourage the move as they had already possessed a highly developed system of secular music. the Persian ruler , highly Darius, we are told, had 329 dancers in his court and instrumental music was more popular then the vocal one Curiously enough, the instrumental music was developed in this sub-sequent between 500B.C and 200B.C as Panini, The Hindu Grammarian, Has told us in his works.

Besides, the popularity of Gandhava Music contributed a great deal to the wave of disgust and eventual rejection of the Vedic music. It was perhaps the creation of the Persians in collaborating with the local people who were already armed against the chanting. The Grandhava music introduced lyre for the fist time and this lyre gradually changed shape, accordingly to some, to become the subsequent Veena. The Classical System of music which followed definite rules of scule, rhythm and tone was initiated at the insance set by the Persians in close collaboration with their Indian Vassals. It is really surprising that the entire system of Aryan music was radically changed after the sub-continent came in contact with the Achaemenians.

Many writers in modern India categorically refute any claim of Persian influence and assert that the Aryan musical system did not admit of any external influence. This agrument sounds almost fallacious if we take into cognizance the influence of Kharoshti the language of early Persians, on the development of Sanskrit language, the influence of the architectural design of Susa on Pataliputra, the Muryan capital, and even in inscriptions. Sir Mortimer Wheeler in his book Civilization of the Indus Valley and Beyond observes in this context ‘that any consideration both of the indebtedness of India to Achaemenid Persia and of the extent to which India transmuted her borrowings must take account of rock-cut architecture and inscriptions.’

Referring to the overall impact of Perso-Greek culture on India, Sir Wheeler further syas, ‘in such fashion civilization drew upon civilization, and the changing thought of India was both enriched by borrowed forms and formulae and disciplined by the element of continuity that borrowing implied. It is probable that no similar period in history has exercised a more profound influence upon the culture of the sub-continent than did the century which followed the fall of the Persian empire and the transit of Alexander the great. In northern India many of the material elements of civilization were already present in the Gangetic towns before those events occurred ; but it was only in the sequel, when the strong intelligence of Chandragupta and Ashoka, governed in the latter by an intensely Indian spirituality, gathered together the new threads and wove them into something like a national pattern, that a large part of India once more, after 2000 years, produced an integrated civilization.’ The Gandhara country which was the birth place of Gandharva music or the classical music was under the persian domination till the invasion of Alexander. In all probability it was the Persians who were the initiators of classical or Gandharva music which developed in the next few hundred years.


Early in 326 B.C. Alexander led his army into the plains of modern Punjab and from there down right up to the mouth of the Indus. That was exactly the limits of the Achaemenian empire in the then India which Alexander ovrran and annexed. The masters thus changed from Persian to Greek.

Alexander did not affect any abrupt change in the systems the Persians introduced here. ‘In furtherance of his policy Alexander adopted on state occasions ersian dress and court ceremonial including the custom of prostration.’ His generosity towards retention of Persian customs in the then India was perhaps due to his two Persian wives-Barsine, daughter of Darius, the Achaemenian emperor and Roxana, daughter of Artabazos, a sogdhian baron whom he later appointed Governor of Bactriana. Besides, all his generals married Persian girls including Seleucus. ‘/The effect of such social intercourse on the exchange of manners, customs and fashion may be guessed if it cannot be accurately gauged.’

All these go to suggest that Greek, after their conquest of the land, did not altogether reverse the system of the Persians. The Gandharva music which was definitely a contribution of the Persians was slowly developing without any resistance from the Greek conquerors. But Greeks seemed to have contributed a great deal to the structure of the scale and divisions of octaves. ‘The Greek divided their octave into 24 small intervals—shrutis or microtones. If a comparison of the ancient Greek music principally borrowed from Egypt be made, it would appear that great similarity exists between the Greek and the Indian. The same rhythmical measures, the same sub-division of semi-tones into minor divisions, the same noisy method of beating time, not only with hand, but also with instruments of percussion which still exists.’

Alexander introduced the system of public entertainment with music, drama and dance. Prior to this we have no evidence of public entertainment. As we have told before that the Aryans used to hold religio-musical functions on religious occasions and the aim was to please the gods. not the worshippers. ‘At the capitulation of Taxila Alexander held gymnastic and equestrian contests on the banks of Indus and again after passing through the Gedrosia desert (Baluchistan). In Karamania Alexander celebrated a musical and gymnastic concert according to Aristoboulos. It is only natural to expect that the Greek settlers in the various Alexander-cities in the east would continue these forms of entertainment.’ In the Natyasastra by Bharat, there is a mention of holding of musical function and staging of dramas for the first time. The Natyasastra itself was said to have borrowed materials from Greek stage craft. ‘Bhara in his Natyasastra says that there should be five actors, which corresponds to the list of regular male personnel in a Graeco- Roman play.’

Music in the then India, except the Vedic chants, did not appear to be a very respectable profession as Kautillya in his Arthasastra equated musicians with beggars and buffoons. It was perhaps the Persians and Greeks who popularized the secular music. ‘If there was a Greek influence on Indian music it need not have been transmitted through practice alone but also through theory.’ Some writers contend that in ancient India music was developed as an independent and secular art. This does not seem true. It was the Vedic music which was encouraged and patronized by the then Aryan society under the close supervisions of the Brahmin priests. The real secular music started under alien influence, particularly the Persians and Greeks. It was under the Persian influence dancing developed as an independent art and no longer formed an inalierable part of Aryan rituals. The classical system of the sub-continental music steadily grew into a robust art form in its own right not as an offshoot of Vedic music or as its shadow form but as a self-sustaining system nurtured in a realm where there was no supervision Brahman. And here the Persian and Greek presence provided it stimulus adequate enough to crawl, toddle and walk into full maturity.

The Persian and Greek influence on the development of secular music was particularly more pronounced in the region of subject matter, structure and purpose. The origin of both the systems being same, it was easier for either to accept the change. The Persians helped the music of the sub-continent to settle down on this earth from its earlier liturgical existence which pleased gods alone. The Greeks took it to further heights both in form and matter. That was the first step towards the growth of structural music. The ideas as well.

Reference :

1. Mallowan, M.E.L. : Early Mesopotamia and Iran.

2. J.A. Jairajbhoy : Foreign Influence in Ancient India.

3. Sripada Bandopadhya : The Music of India.

4. Sir Mortimer Wheeler : Civilization of Indus valley and Beyond.

5. Allen Percival : History of Music



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