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Top 10 Famous Indian Classical Musicians of all Times

‘Rhythm and Harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul’ – Plato

Indian Classical Instruments undoubtedly justify the quote above and the magic hands which let these rhythms out are the legends who have not only carved their names in the golden history of Indian Classical Musicians of all times but also popularised it globally.

Indian Classical Musicians have created an aura, enriched the world of music and provided solace to the hearts through their soulful music. They have created an everlasting impact on the hearts of their audience who have only felt the music connecting with them with their eyes closed.

Here are the names of the legends of Indian classical musicians who are considered to be the best and whose names we can never forget.

1. Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma (Santoor Musicians)

Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma (Santoor Musicians)

Born on 13 January 1938, is a legend who needs no introduction in the world of music as he is not only a music composer but also an accomplished Santoor player from the state of Jammu and Kashmir, it is none other than ‘Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma’.

He started learning vocals and ‘Tabla’ which was taught by his father. Santoor was introduced in his at the age of 13 and he gave his first performance in Bombay in 1955. He is the reason behind making Santoor a popular classical instrument.

His first solo album was recorded in the year 1960. In 1967, he teamed up with flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia and guitarist Brij Bhushan Kabra and produced a concept album, ‘Call of the Valley’ (1967), which turned out to be one of Indian classical music’s greatest hits.

He even composed music for Hindi movies starting with the movie Silsila (1980) along with Hariprasad Chaurasia and later became popularly known as the ‘Shiv-Hari’ music duo.

He was awarded with Padma Shri in 1991 and Padma Vibhushan in 2001.

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2. Hariprasad Chaurasia (Flute Musicians)

Hariprasad Chaurasia (Flute Musicians)

An Indian music director, a classical flautist who plays the ‘Bansuri’ in the Hindustani Classical Tradition: ‘Hariprasad Chaurasia’ was born on 1 July 1938, in Allahabad.

He started learning vocals from his neighbour, ‘Rajaram’ at the age of 15. He then switched to ‘Flute’ under ‘Bholanath Prasanna’ for eight long years. He later joined the All Indian Radio, Cuttack, Odisha in 1957 and worked as both composer and performer.

He has collaborated with many talented and well-known musicians including Western musicians such as ‘John McLaughlin’ and ‘Ken Lauber’. He has even composed music for Hindi, Telegu and well as an English film named: ‘16 Days in Afghanistan’.

He serves as the artistic director of the World Music Department at the Rotterdam Music Conservatory in the Netherlands. He was also the founder of the Vrindavan Gurukul in Mumbai opened in 2006 and in Bhubaneswar opened in 2010. Both of these institutes are dedicated to training students in Bansuri in the ancient Guru-Shishya tradition.

He was awarded with Padma Bhushan in 1992 and Padma Vibhushan in 2000.

3. Ustad Zakir Hussain (Tabla)

Ustad Zakir Hussain (Tabla)

Ustad Zakir Hussain was born on 9 March 1951 in Mahim, Mumbai though he is now currently settled in San Francisco. He is a multitalented legend who is a composer, percussionist, music producer, film actor and Indian tabla virtuoso through which he gained global recognition and is considered to greatest Indian musician of all times.

His father, who also is a legendary Tabla maestro, Ustad Allah Rakha taught him ‘Pakhavaj’ from the age of three and would even teach him vocally by reciting different rhythms. He gave his first tour at the age of 7 and started touring by the age of 11.

He has accompanied many artists but also raised his spectre through his solo excursions. He has collaborated with many artists including Western artists. He collaborated with Violinist L. Shankar, Guitarist John McLaughlin, Mridangam player Ramnad Raghavan, and legendary Ghatam player Vikku Vinayakram and formed a fusion group ‘Shakti’, which performed worldwide and acquired great acclaim. Twenty years later, a second version of the Shakti group, called Remember Shakti, was created featuring U. Srinivas, Zakir Hussain, TV Selvaganesh, and Shankar Mahadevan.

He has been awarded with many prestigious titles including Padma Shri in 1988 and Padma Vibhushan in 2002 making him the youngest percussionist to be awarded these titles.

On 8 February 2009 for the 51st Grammy Awards, Zakir Hussain won the Grammy in the Contemporary World Music Album category for his collaborative album “Global Drum Project” along with Mickey Hart, Sikiru Adepoju & Giovanni Hidalgo. On 18 January 2017, the San Francisco Jazz Centre gave Hussain a Lifetime Achievement Award.

4. Amjad Ali Khan (Sarod Musicians)

Amjad Ali Khan (Sarod Musicians)

Sarod Maestro ‘Amjad Ali Khan Bangash’ was born on 9 October 1945 in a classical music family. He is popularly known for clear and fast ‘ekhara taans’.

He first performed in the United States in the year 1963 and continued performing with his sons through the year 2000 and made modifications to his instruments throughout his career. He even played with the ‘Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra’. He was a visiting faculty (professor) at the University of New Mexico till 2011.

Gulzar even directed a documentary on Amjad Ali Khan which won the Filmfare Award in 1990.

He was awarded with Padma Bhushan in 1991 and Padma Vibhushan in 2001. In the year 2014, he along with his two sons ‘Ayaan Ali Khan’ and ‘Amaan Ali Khan’ performed ‘Raga for Peace’ in the year 2014 at ‘Nobel Peace Prize Concert’.

5. Bismillah Khan (Shehnai Musicians)

Bismillah Khan (Shehnai Musicians)

Ustad Qamruddin ‘Bismillah’ Khan was born on 21 March 1916 and was an Indian Musician who is credited for popularizing ‘Shehnai’ not only as a folk instrument but at the concert level and that too globally.

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At the tender age of six, he moved to Varanasi to learn music from his maternal uncle ‘Ali Bux Vilayatu Khan’ and by the age of 14, he accompanied him to the Allahabad Music Conference. Apart from solo concerts, he even composed music for movies.

There are many biographies and a monograph based on him and his journey in the world of Indian Classical Music which captivated many readers.

Apart from honorary doctorates, he received many awards and accolades for his contribution and uplifting the Shehnai Music at an international level. He received Padma Shri in 1961, Padma Bhushan in 1968, Padma Vibhushan in 1980 and Bharat Ratna in 2001 making him third Indian Classical Musician to receive India’s highest civilian honour.

Google honoured Bismillah Khan on his 102nd birthday with a Google Doodle.

6. Pandit Ravi Shankar (Sitar Musicians) 

Pandit Ravi Shankar (Sitar Musicians)

An Indian Musician, a composer of Hindustani Classical Music and a Sitar Maestro, Pandit Ravi Shankar was born on 7 April 1920 to a Bengali Brahmin family. He spent his youth touring in India and Europe as a dancer along with his brother ‘Uday Shankar’.

In 1938, he gave up dancing and started learning Sitar under court musician ‘Allauddin Khan’. In 1944, after the completion of his studies, he started composing music for Satyajit Ray’s trilogy ‘Apu Trilogy’ and worked as music director for All India Radio in New Delhi from the year 1949 to 1956.

From the year 1956, he started touring in Europe and America which helped in increasing the popularity of Indian Classical Music. He had great associations with violinist ‘Yehudi Menuhin’ and Beatles guitarist ‘George Harrison’ which popularized the use of Indian Classical Instruments in the pop genre.

He was engaged in promoting Indian classical music in the West by writing compositions for Sitar and Orchestra and toured around the world in the 1970s and 1980s. He performed until the last days of his life.

He has been awarded with many art titles and other governmental and academic honours. He received Padma Bhushan in 1967, Padma Vibhushan in 1981 and Bharat Ratna in 1999.

7. Pt. Ram Narayan (Sarangi Musicians)

Pt. Ram Narayan (Sarangi Musicians)

Pt. Ram Narayan was born on 25 December 1927, an Indian Musician who is credited with popularizing the instrument ‘Sarangi’ as a solo concert instrument and also became the first successful Sarangi player internationally.

He started learning Sarangi at a very young age and learned under Sarangi players and singers. Later in his teen years, he worked as a music teacher and travelling musician.

He was later hired by All India Radio in Lahore as an accompanist for vocalists in 1944. He moved to Delhi after the partition in 1947 and started working in the Indian Cinema from the year 1949.

He became a solo concert artist in 1956 and performed at major Indian festivals. Much like Pt. Ravi Shankar, he performed extensively in Western countries with his older brother ‘Chatur Lal’ who was a tabla player through which the popularity of the Sarangi instrument rose. He even recorded solo albums.  He taught both Indian and foreign students.

He received Padma Shri in 1976, Padma Bhushan in 1991 and Padma Vibhushan in 2005 apart from many other awards.

8. Ustad Asad Ali Khan (Rudra Veena)

Ustad Asad Ali Khan (Rudra Veena)

Ustad Asad Ali Khan was born on 1 December 1937 in the seventh generation of Rudra Veena players in Alwar. He was one of the few active Rudra Veena players and the master of one of the four schools of ‘Dhrupad’, the Khander School.

He worked at All India Radio and even was a Faculty of Music and Fine Arts at the University of Delhi where he taught Sitar for 17 years. He continued to train students privately after his retirement.

He has performed in many countries including Australia, the United States, Afghanistan, Italy and several countries in Europe. He even conducted music courses in the United States.

He received Padma Bhushan in 2008.

9. Ramnad V. Raghavan (Mridangam)

Ramnad V. Raghavan (Mridangam)

Ramnad V. Raghavan was born on 19 June 1927 in Madurai, Tamil Nadu and played ‘Mridangam’.

From the beginning of 1970, he taught at the Wesleyan University in Connecticut in the United States. He then moved to Chennai after his retirement and was there till his last days.

He taught many students and a few students who trained under him include, Glen Velez, Jamey Haddad, David Nelson, Patricia Shehan Campbell, Frank Bennett, and Joseph M. Getter.

10. T. H. Vinayakram (Ghatam)

T. H. Vinayakram (Ghatam)

Thetakudi Harihara Vinayakram was born on 11 August 1942, also known as ‘Vinnu Vinayakram is an Indian Percussionist who plays Carnatic Music with ‘Ghatam’ and is known as the ‘God of Ghatam’.

His concert career started at the age of 13. His first performance took place on 5 March 1957 at the ‘Ram Navami’ Festival in Thootukudi. He has accompanied many famous Carnatic Vocalists which even including M.S. Subbulakshmi. His brother T. H. Subhash Chandran also excelled in this field. He made the Ghatam a popular percussion instrument.

His journey at the international level started in the 1970s when he joined ‘Shakti’ along with John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain. He has also performed at Basant Utsav, which is an annual fundraiser for the Banyan. Vinayakram is the Principal of Sri Jaya Ganesh Tala Vadya Vidyalaya in Chennai, India. The academy was established by his late father and teacher in the year 1958.

He received Padma Shri in the year 2002. He was awarded with Padma Bhushan in the year 2014. He is the first South Indian Musician to win a Grammy for ‘Best World Music Album’ for his participation in Mickey Hart’s, ‘Planet of Drum’ in which he played both Ghatam and Morsing. He donated all the proceeds to a charity organisation in South India.

Read Also – Indian Classical Music- A Sneak Peak

Written by Sharmila Feroz

Sharmila Feroz is a graduate of versatile vocations who grew up in a military household which led her to travel to interesting and beautiful parts of the country. Penning those travel experiences paved her way into writing about ethnic lifestyle and cultural celebrations in India.


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  1. Most of your information is wrong.
    Pandit Ravi Shankar NEVER enganged woth western music. Please try to put up genuine information about these great after some research work at least!!!!!

    • The information here is correct. Pandit Ravi Shankar became well-known for his work with The Beatles and other western musicians. Please check your facts.

      Yours truly,
      A 13-year-old kid

      • No kido one beatles group member Learnt a little sitar from pt.Ravishankar .George Harrison used to play sitar in the beatles group as well. Raviji had nothing to do with all this .In fact when Raviji collaborated with western musicians viz, Yehudi Menuhin, jean rampal, London symphony orchestra , Zubin Mehta he made them play simplified Indian music .Hope the clarifies.

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