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Fundamentals of Indian Music

 


Fundamentals of Indian Music

Emotion and devotion are the essential characteristics
of Indian music

Among the fine arts, music occupies a very important and significant position. This is the art through which man can be happy himself and make others happy. Music is a great source of entertainment and power. Talented musicians have been able to control the working of the physical nature and of man. It is said that in ancient Greece, Orpheus enchanted not only wild beasts but also birds and insects with his music, and they followed the sound of his lyre. In India, we often see a snake dancing to the tune of the flute of the snake-charmer. It is said that Tansen, the celebrated musician of the court of Emperor Akbar, had the power to bring about rainfall with raga Malhar and create a fire with raga Deepak.
Music in ancient India was regarded as means of divine contemplation and bliss. Today it is regarded mainly as a means of entertainment. In the field of social life, music is a gesture of cordiality. Whenever we are happy, we sing and ask our friends to join us. It expresses our joys and feelings. When we are melancholy and sick, it reduces our sorrows and soothes our feelings. It has the capacity both of assuaging and intensifying different emotions. It has thus a great influence on the mind and heart of man.
Music involves both discipline and freedom. There is the discipline of the svara (note), the laya (tempo), and the tal (rhythm). A note is sung in rhythm and time-beat. On the other hand, the musician if free to make improvisations in his composition within the limits of the raga. In this way, he can show his skill and mastery over the raga he is playing or singing.

Nad (Sound)
Etymologically, ‘Na’ means breath and ‘Da’ means fire or energy. Nad is thus a combination of breath and energy. It implies that the sound produced by living beings emanates from the lungs and comes out from the mouth. There are two kinds of nad: Ahat and Anahat/Anahad. Ahat nad is a sound produced by the collision of two things or by physical manipulation, as for example cymbals and human voice respectively. In both cases, vibrations produce the sound which dies away as the vibration come to an end. This is the sound with which we are concerned in music. Anahad nad is a self-producing sound, or what is called unstruck sound, as for example the music of the spheres due to the vibrations of ether in the upper regions. Rabindranath Tagore wrote in his connection; The life-breath of Thy music runs from sky to sky. It is also called subtle or Sukhsham nad. This is the sound which the yogis or highly spiritual personal hear within themselves when they get into a state of higher consciousness. Goswami observes, The conception of Nad is inseparately connected with the kundalini or the spiral energy which when awakened starts from the muldhara (basic plexus) and reaches the crown of the head[1]. This solemn music is heard only by the spiritually-evolved. Guru Nanak, The word of Guru is the true nad [2].
There are two tones of nad: karkash (harsh) and madhur (sweet). The sound of the roar of guns or of a lion is harsh and unpleasant, while the sound of the peacock or the cuckoo is sweet and soothing. All musical sounds can be differentiated in three ways:
a) By their magnitude, that loudness of intensity which depends on the energy used for their production,
b) By the pitch depending on the number of vibrations per second: the greater the number of vibrations, the greater the pitch.
c) By the quality or timbre, which depends on the nature of vibration and the reactive prominence of the upper partials of the instrument [3].
Nad is related to Dhvani (a kind of sound). Music is concerned with sweet and pleasant dhvani. When a stringed instrument is played, vibrations are produced through the movement of the strings, and these vibrations give the sound when they reach the human ears. These vibrations go in cycles and come back, again they go and come back, and hence the sound continues till the stings come to rest. The unit for measurement of sound vibrations is one second.
Vibrations (cycles) ranging from 96 to 1024 per second can be produced by Indian vocal music, while the human ear is capable of picking up sound frequencies between 20 and 20,000 per second.

Rasa (Emotion)
If raga (melodic pattern) be compared to a tree, rasa, is its fruit. Just as the tree gives fruit, which provides juice, flavour, relish or delight and nutrition, in the same way raga provides all these things symbolically. As one musicologist puts it, Emotions is the food and the artistic consciousness is the tongue. The resulting experience is rasa [4]. Those who practice the raga are able to give the appropriate rasa to the listeners. Just as the fruit produces the seed which later grows into another tree, in the same way, the thath (parent scale) can contribute to the creation of another raga.
Undoubtedly, different types of music evoke different feelings and emotions. Certain sounds produce joy, others grief and yet others affection and tenderness. According to Indian aesthetics, each poem or musical composition produces a certain rasa (emotion). Literally, rasa means juice, but in musical context it implies more than an aesthetic relish-a transcendental experience. Some consider rasa as sentiment, but it is something subtle, even more than an emotion or empathy. Rasa is essentially emotional reaction and awareness of it. The feeling may be pleasant or sad, high or low, sublime or ludicrous, actual or imaginary, furious or peaceful. Every raga or ragini is like a hero or heroine respectively in a certain emotional situation, and the musician or singer is expected to create that very situation to enable the audience to share it. By and large, each raga is supposed to evoke a single emotion. For example, the notes of Khamaj raga are said to evoke erotic feelings or to create a romantic mood. Kafi raga is tranquilizing and pleasing and gives a feeling of peace.
In the system of Indian aesthetics, there are nine emotions called nava rasa. These are: shingara (romantic or erotic feeling), hasya (comic or humorous feeling), karuna (pathetic or sad emotion), rudra (anger or fury), veer (valorous or heroic), bhayanak (fear or terror), vibhatsa (odious or disgusting), adhbuta (wonder or surprise) and shanta (peace and tranquility). American psychologists who made a scientific study of the effects of music found nine kinds of emotional changes in the listeners [5]. Their feelings were similar to the nine rasas. These sentiments become more concretised in drama by the expressions of the eyes, lips, hands and words of the actor. In a musical performance, the audience gets the particular emotion or mood of the raga through the notes and rhythm, the style of singing and graces, the vibrations of the scale, and the feeling and ethos of the singer.

Timing of Ragas
Some of the ragas have been linked to the seasons. For example, Basant or Bahar raga- as the very name indicates-as the very name indicates-belongs to the spring season. Malhar raga pertains to the rainy season. As mentioned earlier, by singing this raga, the singer can make the rain fall. Similarly, Deepak raga is so powerful that it produces a kind of fire within the singer which may even burn him. These stories cannot be brushed aside, because we know today that sound waves are a kind of energy. Hindol raga, the very name refers to the swing (dol), is cheerful and joyful as it is connected with the celebration of the birth of Lord Krishna.
Classical musicologists have assigned a specific time to the performance of a raga. This has been based on the types of svara (notes) used in a particular raga. Certain ragas can be sung during the morning hours, some in the afternoon, some in the evening and some late at night. The 24 hours of the day and night have been divided into eight parts called pahar- four of the day and four of the night. Each period consists of about three hours. The first pahar of the day is from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., the second pahar from 9 a.m. to 12 noon and so on. The first pahar of the night is from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., the second pahar from 9 p.m. to 12 p.m. (Midnight) and so on. This theory is based on the suitability of notes to the periods of singing. Which may be given as under:

a) Ragas of the period 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. use Re and Dha.
b) Ragas of the period 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. use Re, Ga, Dha.
c) Ragas of the period 9 a.m. to 12 noon use Ga and Ni.
d) Ragas of the period 12 noon to 3 p.m. use Ga and Ni.
e) Ragas of the period 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. use Re and Dha.
f) Ragas of the period 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. use Re, Ga, Dha.
g) Ragas of the period 9 a.m. to 12 midnight use Ga and Ni.
h) Ragas of the period 12 midnight to 3 a.m. use Ga and Ni.

It may be noted that there are three groups of ragas above: (a) and (e) go together; similarly (b) and (f) may be bracketed while (c), (d), (g) and (h) form the third group. The difference between (a) and (e), however, lies in the addition of Ma (sharp Madhya) in the latter sung in the afternoon.
There is little doubt that a morning raga produces its greatest effect and impact in the morning. Nevertheless musicians today do not strictly adhere to the time schedule of the ragas. There are reasons for the departure. Firstly, music concerts are generally held in the evening or sometimes late at night. If the classification is rigidly followed, the day-time ragas will never be played or sung. Secondly, there are certain mixed ragas or guldasta (bouquet of ragas) which are becoming popular. Such melodies have broken the rigidity of time classification. Moreover, the tempo of life in urban areas is changing people’s attitudes and many music lovers welcome listening to their favourite raga at any time.
Sadhana
The cultivation of one’s music-talent is serious work. The student of music must be willing to spare time, effort and money for acquiring a thorough knowledge of the essentials of ragas. He must do the sadhana (practice with devotion) and learn the grammar. Sadhana implies a regular routine of practice of music- svara, laya, tal, and gaiki- steadily and correctly over a period of time for voice modulation. It is no use adopting a casual attitude to music like getting a few lessons. Great musicians have devoted their entire lives to its cultivation. If the student learns vocal music, he must cultivate his voice and make it steady and tonal. He must do the alaaps and tans over and over again. If he learns an instrument, he must practise it well and keep the time-beat (tal) so that the proper rasa of the raga is produced which he may be able to enjoy himself and communicate to his listeners. He must zealously safeguard the tradition and purity of music and acquire a thorough mastery over the svara-vadi and sanvadi, tan and tal so as to reproduce the very ethos and personality of the composition. Finally, his creativity must get a chance to display itself in innovations and improvisations of tans and gamakas (tonal graces). The following graded steps are suggested for a student of Indian music:

a) He should learn to tune his tanpura and play on it to get the sense of the drone (tonic or SA).
b) He should modulate his voice with the help of the tanpura and with the help of a teacher, with regard to its quality, tone, speed and flexibility.
c) He must practice the alankars: SA, RE, GA, MA, PA, DHA, NI, SA, up and down in different tempos, several times. The permutations of alankars are given in chapter 3. It will be helpful if his teacher keeps time by clapping his hands. The slow tempo would mean one beat to each note, the medium tempo would mean one beat to two notes, and fast tempo would mean one beat to four notes.
d) He must start to learn tal (rhythm) with a beat of his hands. The easiest tal to begin with is teental of 16 units (matras)



1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
clap . . . clap . . . empty . . . clap . . .

It will be better if the teacher sings the raga and the student keeps the tal.

 

 


Excerpts taken from Indian Classical Music And Sikh Kirtan
by Gobind Singh Mansukhani (M.A., LL.B, Ph.D.) © 1982 
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