About the Book
To many a Westerner, Indian music may be a melody
without a specific beginning or a definite end. To many Indians it is more a
gymnastics in sound. A help to listen has, therefore, to be provided sometimes.
There are two section: the
grammatical which describes the structure of Indian music, the raga and tala and the prabandha which
helps the listener to understand the actual way of the construction of the
music. The second part is the socio-historical background and the aesthetics of
Indian music which gives the necessary orientation and viewpoint required for the
appreciation of this art. This book is therefore an attempt to introduce mainly
the classical music of India to both kinds of listeners who are earnest but
find the technicalities little baffling.
The author Dr. B. Chaitanya
was a founder fellow, Acoustical Society of India and Associate Founder Fellow,
Acounstical Society of India and Associate Founder
Fellow of the Musicological Society of India. He studied Ravindra
Sangeet in Santiniketan and later on, Hindustani
vocal music with reputed gurus like pandit Vinayakarao Patwardhan, Ustad Aman Ali Khan and Pandit Keshav Buwa
Lngle. He has to his credit a number of research
papers in Psycho-acoustics, ethnomusicology and organology
in various Indian and International journals. His book, Psycho-acousrics of Music and speech has received international
acclaim as a pioneering work. Dr. Deva, has also to
his credit, a monograph on the Tonal Structure of Tamboora,
other books by him are Indian Music, Musical Instruments of India: Their History
There are quite a number of books on Indian music, a
few of them excellent. Some are highly technical, of interest only to the
specialists; some, though simpler, are out dated. A few have restricted
themselves either to the Northern or the Southern system of classical music. An
attempt has been made here, therefore, to present an introduction to our music
in a comprehensive but simple manner. While this volume is not a learned to me,
neither is it a bedside book, much less a tourist guide. Certain amount of
earnestness and interest are expected of the reader. Also the book is intended
both for Indian and foreign friends. It may even interest a specialist, because
of its analytical methods.
The approach throughout has been: go from the known
to the unknown. Hence current musical practice is always given prominence; for
this is the only music one can hear, appreciate and understand. The historical
material goes only to give a backdrop against which the present art can get a perspective.
So, history has a secondary place here. Even there, I have tried to relate
music to the larger social dynamics of Indian culture.
The historical process of cultural development has
given us two systems of sophisticated music: the North Indian (Hindustani) and
the South Indian Carnatic. Whether these two resulted
from the bifurcation of a more ancient single 'Indian' music or are the
consequence of fusion of regional styles is a question that need not be
discussed here. But both are 'Indian', howsoever one may define that word; they
have a high degree of commonness, though quite clearly distinctive also.
Hindustani music is performed and understood throughout North India and the
Northern district of Karnataka and Andhra; 'Carnatic music is confined to the
Southern peninsula. The present book treats both together, though not
necessarily as 'one' music.
The reader may recognize two sections: the
grammatical and the socio- historical. The first is a description of the
structure of Indian music; this analyses the raga, the tala, the prabandha and so on. It helps the
reader- listener to understand the actual way of the construction of the music.
The second part is the socio-historical background and the aesthetics of Indian
music. This gives the necessary orientation and viewpoint required for the
appreciation of this art.
True understanding is always a total comprehension
which is different from synthesis. The latter implies putting together things
which are different; but understanding is total immediate perception which
cannot be communicated by 'words' and 'notes'. So analytical has the modern
mind become, that it has entailed a 'guide to listening'. To many a Westerner,
Indian music may be a melody without a specific beginning or a definite end. To
many Indians it is more a gymnastics in sound. A help to listen has, therefore,
to be provided sometimes. This book is an attempt to introduce mainly the
classical music of India to both kinds of listeners who are earnest but find
the technicalities a little baflling.
The best beginning is to listen to, and if possible,
produce the music.
The second may not be possible to all. But with
modem adjuncts like the gramaphone, the radio and the
tape-recorder it is always possible to hear music. To assist the reader,
therefore, a discography and also a small bibliography are added at the end;
the author is grateful to Shri O. Varkey, Librarian,
Sangeet Natak Akademi, New
Delhi, for assistance in the preparation of these, from the material available
in their archives.
The word for music now used in India is sangeeta. There is, however, a slight
mistranslation here. For sangeeta in its original or more
traditional usage did not mean music but a comprehensive 'performing art' of
singing, playing of instruments and dancing. Moreover, the art was generally a
part of drama, and even Bharata, the earliest writer
on dramaturgy, had only a few chapters on music in his great treatise, Natyasastra. Notice, again, the great
respect to vocal music-for sangeeta had geeta (singing) as its main limb
followed by instrumental music and then by dancing.
Once upon a time, a king, desirous of learning
sculpture, went to a learned sage and asked to be taught the art. But the
teacher said, "How can you know the laws of sculpture, if you do not know
painting?". Teach me the art of painting,
Master", said the disciple. "But how will you understand painting,
without the knowledge of dance?" "Instruct me in the techniques of
dance, 0 Wise One", requested the royal student. The teacher continued,
"But you cannot dance without knowing instrumental music". "Let
me learn the laws of instruments", prayed the king. The guru
"Instrumental music can be learnt only if you study deeply the art of
singing". If singing is the fountain head of all arts, I beg you, 0
Master, to reveal to me the secrets of vocal music". This prime place
given to the voice in ancient times still abides and many of the qualities of
Indian music derive their characteristics from this fact.
The music of India is essentially melodic. Whether
it be the yell of the most primitive tribes or the
sophisticated art form, whether it is vocal or instrumental, the music is
'linear'. Sounds follow one another expressing an emotional state and an
aesthetic unity; they are not sounded simultaneously, which is harmony. Not
that harmony is absent, but it is an incipient condition and has not been
developed to the extent as in the West. Tonal qualities and colours do clash
creating grades of consonance and dissonance. The melodic form may be just a
monotone (a song sung in a single note) as in the songs of corn grinding, a
grunt of an expletive of the Nagas, a chant of the Vedic hymn or a most
complicated raga. A humble tune
of the roadside snake charmer may even be developed into raga Punnagavarali.
But basically all these are 'tunes', that is, an up and down of sound
with a certain sense of rhythm and emotional appeal.
This rise and fall of tones has a certain accent in
time or time division. This is the simplest meaning of the rhythm of a song. In
a primitive stage this rhythm is a bodily activity of stamping and clapping
which are developed and stylised into the complicated system of the 108 talas of classical music.
Thus in the study of our music the two major ideas
or 'terms' which have to be understood are : (a) the
structure of melody and (b) the structure of rhythm.
Melodic structure involves various questions such
as: How does the sound rise and fall? Are the rise and
fall linear or meandering? Are there 'areas' of a melody or raga which find more emphasis than
others and so on. These and other aspects become the
technical points of the grammar of raga.
Similarly, rhythmic organization
comprise facets like: How is time divided? What is the meaning of tempo?
How are the divisions of time arranged? Do these arrangements make for
patterns? How does rhythm control melody?" Such queries form the basis of
the grammar of tala.
Of course, what has been said above is only about
the technicalities of music. But a land which has had millennia of
civilization, a fantastic variety of culture and geographic distribution of
great immensity presents a multitude of social and cultural problems related to
music. A study of these gives the necessary background for understanding the
present. So the history, social relations, aesthetic attitude and such matters
will have to be discussed.
At the foundation of the music of any land is the
'unsophisticated' art of the people-the folk music. For it is out of this
matrix, which often is undistinguishable from mere expletives in the most
primeval state, has grown the art music of the 'civilized'. Moreover, music at
this level is functional, unlike in the society of the 'leisured' class. It is
an integral part of the various social activities. Therefore, it gives us many
clues to the socio- economic and the religious lives of the people.
One of the most interesting and informative aspects
is the part played by musical instruments. Just as the 'invention' of a manual
tool must have changed the life of man, the 'invention' of a musical instrument
must have changed the music of man. It has affected (and has been affected by)
vocal music. It has made possible the development of a musical theory. Also, of
great significance is the study of migration of musical instruments, as, if one
follows the routes of their travel, one becomes aware
of the movements of human civilizations.
This migration and mixing of cultures is of
particular interest for this peninsula. On the plains and mountains of this
land have lived and died many a tribe and culture, each contributing its own,
to the music of India. The interaction of these musical styles, indigenous and
foreign, has resulted in the two broad systems of classical music-North Indian
(Hindustani) and South Indian (Carnatic). They are
similar to the extent of being melodic and having the same general concepts of raga and tala. But there are also differences-major and minor-that still
distinguish them very clearly. With the coming of quicker and wider means of
communication, the two are coming closer; stylistic characteristics, ragas and attitudes are being
exchanged. Western influences are gaining ground, as did mid-western music some
centuries ago. All this may result in a music of a
different mould in the future. Even more far reaching in effect is industrial
technology and the consequent urbanization, again an import from the West: not
necessarily a 'great leap' in a 'forward' direction, though there have been salutary effects. These may yet give Indian music
a new direction. But none knows what is in the womb of time and it would not be
proper to speculate vaguely on the future music of India.
and Traditional Music
North Indian Music (289)
Original Texts (60)
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