Wed, 09 Mar 2005

History of classical Indian music old as the land itself

Kousik Dutta, Jakarta

The classical music of India is one of the oldest unbroken musical traditions in the world. Its origins go back to the Vedas (ancient scripts of the Hindus). The term "Indian Classical Music" refers to two related, but distinct, traditions rooted in antiquity, both very much alive in India today.

The North Indian style is known as "Hindustani", while the South Indian tradition is referred to as "Carnatic". Both systems are fundamentally similar but differ in nomenclature and performance practice.

The subject of Indian classical music is rich, with its historical, cultural, aesthetic, theoretical, and performing facets. The basis for Indian music is sangeet, a combination of three art forms: Vocal music, instrumental music and dance, although these three art forms were originally derived from the single field of stagecraft.

Today these three forms have differentiated into complex and highly refined individual art forms.

The present system of Indian music is based upon two important pillars: Raga and Taal. Raga is the melodic form while Taal is the rhythmic. As a pervasive influence in Indian life, the music pervades the big and small events of life, from childbirth to death, religious rites and seasonal festivals.

Originally, not all musical developments were reduced to writing. To keep their traditional integrity, they were imparted orally from teacher to pupil -- the Guru-Shishya tradition. In the past, there used to be a system of Gurukul Ashram where teachers imparted knowledge to deserving students.

Raga,the soul of classical music

The combination of several notes woven into a composition in a way which is pleasing to the ear is called a Raga. Each raga creates an atmosphere that is associated with feelings and sentiments. Any stray combination of notes cannot be called a Raga. A performer with sufficient training and knowledge alone can create the desired emotions through the combination of proper notes.

Taal, rhythmical groupings of beats

There is a perfect balance in the universe. This balance is the essence of Taal -- the theory of time measurement. It has the same principle in Hindustani and Carnatic music, though the names and styles differ. Rhythm has three aspects: Taal, Laya and Matra, the smallest unit of the Taal. Taal is a complete cycle of metrical phrases composed of a fixed number of beats. There are over 100 Taals, but only 30 are known and only about 10 to 12 are used today.

The Laya is the tempo, which keeps uniformity of time span and is divided into slow (vilambit), medium (madhya) and fast (drut). Taal can be considered to be the very basis or pulse of music. The responsibility of a classical musician lies in the mode of his presentation to the listener, in his capacity to make "perfect" and "common" listeners understand and appreciate classical music. The classical musician should have zeal as a missionary in creating the true spirit and essence of classical music so that he can help in the growth of appreciative audiences.

Indian musical instruments can be categorized into two main zones of India, i.e. North Indian and South Indian classical musical instruments.

The most traditional form of classification of Indian musical instruments is based upon percussion (tabla, pakhawaj, mridangam etc), wind (flute, shehnai, etc), string instruments (sitar, sarod, violin, veena, sarangee, etc). Another category nowadays consists, of course, of electronic musical instruments.

Music has always been an indispensable part of Indian society. With changes in society, Indian music too has undergone immense modifications over the years, but without losing its Indian piquancy.

Indian influences have started to travel across the world. In the 1960s, Pandit Ravi Shankar took classical music to foreign realms and appreciative audiences. He was also the first to experiment with mixing Western music with Indian classical music forms to arrive at what is called "fusion".

By its very nature, Indian classical music is melodious and allows longitudinal unanimity in its music and musical instruments.

The art of music practiced in India has a special significance as it has developed from ritualistic music in association with folk music and other musical expressions of neighboring nations, developing into its own characteristic art.

Matured through "thought, experience and expression", Indian classical music is unique in the world.

The writer is a teacher of tabla at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indian Cultural Center in Jakarta.