India - Indian Classical Music

by V.A.Ponmelil (All rights reserved by the author)

Indian Classical Music

The music is the soul of the nature. It is present everywhere in the rustling of trees, the flow of rivers, the pitter-patter of the raindrops, and the sound of the birds. The varied human passions like, agony, ecstasy, sorrow, hope, desire etc found expression in the subtle notes of music.

Indian music is one of the oldest and the finest forms of human expression. The Vedas, representing the most ancient literature known to the world, have distinct melody. A music which follows the traditional characteristics is referred as the classical music. The Indian classical music is very open. It allows a musician to invent new classical forms, new poetical forms, new modes, and new rhythms. The drone is the main requirement to develop a raga. The singers are always accompanied by the tambura or the harmonium.

The Indian classical music has been important to the Hindus, especially to many Vaishnavite sects. In ancient times, the priests sung Vedic hymns based on notes assigned by the rules codified in the Chandogya Upanishad. These priests were called the Samans or the Samavedis. A number of ancient musical instruments such as the conch or the Shankhu, the lute or the Veena, the flute or the bansuri, the trumpets and the horns were associated with the classical music. The name Raga was first found in the Natya Shastra of Bharata Muni.

There were lots of evolutions in the theory of classical music. The Purana period was characterized by numerous references to singing, musicians and musical instruments. The Narada's Sangita Makarandha treatise is the earliest text where rules similar to the current Hindustani classical music can be found. Narada actually names and classifies the system in its earlier form before the advent of changes as a result of Islamic influences. Also, Jayadeva's Gita Govinda from the 12th century was perhaps the earliest musical composition in the classical tradition called Ashtapadi music.

The advent of Islamic rule under the Delhi Sultanate and later the Mughal Empire over northern India caused the traditional musicians to seek patronage in the courts of the new rulers. The Islamic rule in India helped in fusing the Hindu and the Muslim ideas to make the Qawwali and the Khayal.

The most legendary musician of this period was Amir Khusrau, who systemized the Hindustani methodologies by studying the forms of Vedic music theory and spurring a chain of creative composition that melded Indian with Persian sensibilities. He also invented most of the major genres of Hindustani music and some of its most important instruments, mainly the Sitar. Later, during the reign of the Mughal Empire, the dance and music flourished.

The Hindu musician Tansen was the popular artist of the same time. His ragas which were based on times of the day were reputed to have been so powerful that according to legend, upon his playing a night-time raga in the morning, the entire city fell under a hush and clouds gathered in the sky.

The Hindustani and the Carnatic are the two major systems of classical music. Though they have similar origins and source, according to ancient scripts, they are different.

The Raga or the melody is the India's contribution to the world of music. It is fundamental to Indian classical music, both Hindustani and Carnatic. A highly scientific and practical scheme of raga classification introduced by Venkatamahi is the foundation for Indian classical music.

The ragas are made of different combinations of sapta swaras or seven notes. They are Sa Sadjam, Ri Rishabam, Ga Gaandhaaram, Ma Madhyamam, Pa Pancham, Dha Dhaivadam, Ni Nishadam. The combination of these notes weaved into a composition in a way which is pleasing to the ear is called a raga'. Each raga creates an atmosphere which is associated with the feelings, the emotions and the sentiments. Any drift combination of notes cannot be called as a raga'.

A raga is based on the principle of a combination of notes selected out the 22 note intervals of the octave. A performer with sufficient training and knowledge alone can create the desired emotions, through the combination of shrutis and notes. There are a limited number of raga' in Hindustani classical music. Each Raga has a name and a character, which can be devotional, erotic, bold and valorous, or tragic.


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