Twenty centuries ago, the essential role of music of India was deemed to
be purely ritualistic. Music as entertainment is supposed to have evolved
much later. Another part of Indian music is folk music. Indian classical
music is said to have evolved out of the mixture of these. It is presumed that
folk music existed long before the Aryans came to India, the Dravidians having
their own. The art of music practised in India has a special significance,
as it has developed from the ritualistic music in association with folk music
and other musical expressions of neighbouring nations, developing into its own
characteristic art. Matured through ``thought, experience and expression'',
Indian classical music has become unique in the world.
THE ORIGINS OF INDIAN MUSIC
The origin of Indian music is said to be rooted in the Vedas. It is said
that God Himself is musical sound, the sound which pervades the whole universe,
i.e. Nadabrahma. The origins of Indian music are therefore considered divine.
It is said that the musician has to cultivate an attitude of self-abandonment,
in order to fuse with the Supreme Reality, Brahma.
Brahma is said to be the author of the four Vedas, of which the SamaVeda
was chanted in definite musical patterns. Vedic hymns were sung in plain
melody, using only 3 notes.
It took a long time for music to come to the form found in present-day
India. The most important advance in music was made between the 14th and 18th
centuries. During this period, the music sung in the north came in contact
with Persian music and assimilated it, through the Pathans and the Mughals.
It is then that two schools of music resulted, the Hindustani and the Carnatic.
Hindustani music adopted a scale of Shudha Swara saptaka(octave of natural
notes) and Carnatic music retained the traditional octave. During this period,
different styles of classical compositions such as Dhrupad, Dhamar, Khayal,etc.
were contributed to Hindustani music, along with many exquisite hymns, bhajans,
TRADITION OF MUSIC
The music of India is a pervasive influence in Indian life. It pervades
the big and small events of Indian life, from child birth to death, religious
rites and seasonal festivals. Originally, not all developments of music 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.
SHRUTI AND SAPTAKA
The Indian musical scale is said to have evolved from 3 notes to a scale
of 7 primary notes, on the basis of 22 intervals. A scale is divided into 22
shrutis or intervals, and these are the basis of the musical notes. The 7
notes of the scale are known to musicians as Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni.
These 7 notes of the scale do not have equal intervals between them. A Saptak
is a group of 7 notes, divided by the shrutis or intervals as follows --
Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22
The first and fifth notes(Sa and Pa) do not alter their positions on this
interval. The other 5 notes can change their positions in the interval,
leading to different ragas.
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 which
is associated with feelings and sentiments. Any stray combination of notes
cannot be called a Raga.
Raga is the basis of classical music. 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 ragas in Hindustani music; as the use of a
``KING" note and a ``QUEEN" note restricts to a great extent, the creation of
new ragas. The raga forms the backbone of Indian music, and the laws laid
down for the ragas have to be carefully observed to preserve and safeguard their
integrity. The following points are required in the construction of a Raga --
- Thaats or sequence of notes,
- Jaatis or classification
- ``King" and ``Queen" relation of the notes, i.e. Vadi and Samvadi
- The Ascent and Descent of the rag, i.e. Aroha and Avaroha
- Important cluster of notes
- Every Raga is derived from some Thaat or Scale.
- Ragas are placed in three categories
- Odava or pentatonic, a composition of five notes,
- Shadava or hexatonic, a composition of six notes,
- Sampoorna or heptatonic, a composition of seven notes,
- Every Raga must have at least five notes, starting at Sa, one principal
note, a second important note and a few helping notes.
- The principal note, ``KING" is the note on which the raga is built. It is
emphasized in various ways, such as stopping for some time on the note, or
stressing it. The second important note or the ``queen" corresponds to the
``King" as the fourth or fifth note in relation to it.
- The ascent and descent of the notes in every raga is very important.
Some ragas in the same scale differ in ascent and descent.
- In every raga, there is an important cluster of notes by which the raga
- There are certain ragas which move in a certain pitch and if the pitch is
changed, the raga fails to produce the mood and sentiment peculiar to it.
- The speed is divided into three parts : Vilambit(slow), Madhya(Medium) and
Another aspect of the ragas is the appropriate distribution in time during
the 24 hours of the day for its performance, i.e. the time of the day denotes
the raga sung a particular time. Ragas are also allotted a particular time
space in the cycle of the day. These are divided into four types --
- Sandi-prakash ragas or twilight ragas when the notes re and dha are
used -- such as Raag Marwa, Purvi.
- Midday and Midnight ragas which include the notes ga and ni(komal).
- Ragas for the first quarter of the morning and night which include
the notes re, ga, dha and ni(komal).
- For the last quarter of the day and night, the reagas include the notes
sa, ma and pa.
All the ragas are divided into two groups -- Poorva Ragas and Uttar Ragas.
The Poorva Ragas are sung between 12 noon and 12 midnight. The Uttar Ragas are
sung between 12 midnight and 12 noon. The variations on the dominant or ``King"
note help a person to find out why certain ragas are being sung at certain
times. This raga classification is about 500 years old and has been adopted
by Pandit V. N. Bhatkhande in his textbooks on Hindustani music.
The beauty of the raga will not be marred by the time of the day it is
sung. It is the psychological association with the time that goes with the
mood of the raga. The object of a raga is to express a certain emotional mood
and sentiment without any reference to time and season. For a student of
classical music, this classification may give an idea as to how to base his
reasons for the traditional usage of ragas.
Another division of ragas is the classification of ragas under six
principal ragas -- Hindol, Deepak, Megh, Shree and Maulkauns. From these six
ragas, other ragas are derived. The first derivatives of the ragas are called
raginis, and each of the six ragas have five raginis under them. Further
derivatives from these ragas and raginis resulted in attaching to each principal
raga 16 secondary derivatives known as upa-ragas and upa-raginis.
All the ragas are supposed to have been derived from their thaats. Every
raga has a fixed number of komal(soft) or teevra(sharp) notes, from which the
thaat can be recognised. In other words, a certain arrangement of the 7 notes
with the change of shuddha, komal and teevra is called a thaat. There are
several opinions in this matter. According to Pandit V.N. Bhatkhande, the
10 thaats used to classify the ragas are --
- Bilaval -- with all shuddh or natural notes.
- Khamaj -- with the ni note as komal.
- Kafi -- with the ga and ni notes as komal.
- Asavari -- with the ga, dha and ni notes as komal.
- Bhairavi -- with the re, ga, dha and ni notes as komal.
- Bhairav -- with the re and dha notes as komal.
- Poorvi -- with the re and dha notes as komal and the ma note as teevra.
- Todi -- with the re, ga and dha notes as komal and the ma note
- Marwa -- with the re note as komal and the ma note as teevra.
- Yaman -- with the ma note as teevra only.
CLASSICAL AND FOLK MUSIC
Classical music is bound by certain laws and restrictions having a definite
standard and scale with 22 intervals. Folk music, on the other hand, has
different forms depending on the region it belongs to. With flexibility in its
expression, it is not bound by laws or any set pattern. Folk music has its
peculiar expressions and emotions and has established a tradition of its own.
In classical music, emotions are expressed through a particular raga,
though the lyric or composition has its own importance. Classical music can
be effective if the musician renders the raga in its various stages and moods.
This is not the case with folk music, where the musical notes have less value
and the poetic content has greater impact and rythm plays a very important role.
Songs and lyrics of folk music portray the common life of the villagers.
AN APPRECIATION OF THE INTRICACIES OF RAGAS AND CLASSICAL MUSIC
The art of appreciation and listening of classical music requires a
special approach. In this context, the requirements are love of music and
sympathy towards the artist. The people having initial background knowledge
of ragas, notes, shrutis and taals are classified as ideal listeners.
The common listener has a general liking for music and has to cultivate
and develop patience in listening to classical music. Such a listener may not
appreciate the imaginative approach of the performer. To understand and
appreciate a raga, one should know, understand and feel the inner meaning of the
shrutis and how these create a desired effect on the mind and heart. Basically
one has to be initiated into the art of listening to classical 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 the zeal as a missionary to create the true spirit and essence of
classical music, so that he can help in the growth of an appreciative audience.
VOCAL MUSIC AND DIFFERENT STYLES OF SINGING
One distinguishing characteristic of Indian Music is the relationship of
each swara(note) with the Shadja(tonic) which determines the placing of the
swaras and the expression of each swara in the saptak(scale). Hence the
constant playing of the drone is necessary. A singer is always accompanied by
an instrument called ``Tanpura" which is tuned to suit his key note. It should
be suitable for his voice, to suit one and a half octave above the tonic and
one octave below. This range of his voice should be used effortlessly.
In sketching the outline of the raga, he improvises on the ascending and
descending notes, observed the prescribed relation of ``King" and ``Queen" and
the important group of notes which characterises the particular raga. After the
Alap, he starts the actual raga, accompanied by the Tabla. 2. The Antara or the
second half of the song, going upto the higher Sa and returning back.
3. Sancharee or using both halves of the song and complete octave with the
ascent and descent. 4. Aabhog or the mixture of the above three, covering the
In singing, the musician improvises the song with alap, or an improvisation
of notes is slow tempo. The alap proceeds leisurely, without being particular
about the time measure, but laden more with the emotional content of the
raga. Then he starts the ``boltaan", an improvisation of notes in medium or
fast tempo, with the wordings of the song with particular emphasis on rythmic
variations as the aim. The third is ``sargam", the improvisation of notes
with short names, and these are produced in various rythmic patterns with
suitable combination. The last is ``taans", an improvisation of notes taken in
slow, medium and fast tempo.
The main characterstic of classical music is the scope of systematic
improvisation in the building up of the raga. An improvisation of the raga
means a succession of musical sounds denoting the fertility of genius. A
master musician always brings out startling new combinations. Every musician
is supposed to improvise, but real improvisation is supposed to weave new
patterns into the framework of a raga.
A great stress is laid on voice culture through a regular and systematic
training. The following are some important rules for the vocalists to be
- Highly trained and melodious voice, with perfect control.
- A thorough knowledge of most of the ragas, the techniques and all the
types of compositions.
- Simple and pleasant expression of the face and hand gestures.
- Thorough knowledge of tala theory and important talas.
- Possession of a perfect tone, perfectly in tune, in relation to the notes
used in his singing and a perfect understanding and a practice of the
use of shrutis.
In Hindustani, there are 10 main forms of styles of singing and
compositions -- Dhrupad, Dhamar, Hori, Khayal, Tappa, Chaturang, Ragasagar,
Tarana, Sargam and Thumri. The Dhrupad style is supposed to be the oldest.
In this style, we find the gravity and stability of notes, improvisations of
Alap, peculiar variations of rythmic patterns not found in any other styles.
There are four forms of Dhrupad singing -- Daagar Bani, Khandaar Bani,
Nauhar Bani and Gauhar Bani.
Khayal is an extempore development and improvisation of the typical
composition sung in different ragas with alap, boltaan and taans. Khayals are
of two varieties -- Vilambit(slow tempoed) and Drut(fast tempoed). They are
sung in different talas.
Tappa is another style of song composition, which has short and modulated
graceful taans: a sort of ornamental chain of small cluster of notes.
Ragasagar consists of different parts of musical passages in different
ragas, as one song composition. These compositions have 8 to 12 different ragas
and the lyrics indicate the change of the ragas. The peculiarity of this style
depends on how smoothly the musical passages change along with the change of
Tarana is a style consisting of peculiar syllables woven into rythmical
patterns as a song, and it is usually sung in faster tempo.
Chaturang denotes four colours or a composition of a song in four parts:
Fast Khayal, Tarana, Sargam and a ``Paran" of Tabla or Pakhwaj.
Thumri is supposed to be a romantic and erotic style of singing; the
song compositions are mostly of love, separation and devotion. They are
usually sung in slower tempo, giving more importance to the lyrics with short
Hori compositions are based mostly on the description of the spring season:
of colour throwing, based on the Radha-Krishna episodes. Horis are of two
varieties -- ``Pakki Hori" and ``Kacchi Hori". ``Pakki Hori" is very dignified,
sung in Dhamar style, while ``Kacchi Hori" is sung in Deepchandi Tala, in which
fast taans are used.
The laws governing the performance of vocal and instrumental music are
much the same. There are 2 modes of training for instrumental, one which is
purely instrumental, and the other who first receive training in vocal music.
The Gharana or family is a school of a particular style of singing or
playing instruments, or a traditionally characteristic individual style. The
birth of Gharanas must have taken place in the 18th century with the idea of
preserving the tradition of music and the musical compositions. A Gharana has
got a particular discipline, system and style. The character and style of
traditionally disciplined music of a gharana remains with one generation only,
and in due course one of the brilliant pupils adds his own individual
contribution and creates a new style of singing.
In the case of the instrumentalists, we may divide Gharana into 2
categories. The first is the traditional disciplined style giving more stress
on the ``JHOD-ALAP" and exploring all possibilities in this direction, plus the
gat and a perfect layakari. The second gives less importance to the
``JHOD-JHALA", but lays more stress on the gat and the perfect layakari.
TALA -- RYTHMICAL GROUPINGS OF BEATS
There is a perfect balance in the universe. This balance is the essence
of Tala and therefore Tala is in classical music is an important factor. The
Tala is the theory of time measure. It has the same principle in Hindustani
and Carnatic music, though the names and styles differ. The musical time is
divided into simple and complicated metres. When accompanying the dance, vocal
and instrumental music, the Tala maintains the balance which is the most
essential function of music. Tala is independent of the music it accompanies:
it has its own divisions. It moves in bars, and each beat in it is divided
into the smallest fraction.
Rythm has three aspects: Tala, Laya and Matra. Tala is a complete cycle
of Metrical phrasecomposed of a fixed number of beats. There are over a 100
Talas, but only 30 Talas are known and only about 10-12 are used.
The Laya is the tempo, which keeps uniformity of time span and it has 3
divisions -- Vilambit, Madhya and Drut.
The Matra is the smallest unit of the tala.
Tala is the most important aspect of classical music, and it can be
considered to be the very basis or pulse of music. To appreciate the structure
of simple and complicated divisions, the improvisations of Tala and its theory,
one should listen to an accomplished solo drummer. A classical drum player
requires at 8-10 years of methodical training and another 4-5 years of hard
AABHOG One of the four parts of a song.
ALAP Elaboration of a melody without accompaniments
ANTARA The second half of a song based on the higher
notes of the scale
AROHA The ascending order of notes
AVAROHA The descending order of notes
BOLTAAN Use of words in the improvisation of notes in
medium or fast tempo
CHATURANG A style of Hindustani music composition
DHAMAR A style of composition in 14 beats of a Tala
DHRUPAD A style of composition in 12 beats of a Tala
DRUT Fast Tempo of the music
GAT A fixed composition of instrumental music
GURU Traditional teacher or preceptor
HORI A musical form of composition mostly sung in
the spring festival
JATI Model Scale
KHAYAL Composition in Hindustani music, usually in a
slow tempo, in which the artist uses a great
deal of improvisation
MATRA One beat of the rythm
ODAVA Pentatonic mode emphasizing any five notes
POORVA RAGAS Ragas sung between the hours of 12 midnight
and 12 noon
RAGA Combination of notes which conveys a definite
RASA The flavour to be realized in the aethistic
SAMPOORNA All the seven notes
SANDHI PRAKASH Twilight
SARGAM Presentation of a melody in actual notes
SHADAVA Sexatonic mode emphasizing any six notes
SHRUTI Musical interval
SHUDDHA SWARA A pure note
SAPTAK An octave of natural notes
TALA Time measure of rythmic beat
TAAN Improvisations of notes in medium and
THAAT A scale or mould out of which a group of
VILAMBIT Slow tempo