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Indian Music must blend Tradition with Experiment

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Bharat Jyoti, Sunday, March 1, 1959

The article as it first appeared.

The article as it first appeared.

52 - Indian Music Blend TraditionSome eminent musicians of the country, since 1952, have been recipients of the President’s Award in token of their life-long and spontaneous devotion to the cause of music.

This state gesture represents a welcome break from the unenviable past when many a notable artiste died unwept, unhonoured and unsung.

In fact, with the coming of Independence aesthetes no less than those in authority have been busy emphasizing the importance of development and encouragement of art in the renascent India. The creation of music and dance academies and the institutions of National Awards, symbolized the general renaissance sweeping the country. Music festivals bid fair to became a common feature of cultural life of the people. There has also been talk of expanding music and marking it international.

Ours, indeed, is an age of experiment and transitions. Conflicting art theories and art forms have only added to the confusion inherent in such a period of transition. The problem by an large, involves the stupendous task of marking Indian art strong and dynamic to meet the exigencies of modern times. The creative impulses of the nation have to be realized, the general standard and quality of art in our life raised, and the taste and appreciation of millions of our people evolved.

Product of Ages

What is true of other Indian arts is no less true of music. The basic problem facing our music today is not just one of ameliorating the lot of artistes by occasional awards of prizes and medals. Not would the lost values of their tradition be restored by the mere establishment of music academies or art societies or by holding festivals of music. What is needed today is a true and unbiased understanding of the art of music in the context of Indian life and thought. It is necessary to rediscover the fundamental values that underlie the art of Indian music and have enabled it to survive the ravages of time and history with an almost unbroken tradition. A happy synthesis of the music of the past with the music of present will not be possible without an understanding of the past achievements and an assessments of its future possibilities.

As the well-known, Indian devotion to her arts, as also her efforts to develop and enrich them, go back to the prehistoric times. The music of India, like every other art, is a product of the ages, and therefore a revelation of centuries of culture and civilization.

The traditional history of Indian music is interesting. The popular version says that music was created by Brahma, the Creator, and was revealed to men through the sage Bharata. Apart from the divine origin ascribed to her music, It is undeniable that India’s art-consciousness had its genesis in the socio-religious life of the early Aryans.

Religion form the nucleus of all social and artistic activity I India. The art of music – as also dancing – was therefore conceived as a sacred rite, and a symbol of religious and emotional expression.

The vedic Aryans were singer-priests, and through their poetic compositions, they personified the creative forces of Nature as divine beings, and invoked their blessings. These poetic compositions were set to tune and rhythm on certain definite principles, and they have come down to us the sacred Hymns of the Vedas. The manner in which these chants of invocation are still recited is in disputably musical, and it forms the very quintessence of melody and rhythm in their earliest form.

From time immemorial, Indian music has depended upon a scientific system which is as it is flexible. The Natya Shastra of Bharata is the earlist available commentary on the science and aesthetics of music, drama and dancing. The Natya Shastra, and other similar scientific treaties that came to be written in course of time, are the source of our knowledge of music.

Three ‘Unities’

All music is based upon and conditioned by, relations between sounds. The original musical scale in India consisted of twenty-two microtones, known as ‘Shrutis’. The musical observers of antiquity , with their extensive observation and uncanny sense of hearing ascertained the different gradations of musical sound from the calls of animate nature, and grouped them under twelve notes or ‘swaras’. This scale of twelve notes recognized by Indian music incidentally forms the international basis of the music of the East and the West.

Musical thought and creative talent, no less than tradition, have a vital part in the evolution of all systems of music, too, in course of practice, developed certain distinguishing features, or ‘Unities’ of its own. Thus, while the West evolved the system of harmonic music, the the technique of musical expression in India came to be developed on homo-tonic lines.

Indian music, first of all, is essentially melodic, and is performed to the accompaniment of a drone (tambora). The employment of a drone provides a deep and quiet background for the musical themeand bring out fully the tonality of music.

The concept of melody as embodied in what is known as the ‘raga’ , is yet another and by far the most distinctive feature of Indian music. A raga of melodic theme is cast in one mood, and only one choosen raga froms the basis for improvisation throughout a given piece of music.

Melody (raga) and rhythm (tala) together constitute music. A geat number of rhythmic paterns (talas), often of great subtlety and complexity, are used in Indian music. A given piece of music, however, is rendered to a single, uniform and a strictly chosen measure of time.

Indian music is expressed in terms of ragas. Raga is the medium through which emotional experiences are expressed in terms of a succession of musical notes. The word ‘raga’ literally means ‘that which enraptures the listeners’, and emplies both melodic and aesthetic potentialities. Every raga is a distinct melodic pattern, and represents a combination of five, six or seven notes chosen from the musical scale. The prominence of certain fixed notes and the sequence of conjugate notes go to differentiate one raga from another. Tonal embellishments, known as ‘gamakas’ and rhythmic forms of intonation vary with the ragas, and thereby determine the individualistic character of each.

Rich Variety

These ragas from quiet a rich variety. Each of these melodic patterns is associated with the specific time of the day or the season of year, and is designed , by virtue of its constitution, to express a certain emotional reaction. (The raga Basant, Bahar, Bibhas, Malhar and other melodies are some of the instances in point). The poetic wordings, which are composed within the framework of a given melodic theme and ‘tala’ pattern, generally correspond to the emotional qualities of the latter (i.e. the raga) and the musical piece so composed is rendered to a uniform rhythm. The musical composition represented through the medium of a raga thus embodies the very synthesis of melody, poetry rhythm.

Pre-eminence Of Voice

The technique of musical expression has developed in both vocal and instrumental traditions. The predominance of the human voice, however, has always been emphasized in the concept of Indian music itself. This is because the human voice has considered a divine instrument, capable of expressing the emotional urges of the human soul more subtly and divinely than any other medium. Paramount interest, therefore nattaches to the practical art of singing. Though instrumental music is also an equally developed art in the country.

The musical instruments in India are many and varied. The veena, a string instrument, and the drum are the most ancient instruments, forming as they do not only the background of music, but also the very basis of evolution of other instruments.

The string and the wind instruments are designed to reproduce what is sung by the human voice, while the drum, the cymbal and the percussion instruments, like the mridangam and the tabla, regulate the rhythm and time measures. These instruments form an indispensable accompaniment to singing, although several of them are intended for solo performances in their own right. The veena or the sitar for instance as a solo instrument, reveals the fineries and subtleties of a raga as beautifully as in singing. The same is the case with the shahanai and the flute.

Manifold Beauties

Music in India, in the process of its evolution, has been susceptible to the changing times and varying tastes of the people. Yet it is governed by and conforms to the established canons of art. It has evolved numbers of forms for the expression of its manifold beauties. Dhrupad, Dhamar, Khayal, Tarana, Tappa and Thumri in the Hindustani system, and Kirtanam, Kriti, Tillana and javali, in the Karnataki system, represent different stylisations in vocal music. Those in instrumentation include Alap, Jhor, Jhala, Gat and Tarparan.

It is important to note that these are merely stylization or technique of expression, and not independent modes (ragas) of music.

The tradition of music in India has always aimed at developing the creative ability of the artiste. The Indian musician, is a sense, is both a composer and an interpreter. For, even as he interprets the essential formulae and mnemonics of his art, as imparted to him by his master, he weaves his melodic theme to suit his inner most desire and creative imagination, and seeks to express the vary essence of his inward being through the medium of his raga.

Listening, An Art 

Unlike most other arts, Indian music is as much a matter of participation as of performance. It needs for its exposition and appreciation a select and discerning audience. Even the most consummate master needs an actively responsive audience to give of his best. Listening to music, in India, is itself an art and it presuppose long training of the year and the soul.

The basic principle underlying the two systems of Indian music. Hindustani and Karnataki prevalent in the Northern and Southern part of country respectively, are almost identical. The variations are regional and linguistic. Besides, rich tradition of folk music also developed side by side with those of classical systems in the unsophisticated strata of society.

All these, taken together, make the music that is India. The history of his evolution from the sacred Vedic hymna to the modern and romantic thumari is one of assimilation, adaptation and creation, with its roots in the past. The fine variety of its ragas, the complexity of its talas, and the rich overtones of its varied musical instruments are not merely marvelous in musical experimentation, but also a tribute to the musical intuition and creative talent of its makers.

It is the evolutionary character of Indian music that has preserved and enriched it over the ages.



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