New Approach to an Ancient Art: Book Reviews
- Indian Music by B. Chaitanya Deva (Indian Council for Cultural Relations, New Delhi, pp172, Rs. 30)
- Music of the Nations by Swami Prajnananda (Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, pp223, Rs 28)
By MOHAN NADKARNI
The Times of India, April 20, 1975
Deva makes an entirely new approach to the study of the history of Indian music.
Few musicologists have argued so convincingly that Indian music is multifarious in origin, that it is not the preserve of the elite alone, and that the ragas and talas have grown from the soil. Evidence of his conviction is provided by his uncompromising stand against “textbook musicology” which traces the entire range of Indian music to the Vedas.
In delineating the development of Hindustani and Carnatic music, the author treats his material as a continuum and not sectionally. The raga concept, for instance, is described in relation to the more ancient jati system. The lives and works of great musicians, composers and musicologists are incorporated into the mainstream. His differentiation of the morphological, syntactical and intonational characteristics of Hindustani gharanas and Carnatic vanis reveal the depth of his research.
In the chapter, “Border Lines” the author provided the right background for an understanding of the several systems of regional music in vogue today. In another chapter, “Retrospect”, he brilliantly assesses Indian music as it is practiced today.
The worth of the book is enhanced by the use of western notation side by side with Indian swaramalikas. Unfortunately, there are several instances of incorrect spelling and punctuation and Sarangan’s sketches of musical celebrities are mediocre.
Swami Prajnanananda approaches his subject from a different angle. A noted Vedantist, scholar and musician with several books on Indian music to his credit, Swamiji here presents a comparative appraisal of the music of Indian, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, Arabia, Persia, China, Japan, Korea, Siam, Burma, Central Asia, England and Russia.
In so doing, he has picked up from where Raja Surandra Mohan Tagore left off mearly 80 years ago. The raja was the first Indian musicologist to present a comparative study of the music and musical systems of various nations in his monumental Universal History of Music.
Swami Prajnanananda has ably marshaled his data to show that the music of different nations has been enriched by the importation of foreign elements that the principles of rhythm and tempo act as the controlling and balancing factor; that religion, magic and music went hand in hand in primitive societies, and that the socio-religious character of the songs and hymns of early civilized nations is almost identical, revealing a surprising affinity of tune, melody and rhythm.
The special emphasis here is, of course, on India’s contribution to music. The sections dealing with India’s tradition and its influence over the early musical systems of China and Japan are very informative.
Yet, judging from the standard the author has set with his earlier works, especially his Historical Development of Indian Music, the book under review suffers in comparison. Apart from errors of syntax and other mistakes, a more congenial style of writing would have made the book more effective.