Evolution of Indian Classical Music

From Sound to Note

By Rajiv Trivedi

 

 

 

One can remember only that, which has been stored as actual response to impressive stimulus. Radio was transistorized in sixties and strains of music floated into one’s consciousness as one walked around the town, sound being picked up at next location before the earlier one could fade off completely. There was little traffic noise to hinder the wafting melody. A part of my mind always wondered why certain songs carried greater appeal than others. The words helped me to identify a song, but those sung in languages unknown were equally dear. Years went by, before I could understand that it was the underlying discipline, which granted bits of sound their aesthetic appeal. Indeed, there must be some innate sensibility, which endears certain combination of notes across ages and cultures. This well might be the reason why, on discovering similarities, people often say that classical music grows out of folk. It is only when one begins to fathom the ocean of classical tradition that myths yield to amazing truths.

Musical tradition in ancient India evolved with identification of notes. Modulated chant during the period of Rig Veda with three tonalities of Udatta, An-udatta and Swarit graduated to music as notes were discovered. It was then, that hymns were selected from Rig Veda which could be sung and this collection was called Sam Ved. Archic recitation employed a single note, Gathic two and Samic used three notes. However it is believed that in latter half of Sam Vedic period all seven notes were used.

To a modern listener, used to multiple sounds of numerous instruments collaborating to produce harmonic or melodic strain, it is more the tonal quality and intensity of sound than combination of notes, which appear to create the music. A composer today may make use of a single note at a climactic point in composition followed by a pause, to achieve a dramatic effect; the remaining composition would be filled with competing sounds that garb underlying notes or Swara-s. Yet, it is this pristine Swara that in preferred combinations with others, gives rise to Indian classical music.

Table of Notes (from Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya)

Samic Notes

Vedic Nouns

On basis of accentuation

Chhandog Notes

Place of sound production

As per Naradi Shiksha

Gandharva Tradition

krusht

udātt

uchchtam

ni

murdhā

ma

nishad

prathama

unudātt

uchchtar

dha

lalāt

ga

dhaivat

dwitiya

swarit

uchch

pa

bhrumadhya

re

pancham

tritiya

swarit

madhyam

ma

karn

sa

madhyam

chaturth

udātt

neech

ga

kantth

ni

gandhar

mandra

unudātt

neechtar

re

ur

dha

rishabh

atiswar

swarit

neechtam

sa

hridaya

pa

shadja

It is universally accepted that a musical scale lies within two notes: the second, double the measure of first reference note. Though he treated music in passing in his Natyashastra (second century A.D.), Bharat could ascertain inter-relationship of notes with accuracy.  Principles of Bharat hold true till date, millenniums after he propounded them. Musical notes can acquire only three positions with a given note (Vadi):  Samvadi (Consonant), Vivadi (Dissonant) or Anuvadi (Assonant). Through his Chatus Sarana he had given a method to discover the possible musical intervals within an octave. These intervals – twenty two in number – which determine accurate position of notes, are known as Sruti-s. A note may acquire a (con-) sonant relationship when it is situated nine (Shadja - Madhyam) or thirteen (Shadja - Pancham) Sruti-s from the other. A distance of two or twenty sruti-s makes them dissonant. It is because notes in Indian music are relational and not positional, that Sruti-s or micro-tonal intervals sustain their intrinsic aesthetic appeal. Sharngadev in twelfth century, apparently was in advantageous position compared to Bharat, as by now Veena had frets. It was easy now to play a note with certainty. Yet, this very facility set him on tangential path; as tying twenty two strings within a single octave, he tried determining positions of the Sruti-s. The relational nature of Swara-s was erroneously being examined by fixing positions. All later scholars continued with this fallacy, often adding their own, till revivalists in twentieth century analyzed Bharat’s principles and were enthralled by their canonical nature. 

Musician-scholar Dr. Lalmani Misra invented Shruti Veena emulating Bharat’s Chatus Sarana to make available both, the methodology of Sarana and twenty-two Sruti-s. This validation Veena, presently in collection of Music Faculty, B.H.U. Varanasi, is first and only instrument on which all Sruti-s can be heard simultaneously. For visual representation of the concept of Sarana, readers may download a graphical tool along with text articles given on Omenad website.

Indian musical scale till few centuries back, followed descending order. So did, most ancient scales. Dr. Naval Krishna, an art-historian pointed out (in his paper, “Krishna's Flute in Early Indian Art & Literature – A Reappraisal” presented in Omenad Conference 2009) through medieval paintings that in order to draw and capture attention of the audience, recital had to start on a high note; the lower sounds would not have been noticed and melody would remain unheard till sharper notes were played.

All aspects of Indian classical music from the earliest point have followed mathematically correct orders, though not always towards best ends. The logical and plausible often take precedence. It was through principle of consonance that Bharat obtained the notes and the Shruti-s. He stated that Shadja, Madhyam, Pancham have 4 Shruti-s each; Rishabh and Dhaivat 3; Gandhar and Nishad 2 Shruti-s each. Shruti-s were given 3 distinct weights. The note-phrases that follow such rules are musical and pleasant. For example, the teevra  Nishad (contemporary Shuddh and Bharat’s Kakali) Nishad [Ni ] and Tar Shadja [S´] are situated at smallest interval of a semitone. A musician starting from a note unrelated to this Nishad may still land on it before arriving on Tar Shadja as in M - Ni - S´. In such application Nishad is called Praveshak Swara or leading note.

The moorchana-s were again mathematical exploration for creating correct combinations. When Venkatmakhi created 72 Thaata for classification of Raga-s, the number was arrived through simple computation. There can be six variations in upper tetra-cord and six in lower tetra-cord. Using sharp or teevra Madhyam the thirty six possibilities would be doubled, hence 72. Yet, through application of factors like consonance of 9th-13th etc. that are essential for Raga, only 10 thaata can be validated. Pt. Bhatkhande could arrive at this truth based on his aural acumen which mathematics bears out.

Some believe that Sangeet, like the Natya, also employs the principle of Ras-nishpatti (satisfaction or fulfillment of emotions) and thus expresses the various Rasa-emotions. While the first part of this statement is uncontested, the second is open to debate. Vainik Radhika Rajnarayan holds that only emotion good music leads to, is one of amazement at being fulfilled – “Waah!”. Scholars have admitted three and at times, four Rasa-s in music: Karun, Shringar, Veer and Shant. (Bharat had identified eight Rasa-s in Natya, Abhinav Gupt added Shant and modern practitioners, Vatsalya, to take the count to ten.)  But many scholars and musicians treat these as musical applications and hold that at its zenith every Raga grants one the same fulfillment, which has been termed anand-sahodar or bliss.

I have been asked by young and adults alike, why should they listen to classical music, when it least entertains them; does the Rasa-theory still hold true? If indeed there were Rasa in classical music, why does it not enthrall them immediately on hearing it the first time, like a film-song does? It is getting more difficult to answer people in this age of quick replies and short attention-spans, because appreciation requires both time and patience. Aesthetic sensibility in some cases may be genetic, but for most it involves continuous nurturing. When a person is convinced of possibility of immense beauty lying within, then alone would he wish to unravel it through possible external means. Reading poetry enriches the mind with fragrance, pictures and visions, stirring one’s desires; good paintings and sculptures might hint at the intangible at core of concrete, bringing form to fore; music altogether negates physical and the tangible. It is this liberating (moksha marg gachchhatam) quality of Indian classical music which requires readiness on part of listener. Just as to gain complete cure, one has to take full course of medicine, gradual refinement of one’s taste leads to deeper fulfillment. Exercise and diet nourish the body; still one may eat and sleep as one chooses. It is only for those who work in that direction, that sound transforms first into audible notes and then into intangible entity where all else ceases to exist.

This article was published in March 2013 issue of One India One People as first of three-part series on Indian Classical Music.

 


Evolution of Indian Classical Music - 2: From Note to Raga

Evolution of Indian Classical Music - 3: Congegating Notes

Evolution of Indian Classical Music - 4: Timless Notes

Evolution of Indian Classical Music - 5: Why Classical not Art?

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