Excerpts from

Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya - Elements of Music - I


By Dr. lalmani Misra



Essential elements of Vocal, Instrumental & Dance




"Geetam vadyam tatha nrityam trayam sangeetamuchyate"

Geet (song), Vadya (instrument) and Nritya (dance) - the three arts are collectively known as Sangeet (music). Hence the essential factors of music can assumed to be basic elements of singing, playing and dancing. Close examination reveals that primary basis of the three are swara and laya sophisticated form of näd (sound) and gati (motion). Näd and gati are miniscule hence eternal and formless without beginning or end. The quintessence of space is word; when in confluence with motion acquiring the form of wind, water, fire and earth it turns into Pancha tatva (the fundamental five elements) and initiate the activities of the srishti (world, creation). This creation thus results from näd and gati. With these two as its primary factors music captivated the world immediately it emerged as an art form. None could withstand its allure – young or old, male or female, animate, inanimate, bird or animal. Ramamatya describes the magnetism of music thus:

Gopipati (Lord Krishna), the immortal one, too is under the influence of sound. Brahma is all enveloped in säm-geet; Devi Saraswati is fascinated with Veena.1 How can then ordinary Yaksha, Gandharva, Dev, Danava and man escape?2

a wailing newborn who knows not savor of the sensory world becomes happy when fed on nectar of notes.3

The young forest-dwelling deer that feed on grass stalks, charmed by charismatic music forfeits his life. 4

The dark serpent too is enamored by music. The grandeur of music then is beyond description. 5

This magnetism of music comes from its quintessence. Man attains a sense of bliss when he internalizes swara and laya the refined manifestation of näd and gati. In the same way a person is attracted to his own persona, presence of näd and gati in his body draws him to their external manifestation, notes and rhythm.

The two primary elements of music through their presence in varuing ratio create the triad of vocal, instrumental music and dance. Word gets added to notes and rhythm in vocal music reducing its flexibility but enriched with poetry it gains greater relevance and appeal. With qualities of poetry, vocal music becomes greatly useful for man. having universal appeal and little need for any equipment vocal music is considered to be highest of the three arts. Even poetry awakens and blooms with gentle touch of music. Just as a flower blossoms with air and water, the union of notes and rhythm enhances the qualities of sweetness and brilliance in poetry.

Though rooted in emotion, music instigates ideas too. Despite their difference emotion and thought are both essential of part of human life. Emotions excite the softer part of human nature while thought provides the necessary control in governing human life. One is flow, the other periphery or bank.

Assessment considering the two essential elements of music renders instrumental music to be the representative art. Rhythm and notes have full reign here. It neither requires poetry as in singing nor bodily movements as in dance. The unfettered creative play of notes and rhythm comes to fore only in instrumental music. Therefore in comparison to other forms like song and dance, instrumental music is the art of subtler expression with least artificiality. Because of this subtlety and inartificiality it lies often beyond the appreciation range of common populace, yet it exerts a strong attraction on children and non-human living beings. The common response to instrumental music is that though the sound is appealing, there is no comprehension of what it expresses.

Notes formed by various instruments and their rhythm are endowment to mankind, but a rightful enjoyment is possible through samskär (training) alone. People having cultured values through inheritance or training like instrumental music best.

Dance employs the element of rhythm. Dance is actually a bridge between music and drama. The bodily movements align it with dramatic art, while a strong presence of rhythm and beats bring it near music. Maharishi Bharat has subdivided dance into three forms – Nritta, Nrit and Nritya. While Nrit is nätya or drama, Nritta has greater element of drama than music and Nritya has strong presence of music and less of drama. While the support of song and instrument is available in dance, presence of notes can not be accepted in this art form. Hence musically dance is one-sided employing motion or rhythm alone. Because of this unitariness many Indian and western thinkers have opined that dance should not be considered a part of music. Placing it midway between music and drama they have recommended independent status as art form to dance. Many government and semi-government bodies have taken up such titles as “ Academy of Dance, Drama and Music”. However this is no place to discuss inclusion of dance in music or its independent status; objective here is to establish that dance employs only the rhythm element of music.

It is evident then that in vocal music along with elements of notes and rhythm the element of poetry is present in differing measures, the element of drama is employed along with rhythm in dance but instrumental music constitutes notes and rhythm alone. Instrumental music does not seek assistance of any other art form.

References :

1 Gopipatiranantoopi vamshdhwanivashamgatah|

Samageetrato brahma veenasakta swaraswati || Swarmelkalanidhi, Hathras edition, Swar Prakaran p. 11

2 Kimanye yakshagandharvadevdanavamanavah| ibid.

3 Agyatvishayaswado balah parynkikatale|

Rudan geetamritam peetva harshotkarsh prapadyate|| ibid.

4 Vanecharastrinaharashchitramrigashishuh pashuh|

Lubdholubdhaksangeete yachchhati jivitam|| ibid.

5 Krishnasrapoopi tadgeetam shrutva harsh prapadyate|

Tasya geetasya mahatmyam ke prashmsitumishate|| ibid.


Links :

Excerpts from Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya - Sitar

Excerpts from Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya - Other Veena-s

Excerpts from Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya - Surmandal

Excerpts from Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya - Elements of Music - II

Dr. Lalmani Misra on Wikipedia

Introduction to Music in Samaveda

Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya 1973. Second edition, 2002. pp 31-33

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