INDIAN MUSIC - AN INWARD JOURNEY

The Indian word for music is sangeet, which means "bringing it all together and expressing it." The 'all' that is brought together is body, mind and spirit. Ideally, the Indian musician sets out to experience the infinite and to share his striving with the listener. The traditional goal of all spiritual seeking in India has been to identify with, and merge into, the vastness of the eternal being.

This attitude is central to the practice of music as to most traditional arts in India. The preoccupation of the traditional Hindustani musician is predominantly spiritual in the sense that he must first find and activate the inner source, the centre of his being, the bindu or core within himself where he rings most true and then draw it out with his life-breath prana, and offer it in an expression of sound. To transcend the human condition, a concern implicit in all art, tradition exhorts the Indian musician to plunge inwards, to trust depth and intensity rather than range and variety.

In the music of both northern and southern India, the shadaja or the tonic is the musical bindu which symbolises eternal being. The term shadaja literally means 'born of the six (notes)'. The implication is that each note in the scale aspires to the sa or do. It is the key which admits the listening ear to the meaning of the music. For the performer, the shadaja could be located at whatever pitch the voice or instrument is most comfortable, but once established it must remain the same for the entire duration of the music and may not be changed even between pieces. The tanpura , the stringed drone which invariably accompanies Indian music, continuously offers the sound of the shadaja more commonly called kharaj or sa. The bowed sarangi which is the traditional instrument of vocal accompaniment and the table or the right hand drum also echo the sa that all aspirants must cultivate with assiduous concentration. Gurus often forbid their charges to sing or play any other note until they have 'found' and mastered their true sa. It is almost a cliché amongst Hindustani musicians that all music lies in the wormb of the sa . Every musician starts the day with kharaj bharna, a practice of embodying and exploring the sa. In Hindustani classical music all melodic lines are seen as an extension of the sa and draw their being and energy from it. The music unfolds when the reposeful but dominant tonic nucleus of the sa becomes charged through concentration and intensity and begins to emit musical rays. These rays and lines strain away from the sa and return no rest in it, thus creating pulsing patterns of tension and release.

Hindustani musicians undergo rigorous training and possess incredible skill and control. However, the central object of their labours is not the cultivation of a 'beautiful' tone but the development of an almost limitless capability in articulation. The physical sound of the music is, in ideal circumstances, only a medium and not the end product. To the connoisseur, a voice is only as beautiful as what it conveys. The physical body of the music is to the musician what a writing tool is to the poet. The listener is trained to tune in to the highly-changed state of consciousness of the performer rather than to the physical condition of the sound that carries the music. Consequently, Indian ears are somewhat indifferent to the outer perfection of musical sound. Some of the most revered musicians have been and are people in their seventies. Their glory is in the truth of their experience and though their voices might have lost superficial lustre, the purity of their intention still shines through and is always the focus of attention for the initiated listener.

The human voice is considered to be the supreme instrument and musical tradition is embodied in a great variety of vocal styles and forms. Most stringed and wind instruments recall some quality or aspect of the voice. The singing voice in Indian music is the earthy, unbeautiful voice of everyday speech, not a musical escape from it. All music in the traditional mode adopts the characteristics of intimate conversation.

Occasional disturbances like the clearing of the throat or the pause for returning are therefore no disasters and take nothing away from the poignancy of the whole.

Raga is a central concept in all Indian music. It is a Sanskrit term which literally means passion, colour and attachment, something that has "the effect of colouring the hearts of men." There is an implied value here of an intensity, a singleness of colour-not a rainbow- that the performer must create anew in order to suffuse " the hearts of men." Most of the ragas which inhabit the world of today's musician are highly developed and grammatised versions of the primitive melodies of the various tribal and folk cultures of the country. Each raga is an incipient melodic idea which uses at least five tones of the octave. Each has strict rules of ascent and descent, prescribed resting places, characteristic phrases and a distinct ethos of its own. Each is assigned to a particular time of day or season and is invested with the power to evoke a state or feeling related to both the human condition and to nature. The raga cycle starts even before daybreak. There are predawn ragas like Lalit which are associated with the meeting of darkness and light. All major morning ragas such as Bhairav and Todi are sombre and devotional, for morning is a time for prayer and meditation. As the light gets stronger, more luminous ragas such as Jaunpuri and Bilawal enter the field. The Sarang family of ragas, performed between midday and afternoon, are full of sunlight and emit a "shimmering, leafy green colour." The late afternoon ragas, like Multani and Pradeep, are restless, intense with heat and seem to speak of a time when the day's activity is at its peak. As the sun sets the sedate and tranquil evening ragas take over. Most members of the Kalyan family of ragas belong to this time of calm introspection and radiate a deep serenity. Between sunset and late night lie light, lyrical and romantic ragas such as Des, Tilang and Khamaj. Ragas that are preformed deep into the night, for example, Darbari Kanhara and Malkauns, are profoundly searching creations, full of magic, mystery and depth. Additionally, there are ragas for the rainy season, for the springtime and for the festival of Holi. Today, there are more than a hundred ragas in the collective repertoire of the Hindustani musician. These are survivals from the thousands that were introduced at one stage or another through permissible permutations and combinations within the octave which recognises twelve tones and ten microtones.

To the conditioned ear, each phrase of one of these ragas is like a limb that reveals the identity of the whole being and has the power to evoke in the listener its entire image. It is significant that the sequential order of tones in a melodic line does not signify anything in itself. Its expression and effect depend on its dynamics- on how it swerves towards or away from a tone or from silence; how it curves, dives, wafts, spirals, trails or plummets; on where it gathers its greatest weight and luminosity and on its grain and texture. Two entirely different ragas quite often have the same sequence of tones. It is the sculpting of the melodic line connecting the sequence that distinguishes one from the other, just as the usage of a word and the tone of voice in which it is spoken are what determine its exact meaning in a particular instance.

To the conditioned ear, each phrase of one of these ragas is like a limb that reveals the identity of the whole being and has the power to evoke in the listener its entire image. It is significant that the sequential order of tones in a melodic line does not signify anything in itself. Its expression and effect depend on its dynamics- on how it swerves towards or away from a tone or from silence; how it curves, dives, wafts, spirals, trails or plummets; on where it gathers its greatest weight and luminosity and on its grain and texture. Two entirely different ragas quite often have the same sequence of tones. It is the sculpting of the melodic line connecting the sequence that distinguishes one from the other, just as the usage of a word and the tone of voice in which it is spoken are what determine its exact meaning in a particular instance.

The musical vocabulary of intervals is a shared heritage familiar even to the uninitiated. Each note in the scale when heard with the tonic yield, as a word does in language, a colour and emotional charge. For instance, one might say arbitrarily that the perfect fifth is red, positive, strong; that the third is sky blue, tranquil and lucid, and that the flat third or sixth is grey, introspective and plaintive, and so on.. This sense of the inherent emotional content of intervals is a common language understood in general terms by all who share the regional culture of which this system of music is a product just as those who are not themselves painters might still react to an array of primary colours. The skilled musician uses these colours leading his audience in delicately shaded areas, carrying them all through the creative process, line by line, stroke by stroke, colour by colour-until he has infused into them the portrait of the raga as he conceives of it at that point of time.

The ancient music of India had been fed from the earliest times by diverse streams, including the religious, the folk, the tribal and the courtly. Around the 12th century, it began to receive a fresh infusion in the form of Persian elegance and Sufic ecstasy. By the 15th century, the musical idiom that we associate with Hindustani music today had taken distinct shape. The most widely practised classical form of the Hindustani system is the Khayal, a Persian term loosely meaning 'idea' or 'flight of the imagination'. The Khayal tradition abounds in elaborate compositions or songs in which the composer's interpretation of a raga is encased in suitable words. These are not compositions in the Western sense and allow far greater latitude to the performer. If the musician is a painter, let us say, and the chosen raga the person he wishes to paint, the Khayal 'composition' is the sketch of an earlier musician's view of this person. The performer chooses it from amongst many, because it is sympathy with his own vision at that time. If he were to sing or play the same raga on five different occasions, his renderings would be comparable to five original painting of the same subject, not five copies of the same work.

Thus the Khayal composition is primarily a musical conception, clothed in suitable words that physically synchronise with the dynamic of the melodic line or enhance it. The presentation of a Khayal is not the rendering of a song, for here it is not the words that are set to music but almost a reverse process. An extremist view in the Hindustani tradition is that music speaks of nothing but itself and is not concerned with the meaning of the words that accompany, embellish or assist it. Some less rigorous forms such as Thumri, Dadra and Bhajan, where the music is used to project the word content of the song, are exceptions to this. The wealth and variety of vowels and consonants provided by the words of the Khayal enter the music primarily as meaning. In a tradition where music is passed on orally, this packaging of a composition in poetry is an invaluable aid. It helps ready identification of the composition, preserves the original melodic lines in tight fitting moulds and reduces greatly the risk of distortion in transmission from teacher to pupil. Generally speaking, the long vowel encases the graceful arc of the 'meend' or glide so characteristic of Hindustani music, while the hard consonants act as anchors. Nasal, sibilant and aspirated sounds are also used with telling effect and great skill to sculpt the musical line and explore tonal possibilities.

The Khayal is set in a known tala or rhythmic arrangement of beats in a cyclic manner. Each rhythmic cycle is divided into sections which may or may not be equal. It is complete in itself and continues to repeat itself faithfully throughout the performance of a particular Khayal. As the melodic lines strain away from the sa and return to it, so the beats of a tala emanate from the sam, the first beat of the cycle which carries the greatest emphasis and travel in a descending are to the Khali (empty), at which point the rhythm gathers momentum again to ascend and culminate in the sam. The tala sets up an elaborate, pulsing rhythmic pattern which the musician uses as a sort of frame on which to weave his melodic threads. The sam is both the beginning and the end of the cycle and commands special attention, as the drum stroke here coincides with a melodic climax in the Khayal composition, creating each time a burst of musical energy, a sense of arriving. This repetitive musical travelling and arriving generates a tension and dynamic characteristic of Hindustani music.

Every sound made on the drums is represented by onomatopoeic syllables such as dha, na ti, dhage, tirakita. A drummer could beat out a rhythmic cycle with the intended accents simply by listening to the teacher recite the theka, or the verbal mnemonics of the tala. There are about twelve talas in slow, medium or fast tempoes, that are commonly used today. The talas of Hindustani music are extraordinarily expressive and each could be said to have a temperament (mizaj) which stems not so much from the tempo as from the internal arrangement of the beats. Talas of very fast tempo, for instance the drut teental, could be much more restrained and 'classical' than the slower dadra which has a lighter more languorous intention. Among practitioners of Hindustani music, the movement of talas is often likened to that of elephants, birds, horses or swans.

In an actual performance, the singer first 'awakens' the sa then in wordless syllables and in free rhythm draws some evocative melodic lines to usher in the raga in which the Khayal is set. This is the crucial alaap part, the foundation on which everything else will rest. He then begins the composition, guiding the drummer as to the intended tempo and indicating where he must come in with the first stroke or sam of the tala. After the first cue, the table player needs no further direction, only the most sensitive listening so that the best is in sympathy with the musical intention and provides an unobtrusive setting.

After the Khayal composition has been outlined, the performer develops the raga in the manner of a pyramid often using the suggestions implicit in the composition as a model for the proliferating lines. He explores and cultivates the lower regions of the scale in great depth in slow tempo and then rises in the scale of the raga, gradually increasing the tempo. The nature of the expression that develops vertically as it were, is an intensification, a gradual accumulation of meaning, rather than an extended statement. However, it still demands to be heard as a totality for a part of it would be as meaningless as a truncated sentence. The first sounding of the upper octave of the tonic or sa, is a moment of great excitement for only at this point is the persona, of the raga finally laid bare. This process could take, an hour or more.

The music is never 'prepared' beforehand and rigidly presented but rather a live communication in which the listener contributes to the reality of each moment. The ideal of the singer is to share with the listener all phases of the creative process, much like an idea developed in extempore speech. The live chamber concert would therefore be its best chance. The portrait of the raga, presented by the musician, is in a sense the product of the attention of all those present to its unfolding. This is quite different from the Western composer or the painter whose work is undertaken in relative isolation.

In raga development, the musician envisions a heightened state of being through its portraiture in the lines if the raga. The lines, colours, and feelings offered by raga create a field of awareness in which the listener can share in the intended evocation. What the listeners hear and acknowledge is the validation of what the singer is discovering in the moment. This live chemistry of participation is a vital factor in traditional performances where the performer is the leader and the listener the follower. Ideally, both experience the full portrait in sound simultaneously.

The slow Khayal is usually followed by one or two faster-paced arrangements in the same raga. Here the melodic lines already etched in the slow elaboration (badhat) are stressed and ornamented with flourishes and fast runs. This part of the performance is a sort of celebration of what the music has already said and is specially prized by those who enjoy displays of virtuosity. But it is an old saying often used by ustads or maestros for course-correction that when the fast run (taan) enters, the raga departs.

.The Hindustani musician uses the highly-charged and highly-evolved traditional idiom of the interval to make his own statement. Because his listener is responsive to (if not actually familiar with) this idiom, it offers the fantastic possibility of saying the unsayable in a language that is known and shared. The language of raga ensures that the most singular utterance, the subtlest flash of evanescent creativity, will become articulate in a recognisable form so that it can be retained in the mind of both creator and listener.

Music can and is, of course, made at many levels. There is greater demand for, and therefore greater abundance of the musical product with ready appeal. What makes such music unacceptable to the connoisseur is not its elementary character- for the greatest music can be extremely simple-but the fact that the musician is not seriously involved with a vision and is only making a studied effort to simulate it. What is significant here is that even in this simulation he acknowledges the essentially spiritual character of Indian music by taking the trouble to imitate it.

The unbroken melodic line of the sung breath is the script of this music and the career of this line is intended to be the focus of attention at all times. That is to say there must be only one sound at any given moment. The wealth of other sounds-the drone of the tanpura strings sounding the sa and other dominant notes of the raga, the accompanying sarangi or harmonium and the two drums-seem to contradict this, but the fact is that they are only a setting for the travelling melodic line, echoing it, accenting it, holding it for the performer or ornamenting it. No sounds used as accompaniments are intended to be heard independently.

As there can be many styles of calligraphy so there are a number of styles in which the melodic line can be drawn on the canvas of silence, as it were. There styles of Hindustani classical music are called gharanas, and function like closed guids.

Gharana literally means 'family' in the sense of lineage. The personal style, musical attitudes and predispositions of an acknowledged master are what give a gharana its distinctly recognisable melodic movement and dialect. The transmission of traditional music from master to disciple is a very serious business in India. Sometimes the ceremonies formalising the initiation of a disciple can be as elaborate as a wedding. There are religious rites that sanctify the event in the presence of the entire musical community, followed by a performance by the disciple whose acceptance is being celebrated. Suitable offerings are made to the master and there is much feasting. Seena dar seena, from breast to breast, is a commonly used phrase in this context. What the ustad (master) passes on to the shagird (disciple) is the whole experience of his inner musical self, his entire 'quality'. Therefore nothing less than total commitment on the part of the pupil is acceptable. He has to be a vehicle that is fit to receive, cherish and perpetuate the life and work of a great musical mind. The teaching is oral and very often secretive. The father teacher the son, the son-in-law or the deserving pupil who has proved himself trustworthy in every sense. The ustad-shagird link sets up a continuity of extraordinary warmth which is nourished by the absence of conservative teaching aids. For an 'outsider' to be accepted by a master as a disciple is rare, an overwhelming and remarkable thing which happens only to the fortunate few. Reverence, humility and the aspiration to merge with something bigger than oneself are such an integral part of the imbibing process that they almost enter the music as values, along with the values of purity and restraint. The highest compliment for an Indian musician is to be told that his work is reminiscent of the masters he admires and that he is a torch bearer. To most, this brings more satisfaction and fulfilment than being dubbed unique.

The outstanding Khayal gharanas today are Gwalior, Kirana, Jaipur, Agra and Patiala, each named after the original place of residence of the ustad or family of ustads around whom closely guarded musical guilds grew and flourished. The Gwalior gharana is the oldest and links the formal structure and sacred intent of the Dhrupad with the more personal and introspective idiom of the Khayal. It is thus the precursor of all Khayal gharanas, each of which adopted and developed those aspects of it which appealed to the genius of the progenitor of a particular gharana. The Kirana gharana traces delicate, three dimensional arcs, draws from silence deeply searching spirals and abhors sharp angles. It is truer of the Kirana musicians than of any others that each 'place' in the scale of a raga is an area that must be explored anew each time and brought to life in the living moment. This introspective approach is also reflected in their technique of raga development. The base of the edifice, that is the sa and the mandra saptak (the lower heptad), the angles of the rising structure are gently indicated while the apex is often left to be achieved in the mind of the listener, in deference to the idea that something as exquisite as the portrait if a state of being cannot be completed by a mere human. The Kirana temperament prefers suggestion to statement, restraint to overflow and repose to gaiety.

The Agra gharana, affectionately called the rangila or colourful, uses bold, pulsing strokes and is far more extrovert in intention. The compositions tend to be in faster tempo and their powerful musical persuasion leans heavily on explicit rhythmic interplay.

. The Jaipur gharana is known for its sharply etched filigree of alankara or note patterns. In a traditional rendering, the whole raga is outlined at the outset in a few sharp strokes and then filled in, detailed and ornamented like a miniature painting.

The characteristics of the dialect and style of each gharana originate in the personalities of the individuals who founded them. Even though the faithful preservation of these charateristics is applauded by purists today, with greater access provided by electronic aids and increased physical mobility, there is much more exchange and contact, acknowledged and unacknowledged, between the gharanas. Many examples of borrowing and mixing are audible on concert stage in India.

One of the most remarkable things about traditional Hindustani music is the co-existence in its practice of the most rigorous discipline and a degree of freedom that is truly astonishing. The manifold disciplines are rigid and uncompromising; the rules of the raga, the time of the day, the intention of the composition, the confining frame of the tala, the prescribed form of present action, faithfulness to the vani or style of utterance. These and many other considerations bind the musician, but at the same time tradition offers him extraordinary freedom to express his being.

He is free to explore the areas in between the rigid 'notes' of the keyboard and free from objective time. The raga performance is an evocation that aspires to break free of time by itself becoming a kind of time, with a breath and movement of its own. The unfolding of a raga is an act of persuasion and the time it takes is a purely subjective matter for both the musician and the listener. Mobilised by an abundance of shared conditions, which can help this experience come to life.



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