"Indian Classical Music
A journey from Archika to Khayal"
By Mrs. Girija Gopalakrishnan
Revised by Mr T.S. Ramachandran
The quest for better and finer forms of self expression and communication probably dates back to the origin of mankind on planet earth. Many civilizations, and with them many cultures came and disappeared; but not without leaving behind many fine forms of self expression, namely language, literature, art, architecture, sculpture and of course music. There is no doubt that music has and will continue to remain the deepest and finest form of human creativity, because music alone can express what speech cannot. Music alone can form an instant and everlasting connectivity; breaking regional, linguistic and cultural barrier.
What inspired music in mankind must have been the spectacular, wonderful and colourful aspect of nature, combined with the heavenly harmony created by the chirping of birds, gurgling of the brook, the soft pitter patter of rain drops and the sound of wind whistling through groves and forest. In fact, many of the classical music composition (Ragas) have been inspired by seasons, song of the birds, animals, divine and cosmic forces. For e.g. Raag Megh Mallhar (song of the clouds), Basant (spring time rejoicing), Bahar (beautiful nature), Durga (the divine mother goddess), Shivaranjini (the cosmic song), Deepak (fire in all forms).
Origin of Indian Classical Music dates back to Vedic times, the Sama Veda and the Gandharva Veda. The first musical note was named Archika and the entire recitation of Sama Veda was confine to one single note or ‘Swara’ – ‘Sa’. The next stage was the addition of the note ‘Ri’ and subsequently there originated the ‘Samika’ – the seven notes namely Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni arranged in a descending scale. Each of there ‘Swaras’ (notes) had a name and were inspired by the call of either a bird or an animal as shown below –
Sa – Shadaj – Mayura or Peacock
Ri – Rishav – Chataka or a kind of dove
Ga – Gandhar – Chaag or Goat
Ma – Madhyam – Krouncha or Curlew
Pa – Pancham – Kokila or Cuckoo
Dha – Dhaivat – Dadur or Frog
Ni – Nishad – Gaja or Elephant
The initial scale was structured according to certain basic patterns with regular intervals and thus evolves the ‘Grama’ – a fundamental scale which forms the base of all scales. It was a particular order of arrangement of ‘Shrutis’ (micro notes) and ‘Swaras’ determine by a mutual consonance of notes. Other melodic forms, namely the ‘Murchana’ and Jatiraja’ evolved from the ‘Grama’. A ‘Murchana’ was a ‘parent’ scale with full seven notes, arranged in a regular sequence with no resilient notes ‘Jati’ evolved next and was the closest to what we now know as ‘Raga’. A ‘Jati’ was a particular arrangement of notes out of the seven notes and defined and displayed certain specific requirement and characteristics in singing: the ascending and descending notes, their sequence and arrangement, their consonance, the emphasis on some and not on the others, the prolongation or resting on some and not on the others and the unique life giving quality.
All this formed the foundation of the present unique characteristics of Indian Classical music – the ‘Raga’, which is the norm of matrix and forms the main structure. Definition and description, of ‘Raga’ is very clear in ‘Brhaddesi’ the 7th century text by Matanga muni. From his ‘Slokas’ (meditation) we come to know that the word ‘Raga’; has been derived from the root, “Rang” – which means to tinge or to impress. Just as a sheet of white cloth can be tinged with colours to make a pattern or picture, human mind can be impressed or coloured by music. Although all sounds – sweet or harsh, melodious or otherwise create some impression on the mind, ‘Ragas’ possess some specific qualities which determine them and animate them with life giving energy ‘Ragas’ help to concentrate the dispersed or scattered modification of the mind leading the singer as well as the listener to the ream of meditation., bringing everlasting peace and joy. Matanga muni, for first time interpreted ‘Jati’ as ‘Raga’ and the true Lakshana or characteristic, of the ‘Jatiragas’.
In an attempt to give a concrete form to the abstract character of Indian Classical Music the ragas were humanised. Of the early reptoire of 42 ‘ragas’ the ones with supposedly ‘male’ character were regarded as husbands and the ones with supposedly ‘female’ characters are there wives. Initially 6 ragas were regarded as the ‘husband’ ragas each having six ‘wife’ ragas under them. Later as the number increased they were fitted into the earlier format as sons and daughter-in-laws. The ‘Dhayanaslokas’ (descriptive meditation) are short poems elucidating the musical character of ragas through a situation or atmosphere. For instance the ‘Dhayanaslokas’ of ‘Ragini Todi’ portrays the raga as a beautiful young maiden – “Her slim body as radiant as the dew drop is smeared with the paste of saffron and camphor. She beguiles the deer in the woodlands carrying her veena, such as Todika”.
The ‘Dhayanaslokas’of ragas have inspired a whole set of paintings called the ‘Ragamalika’ paintings. In these miniature paintings the poetic description of ‘ragas’ have been visually depicted.
The evolution of ‘Tala’ the beats according to the time cycle also took place along with the evolution of ‘raga’. ‘Talas’ were classified according to the number of beats and there pattern of repetition. For example ‘Teental’ has 16 beats, ‘Dadra’ has 6 beats and ‘Kharva’ has 8 beats. A ‘Bandish’ or ‘Prabandha’ is a composition set into a particular ‘Raga’ format and sung according to a particular ‘Tala’ or rhythm pattern. The ‘Anibandha’ (unbound) and ‘Nibandha’ (bound) are the two main categories of Indian Classical Music, depending on weather the composition is sung to a ‘tala’ or rhythm or not. The beginning and the most important of part of a raga is the ‘Alap’. In the ‘Alap’ the raga is developed and elaborated slowly note by note, phrase by phrase. A certain set of notes is taken as the base and the variations of this theme are improvised; unfolding the theme of ‘Raga’. Thus, ‘Alap’ is the most sensitive and fundamental part of ‘Raga’ enunciation.
By 7th century A.D the triad of ‘Raga- Tala – Prabandha’ had become the quintessence of Indian music tradition providing firm bedrock for the grand and vibrant edifice of Indian Classical Music. As a creative discipline, Indian Classical Music evolved continuously and its bifurcation into two systems after the 13th century can be regarded as a major change. Flowing from the common ancient heritage and maintaining the essentially melodic character as well as the ‘Raga- Tala – Prabandha’ triads, the two steams namely the northern (including the western and eastern regions of India) system called the Hindustani music and Southern system called Carnatic music went on developing taking there own course.
The manner of interpretation and shift of emphasis from structural bondage to free improvisation in Hindustani music is one of the main differences between the two systems. A sort of ancillary changes in ‘Alap’ and ‘Tala’ resulted in two, almost separate system of music.
In Carnatic music, a study of the structure of its present forms; namely (Kriti, Kirtanam, varnam, Padam, Javeli) makes it clear that the ancient tradition of ‘Prabhandha’ are more strictly and closely adhered as compared to Hindustani music.
The 15th and 16th century in north India saw the acme of a style and composition called ‘Dhrupad’. This was the time of the general revival and exuberance in various walks of life patronised by Raja Mansingh Tomar of Gwalior and Emperor Akbar. Great ‘Dhrupad’ singers like Swami Haridas, Tansen, Baiju Bawra and others were patronised by the kings.
‘Dhamar’ a style generally similar to ‘Dhrupad’ had a literary content of Krishna’s colour play with the Gopikas during the festival of Holi.
The Persian influence on Hindustani music saw the evolution of ‘Khayal’ the word ‘Khayal’ is of Persian origin and means idea of imagination ‘Khayal is free and flowery and has two parts – ‘Sthayi’ and ‘Antara’. ‘Sthayi’ has its movements generally in the middle and lower octave. The second part or ‘Antara’ is sung after ‘Sthayi’ and its progressions are in the middle and upper octaves. The two sections are complimentary to each other and together they give a full picture of the ‘Raga’ framework.
The ‘Bada Khayal’ is commenced with the ‘Sthayi’ in slow or medium tempo till the ‘Antara’ is reached. Now the pattern becomes more intricate. In ‘Chote Khayal’ the tempo is faster and a climax with very quick ‘Taans’, ‘Sargams’ and ‘Bol Taan’ complete the recital. All the while the nucleus of attention is the ‘Sam’ to which the melody returns again and again.
This brief outline has been an attempt to trace the evolution of Indian Classical Music from Vedic times to the present. Many changes, transformation and evolution have taken place, enriched by the contribution of the musicians great and small, famous and unknown. Like the meandering course of the holy Ganges, Indian Classical Music, in spite of many outside influences has remained as a grand, pristine, and scintillating example of the heavenly harmony.
“From harmony, to heavenly harmony
"This universal frame began:
From harmony, to heavenly harmony
Through all the compass of note it ran.
The diapason closing full in man.
What passion cannot music raise and quell?”
- John Dryden