The Eastern Classical Music Cultural Studies Essay


Eastern classical music is one of the oldest forms of music. It has a long and storied history that has changed in many ways over hundreds of years. It dates back to 13th and 14th century. Hindustani music silhouetted into existence somewhere in Northern India, where it was practiced while performing the Yoga in front of influential spectators. The origins of Indian music can even be found in the Veda s. Vedas (English: Knowledge, Wisdom) are a large body of texts originating in ancient India. Composed in Sanskrit, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the earliest writings of Hinduism. Samaveda, one of the four Veda s, contains formulas that are sung by Hindu priests. It explains all the details in length. The practice of singing based on notes was popular even from the Vedic times where the hymns in Samaveda, a sacred text, was sung as Samagana (Samagan is not merely a name given to singing hymns of Veda but represents the philosophy and science of uniting thought, sound and music) and not chanted.

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This proves music in ancient India was not just a hobby but had religious significance. Its a tradition which gets transferred from one generation to another. In Hinduism, Sound (nada) is believed to be the heat of the process of creation. Saaswati, the great Hindu goddess of art and learning, is usually pictured as seated on a white lotus with a vina, flute, in one hand, playing it with another, a book in the third hand and a necklace and pearls in the fourth. The holy syllable Om exhibits the essence of universe and sound in general represents the primal energy that holds the physical things together. Sangita is the oldest tradition of Indian music. It has travelled from ancient temples and courts to modern day festivals and concert halls, keeping alive the spirit of Indian culture and retaining recognizable continuity of tradition. The words of songs might have changed from time to time, but the musical themes are essentially ancient. The abridged names of the seven notes, Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni are said to occur in the Samaveda in the same order. Their names at length are as follows:

Shadja, Rishabha, Gandhaa, Madhyama, Panchama, Dhaivata, Nishada.

The Eastern Classical is further divided into Hindustani music and Carnatic music, former being the music of northern India, latter southern. Historical roots of both Hindustani and Carnatic classical music traditions stem from Bhatta s Natyashasta. The two traditions stated to diverge only around 14th century. Both are very similar in the sense that they use one Raga per song and one Tala per song, improvisation being an essential element. Hindustani music tends to be more heavily influenced by Persian music than Carnatic music, which emphasizes the vocalist much more than the Hindustani music does. These systems have, throughout their history, influenced each other.

Hindustani Classical Music(music of the north)

Hindustani music is the Northern Indian style of Classical music. It has Vedic origins and has been evolving since 12 century CE, in what are now northern India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. As mentioned earlier this genre has ancient Persian (Musiqi-e assil) and Vedic origins dating back to approximately one thousand BCE. A person wishing to learn starts as a novice and when, after years of hard work reaches a distinguished level of achievement, is awarded titles of respect; Hindus: Pandit, Muslims: Ustad.

It were the medieval times when Hindustani music got fused with Persian music through the influence of sufi composers like Amir Khusro (notable Indian musician, scholar and poet. A Sufi mystic and a spiritual disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi; was not only a notable poet but also a prolific musician; wrote primarily in Persian and Hindavi.) and Tansen (greatest Indian composer, used to play in Akbar s court) and religious groups like Vaishnavites flourished. The two sub-forms of Hindustani mucic are Khyal and Dhurap, but there are several other classical and semi classical forms as well.

Later towards the 16th century the Hindustani music took form of gharanas (Hindi word; ghar: house). The style of a gharana is the style initiated by a particular family of musicians. And it is named on the basis of the town on which the family resided, for example; Patialla Gharana, Benaras gharana, Lucknow gharana, Agra gharana and the Jaipur gharana. A gharana is like a group that is based on a comprehensive musicological ideology and it connects all the followers of that ideology by linage or apprenticeship. A particular ideology is confined to a specific gharana, hence each gharhana has its own ideology. It affects the thinking, teaching, performance and overall taste of music of that group.

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The present day Carnatak music is based on historical developments that can be traced back to 15-16th centuries. This system is prevalent in the southern parts of India, confined to the modern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. As mentioned above, it is a sub category of Indian Classical music. This form of music pays special attention to vocal music; most compositions are written to be sung, even when played on instruments they are required to be performed in gayaki(singing) style.

Carnatic music is believed to have a divine origin, it is said to be originated from the Devi s and Deva s (Gods and Goddesses). Owing to Persian/Muslim advent, Carnatic music, formerly known as Indian classical music, diverged from Hindustani music as it was based on a separate ideology and was practiced by a specific group of people (the southerners). It was under Vijayanagar Empire Carnatic music reached its zenith. Puranadara Dasa, known as the father of Carnatic music formed the Melakarta system that is commonly used for the teaching of Carnatic music. Later it was expanded by Scholars like Govindacharya into the sampoora raga the system that is in use presently. Carnatic music received a lot of attention in the 18-20th century; it was patronized by local kings of Mysore and Travancore. These people were known to have special interest in music and were proficient in playing instruments such as flute, violin and sheshanna among others.

Indian music is based upon a system of Raga s (commonly known as Raag) and is improvised or composed at the moment of performance. Raag, in the Sanskrit dictionary, is defined as "the act of coloring or dyeing" (the mind in this context) and "any feeling or passion especially love, affection, sympathy, vehement desire, interest, joy, or delight". In the history of ragas, Nanyadeva's predecessor Sage Matanga played a vital role. Almost all scholars, after his time, quoted him as foremost authority on raga. His Brhaddeshi, completed in about 800 AD, is a landmark in the sense that it reconciles the theory of ancient music, described in earlier works, with the living music practiced in various regions of India. Matanga included musical notations of scales and melodies in his treatise, and also the first definition of Raga,

In the opinion of the wise, that particularity of notes and melodic movements, or that distinction of melodic sound by which one is delighted, is raga."

Matanga s Brihaddeshi, mentioned above, is the most important musical work between the Natyashastra(ancient Indian treatise on the performing arts, encompassing theatre dance and music), written in the 2nd century B.C. and Sangita Ratnakara written in the 13th century A.D. However it stands incomplete as some of the portions have been lost over time. Brihaddeshi is the first major and available text where one can find references to the Ragas.

In music, these descriptions apply to the impressions of melodic sounds on both the artist and listener. The Raag is like a set of rules constricts the performance of a musician in such a way that it induces a certain emotion or mood in the minds of the listeners. The feelings produced by the musician s execution of a raga are so strong that a specific raga can be easily recognized even by the first few notes. Although it is governed by certain rules, not every set of notes that follows that criterion becomes a Raag. This is because the Raag has to induce an emotion . The raga is not a scale or a tune or a mode. It is more like a structure that binds all these together.

Taal is the rhythmic counterpart of Raag. Taal is a Sanskrit word, originated from Taali, which means slapping hands against one s arm. Rhythm is an inborn characteristic of humans so we can safely say Taal is more ancient than Raag. Moreover in Sanskrit literature it is mentioned earlier than Raag, in Bharatha s NaatyaShastra. Taal is to Eastern music what Meter is to Western. A taal can be played at different speeds as it does not have a tempo. It performs the function of time counter in Indian music. Taals consist of different number of beats starting from 6 and going up to 16.

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The greatness of the complexity of the taal system can be judged by the following quote by Claude Alvaes: The Indian system of talas, the hythmical time-scale of Indian classiacal music, has been shown to possess an extreme mathematical complexity. The basis of the system is not conventional arithmetic, however, but most akin to what is known today as pattern recognition

Up until the 19th century Classical music was taught on one-to-one basis through mentor-prot g tradition. Later this system lost its significance due to the dishonest attitude of Guru s. In many cases the student had to spend time serving his guru with hope that the guru might teach him a piece or two. The music somewhat lost its spiritual importance after that, being limited to the palaces and dance halls. The great art had fallen on bad days; being looked down upon by the intellectuals and avoided by the newly educated middle-class.

Then the whole story took a totally different form with the downfall of maharajas and nawabs in the 20th century and the emergence of two great stars Vishnu Digambar Paluskar and Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande. Independent of each other they spread Hindustani classical to masses in general. They started music schools (Gurukuls). They also standardized the notation, making it easier to spread. Hence as a result the middle class once again embraced this form of music and many women started learning it. Up to very recently the government-run radio stations had specials feature programs which helped to bring the artists in front of public.