Thursday, December 27, 2007


The music of India is one of the oldest unbroken musical traditions
in the world. It is said that the origins of this system go back to
the Vedas (ancient scripts of the Hindus). Many different legends have grown up concerning the origins and development of Indian classical music. Such legends go a long way in showing the importance that music has in defining Indian culture.

However the advent of modern historical and cultural research
has also given us a good perspective on the field. This has shown that
Indian music has developed within a very complex interaction between
different peoples of different races and cultures. It appears that the
ethnic diversity of present day India has been there from the earliest
of times.

The basis for Indian music is "sangeet". Sangeet is a combination of three artforms: vocal music, instrumental music and dance.
Although these three artforms were originally derived from the single
field of stagecraft. Today these three forms have differentiated into
complex and highly refined individual artforms.

The present system of Indian music is based upon two important pillars: rag and tal. Rag is the melodic form while tal is the rhythmic.

may be roughly equated with the Western term mode or scale. There is a
system of seven notes which are arranged in a means not unlike Western
scales. However when we look closely we see that it is quite different
what we are familiar with.

The tal
(rhythmic forms) are also very complex. Many common rhythmic patterns
exist. They revolve around repeating patterns of beats.

The interpretation of the rag and the tal is not the same all over India. Today there are two major traditions of classical music. There is the north Indian and the south Indian tradition. The North Indian tradition is known as Hindustani sangeet and the south Indian is called Carnatic sangeet. Both systems are fundamentally similar but differ in nomenclature and performance practice.

Many musical instruments are peculiar to India. The most famous are the sitar and tabla. However there are many more that the average person may not be familiar with.

All of this makes up the complex and exciting field of Indian
classical music. Its understanding easily consumes an entire lifetime.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A brief summary of Indian music

Indian Classical Music

Indian classical music is based on the ragas ("colors"), which are scales and melodies that provide the foundation for a performance. Unlike western classical music, that is deterministic, Indian classical music allows for a much greater degree of "personalization" of the performance, almost to the level of jazz-like improvisation. Thus, each performance of a raga is different. The goal of the raga is to create a trancey state, to broadcast a mood of ecstasy. The main difference with western classical music is that the Indian ragas are not "composed" by a composer, but were created via a lengthy evolutionary process over the centuries. Thus they do not represent mind of the composer but a universal idea of the world. They transmit not personal but impersonal emotion. Another difference is that Indian music is monodic, not polyphonic. Hindustani (North Indian) ragas are assigned to specific times of the day (or night) and to specific seasons. Many ragas share the same scale, and many ragas share the same melodic theme. There are thousands of ragas, but six are considered fundamental: Bhairav, Malkauns, Hindol, Dipak, Megh and Shree. A raga is not necessarily instrumental, and, if vocal, it is not necessarily accompanied. But when it is accompanied by percussion (such as tablas), the rhythm is often rather intricate because it si constructed from a combination of fundamental rhythmic patterns (or talas). The main instrument of the ragas is the sitar, although historically the vina zither was at least equally important. Carnatic (Southern Indian) ragas constitute one of the oldest systems of music in the world. They are based on seven rhythmic cycles and 72 fundamental ragas. The founder of the Karnataka school is considered to be Purandara Dasa (1494). Carnatic music is mostly vocal and devotional in nature, and played with different instruments than Hindustani music (such as the mridangam drum, the ghatam clay pot, the vina sitar as opposed to sitar, sarod, tambura and tabla). The fundamental format of Carnatic songs is the "kriti", which are usually set in the style of a raga (the raga serves as the melodic foundation). The golden age of Carnatic music was the age of Syama Sastri, who died in 1827, of Tyagaraja, who died in 1847 and who composed the Pancharatna Krithis as well as two "operas", Prahalada Bhakti Vijayam and Nauca Charitam, and of Muthuswami Dikshitar, who died in 1835 after composing the Kamalamba Navavarnams and the Navagraha krithis.
Interest in Indian music (until then largely unknown in the west) was triggered by Bangladesh-born sarod player Ali Akbar Khan's 1955 concert in New York. Eventually, western curiosity for Indian music wed the hippy ethos and (thanks mainly to the Byrds' Eight Miles High) "raga-rock" became a sonic emblem of the Sixties. His album Music of India - Morning and Evening Ragas (1955), containing two side-long ragas (the traditional Rag Sindhu Bhairavi and his own Rag Pilu Baroowa), was the first Indian classical recording to appear in the West, and the first recording of ragas on an LP. The popularity of his and Shankar's concerts led to a stream of recordings in the Sixties, mostly featuring 20-minute long ragas: several EPs from 1961 to 1964, later collected on Sarod (1969), Traditional Music of India (1962), The Soul of Indian Music (1963), Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (1964), The Master Musicians of India (1964), Classical Music of India (1964), The Soul of Indian Music (1965), Sarod (1965), Two Ragas for Sarod (1967), etc. In 1967, Khan founded the Ali Akbar College of Music in the San Francisco Bay Area, to provide education in the classical music of North India. Among his later performances, there are still impressive ones such as Raga Basant Mukhari, off Artistic Sound of Sarod (1985). He remained faithful to his roots longer than other Indian performers, eventually experimenting with synthesizers on Journey (1991) and with instruments of the western symphonic orchestra on Garden of Dreams (1994), basically a raga symphony for a chamber orchestra.
Another disciple of Ali Akbar Khan's father Allaudin Khan, sitar player Ravi Shankar, would become the star of Indian music. He first toured the west in 1956, when he was already a veteran and made friends among pop stars (George Harrison of the Beatles became his student in 1966). Among his historical performances are his masterpiece Raga Jog, from Three Ragas (1961), the Raga Rageshri, on Improvisations (1962), and the Ragas and Talas (1964), containing the Raga Jogiya and the Raga Madhu Kauns. Improvisations (1962), a collaboration with flutists Paul Horn and Bud Shank, was the first meeting of jazz and raga. Shankar pioneered the "east-west" fusion with West Meets East (1967), a terrible collaboration with British violinist Yehudi Menuhin containing both a raga and a sonata. Shankar was also instrumental in turning the raga into a product of mass consumption (he performed at both the 1967 Monterey Festival, the 1969 Woodstock Festival and the 1971 Concert for Bangla Desh), but he soon repudiated his "pop" period and returned to classical music. Nonetheless, he continued to experiment with western music (he performed with western symphonic orchestras and soloists), and, later, starting with Tana Mana (1987), even with electronic keyboards. He is a composer, not only a performer, including two sitar concertos (the second, Raga-Mala, debuted in 1980).
After relocating to Britain in 1952, Indian violinist John Mayer, had already composed Raga Music (1952) for solo clarinet, a Violin Sonata (1955), the suite Dances of India (1958) for sitar, flute, tabla, tambura and orchestra, and a Shanta Quintet (1966) for sitar and strings. He formed the mixed-race ensemble Indo-Jazz Fusions with jazz saxophonist John Harriott. Mayer thus predated Shankar with Indo-Jazz Fusions (september 1966) and the Indo-Jazz Suite (october 1966), two albums (mostly composed by Mayer) recorded by a double quintet: Harriott's jazz quintet and an Indian quintet led by Mayer plus Diwan Motihar on sitar, flute, tambura and tabla. He pursued this idea on Hum-Dono (1969), featuring Indian guitarist Amancio D'Silva, trumpeter Ian Carr and vocalist Norma Winstone.
The same sitarist, Diwan Motihar, plus Keshav Sathe on tabla and Kasan Thakur on tamboura, recorded Jazz Meets India (october 1967) with a European quintet led by Swiss pianist Irene Schweizer and featuring German trumpeter Manfred Schoof and drummer Mani Neumaier.
Another precursor of the "east meets west" movement was Shankar's favorite tabla player Allah Rakha, who recorded a duo with jazz drummer Buddy Rich, Rich A La Rakha (1968).
Shankar frequently performed with tabla player Alla Rakha. His son Zakir Hussain, also a virtuoso of the tablas, came to the USA in the late 1960s and went on to star in two of the most progressive projects of world-music, Mickey Hart's Diga Rhythm Band: Diga (1976) and jazz guitarist John McLaughlin's Shakti. Hussain's Making Music (1987), featuring Hariprasad Chaurasia on bansur, Jan Garbarek on saxophone and John McLaughlin on guitar, was a milestone in jazz-Indian fusion.
In the 1970s Debashish Bhattacharya reinvented the Hawaian slide guitar as a raga instrument by addings resonating strings and droning strings and developing the lightning-speed three-finger picking technique displayed on recordings such as Raga Ahir Bhairav (1993).
TM, ®, Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
A younger influential sitar player in the "tantrakari ang" (the instrumental style of music) was Nikhil Banerjee (widely considered the century's greatest virtuoso), while "gayaki ang" (the vocal style) was represented by Vilayat Khan and, at the end of the 20th century, Shahid Parvez.
Instrumental masters (ustad) of other instruments included bansur (bamboo flute) player Hariprasad Chaurasia, particularly the Rag Ahiv Bhairav (1987) and the 69-minute performance of his Rag Lalit (1988), and violinist Lakshminarayana Subramaniam, devoted to jazz-Indian fusion on Garland (1978) and Spanish Wave (1983).
In 1989 John McLaughlin hired an Indian percussionist, Trilok Gurtu, the son of vocalist Shobha Gurtu, who had already played with Don Cherry and with Oregon. Gurtu's own Usfret (1988) offered an intense mix of Indian vocals, jazz-rock and world-music.
Ilaiyaraaja (born Gnanadesikan Rasaiya) experimented a fusion of Bach and raga on How To Name It? (1988).

Vocal music

However, Indian classical music is mainly a vocal (not only instrumental) art. "Khayal" emerged over the centuries as the vernacular (and romantic) version of "dhrupad" (the oldest extant vocal religious and aristocratic style). Both the sitar and the tabla were probably introduced (in the 18th century) to complement khayal singing. Miyan Tansen, who lived at the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar in the 16th century, is credited with codifying Hindustani (north Indian) vocal music, notably the dhrupad style that he learned from his teacher Swami Haridas. He composed the Darbari Kanada, Miyan ki Todi, Miyan ki Malhar and Miyan ki Sarang ragas. Among the greatest Hindustani vocalists before the partition of India and Pakistan were Bade Ghulam Ali Khan from Punjab and Amir Khan from north-central India. The greatest interpreters of "khayal" documented on record were probably the Pakistani brothers Nazakat Ali Khan and Salamat Ali Khan, who debuted in 1941.
A number of musical schools ("gharanas") developed in North India (Hindustan). The Patiala Gharana of Punjab has been one of the most influential schools (Ali Bux in the early 20th century, his son Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, and, in the 1990s, Rashid Khan). In the early decades of the 20th century Abdul Karim Khan created the Kirana gharana, while Alladiya Khan created the Atrauli-Jaipur gharana.
The austere, pure Pakistani-born vocalist Pandit Pran Nath, a master of the Kirana style since 1937, moved to the USA in 1970, performing the first morning ragas ever in the USA. His emphasis on perfect intonation and emotional subtlety influenced minimalist composers LaMonte Young and Terry Riley. He only recorded three albums: Earth Groove (1968), containing two traditional ragas, Raga Bhupali Maha Dev and Raga Asavari, Ragas Yaman Kalyan and Punjabi Berva (1972), containing his Raga Yaman Kalyan, Ragas of Morning and Night (1986), containing two 1968 compositions (Raga Darbari and Raga Todi). He also composed Raga Anant Bhairavi (1974), Raga 12-note Bhairavi (1979), Darbar Daoun (1987), and Aba Kee Tayk Hamaree (1989) for voice and string quartet.
Since 1973, the stormy voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan interpreted the hypnotic litanies of Pakistan's "qawwali" (sufi devotional music). His lengthy improvised vocal acrobatics are best represented by the colossal Ni Main Jana Jogi De and Yeh Jo Halka Halka Saroor Hai on The Day The Night The Dawn The Dusk (1991) and by the live performances of Intoxicated Spirit (1996). "Discovered" by Peter Gabriel, Ali popularized the style for the British audience with Shahen-Shah (1989). After the westernized format of Mustt Mustt (1990), basically electronic funk-rock with dub overtones, he delivered the four soaring tours de force of Shahbaaz (1991), accompanied only by droning harmonium and frenzied tablas, the Devotional and Love Songs (1993) with guitar and mandolin juxtaposed to harmonium and tablas, and The Last Prophet (1994), which focused on call-and-response group singing. He died in 1997 at 41, having recorded some 120 albums.
Vocalist Lakshminarayana Shankar has often wasted his talent in light, pop efforts, but at least Pancha Nadai Pallavi (1991), which features three fourths of Shakti, is a dramatic and austere work in the classical tradition.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Indian music has been long associated with religion. The evidences are from some sculptures on the ancient temples and palaces as well as miniature paintings. They all demonstrate a visual record of musical instruments, and the where and how of performance through several thousand years. Besides this, there are many references to music in the Indian epics, such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana and some other stories and religious writings, such as Veda.
There are two main traditions in Indian classical music, both of which have close relationship with their religious beliefs. The Karnatic is from the south and the Hidustani tradition is from the north. Although both of these use the concepts of ragas (the melodic modes) and talas (rhythmic cycles), there are differences existing between these two styles. Northern style, the Hindustani music tradition, employ instruments such as the sitar, sarod, sarangi and tabla, which were greatly influenced by Persia and other elements of Islam for culturally speaking, northern India has been dominated by Islam since the Muslim invasion in the 13th century. The structure of a composition is also different. With less strict composed sections, the music of broad improvisations shows its brilliant virtuosity. It is this unique improvisation style that serves as a tool for the Indians of the north to meditate about the relationship with gods and the universe.
Compared with the north, Karnatic in the south is much more orthodox in its Hindusim tie. The music is built around a great repertoire of pre-composed songs, which were done by the musicians who devoted themselves to their gods centuries ago. Most compositions are vocal music with the parts of solo (either vocal or violin) and accompaniment (mridangam). The role of music is to please the gods; and therefore, music is considered a “personal mode of religious expression”.The melodic pattern of the solo part along with the ancient sacred text either in Sanskrit or Telegu has a superior position to that of other parts. Kritit, a Karnatic form, is an example of this.
Indian music provides the insights of the undivided relationship between music and religions. What religious beliefs serve in these cultures is a way of communication for people to either worship their god(s) or merely meditate their own relationship with the gods. This relationship exists in both sacred and secular music in many different cultures around the world. The study of music, therefore, always needs to be considered from many different facets of human cultures. The relationship between human reality and mysterious power is an illustration of this concept.

Hindustani Music

Hindustani music is based on the raga system. A raga is a melodic scale, consisting of notes from the basic seven known as sa, re, ga, ma pa, dha, and ni. Apart from sa and pa which are constant, the other notes may be in major or minor tone, and this gives rise to innumerable combinations. Ten basic scales or thaats are recognized, and other ragas are considered to have evolved from these. A raga must contain a minimum of five notes.
Depending on the notes included in it, each raga acquires a distinct character. The form of the raga is also determined by the particular pattern of ascent and descent of the notes, which may not be strictly linear. Melody is built up by improvising and elaborating within the given scale. The improvisation is at times rhythm bound and at other times free from any overt rhythm.
Formal compositions (songs or instrumental compositions in a fixed meter) are juxtaposed with the improvised portion. Khyal and Dhrupad are two major types of compositions within the Hindustani genre. Of the two, Dhrupad is an older form and requires rigourous training in rhythm control as well as voice culture. Khyal developed as a more popular alternative as it contains both slow and lively compositions, though it retains its totally classical character.

Carnatic Music

Carnatic music is considered one of the oldest systems of music in the world. Carnatic music is a very complex system of music that requires much thought, both artistically and technically. The basis of Carnatic music is the system of ragas (melodic scales) and talas (rhythmic cycles). There are seven rhythmic cycles and 72 fundamental ragas. All other ragas are considered to have stemmed from these. An elaborate scheme exists for identifying these scales, known as the 72 Melakarta Ragas. Three saint composers of the nineteenth century, Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Shastri, have composed thousands of songs that remain favourites among musicians and audiences. The most important specialty of Karnatic music is its devotional content. The lyrics of the compositions are set entirely against a devotional backdrop. The notes of Carnatic music is "sa-ri-ga-ma-pa-da-ni". These are abbreviations of the real names which are shadjam, rishabham, gandharam. madhyamam, panchamam, dhaivatam and nishadam. Unlike other music systems, every member of the solfege (the swara) may have up to three variants. The exceptions for this are the two notes shadjam and panchamam, which have only one form, and madhyamam, the middle note, which has only two notes. Spiritualism has always been the prominent content of Carnatic music. The beautiful interweaving of the devotional element and aesthetics has made it ethereal and eternal. The basic idea behind compositions has been to see and seek the ultimate reality or God. In fact, it has been said that the easiest way to attain salvation is to sing the greatness of the Almighty.In Hindu mythology, music and God have always been portrayed together. Many deities are assigned their own instruments and are all hailed as music lovers. Lord Siva is believed to be theembodiment of Nada.
Lord Krishna, the foremost of flautists, indicates his musical inclinations byassessing that he is Sama Veda among the Vedas. While Lord Siva is the embodiment of Nada and Tandava (cosmic dance), Goddess Parvati is hailed as the embodiment of Lasya.Goddess Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning is always associated with the Vina (known as Vipanchi). Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth is believed to revel in music while Lord Vishnu, her consort, plays on the percussion. Among the saints, Narada and Tumburu are hailed as Vainika-Gayaka (experts in music and Vina). Nandi, the bull, is the master of Laya. The separate set of demi-Gods like Yaksha, Kinnara and Gandharva are all believed to be proficient in music and musical instruments. In fact, music is known as Gandharva Vidya. Hanuman was proficient in what is called the Hanumad Vina and this is the predecessor of the present day Chitravina.
The growth and development of Carnatic music through the centuries is a testimony to the greatness of the Indian mind. It needs to be taken to the international arena parallel with any other classical form. This can be achieved if we understand it in the right perspective and don't lose it to religion.Carnatic music, the sonic representation of a rich cultural heritage that prevailed in south India, the essence of spirituality evolved out of the heart and brain of the pious ones. The ultimate synonym to salvation and eternity. The Nada Brahma - God incarnated in a sonic form. This website aims at informing, educating and entertaining rasikas, providing them with information regarding various aspects of Carnatic music. Let us contribute to this rich tradition of Carnatic music and make this chain continue. Lets take a pledge to keep the flame bright for the future.

Indian Film Music

Though popular film music is not entirely synonymous with Hindi film music, Hindi films are usually seen as adequately constituting the "essence' of commercial Indian cinema. Since the early 1930s, there have been few Hindi films without songs, and only the so- called art cinema, the advent of which was perhaps marked by Shyam Benegal's Ankur ("The Seedling", 1975), has shown a disdain for this most marked feature of the Hindi film. A number of characteristics of Hindi film music and song compel attention. First, Hindi film music has borrowed unabashedly from all known styles and genres of music, and much like Indian culture as a whole, refuses to acknowledge the bankrupt concept of "copyright". Everything is, to put it colloquially, fair game: thus the borrowings are not only from Indian classical, folk, and devotional music, but also from Japanese music (as in the film "Love in Tokyo") and Persian music, and from Western music. Hindi film music is often set to large, Western-style orchestras; in many Hindi films until recently, there was a set piece in which the hero played, before a large and distinguished gathering, in which his fiancee as well as the vamp were present, the piano. But the hero in the Hindi film plays the piano no more than he sings: indeed, songs are sung by what are termed playback singers. Thus the hero and heroines (the villains are seldom given that honor) appear to sing, but the long history of Indian cinema has known only a few dozen singing voices.
Among the most well-known male playback singers have been K. L. Saigal, Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh, and Manna Dey; among the women, the two dominant voices have been of Lata Mangeshkar and her sister Asha Bhosle. Lata, as she is affectionately known throughout India, has been singing for nearly forty years. Along with her sister Asha she is listed in the Guinness Book of Records for having recorded more songs than anyone else. Some of the songs are sung as duets, with male and female voices alternating. T he song in this selection is entitled Is Moe Se Jaate Hain ("From this turn [of the road] we leave"), and is taken from the film Aandhi ("Storm"): Lata is accompanied here by Kishore Kumar.


The predominant theme of bhajans or devotional lyrics, which are often set to music, is the love of man for God, which is represented in the form of woman's love for man, and most particularly as the love of Radha for Krishna, a perennial theme of much of Indian painting, music, poetry, and folk art. Mirabai, a sixteenth-century saint and poet, became "mad" by virtue of her love for Krishna, and she speaks in her compositions of having to abandon this world. Bhakti literature shows a disdain for the conventional pieties and forms of Sanskrit literature, and bhakti poets advocated direct communion with God, having little use for the priestly brahmin class, or for other forms of institutionalized religion. Bhakti poets wrote in the vernacular tongues, but not only in an attempt to acquire a large following, for they thought of Sanskrit as a stagnant language. Another bhakti poet, Kabir, a weaver by birth, mocked the pretensions of both Hindus and Muslims, and described the adherents of both religions as bound by superstitions. He is known for having written in ulti-bhasa, the upside-down tongue, which is also to say that he thought of the world as an upside-down and peculiar place, where the innocent must struggle and the wicked prosper.
The lyrics in the selection are by Kabir; the musical composition is by Srinivas Khale, and the bhajan, entitled "Ye Tanu Mundana be Mundna", is sung by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, one of the greatest exponents of Hindustani music. Born on 4 February 1922 in the Dharwad district of what is now Maharashtra, Bhimsen Joshi received his training at the hands of Sawai Gandharwa, himself the most brilliant disciple of Abdul Karim Khan, who founded the Kirana gharana. His professional career has spanned nearly five decades.