Bharatmuni’s NatyaShastra is the main scripture on which the entire edifies of Indian classical music is based. It is said to have been written before 200 BC.
Indian classical music is not entirely different from its western counterpart. The devotional music in the west was the ‘Gregorian chants’ and we had our ‘Vedic hymns’. Both have 3 repetitive notes. From natural sounds to chants the evolution began. From chants came the Indian classical form of singing.
The raaga or raag is a melodic mode created by using five to nine musical notes from the twelve basic notes of an octaves. Similar or contrasting notes are mixed and matched to create a raaga. The possibilities of mixing and matching are endless. It is estimated that at a time Indian classical music had over 300 raagas. Over the centuries, Indian classical music has undergone many changes. While some ‘raagas’ may have sounded different at some point, many have been lost to time.
One of the reasons for this loss is that Indian classical music is an oral tradition. It should remain an oral tradition but we have to document and archive it to prevent any further loss.
I happened to meet renowned musicologist Meena Banerjee at a classical music concert in Delhi and immediately asked her for an interaction about the evolution and scientific nature of Indian classical music. On a chilly morning over breakfast she shared her knowledge.
Are ‘Raagas’ time based?
In Sanskrit, a day is divided into 8 segments or ‘Astha Prahar’, beginning with the ‘Brahmamuhrat’ at 4 O’clock in the morning. This is the time when nature, birds and animals awake to feel the light even before the sun rises. Probably even humans had some capability like them in the ancient era and were in sync with nature.
Indian classical music is based on science and nature. The morning and evening ‘raagas’ are similar but the difference lies in the treatment. It is perceived that a particular ‘raaga’ tends to peak in melody during particular hours of the day. A morning ‘raaga’ is about awakening, not only from physical slumber but mental too. ‘Raaga Bhairav’ is an example. The extensive melodic and rhythmic range which allows various moods to be captured make the evening ‘raagas’ most popular like ‘Raaga Yaman’.
This connection of time of day or night is based on the daily cycle of changes that occur in our own body and mind. A human is constantly undergoing subtle changes during different moments of the day leading to arousal or stimulation of different moods and emotions. Every ‘raaga’ is associated with a definite mood or sentiment that nature arouses in human beings.
The evolution of ‘Raags’
Before the evolution of ‘raagas’ there were only three notes. ‘Uddatt’, ‘Anudatt’ and ‘Svarit’. Vedic mantras are still recited in accordance. The three ‘swars’ were made to help memorise these mantras and the typical hand movements for each mantra facilitated the process. When we worship in temples, we sing hymns in different manner throughout the day. From that ‘raagas’ were developed.
This evolution took place around the 11th and 12th century. There was no concept of ‘raaga’ before that. ‘Swars’ were divided into ‘jaatis’ at that time. Devotional music that was played in the temples was known as ‘Gandharva Gaan’ and its extension ‘Marg Sangeet’ showed one the path to spirituality. Folk music was known as ‘Deshi Gaan’ and was meant for entertainment.
Raagas and Taalas
‘Raaga’ is a tool through which the emotions of the song is portrayed. It is the tune for the lyrics of the song. The ‘raaga’ is chosen keeping in mind the meaning and emotion of the song. ‘Taal’ is the rhythm in which the song is usually sung. The flow of the lyrics dictates the ‘taal’. It has various combinations, beats of four, eight, five, seven, permutations and combinations in a cyclic pattern.
Hindustani classical music has traveled far away from the scriptures. Every ‘raaga’ that was made has a science behind it. They have a cosmic connection. Indian classical music is increasingly used to heal people using the artist’s energy matrix. One of them is the famous, ‘Raaga Darbari’. It can help cure insomnia. Even ‘mantras’ are known for possessing a de-stressing effect. ‘Taals’ help in uplifting a mood.
Humans are connected through a web of cosmic energy or vibrations which is utilised by an artist to connect to the audience.