Indian Classical Music - Hindustani

Utsav is altogether a new phenomenon at our campus. Its objective is to highlight various aspects of our inheritage. By now you must have come across various posters, emails about Utsav and I am quoting one of them here:

"...Utsav will feature street theatre and theatre, folk music and classical music, documentary films and feature films, an exhibition of arts and crafts and traditional entertainment( including a juggler, a magician and a puppet show)
. . .
The festival is an attempt to bring various elements of indian culture on one platform. This comes as a response to our changed attitude vis a vis our culture. Today many of us find elements of our culture mysterious and we are getting increasingly distant from it. ... "

We have inherited folk as well as classical forms of music. While folk music forms are generally appreciated, classical forms are considered abstruse if not mysterious. Folk forms are popular. Folk forms appeal even to a person untrained in music. /folk forms are music of the people and, like, languages are, integral part of human civilization. As we can't think of a civilization without any language, we can't have a civilization without any folk form. Like languages, folk forms may change over a period of time but they never die. Classical forms do not enjoy this kind of immortality. While folk forms are natural expression of human beings, classical forms are created by systematizing and expanding these expression. To give you a crude analogy: Observation is a natural process for human beings but it becomes science when it is systematized. Classical forms as well as science grows like a tree in both directions. Like a root, they offer deeper understanding;and provide us with fruits of fresh music and technologies. If you don't nourish a tree and let it die, you would not be able to grow it overnight again. Our classical forms are enriched by the experiments of many geniouses and it would be a great loss if we lose all or a part of it.

It is generally complained that classical forms are abstruse. There is nothing wrong in accepting the fact that classical forms are difficult to grasp for a person untrained in music. However there is an assumption which is seldom verbalized but which is implicit and follows the above complaint tacitly. This assumption is: since the classical forms are abstruse and complainers do not enjoy these forms, they will never be able to enjoy these forms. This assumption can be questioned and with the help of an analogy I will try to convince you that it is not correct.

Human beings can speak while many other animals having capability to utter can not. All of us learn to speak putting some effort without knowing it in most of the cases. Similarly some birds have capability to produce musical notes but don't have capacity to create music. We acquire this like the ability to speak. Music is not merely a collection of notes as speech is not a collection of sounds. Both of these are collection of notes/sounds with some definite expression. Though languages are what people speak, they are by the introduction of script, grammar etc systematized. As a consequence we have richness of expression. This is manifested in classical literature. Similarly any classical form provides script and grammar to music and leads to new and fresh music.

As we grow older, we lose interest in learning. Failure of adult literacy program reflects this partially. Most of us are not taught ( script and grammar of ) music and as we grow older we try to be satisfied with whatever limited and/or crude music we get. To motivate an illiterate to learn to read/write we can do one of the following. Either we tell him/her the usefulness of being literate for survival or we illustrate her/him various beautiful, appealing expressions from classical literature. But to motivate a music illiterate to learn (script and grammar of ) music we have on;y one option. As there is no direct evidence of usefulness of music for survival, the only option left for this purpose is to demonstrate her/him beautiful expressions from classical music. This can be done in various ways. Those who are trained in music can and should do this. T and radio are more potent media for this purpose. Though AIR has been serving as a platform for performers in Indian classical music and has an excellent library of Indian classical music, it did little to motivate people to learn music.

So far I have outlined differences between folk forms and classical forms of music, and reasons for the unpopularity of classical music and the possible remedies. Now I will try to focus on Indian classical music. Think about your favourate song. It may be anything, some folk song, or some song from a film or an album. With little effort you will find that the most influencing factor in the song are the lyrics. The other factors are rythme, harmony and melody. These three words used here are extremely important in present context and it would be appropriate to tell you what I mean by these words. Rythme is the aspect of musical composition concerned with the periodical accent and the duration of notes. Harmony is a combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord progression esp. as having a pleasing effect. Melody is an arrangement of single notes in a musically expressive succession. While Western Classical forms have evolved around harmony, both Indian classical -Hindustani as well as Carnatic, are developed around melody. Though harmony and melody are focused in western and Indian classical forms respectively, rythme by definition is an integral part of both.

If you discount the effects of lyrics and harmony, you will realize that contribution of melody to your favourite song is very little. Melody is a necessary element of music and Indian classical music is built around it. Most of the people are exposed mainly to folk and/or popular music and have very little exposure to Indian Classical music. Since folk and popular music, as your favourite song, contains very little melody, most of the people remain untrained to grasp finer aspect of melody and have not been able to enjoy Indian Classical music.

As I mentioned earlier that classical forms provide script and grammar to music, different classical forms are analogous to different languages. Both Indian classical forms - Hindustani as well as Carnatic, belong to the same family as they expand around melody like two languages from the same families, for example Hindi and Gujrati. Western forms can be grouped into different family as they explore harmony. Analogy to the in languages would be English or German.

Leaving aside other classical forms, I shall discuss Hundustani Classical Music. It must be clear to you by now that it is one of the two forms of Indian Classical Music. All of you must have heard about *rAga*. If I ask you - what is rAga?, it would be difficult for you to answer. In fact it is difficult to define rAga & what all I can do is to provide you with an image of what rAga means.

Consider for a moment these questions. What is colour? And what is red? I request you not to get upset with this diversion. In fact I am attempting to give you an image of rAga with this analogy. The corresponding question which I am trying to resolve are - what is rAga? and what is Yaman? respectively. If we try to answer answer the second question, it will be a part of the answer to the first question. Red is a particular colour & Yaman is a particular rAga. These answers are not as simple as they seem to be at first glance. Consider a linear spectrum of colours arranged in such a manner that frequency of waves is increasing continuously, i.e continuous spectrum from red to violet as in rainbow. These are much less number of colours defined in any language than number of frequencies in colour spectrum. No colour corresponds to a single frequency, rather it corresponds to a band of frequencies. Red is a definite band of frequencies & so is orange. There is a region inbetween these two colours which is neither red nor orange. This region seems to be the mixture of red and orange. If we have to illustrate some colour, say orange, we can choose a frequency such that it lies in the band of that colour, in this case orange and avoid those frequencies which give shades of neighbouring colour, in this case red and yellow. There are many frequencies which can represent a colour and we can choose any of them to demonstrate the colour.

The same is true for rAga. The spectrum whould not be linear as in the case of colour. rAgas would correspond to bands specified in the spectrum and if we have to demonstrate some rAga, we need to pick one element from this band such that purity ( identity ) of the rAga is maintained, i.e. it does not get mixed up with neighbouring rAgas. The band corresponding to a particular rAga, say Yaman, may be further subdivided into several bands corresponding to several gharAnas and we can feel different shades of Yaman corresponding to these gharAnas as we would see different shades of red while picking different frequencies to illustrate red. Sometimes we see mixture of these shades and say that singer's style is partially from this gharana & partially from that gharana. ( Gharanas are different schools of Hindustani classical Music. To name a few- Gwaliar, Jaipur, Patiala, Agra, Atrauli, Kirana, Benaras, Lucknow etc. )

Though I have talked about spectrum for rAgas, I have not described what parameters correspond to the frequency in my analogy. Had I known this, I would have told you the definition of the rAga instead of illustrating it with the help of analogy! Although these parameters are not known, there are some constraints for every rAga & these are:

i) There can not be less than five *swaras* in *Aroha* and *Avaroh* of any rAga.

ii) Sa ( *shadaj* ) is integral part of any rAga.

iii) At least one of the two, Ma ( *madhyam* ) and Pa ( *pancham* ) must be used in every rAga.

iv) There is a *vadi* swara ( the one which is primary center of focus ) and a *samvadi* swara ( the one which is secondary center of focus ) in every rAga

v) It must not be mixed up with other rAgas

vi) It must appeal to people trained in music. ( Actually this is the condition which makes it tough to define rAga )

I will not try to explore Hindustani classical music illustrating various examples. It is impossible to convey music if you do not understand the script of music, i.e. if you do not have impression od swaras in your mind. Even if I tell that Ma is vadi in some particular rAga, you won't be able to comprehend anything as far as this rAga is concerned. Before winding up, I will tell you what these new words mean.

A *swara* is a musical note and correspond to a particular pitch or frequency. *Aroha* is a sequence of swaras in which frequency or pitch of these swaras increases. *Avaroha* is a sequence of swaras in which pitch or frequency of these swaras decreases. *Vadi* swara is the most frequantly used swara in a rAga. *Samvadi* swara is the swara which is used more frequently than any other swara except vadi swara. Vadi and Samvadi swaras along with aroha & avaroha play major role in determining any rAga.

In this article I tried to provide you with better understanding about Indian Classical music. I started with differentiating folk music from classical music and discussed how classical music provides us with grammar of music, the reasons of the popularity of folk music and unpopularity (?) of classical music. Subsequently I explained fundamental difference between western and Indian classical music and tried to figure the reason of the unpopularity of Indian classical music as against popularity of folk music or pop music. In the end I tried to explore a part of the grammar of Hindustani classical music, the rAga.