Archives for the month of: October, 2021

Since childhood we had a very spireitual and mystical atmosphere at home. My father devoted the mornings to meditation and prayer. His Isht Dev ( principal deity for worship) was the lord Vishnu, revered in India and Hinduism as being one of the trinity of creator sustainer and terminator at the end of a cycle. He is also regarded as one who reincarnates from time to time when the equilibrium in creation is disturbed and anarchic and evil forces begin to overun the world. He therefore descends as a saviour on the material plane and some primary examples are Rama, Krishna and the Buddha.

Sometimes we would join him in the prayer room to hear passeges from the Tulsi Ramayan, the great poetic masterpiece of the epic of Rama’s life and deeds, which he explained with great fervour. He was a philosopher and mystic and author of books like  Introspections onthe Gita and essays on the Upanishads. In other words well versed in the scriptures, the Vedas, Upanishads Puranas epics and and Hindu mythology. And he would often launch into spiritual lectures on the nature of Atma (the soul) and paramatma (the supersoul or God).

The room housed a special alter. An exquisitely carved wooden temple about three feet high which housed a statue about a foot and half of solid silver. Its dress of brochades would be lovingly changed each day and perfumes applied to this beloved statue. He also got a solid gold crown made which sat on its head adding to its beauty and workmanship.

Silver statue of lord Vishnu

We learnt later that the statue had been commissioned by him in Baroda entrusted to the finest silver sculptor and craftsman. When ready its Pran Prathishta (holy consecration) was undertaken there at a special event with numerous pundits through a Haven, sacrificial fire, where my parents sat together ‘to bring the spirit of the lord to descend into the statue’. This prayer is a must at all temples before a Deity is installed there for prayer. As kids we were also briefly required to attend the Puja, ritual prayer in accordance with the scriptures.

The holy consecration of the statue. we kids in the right corner witnessing the awesome event

This fervour on the part of my father had an origin. When he was a kid on one occasion he had a vision of bright circular light in which he descerned a bluish form which he later felt was that of Vishnu. Later in life he therefore arranged to bring the deity of the vision home. When the beautifully crafted statue, a work of art, arrived he was amazed to find that it appeared quite like his vision. after that he was inseperable from it.

close up of head of Vishnu statue

A likeness of the vision he retained in a painting from the famed Gita Press, which is below.

They say in Hindu traditions that God craves our love more than we his grace and blessings. The most important attribute of prayer is not seeking his protection or demanding any favours  but feeling a deep love for Him as the saints Meera Tulsi Sur Kabir Nanak Raidas Bule shah Shahbaz kalandar Rumi Yahya Teresa Joan of Arc Francis of Assisi. Their distinguishing feature was not only prayer  compassion faith and theological investigation but above all communion through pure unadulterated LOVE through service poetry song and dance.

When even an ordinary person, no saint, expresses devotion and love without any other purpose there can come a response which is unexpected and amazing.

This response to your love can come suddenly, like my father’s vision for a sincere motherless child who cared deeply, or in curing the incurable and miracles of sight, restoration of vision lost, movement for the parapelegic or paralytic, restoration of speach for the dumb, great works of art and science and you name it. Miracles are well known but not so well known that it flows from your undemanding love and His urgent response because He is after all the greatest lover. Witness his impeccable Creation, not just life and our Earth but the grand universe in all its majesty. An act of unimaginable love.

Other displays of his love come in Christ on the cross -”forgive them for they know not what they do” or the force that gave prophet Mohammad the revelation of the Holy Quran, or Krishna’s sermon to Arjun his friend and love, on the nature of Himself His creation and the secrets of the nature of the soul, or the Buddha’s sermons on  how to overcome suffering or through saints for relieving suffering  and caring for the dying and disabled or even for ways to create awareness of the environment in which we live and pollute, for helping us advance in sciences to relieve our incapacities and ailments, to, in a word, enjoy his creation – all out of sheer love which we all need to respond to in some way. I wonder who has not seen the extent of such array of miracles and bothered to attribute it to his love, let alone our response to it

Shri Rama

Hindustani devotional music is based on Ragas and shares many elements with it. Those which create a participation with the audience or congregation rather than being a solo performance are called Kirtans or Dhuns. They are  simple unlike Bhajans which allow the presentation of a great poetic creation by sages saints and artists in song and music. The Kirtan just picks up one or two phrases in praise of the avatars or the supersoul (Param atma) and through a repetitive chant seeks to arouse ones spiritual emotions to levels of ecstacy and communion. Another feature of the kirtan is the echoing repetition of the leading chant by the congregation or audience following the master or Guru. This dual rendering adds volume richness and fervour to the chant creating a mesmerising effect. Kirtans are sung in temples before the diety on festivals and even without one, at village gatherings, and in urban areas by religious organisations for the devout. Often the mystical mood of communion is enhanced by singing the chant in a Raga which empowers the event with divine emotions and fervour.

It is quite interesting how this form of devotional music has travelled to the West. Today a modified version of the Kirtan with phrases in praise of Rama and Krishna has become popular in the English speaking world. A prime example is the HAREKRISHNA movement started by the sage Prabhupad. their signature Kirtan is Hare krishna Hare rama, rama rama krishna kreishna These sessions arouse a great devotional ardour in communion and worship even when the audience is not Hindu. A prime example is that of a pioneer who has adopted the name Krishna Das. He is a Jewish resident of long Island who happened to travel to India and was deeply influenced by An indian Guru. The Guru asked him to return home which finally he did reluctantly. Then to overcome his failings and addictions when in deep depression he sought to seek solace in Kirtans and found relief. Following this he began composing Kirtans which became popular on the media with a growing following. Some of his works earned him a nomination for the grammy awards. and today he is a celebrity and leading light in Kirtan presentations and participations.

When i posted an essay on the Classical North Indian Raga system of music which is often etherial and having to do with communion, I was asked if kirtans were in any way related to this traditional musical system. I replied in the affirmative. Because of this growing esoteric devotional growth of Kirtans in the West I thought I should present an album which in my view epitomises the spirit of the kirtan and helps in understanding why it has this amazing captivating quality which carries you to ethereal and mystical heights of communion. I was so deeply moved by it framed in Ragas and hypnotic praise of the Godhead that i felt compelled to share it with those who had been effected by the concept of kirtan in finding solace and communion of a rare intensity. Like all kirtan music it seeks to praise the great Avatars  and seek ecstatic communion with them . This album is sung by the great musical masters of Hindustani classical music which greatly enriches the experience with their sonorous voice and technique. I hope all in the East and West will find something extraordinary in it both for the Raga music, the chants and the fact that it seems to move our very souls in participation and worship.

This is being shared from YouTube This melodic theme is in raga Jhinjoti, a famous melodic structure that takes you immediately into communion. Some listeners have been moved to tears by its emotional power of love for the absolute.

The celebrated legend TANSEN one of emperor Akbar’s 9 jewels the vocal singer of Hindustani classical music in his court in the 16th century.

INTRODUCTION

From my teens onwards forms of classical Hindustani music have had a unique influence on my mind, emotions and spirituality.  It began with bhajans which transported me to heights i didnt fully understand as a boy. When later i heard classical Hindustani music both instrumental and vocal, it seemed to have an even enhanced effect. Notes or Swaras sung professionally, particularly the long pauses on a single note would have a transporting effect even greater than a bhajan composition. I then realised that the frequency of a single note alone had such a unique power to infiltrate your very being. Later when heard the progression of notes in a scale or sargam (7 notes of the scale) i thought i had stumbled on a gold mine. Each was captivating, different, meaningful in its own way and effected me touching parts of me that i had never discovered or thought about. Later when I heard a classical rendering of the interplay of notes in a concert where a raga was being expounded I felt quite overwhelmed because if the persistance on a single musical note could be so endearing how much more would be their progression or combination. I was so to speak floored. It was then that i realised the strenghth and potency of India’s great incomparable music traditions that had percolated every aspect of our beings from folk songs to prayer, reciting of mantras to joyous dance music and the intonations of Om in prayer, devotional songs for communicating with the great superspirit, In a word the ultimate in mystical experience. These magical notes of music that make you fall in love, sooth you in longing, give peace and tranquility, help you in grief, raise your spirit to unbelievable heights. this magic of the Swara and their progression, and finally their interactions in amazing miraculous combinations producing melodies, exquisite art and soul stirring elevations to heights you never imagined where you could weep love have hair raised to their ends feel sublime communion or wonder at the possibilities that nature and its sounds could engender.

Kushiki Chakravarti a rising star of hindustani classical vocal music with outstanding performances in Khayal Thumri and bhajans etc

In Indian interpretations of the act of creation Sound rather than Light was the primary source of creation. Thus the resonating Om that filled the universe with its sonic presence and the rest followed.

No surprise how tones (notes) Swaras have an individual  primal significance of their own. when they are weaved into a melodic theme it therefore becomes the ultimate ecstacy.

Another great exponent of Hindustani classical vocal music PARVEEN SULTANA

Indian classical music traditions were conceived at the dawn of civilization. The great Rishis and sages the pristine philosophers of this culture who contemplated meditated and found essential truths of Being in all its aspects, writing profound intuitive understanding of Truth through scriptures and treatises arriving to enlighten us to this day, also discovered the essence of Sound as a primal element in creation. Dwelling on this they formulated a complex musical system which was no less than the words of their great poetry and prose on the nature of being and spirit. They related this discovery to the rest of their findings and thus arose the great classical traditions of Indian music carrying forward from century to century to the present day. it is remarkable how detailed their research and creativity must have been to produce such a grand tradition of music. no less than their equally profound interpretation of the solar system and the universe around us, through the other science of astrology. all related to our material existence and its relationship with the spiritual and metaphysical world, in a word with god, the creator.

A legend of Instrumental classical hindustani music

UNITED KINGDOM – FEBRUARY 12: BBC STUDIO Photo of late Ravi SHANKAR, playing sitar, performing on ‘In Concert’ BBC TV show (Photo by Tony Russell/Redferns) Great master of the Sitar

I feel strongly that in India it is not just scriptures and prayer or worship and ritual that carry you to spiritual understanding and heights of piety but Sound, Music and its vehicles like Bhajans,  Ragas, Khayals, Thumris Kavallis, Nats even Ghajals,folk songs and for the commonest, Bollywood creations by great musical composers that transport us from the mundane to the etheral in our daily lives. Music gives us communion both with each other on this plane and with much more on other planes.

With this rather emotional prelude i would like to dare to unravel for the layman the genius of our classical musical traditions. In this i am greatly handicapped for neither being a musician nor some one with great knowledge of this intricate and complex system beyond confessing that it has deeply effected every aspect of my life and overwhelmed me with its power and beauty.

I really don’t know how to begin or where to begin. It is presumptuous to even try. But what has been so overpowering through my life I need to share the best i can.

SWARAS

Basically one must realise that sound has to be of a certain frequency to be within the range of human hearing. A musical note, Swara is pleasing to the ear because it is constant, remaining at a given frequency represented in a unit of measure called Hertz or Hz, the cycle in a second. This uniformity in frequency of a sound is a musical note’s characteristic. Any noise is not uniform and its waves are chaotic. That is Basically the distinction between music and noise. Like the colours of a spectrum, VIBGYOR, there are seven notes in both Eastern and western music. The seven musical notes constitute a scale. most of us are familiar with the SARGAM , Sa Re Ga ma Pa Dha Ni .

SAPTAK

In music the range of human hearing allows ten Octaves of eight notes each. The second octave is considered the most common one for singing and playing music. In the west it is called the C Major Key. In India it is called the Madhya saptak.  It denotes the Middle voice Register or the medium pitch The one below is of lower frequency and is called the Mandra saptak, whereas the third the highest frequency is called the Taar Saptak. If you sing Sa Re Ga etc from the lower octave you will reach the scond octave Sa and can continue to sing the succeeding six notes as the second Octave till you reach the third Octave Sa and proceed to sing the next six notes together forming the sargam at the third level. Most artists and performers can sing or play with facility in the middle, the madhya saptak(Octave) starting from its Sa to its Ni for starters.But depending on their individual ‘PITCH’ ( ability to sing higher or lower, depending on the capacity of their vocal chords) they could either go into the next Octave to some extent, or go down into the lower Octave to the extent they can. which means that they can move from  the middle and on to the the higher octave or stray into the lower, depending on their pitch ability.

The frequency of a note in the first of our octaves is half that of the same note in the next octave. in short the Madhya Saptak notes are double of their counterparts in the Madra saptak and the corresponding notes in the next  or third saptak are double in frequency to that of the preceeding madhya saptak. The pitch of the notes rises as we move from one saptak to the next. Thus in the first the sound is deep or low , in the second it is medium or natural and in the last it is a high pitch.

The scale in an Octave need not be restricted to seven notes or swaras but include the seven main pitches plus five more half way between two main frequencies. This is because while two notes, Sa and Pa, are constant (called shudha), not capable of variation the others are variable. So Re (the second note) Ga (third note) Dha ( the sixth note) and ni (the seventh note have subnotes just before them (lower), These frequencies between the preceding and the following, are called Komal or soft notes of the one following them. in the west this Komal is called FLAT. It is neither like the following shuddha or Natural, nor like the preceding shuddha but in between in frequency and sound effect. Now we are left with Ma the forth swara(note). here there is a slight twist. It has no preceeding seminote but instead has a higher seminote and that is called Tivra or in the West as SHARP. Its Hz is higher than that of the natural shuddha Ma.

The reasons why i am going into these apparently unneccesary details is that NOW we do not have merely 7 notes or swaras in an octave but with 4 additional FLATS and 1 additional SHARP, the total adds up to 7 shuddha, 4 komals, and 1 Tivra, making a total of 12 shrutis or seminotes rather than only 7 full notes or swaras!! Each octave therefore becomes a 12 seminote octave or  a 7 full tone octave whichever way you would like to look at it. This is so both for indian and Western music. But Hindustani classical music goes further in exploring tonal variations. It holds that there are actually not 12 but 22 variations with additional subtle barely audible frequencies interspersed between notes. We can ignore this refinement as too subtle for the ordinary music lover. but that is not so for the maestros whose ability surpasses even our desire to appreciate nuances.

Indian music is basically melodic with unbelievable variations and improvisations. Let me explain.

THE THAAT

Basically the backbone of indian Classical music is the concept of the Raga. but before we examine that let us see what are the structural basis of the Ragas. We have seen that there are initially 7 swaras or notes in three octaves, but the variations of sound in practice give us 12, flat and sharp or Komal and Tivra, adding up to 12 for each octave. Two Shuddha swaras are unchangable The Tonal Sa with which the artist begins and ends and the Pa which demarcates the two sections of the Sargam The other 5 Shuddha swaras can variate by being preceded by a Flat or komal note at lower resonance. This addition of 5 more swaras or notes enriches music beyond our conception as lay people. I have always been intrigued when the komals and the tivra notes are heard because it takes us at a tangent we did not expect both surprising and elevating the musical experience. While we are quite familiar with the natural, Shuddha notes  of the sargam we are not with the additional 5. Its like an artist familiar with 7 colours but is he conversant with the  colour between say BLUE and GREEN? OR YELLOW AND ORANGE? OR EVEN MORE SUBTLE BETWEEN VIOLET AND bLUE. Most artists are, which makes them artists. same is the case with indian classical celebrities. they have an ear so fine tuned from practice and training that a so called music lover would be more or less DEAF to, no matter his love and understanding of music. Ok so the indian system allows 22 shrutis against the 12 of the West and also the normal indian performer. But the genius of some performer would have a different  story to tell because he utilizes all the 22 Shrutis in his rendering at concert when his art impels him to to touch not merely 7 of the novice or 12 of those more advanced. If you can hear the 22 in a concert you are a real music lover who knows, if not it is sufficient for your enjoyment to be confined to 12 and if not that even then best to confine yourself to 7, no harm done to your aesthetics or enjoyment of the concert.

Now let us move deeper in unravelling the basic structures before we move on finally to Ragas. Ragas are the product of the genius of abcient Indian culture and civilization. Muysical notes were combined in such a way as to reflect every emotion from love to yearning, prayer to communion, pathos to consolation, joy to exhiliration, sorrow to comforting, appreciation to understanding, meditation to enlightenment; merely on the basis of weaving a tapestry of sounds. The ragas have a hypnotic effect on all audiences transporting them in several ways from their mundane existence to another realm of being. and artists rendering them are to be revered for practicing a difficult discipline 5 hours a day for at least 20 years before their very souls participate in the exercise. The audience becomes fortunate in sharing the artists inner attainments and experience of moods, emotions, feelings and metaphysical growth which seek to take him where the artists aesthetic and spiritual journey the Ragas have managed to take him. That is a gift from the artist to a lover of music.

In the west there are what are called MODES. These are a progression of selected notes that form a skeleton on which you can build a musical theme. It is similar to concepts in Indian music (classical north indian). Essentially North indian Classical music dwells on notes or Swaras which have the power to captivate or mesmerise you with their resonance. Every Swara has to be respected for the different effect it has on your psyche. And let me tell you they all have. Each note like colours of a spectrum effects you deeply in one way or another. That is even before they are applied to a grand master’s painting. Each color, every note is  a masterpiece of the creators imagination.  When you mix colors and apply them then as an artist you contribute your genius to the one provided by the creator.

The great value of a note or swara must be fully understood through your innate aethetics. and skills of appreciation. The great sages of yore in India understood this and devised combinations as eternal musical ‘PARENT melodies. These are called THAATS. Simply put, they are  musical combinations of notes which create a special flavour or ambience, whether emotional seasonal or metaphysical which will stand for all time.  Each Swara combination in my view is something as fundamental as our numerous emotions and feelings.

There are`10 THAATS with the 7 swaras or 7 of the 12 shrutis, however you like to describe them, combining them in a manner to create a primal mood, of pathos, celebration. communion ,love, longing, detachment, exhilaration, prayer etc These were to be the fundamental Swara/Shruti combinations to evoke modes and emotions and not unlike meditation practices to elevate your spirit. A Thaat selected 7 notes from the  12 semitones. We find when observing the Thaats that in the selection of seven notes they selected some pure natural or full notes, some Komal or flat rather than the full one and some Tivra or sharp in a unique combination of the seven to produce a specific mood or melodic pattern, on which the Raagas will eventually be based though not confined, because unlike the Thaat they have the liberty to omit one or two notes in ascent and descent. Let us hear them:

These pristine structures were provided as a guide, formula or parent source and pattern for further developments of creative efforts.  Basically the 10 are the source of most Ragas. Their structure has 7 swaras each either shuddha (natural or full) Komal (flat or soft) and tivra ( sharp or higher semitone) arranged in succession like a sargam but only in ascending order to capture a mood a flavour or emotion. The Thaat is never sung but reamains there to inspire the production of ragas that carry its essential spirit and ambience to further depths. The ragas inspired by the source are then created to make the Thaats blossom into great musical creations based on those guiding musical alphabets.

THE RAGAS

Now we come to the backbone of Indian classical music – the musical themes that evolved from these parental scales, the RAGAS. The alphabets of the Ragas to weave complex melodies from these basic themes. Basically a Raga chooses some or all of the notes of a Thaat but rearranges its sequence in ascending and desending order. A Raga should not have less than 5 notes in ascent or descent and should not exceed 7 notes, further the Ma and Pa caannot be both omitted.

THE DRONE- TANPURA

A word about an essential accompanying instrument – the Tanpura. This is a drone with four strings that remind the artist of the tonal Sa his starting point in the middle octave, the Pa of the lower octave and the Sa of the higher octave. The strumming of the four helps the artist to remain at the right pitch and not get tonally derailed so to speak. The strumming of the four notes also creates an essential atmosphere before the Raga commences and after it terminates.  to give an analogy, If the raga is the life journey of a person from exploratory infancy to a more regulated faster pace and finally a frenzy of activity, then the Tanpuras drone is like the hum of the universe in the background.

The first stage is selection of notes 5 6  or 7 in number , in ascending order, ‘Aroha’ starting with the tonic Sa reaching the Sa of the higher Octave and like wise 5 6 or 7  in descending order ‘Avroh’ from the Sa of the higher Octave to the tonic Sa. to produce basic melodic patterns.

Other features of a Raga that make it distinct from a mere scale  reflecting the soul of the Raga, are the given Vadi and Samvadi notes. The vadi has to be emphasised by frequent repetition in improvising the notes of a Raga and the Samvadi is the next constant though with lesser emphasis. The Raga thus gets an additional identity or colour when the artists compositions build these two notes into its fabric colouring the melodic composition further with their repeated resonance.

Now in the specific Raga structure we have either all natural  notes in ascent or descent, or variations replacing a Natural note with either flat or  Sharp (only in the case of a Ma), or one or two missing notes in ascent and descent. Each change in the patterns of different Ragas  based on its particular  Parent scale (except that the parent scale has no notes missing) gives the Raga a melodic theme which is unique and effects the listener differently providing varied emotional reactions. 

for those wishing an illustration in Hindi:

For those wishing an illustration in english:

  Raga rules can also emphasize certain notes by requiring them to be prolonged or elongated. Conversely a Raga may only require the artist to barely touch certain notes thereby de-emphasizing them. This is called deergh (long) and alpa (short). Another raga rule provides for phrases to end on certain notes rather than others. This produces its own effect in providing the Raga with its unique characteristic. This is called Nyasa the ‘landing note’.

ORNAMENTATION OF A RAGA

There are several ornamentations to make the Raga more beautiful and able to express emotions. Thus we find a gliding effect between two notes called a meedh. many vocalists and instrumentalists extend a note to continuously proceed or glide to the next which gives the melody a special beauty. There are several other ornamentations which make the ragas more appealing and endearing which we cannot go into here. When you hear meastros like Ravi shanker and Ali akbar you find them using these techniques which make the listener quite ecstatic. Note this when hearing their performances shown at the end. 

The rendering of a raga  does not confine to dwelling on the notes or swaras but also singing them or playing them without words or poetic phrases but actually engaging in naming notes as one improvises them – a full mastery of knowledge of notes utilised either by just singing them -aa aa up and down, or by naming them in melodic succession  – Do re so la si me pha so la ri ma pha  etc. an amazing display of virtuosity and understanding of notes in the raga scale!!

THE ALAP (PRELUDE)

 With a full grasp of all these features of a particular Raga The artist then begins an alap or slow movement touching the permitted notes in ascent and descent. The aim is to feel and examine each note in full measure, its resonance and timbre.  the exploration of a raga by the artist begins with slow movements of an Alap without any percussion instrument. Whether vocal or instrumental the Alap helps the artist to get the feel of each note individually in the Raga. this is done by prolonging the note  or notes with pauses on each to immerse himself in its particular resonance and sound. Each note that i hear in a concert in alap mesmerises me for its quality of resonance its pitch and the feelings it stirs within me. Each note is a different experience in itself and evokes different feelings even before it has been spun into a ragas musical melody. That indeed is the quality and capability of a musical note as opposed to just sound as noise.  The artist at alap stage is like a child who for the first time is experiencing different audio visual  interactions and learning about the world around him. so also the artist begins to familiarise himself with the environment of notes of a Raga. The raga is actually like a person he seeks to get to know intimately.

If one note can produce such responses  and stir emotions you can imagine what two in succsession will do and what the totality of a range of specific notes in ascent and desenct can, to arouse in you all manner of feelings and emotions which you cannot even comprehend fully or name. As the notes explored seep into the artists being and mind and their corelationship his mind begins to combine them in patterns that arise from his creativity, thought and emotion. To give you an example -when i hear a shuddha or complete and natural note followed by an unexpected flat or komal succeeding note it carries me to a different plane. While i am familiar with the shuddh or full note, that following seminote has a strange unfamiliar magic to modify or change my particular emotion produced by the familiar note of the octave. For instance i am familiar with the scale which is all natural 7 notes with no variations – i have heard it over and over again since childhood. But when suddenly that sequence produces a flat or sharp note in the melody it is transforming as if instead of looking at a beautiful desert landscape suddenly i find a waterfall at its end. dont know how to explain this further. When the Raga unfolds fully in ascent and descent with its surprising modifications or variations in notes, and even more when one or more note is absent the whole picture of my emotions changes completely to another level even more enthralling.  It is like meeting a person with certain characteristics but devoid of other basic ones. and that totally changes the nature of a person you may encounter.

That is the magic of the Raga system. Omission of notes from the 7swaras or modifications of same notes into Komal and Tivra in the melodic pattern produce breath taking effects – that is the magic of sound and melody. In Hindustani music these melodic combinations can prodce feelings of the onset of spring or monsoons, prayer and meditation on the absolute, love, yearning and pathos at seperation, learning the truth of existence, communion with a beloved godhead (Meera bhajans) praise and appreciation of the creator’s and His Avatar’s qualities. In some khayals (Vocal classical) the artist pauses over the word Rama for instance giving it an extended prolonged mesmerising note and variating it for as long as 5 minutes till the full aspect of the avatar can shine before you.

As the artist continues beyond the alap (prelude) stage he reaches a faster pace  introducing some element of tempo (laya) even without a percussion instrument or Tal. This stage is called Jod. The next stage is Taan or fast tempo conclusion of the Alap. Next comes the Bandish.  For vocal music it is a literary composition or bol sung as a part of the Raga.

 The raga is not merely a singing of a melody in ascent and descent in fixed progression but superimposed are couplets, like:” Shyam  Bhaye Ghansyam na Aa ye mere dwar”

Krishna the dark one has not come to my door though it is dark, a plaintive love lorn Radha says for her beloved. Love and spirituality combine in one to find union with the supersoul. The singer artist dwells on the word Shyam (evening dark like Krishna the playful romantic Avatar) during the Raga rendering with several enthralling melodic patterns till we know that Shyam can be  expressed in the variations of a note. the same phrase is repeated again and again in permutations and combinations of the melody with given rules of the ragas ascending and descending order till we are fully absorbed by the poetry and  melody so combined as to produce an ecstatic effect. These Bols or verbal short sentences are suprerimposed on many Ragas to add meaning and particular emotion to the play of a Ragas melody.

From the basic Melodic theme of a Raga derived from a mode or Thaata, arise not just one melody created by the ascent and descent of prescribed raga notes  but related innumerable melodies in the duration of a performance. Not one basic melody that defines a Raga but numerous melodies and variations with the supreme improvisations that an artist is capable of. That is the magic of the Raga system. Creativity and improvisation on the spur of the moment produce such melodic composisions that composers of written music may not be able to do with their fixed great compositions. These amazing creations in music reamain lost to posterity because the  indian classical tradition does not record or know how to write down compositions like their wester conterparts. the music flows and is finally lost. But the compositions of the ancients remain in the Ragas  structures forever.

Back to the concept of Bandish. When the artist has explored the swaras of a raga thoroughly in the first section of the alap called vistir and increased the pace (laya) between them in the second stage the Jod of the alap he further increases the laya pace or tempo till the the Alap finally concludes at the stage called a taan.

BANDISH

Then is introduced the literature or poetic phrases at the next stage the Bandish (binding together). Now the raga has three elements. bound together, the swaras or notes/tones, the pada or bol, the phrases which reflect a mood inherent in the raga, and the Tal or rhythm of the percussion accompanying instrument the tabla etc. This too has three layas or tempos, the slow, vilambit, medium, madhya laya and the fast drut. Together the three elements in perfect synch reflect the very soul of the raga, the musical, the literary and the beat.

TAALS

A word on the Tals. briefly they include 16 beats the popular teen tal, the 12 beats the ek tal and the 10 beats the jhaptal. there may be others but for our understanding of rhythm this should suffice as an illustration.

The great tabla exponent Allah Rakha Khan and his disciple and son Zakir Hussain

the late Allah Rakha, the genius Tabla meastro.

ZAKIR HUSSAIN  his equally celebrated son

LAYA

We thus find that without a percussion accompaniment the artist can introduce faster tempos(Layas) as in the exploratory alap stage and later as the pace increases and the percussion joins him  he has now to improvise within the beat chosen (Tala). (The Laya is the tempo without percussion instruments while the Tal introduces stricter rhythms for the vocalist or the instrumentalist at a final stage of the rendering of a raga.)

Further his verbal poetic phrases have also to fit into that beat. He has to keep in mind the ragas structure in ascent and descent, notes prohibited, notes Flat or Sharp the Vadi and samvadi notes to be emphasized, the notes where he should land at the end of a melodic structure, and of course the pitch of the Sa in the relevant octave where the entire exercise begins. (here the Tanpura’s role becomes important) Aside from his creativity and genius in improvising within all these multyple elements of Notes, raga rules, pace (Laya) and poetic phrases structured within the confines of the Tal,(beats of different dimensions at different stages) all in perfect sync  to produce the totality of the personality of the raga. This supreme conclusive effort arrives at the stage of the Bandish.

in instrumental rendering of a Raga the only missing element in the Bandhish is the poetic phrase. There the fast paced complex Bandish with Bol is substituted by the Jhalla and finally the Gat, whereas in the vocal it concludes with the fastest, the Drut.

With all these varied features  Ragas are classified based on the number of notes in ascent and desent, (Jati) the Thaat they belong to, their origin from other ragas (family) mixed ragas etc.

We have dwelt a great deal on theory structure and the discipline of Raga music. Now we need to see a raga in practive through a live performance.

EAMPLES OF RAGA PERFORMANCE BY GREAT MASTERS

RAVI SHANKER

First one of the greatest musicians India has produced who performed his last recital at age 92 with oxygen tubes in his nostrils. Pundit Ravi Shanker with his ethereal music and divine improvisations.

KUAUSHIKI CHAKRAVARTI

Second a vocal rendering of a thumri, a lighter form of a raga which however reflects its essence. This is an outstanding performance by the much awarded Kaushiki chakravarti in Mishra Mand a mixed raga with the Pad or bol  full of Pathos: ”You have become heartless my love, someone go and appease him, one who didnt understand my worth, my love the heartless one” said in a hundred different melodic ways playing with notes full or Flat and Sharp and eventully natural fixed perfectly within the different beat structures and naming the notes of which the melodies improvised are so perfectly set.

 AMJAD ALI KHAN- SAROD

Next an instrumental rendering of a Raga by the Master of Sarod music

DEVAKI PUNDIT- VOCALIST

Yet another vocalist the rising star Devaki Pundit gives you a glimpse of all stages of a Raga in her immaculate voice and brilliant improvisation.

USTAD BISMILLAH KHAN

We turn to a rare wind instrument always heard at festive occasions and marriages. Late Bismillah khan shows his genius at rendering plaintive Ragas at London

USTAD ALI AKBAR KHAN- SAROD

There is star of Hindustani classical instrumental music that will never set. His genius is now acknowledged as incomparable.  The Sarod meastro late Ali akbar Khan.

THUS WE CONCLUDE OUR PANORAMIC TOUR OF HINDUSTANI CLASSICAL MUSIC.

LOVE IS THE ONLY HEALER

IF AT FIRST IT DOESN'T SUCCEED, INCREASE THE DOSE

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