Music holds a special place in Indian culture, permeating all layers of society. It’s a vibrant and integral art form, and Indian music stands as one of the living musical traditions globally.
Indian music is a prime example of modal music, where the uniqueness of a mode is determined by the specific frequencies of its notes rather than their relationships to a central tonic note. While the tonic note may not always be audibly present, a trained ear can identify the raga by considering the presumed tonic note, showcasing the importance of memory in Indian music.
India’s vastness and diverse landscapes have given rise to distinct regional cultures and musical traditions. The primary division is between the northern Hindi-speaking regions, which follow the Hindustani style, and the southern Dravidian-speaking areas, where the Karnataka (Carnatic) tradition thrives.
These diverse traditions, with their unique lifeways and musical forms, collectively contribute to the rich tapestry of Indian culture, showcasing the country’s cultural diversity and musical heritage.
Indian Classical Music
Indian classical music is a traditional and highly intricate form of music that has deep roots in the cultural and religious history of India. It’s characterised by its complex melodies, intricate rhythms, and deep connection to spirituality.
The origin of ragas in Indian Classical Music is ancient and can be traced back to several sources and historical developments. Ragas have evolved over millennia, shaped by a blend of cultural, regional, and musical influences. Here are some key points regarding the origin of ragas:
- Vedic Roots: The earliest roots of Indian music can be found in the Vedic chants, which date back more than 3,000 years. These chants involved the use of specific melodies (intonations) and rhythms and laid the foundation for later musical developments.
Shiva, one of the principal deities in Hinduism, is traditionally associated with the concept of ragas in Indian classical music. According to Hindu Puran Shastra , Bhagwan Shiva is not only considered the lord of dance (Nataraja) but also a divine musician who plays the cosmic drum (damaru). His divine dance, known as the Tandava, symbolizes the rhythmic and dynamic forces of the universe and Lassya the rhythmic and dynamic forces of creation of the universe .
In the context of ragas and music, Lord Shiva’s association is profound:
- Rudra Veena: Lord Shiva is sometimes depicted playing the Rudra Veena, an ancient stringed musical instrument. This imagery underscores the divine connection between music and spirituality.
- Nada Yoga: Nada Yoga, the yoga of sound, is a spiritual practice that emphasizes the transformative power of sound and music. Lord Shiva is regarded as the ultimate master of Nada Yoga, using music and sound to reach higher states of consciousness.
- Tandava: The rhythmic movements of Lord Shiva’s Tandava dance are said to symbolize the rhythm and cyclical nature of creation and destruction, akin to the cyclic patterns found in musical compositions.
- Damaru: Lord Shiva’s damaru, a two-headed drum, is believed to produce the primal sounds that gave birth to the creation of the universe. This concept aligns with the idea of sound (shabda) being the source of all creation, a fundamental principle in Indian philosophy.
While the association between Bhagwan Shiva and ragas is primarily rooted in symbolism and mythology, it underscores the profound connection between music, spirituality, and the understanding of the universe in Hindu culture. Ragas, as intricate melodic frameworks, are considered a means of spiritual expression and a path to higher states of consciousness in Indian classical music.
- Natya Shastra: The Natya Shastra, an ancient Indian treatise on performing arts attributed to the sage Bharata Muni, provided early guidelines for music, including scales and modes that were precursors to ragas.
- Regional Influence: Ragas evolved differently in North India (Hindustani music) and South India (Carnatic music). While both traditions share common elements, they also have distinct ragas and styles.
- Mediaeval Period: The mediaeval period in India saw significant developments in music theory and practise. Ragas became more defined, and treatises on music, such as the Sangeet Ratnakara by Sarangadeva, provided detailed information on ragas, their structures, and their emotional qualities.
- Gharanas and Composers: During the Mughal era, the concept of gharanas (musical schools) emerged in Hindustani music, where specific ragas and styles were passed down through family lineages. Renowned composers like Tansen contributed to the development of ragas.
- Continual Evolution: Ragas have evolved continually over time as a result of the addition of new compositions and variations by musicians and artists. Hundreds of recognised ragas exist today, each with a distinct set of characteristics.
- Oral Tradition: In addition to written documentation, the transmission of ragas has often occurred through oral tradition, with musicians learning and passing down ragas from teacher to student.
The origin and development of ragas are complex and multifaceted, reflecting the rich and diverse musical heritage of India. Ragas continue to be a vital and evolving aspect of Indian Classical Music, allowing musicians to express a wide range of emotions and artistic creativity.