Sangeet Indian musical tradition


Indian Classical Music is one of the most ancient musical traditions in the world that is still alive, without loosing its authenticity. The raga and the tala,the natural tuning and the improvisation are the distinctive characteristics of this music. A great Indian musician , late Ustad Ali Akbar Khan , once said about music :
‘’ …sages developed music from time immemorial for the mind to take a shelter in that pure being which stands apart as one’s true self. Real music is not for wealth , not for honors or not even for the joys of the mind- it is one kind of union, a path for realization and salvation to purify your mind and heart. ‘’


Raga and Tala

Raga is a specific movement on a musical scale that creates a unique mood and tala is the rhythmic cycle that is defined by the melodical composition ( ghat) on a raga. The natural tuning is a non tempered tuning, and it corresponds to the fundamental accustical laws of the nature. All the notes (Svaras) of the scale take their meaning according to their relation to the tonic (Sadja), which is played constantly by the tanpura, an instrument that is used only for that.

The word RAGA means “whatever colors the mind “ , as Ravi Shankar has said. Etymologically the word derives from the verbal root – ranj : ‘’ to please, to take delight , to be coloured ‘’, and the suffix – ghan , which indicates “doing”.
In Sangita- Darpana , an Indian musical treatise from 17th century, is stated that ‘’ raga is a particular arrangement of sounds in which notes and melodic movements appear like ornaments to enchant the mind ‘’ or ‘’ that group of notes which charms is a raga, so say the wise. ‘’
As Harold S. Powers puts it : ‘’ A raga is not a tune , nor it is a modal scale, but rather a continuum with scale and tune as its extremes’’.

The variety of ragas is infinite and their individual essence is to be experienced by oneself and is not possible to be described with words. Each raga corresponds to a specific mood or feeling, and there are different ragas for the 4 parts of the day and night, and for the seasons.

The performance of a classical raga begins with the Alap, the melodical introduction in the mood of the raga. It starts slowly initiating the listener to the feeling produced by the relation of each note of the scale with the tonic. After the alap comes the Ghat, that is a melodical composition which defines the rhythmic cycle, Tala.

Tala comes from the union of Ta , which represents Shiva , and La , which respesents Parvati. ‘’ The arising , enduring and disappearance of the three worlds come from rhythm ( tala). From the worm onward , all animals move by rhythm. All works in the world depend on rhythm. It is by rhythm that the sun and the planets move. ‘’ ( from Raga- Kalpa- Druma , 1842-1849, by Krisnananda Vyasa Deva).
So , the raga and the tala constitutes the scene where the music is going to be developed. The musicians , while improvising according to the rules of the raga and the tala, they fill the atmosphere with the vibration of a specific mood , that they manifest through the sounds.


Marga and Desi

Indian music has another important characteristic , that shows the way Indian culture comprehends music. There are many local songs and dances , a very rich musical folk tradition, which represents the different tastes of every separate region in India. At the same time there is the clasiccal theory and practice , that goes beyond all the differencies and from which all the differences starts. Every song is based on a raga and for every raga exist many different songs. The classical form goes to the roots of music and consists an extremely detailed and scientific approach of musical study and practice.

One of the most important Indian musical treatises from the 13th century is called ‘’Sangitaratnakara‘’ and it has been written by Sarngadeva. There we can clearly read about that division between classical and folk music: ‘’ Gitam ( vocal melody ) , vadyam ( playing on instruments ) and nrttam ( dancing) , all three together are known as Sangeet , which is twofold ,marga and desi. That which was discovered by Brahma and (first) practiced by Bharata and others in the audience of lord Shiva is known as marga , which definitely bestows prosperity ; while the sangeeta comprising gitam , vadyam and nrttam , that entertains people according to their taste in the different regions , is known as desi’’

The term Marga derives from the Sanskrit root –mrg , which indicates contemplation and seeking. And as Kallinatha quoted , marga is the way , the technique or the practice based on the findings of the investigation carried out by Brahma ( the creator ). So it is obvious that in Indian tradition the music and the nature are one thing , and there is nothing that can successfully separates them from each other. The harmony and the rhythm are already here, in front of us , manifested in the Nature , we just have to listen carefully and we will hear.

In India , all ragas and talas , are known to be creations of Gods , which means in modern terms , natural creations. Musicians are those that by studying the foundamental laws , they manage to manifest them through sounds. Correct tuning
( Sur ) , good rhythm (laya) , and the sence of the rhythmic cycle ( tala) are the three basic things that all musicians should develop. And for doing that in India they are very clear , one should practice seriously under the guidance of a good teacher, with devotion and much efford. Only then somebody can play Marga Sangeet , or the classical form.

‘’ An infant , crying in cradle, unaware of the enjoyment of objects , on tasting the nectar of a song , knows no bounds of joy. Even a fawn, an animal feeding on grass and moving in the forest , attracted by the song of a hunter , is ready to sacrifice its life. Who indeed can describe the significance and importance of melody , for in fact , it is a medium for the realization of the four primary values of human life: righteousness ( dhamma) , wealth ( artha) , enjoyment ( kama) and emancipation ( moklsha). ‘’ ( from Sangitaratnakara of Sarngadeva )


Yiannis Zannis , Pelion, 2 / 2011


– THE RAGA-S OF NORTHERN INDIAN MUSIC, Alain Danielou , Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt Ltd.

– SANGITARATNAKA OF SARNGADEVA , translation : R.K.Shringy & Prem Lata Sharma

– HOW EQUAL TEMPERAMENT RUINED HARMONY, Ross W. Duffin , W. W . Norton & Company.

by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and George Ruckert, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt Ltd

Nimbus Records with Rotterdam Conservatory of Music