Indian classical music

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Galaxy of lady Musicians
Painting of Indian musician by Ravi Varma.

Indian classical music is a genre of South Asian music. It has two major traditions. The North Indian classical music tradition is called Hindustani, while the South Indian expression is called Carnatic. These traditions were not distinct till about the 16th century. There on, during the turmoils of Islamic rule period of the Indian subcontinent, the traditions separated and evolved into distinct forms. However, the two systems continue to have more common features than differences.

Quotes[edit]

  • Musical notes and intervals were analyzed and mathematically calculated in the Hindu treatises on music.
  • Music in India has a history of at least three thousand years. The Vedic hymns, like all Hindu poetry, were written to be sung; poetry and song, music and dance, were made one art in the ancient ritual.
  • The Indian system of notation is perhaps the oldest and most elaborate. There are ragas meant to be sung in winter, in summer, in rains and in autumn. There are month-wise ragas meant to be sung during the twelve months of the year (baramasa). There are ragas meant for singing in the morning, early noon, afternoon and in the evenings. There are ragas, it is claimed, that can light a lamp or bring about downpour of rain. Then there are ragas and raginis designated for dance. Dance in its art form is as elaborate as music, and is based on Hindu natya-shastra. Sculptures of dancers and musicians carved on ancient and medieval temples, now mostly surviving in south India, bear testimony to their excellence, popularity and widespread practice.
    • Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 8 (quoting Gaurishankar Hirachand Ojha, Madhya Kalin Bharatiya Sanskriti, pp. 193-94. )
  • It is in the domain of music in particular that the contribution of Muslims is the greatest. It is, however, difficult to claim that it is really Muslim. What they have practised since medieval times is Hindu classical music with its Guru-Shishya parampara. The gharana (school) system is the extension of this parampara or tradition. Most of the great Muslim musicians were and are originally Hindu and they have continued with the tradition of singing an invocation to goddess Saraswati or other deities before starting their performance.
    • K.S. Lal, The Legacy of Muslim Rule in India, New Delhi, Aditya Prakashan, 1992
  • The roots of music are more exposed in India than anywhere else. The Vedda in Ceylon possess the earliest stage of singing that we know, and the subsequent strata of primitive music are represented by the numberless tribes that in valleys and jungles took shelter from the raids of northern invaders. So far as this primitive music is concerned, the records are complete or at least could easily be completed if special attention were paid to the music of the ‘tribes’…[There are] hundreds of tribal styles…
    • SACHS 1943: The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, East and West. Sachs, Curt. W.W.Norton & Company, New York, 1943. Quoted in [1] [2]
  • “Amir Khusrau (AD 1253-1319)…wrote that Indian music was so difficult and so refined that no foreigner could totally master it even after twenty years of practice”
    • Amir Khusrau, Quoted in DANIELOU 1949: Northern Indian Music, Vol. 1. Danielou, Alain. Christopher Johnson, London, 1949. Quoted from [3] [4]
  • [the Muslim attachment to Indian music grew to such an extent that it led to the invention of stories about] “how the various styles of Northern Indian music were developed by musicians of the Mohammedan period…Under Moslem rule, age-old stories were retold as if they had happened at the court of Akbar…Such transfer of legends is frequent everywhere. We…find ancient musical forms and musical instruments being given Persian-sounding names and starting a new career as the innovations of the Moghul court”
    • DANIELOU 1949: Northern Indian Music, Vol. 1. Danielou, Alain. Christopher Johnson, London, 1949. Quoted in [5] [6]
  • "In the retinue of Buddhism, it had a decisive part in forming the musical style of the East, of China, Korea and Japan, and with Hindu settlers it penetrated what today is called Indo-China and the Malay Archipelago. There was a westbound exportation too. The fact, of little importance in itself, that an Indian was credited with having beaten the drum in Mohammed's military expeditions might at least be taken for a symbol of Indian influence on Islamic music. Although complete ignorance of ancient Iranian music forces us into conservation we are allowed to say that the system of melodic and rhythmic patterns characteristic of the Persian, Turkish and Arabian world, had existed in India as the rāgas and tālas more than a thousand years before it appeared in the sources of the Mohammedan Orient".
    • SACHS 1943: The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, East and West. Sachs, Curt. W.W.Norton & Company, New York, 1943. Quoted in [7] [8]
  • "the oldest preserved style, the classical Sino-Japanese Bugaku dances […are…] of Indian origin, and Chinese and Japanese music on the whole were under Indian influence in the second half of the first millennium A.D. And yet the most typical trait of Indian music, its sophisticated rhythmical patterns or tālas, had no chance in the East. In 860 A.D., someone wrote a treatise on drumming in China, with over one hundred ‘symphonies’ which doubtless were Indian tālas; but nothing came of this, and not one of the Far Eastern styles has preserved the slightest trace of such patterns. The three rhythms used in Tibetan orchestras, and kept up in percussion even when the other parts are silent, are obviously not Far Eastern, but deteriorated Indian patterns. The elaborate polyrhythm of Balinese cymbal players that Mr. Colin MePhee has recently described is not Far Eastern either".
    • (SACHS:1943:139). SACHS 1943: The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, East and West. Sachs, Curt. W.W.Norton & Company, New York, 1943. Quoted in [9] [10]
  • "So vital in East Asiatic music is the delicate vacillation that dissolves the rigidity of pentatonic scales that all possible artifices have carefully been classified, named, and, by the syllabic symbols of their names, embodied in notation: ka (to quote the terms of Japanese koto players); that is, sharpening a note by pressing down the string beyond the bridge; niju oshi, sharpening by a whole tone; é, the subsequent sharpening of a note already plucked and heard; ké, sharpening it for just a moment and releasing the string into its initial vibration; yū, the same, but making the relapse very short before the following note is played; kaki, plucking two adjoining strings in rapid succession with the same finger; uchi, striking the strings beyond the bridges during long pauses; nagashi, a slide with the forefinger over the strings; and many others [….] Recent investigation has made clear that this tablature is a Chinese transcription of Sanskrit symbols used in India. Indeed, the graces of long zithers, unparalleled in East Asiatic music, are nothing else than the gamakas of India, imported with the sway of Buddhism during the Han Dynasty and given to the technique of Chinese zithers, which became the favorite instruments of meditative Buddhist priests and monks"
    • (SACHS:1943:143-44). SACHS 1943: The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, East and West. Sachs, Curt. W.W.Norton & Company, New York, 1943. Quoted in [11] [12]
  • "The strange, never-ceasing drones used in the choral singing of Tibet belong in the Indian, not the Chinese sphere of Tibetan civilization".
    • (SACHS:1943:145).SACHS 1943: The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, East and West. Sachs, Curt. W.W.Norton & Company, New York, 1943. Quoted in [13] [14]
  • [In Siamese (Thai) music,] "the comparatively large share of drums, however, indicates the neighborhood of India"
    • (SACHS:1943:152).SACHS 1943: The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, East and West. Sachs, Curt. W.W.Norton & Company, New York, 1943. Quoted in [15] [16]
  • [In Burmese music,] "These penetrant oboes, which lead the melody instead of the tinkling gongs of Java and Bali, are definitely Indian. But still more Indian is the unparalleled drum chime of, normally, twenty-four carefully tuned drums, suspended inside the walls of a circular pen, which the player, squatting in the center, strikes with his bare hands in swift, toccata like melodies with stupendous technique and delicacy"
    • (SACHS:1943:153).SACHS 1943: The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, East and West. Sachs, Curt. W.W.Norton & Company, New York, 1943. Quoted in [17] [18]
  • [In respect of the Slendro or "male" scale in Indonesian music,] "It seems that the modes or, better, the melodies ascribed to the modes, matter today only from the standpoint of choosing the adequate time for performance: pieces in nem are to be played between seven and midnight; sanga is the right mode for the early morning between midnight and three and for the afternoon between noon and seven; manjura belongs to the hours between 3:00 A.M. and noon. This time table is unmistakably Indian. The name salendro points also to India. It probably stemmed from the Sumatran Salendra Dynasty, which ruled Java almost to the end of the first thousand years A.D. and had come from the Coromandel Coast in South India. Thus it might be wiser to connect slendro with ragas like madhyamāvati, mohana, or hamsadhvanī than with the Chinese scale"
    • (SACHS:1943:132).SACHS 1943: The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, East and West. Sachs, Curt. W.W.Norton & Company, New York, 1943. Quoted in [19] [20]
  • [the Indian] “theory of musical modes…seems to have been the source from which all systems of modal music originated” (DANIELOU:1943:99), ... “Greek music, like Egyptian music, most probably had its roots in Hindu music”
    • (DANIELOU:1943:159-160). Alain Danielou tells us (in his “Introduction to the Study of Musical scales”) DANIELOU 1943: An Introduction to the Study of Musical Scales. Danielou, Alain. The India Society, London, 1943. Quoted in [21] [22]
  • "when we read in Bharata's classical book of the twenty-two microtones in ancient Indian octaves, of innumerable scales and modes, and of seventeen melodic patterns and their pentatonic and hexatonic alterations, we realize that music at, or even before, the beginning of the first century AD was by no means archaic. Indeed, there is no reason to believe that India's ancient music differed substantially from her modern music"
    • (SACHS 1943:157).SACHS 1943: The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, East and West. Sachs, Curt. W.W.Norton & Company, New York, 1943. Quoted in [23] [24]
  • "Northern Indian classical music […] though it lent itself easily to temporary fashions […] seems to have remained the same in spite of temporary changes. It still conforms with the definitions in some of the most ancient books. The stories that relate how the various styles of northern Indian music were developed by musicians of the Mohammedan period seem usually unfounded. Under Muslim rule, age-old stories were retold as if they had happened at the court of Akbar, so as to make them acceptable to new rulers and win the practice and honors bestowed on the creative artistes of the day. Such transfer of legends is frequent everywhere. We should therefore not be surprised to find ancient musical forms and musical instruments being given Persian-sounding names and starting a new career as the innovations of the Mughal courts"
    • (DANIELOU:1949:34).DANIELOU 1949: Northern Indian Music, Vol. 1. Danielou, Alain. Christopher Johnson, London, 1949. Quoted in [25] [26]
  • "The first iconographic record of the hand bell or ghaṇṭā is not conclusive. As late as the seventh century it is depicted in one of the caves at Aurangabad; yet five hundred years earlier, the greco-Syrian philosopher, Bardesanes, had related that while the Hindu priest prayed, he sounded the bell. It was small and tulip-shaped, with a thick clapper. As it was exclusively used by priests in the worship of Hindu divinities, the handle was finely decorated with religious symbols, such as Siva's trident, Vishnu's eagle or Hanuman, the king of the apes"
    • (SACHS 1940:222). SACHS 1940: The History of Musical Instruments. Sachs, Curt. W.W.Norton & Company, New York, 1940. Quoted in [27] [28]
  • [And here is what Sachs has to say about the 7-tone-22-shruti system of notes described in Bharata's text:] "We know that two basic principles have shaped scales all over the world: the cyclic principle with its equal whole tones of 204 and semitones of 90 Cents, and the divisive principle with major whole tones of 204, minor whole tones of 182, and large semitones of 112 Cents. Bharata’s system derives from the divisive principle, and this, in turn, stems from stopped strings. But the earlier part of Indian antiquity had no stringed instrument except the open-stringed harp; no lute, no zither provided a fingerboard. India must have had the up-and-down principle, and it cannot but be hiding somewhere."
    • (SACHS:1943:169) SACHS 1943: The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, East and West. Sachs, Curt. W.W.Norton & Company, New York, 1943. Quoted in [29] [30]
  • “The Hindu theory is not like other systems, limited to experimental data: it does not consider arbitrarily as natural certain modes or certain chords, but it takes as its starting point the general laws common to all the aspects of the world’s creation…” (p.99).
    • Alain Danielou in his “Introduction to the Study of Musical Scales” quoted in [31] [This article is a major extract from the article "Sita Ram Goel, memories and ideas" by S. Talageri, written for the Sita Ram Goel Commemoration Volume, entitled "India's Only Communalist", edited by Koenraad Elst, published in 2005.
  • What real music we have lies in Kirtana and Dhrupada: the rest has been spoiled by being modulated according to the Islamic methods. The Mohammadens took up the different Ragas and Raginis after coming into India. But they put such a stamp of their own colouring on the art of Tappa songs that all the science in music was destroyed. (5.362) ... Our music had been improved steadily. But when the Mohammedans came, they took possession of it in such a way that the tree of music could grow no further. (5.363)
    • Swami Vivekananda. Complete Works (5.362-3)

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