Notes on the Music of India
The following quotations are from writings
by a scholar, a performer in Northern India, and a highly sensitive European traveling through an India far less Westernized than today. They may be of value in adding pertinent information to what I have stated concerning the music of India.
From the long treatise on India written by T. Grosser in the Encyclopédie de la Musique
, edited by Albert Lavignac, pp. 279ff. The English translation is mine.
The entire system of music (song, instruments, dance) as well as of language, and of the universe, rests upon sound, Nada. Sound is either in a latent or non-produced (anahata) condition, or in a condition of emission produced by shock (ahata); both conditions may present themselves in the human body or in the atmosphere.
In the body, the Universal Spirit (atman) emanates the individual self (manas: the thinking principle); the latter, striking upon the seat of the bodily fire, produced the wind-breath (maruta), which gives birth to sound in the five organs of production; umbilici heart, throat, head, mouth, etc.
In the upamhu there is imperceptibility; sound is emitted. In the dhvana a blurred murmur is perceived in which no syllables nor consonants are distinguished. With the nimada one reaches intelligible perception, and with the upabdhimat distinct audition; These first four sthanas seem solely theoretical; yet if one has to believe the commentator of the Taittirya-prayishakya, they were used in the ceremonies of the sacrifice, etc. The three others (which are the only ones mentioned in later Sanskrit works) are the low register, mandra; the middle register, madhyama, and the high register, tara or uttama. The three corresponding organs of production are: chest, throat, head (or the space between the eyebrows). They are parts of the three savanas or Soma-offerings, morning, noon and evening. In the morning one recites with the chest-voice, which is like the tiger's roar; at noon, with the throat-voice, which is like the cry of the chakravaka or of the goose; lastly, for the third savan, the head-voice is used, which reminds of the cries of peacock, flamingo and cuckoo . . .
Each of those three registers gives tones twice in frequency than those of the one below, and is able to produce twenty-two kinds of distinct-musical sounds which are called srutis.
Theoreticians have gone as far as admitting the existence in the chest of twenty-two pipes (nadi) connected with the superior vessels: at the left ida, at the right pingala, in the middle sushumna (in the opening on the top of the head), which pipes obliquely struck by the wind or breath (maruta) give birth successively to the twenty-two srutis of the chest. In like manner the throat and head would be provided each with twenty-two pipes (or strings?] giving ever higher sounds in the musical scale. This musical scale therefore includes three octaves, each being divided into twenty-two intervals.
From a small book entitled Indian Music
by Shahinda, which was given to me in 1923, but which, unfortunately, I have since lost. It was printed in Northern India.
Rag means passions, and different tunes excite different emotions and feelings such as Bhairavin is significant of Beauty; Nut of valor; Marva of fear; Sri of grandeur; Malkaus of passion; Asaori of renunciation; Bihag of joy and brightness.
All the Rags, Raginis and other tunes have names to distinguish them from each other. They have appointed seasons of the year and hours of the day when they should be sung or played . . . The twenty-four hours of a night and day are divided into eight parts, and each part lasts for three hours. The first morning part is from six o'clock to nine o'clock; the tunes that are to be played or sung during these hours are slow, dreamy and pure . . .
When the Rags are sung in the proper season and time and with perfect knowledge of the science, an absolute sense of calm and inner satisfaction is derived, hardly to be expressed.
In such a state of perfection the Rags are supposed to be possessed of supernatural powers. They have chronicles of their births, which point out the mysterious sources from which they have originated. They have a series of interesting legends recording their life histories. They are benefactors of humanity by curing various bodily ailments. They charm the element of nature, and invoke fire and water, in short, perform miracles.
The idea of personifying all the forces of nature seems to be quite common in Hinduism. All the Rags and Raginis are impersonated. There are quatrains and verses, illustrating the form, color, symbolism and significances which mark each tune. The Rags and Raginis have been favorite themes with old Indian artists, who have painted them over and over again, but a fine illustration is rarely seen.
To portray to our minds the celestial and most exquisite harmony which the "Shades of Tones" form in the Indian Music by a cut-and-dried theory in black and white is palpably out of the question. There are tones, half-tones, quarter-tones, and one-eighth tones. The difference in these sounds, as can be well imagined, is so subtle, and so exquisitely fine, that before one has the consciousness of one sound it has merged into the other of its own accord, forming soft modulations and unexpected cadences. There is a certain stage in each note, which is neither Teevar (sharp) nor Komal (flat), but a sound between the two. This sound or note is called the Suddh Sur (note) and forms the central sound of the note. There are three notes, in a higher key than the Suddh and three notes in a lower key than the Suddh, and these together form the seven tones in one tone.
Shahinda also gives the various characteristics and qualities which, according to the tradition she follows — there are numerous and somewhat different ones in the vast Indian sub-continent — are associated with the seven basic notes of the grama. She calls these notes sur. They are also called svara
in other books.
They are human in having temperaments, costumes and color and, like products of nature, flourish in seasons. They are descended from Heavenly Bodies, and trace their lineage from above. Certain Surs are dominant at certain ages of mankind. They are produced from various parts of the body. The Surs occur in certain animals from whom they are taken.
Those Surs which are possessed with hot temperaments have the mysterious faculty of curing those afflicted with rheum and such ailments, and vice versa, provided they are sung by high-minded and noble souls, and at the specified season of the year, and hour of the day, when they should be sung; then alone the desired effect will be obtained. Any violation of the prescribed law is regarded as sacrilege.
The seven notes are under the protection of the seven Divinities who preside over them.
Kharaj Sa. This Sur is under the protecting Deity, Agni, and like Pancham does not lend itself to change into Teevar (sharp) or Kornai (flat) but is permanent. It is connected with the first heavens and the planet called Kamar. It has a happy temperament. In effect it is cold and moist. Its complexion is pink. And arrayed in most beautiful white garments and lovely ornaments. Its seasons are all the seasons of the year. This note is produced from the abdomen. Its sound has been taken from the cry of the bird Ta-oos (peacock). It is prevalent in the voice of the human being of seventy years.
Rikhab Re. This Sur is under the protection of the God Brahma. This tone changes into Teevar (sharp) or Kornai (flat) as the occasion may require. It is connected with the second heavens and the planet called Atarud. It has a happy temperament. In effect it is cold and dry. Its complexion is pale green, arrayed in a red costume, and beautifully ornamented. Its season is the hot season. This note is produced from the heart. Its sound has been taken from the cry of the bird Papeeha. The note is prevalent in the voice of a human being when three score years old.
Gandhar Ga. This Sur is under the protecting Deity Sarasvati. This changes into sharp or flat as the occasion may require. It is connected with the third heavens and the planet called Zohra. It has a sad temperament. In effect it is cold and moist. Its complexion is orange, arrayed in crimson garments. Its season is the hot weather. This note is produced from the chest. Its sound has been taken from the cry of the animal Goos-fund. It is prevalent in the voice of a human being aged fifty.
Maddhyam Ma. This Sur is under the protection of the God Mahadev. It changes into sharp and flat. It is connected with the fourth heavens, and the planet called Shums. It has a restless temperament. Its complexion is pale pink, arrayed in reddish black garments and prettily ornamented. It is produced from the throat. Its sound has been taken from the cry of the bird Saras (crane). It is prevalent in the voice of a human being of two score years.
Pancham Pa. This Sur is under the protection of the Goddess Lakshmi. It is permanent like Sa. It is connected with the fifth heavens and the planet called Mirreekh. It has a passionate temperament. In effect it is warm and dry. Its complexion is red, arrayed in yellow garments. Its season is the rainy weather. This note is produced from the mouth. Its sound has been taken from the cry of the bird Koyel. It is prevalent in the voice of a human being of thirty years.
Dhaivat Dha. This Sur is under the protection of the God Ganesha. It changes into sharp and flat. It is connected with the sixth heavens; and the planet called Mushtari. It has an equable temperament. In effect it is warm and cold. Its complexion is yellow, arrayed in Vermillion garments with lovely ornaments. Its season is the cold weather. It is produced from the palate. Its sound has been taken from the neighing of a horse. This note is prevalent in the voice of a human being of twenty years.
Ni-Khad Ni. This Sur is protected by Surya. It is changeable into sharp and flat according to the tune in which it occurs. It is connected with the seventh heavens and the planet called Zohol. It has a happy and passionate temperament. In effect it is cold and dry. Its complexion is dark, arrayed in black garments and most beautifully ornamented. Its season is the cold weather. It is produced from the nose. Its sound has been taken from the trumpeting of an elephant. This note is prevalent in the voice of a human being of ten years.
What follows are statements made by the German philosopher Hermann von Keyserling when he traveled through India during the round-the-world journey he made early this century. The journey resulted in his once very famous book Travel Diary of a Philosopher
. These statements are quoted from an "Announcement of the Boston Music Company" translated from the German in September 1914 by Philip Hale.
The listener does not experience anything definite, tangible and yet he feels that he is living most intensely. He listens in reality to himself, while following the changing tones. One feels how the evening passes into the night, and the night into the day — and instead of seeing stereotyped pictures following one another, which so easily disgusts one with experience, one is conscious of oneself in the mirror of tones that constantly assume new nuances, with which life, as it were, reacts on the allurements of the world.
. . . Hindu music lies, in what concerns its extreme individuality, in another sphere than ours. Our objective world scarcely exists for it.
Tones enchained one with another are not necessarily knitted together harmonically; there is no division into measure; tonality and rhythm are constantly changing. A Hindu musical composition, in its true character, is incapable of being recorded materially in our notation. The only determined objective quality of Hindu music is that which in Europe remains committed to subjective conclusions, expression, interpretation, touch. This music is pure primitiveness, pure subjectivity, absolutely the durée réelle, as Bergson would say, unaffected by exterior bonds; only as rhythm is it in any way objectively comprehensible, for rhythm shows, as it were, the neutral point between the objective and the subjective.
Therefore this music is on one side understood by everyone, on the other by only those spiritually developed to the highest degree, by everyone insofar as each one is a living being, and it embodies immediate direct life; only by the most developed, as the Yogi alone is able to grasp its spiritual meaning, who knows his own soul. The musician as such, in the presence of this art, with difficulty assumes a position of superiority. The metaphysician does this. He is indeed the man that mirrors the originality of life as such, in the spirit; and this is exactly what Hindu music does. Listening to it, he recognizes his own particular knowledge, gloriously born anew in
the world of sonority.
This music is in fact only another, more richly colored expression of Hindu wisdom. He that wishes fully to understand it must have realized his own self . . . Thus did the Hindus, whose guest I was, feel and comprehend this music. The executants were like unto ecstatics communing with Divinity. And the hearers listened with the devotion with which one listens to divine revelation.
By permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill
Copyright © 1982; by Dane Rudhyar
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