History of Indian Music


    Music was a science in India long before it was considered so in other countries arid the Hindu Scriptures are the first in recorded history to mention music as a science. The Rig Veda mentions musical instruments like the drum, the lute and the flute. The Sama Veda, as it was chanted in those ancient days, and as it is chanted even to-day, most conclusively proves that the science of vocal music was developed to a considerable extent. In ancient India the function of music was to assist in the performance' of religious ceremonies. Even to-day most of the daily devotional duties of the Hindu are performed in chant or in rhythmical movements of the body. Strabo admits that the greater part of the science of Greek music owes its origin to India. The system of notation, which was perfected in India before 350 B.c., "passed through the Persians to Arabia and was from there introduced into European music by Guido d'Arrezzo at the beginning of the llth century," states Montstuart Elphinstone, the English historian of India.

Hindu music is divided into seven chapters as follows:

(1) Sur-Adhya treats of tones, semi-tones, etc.;

(2) Rag-Adhya treats of tunes and melodies; (3) Taal-Adhya treats of time;

(4) Ast-Adhya treats of musical instruments;

(5) Nirt-Adhya treats of dancing; (6) Bhap- Adhya treats of actions and movements in rhythm with singing and dancing, and (7) Arth-Adhya treats of comprehension of tunes and times.

The scale of Hindu music has seven notes, just like Western music. They are Sa (shudia) which corresponds to the European note C; Ri (Rishaba) to D; Ga (Gandhara) to E; Ma (Madhyama) to F; Pa (Panchama) to G; Dha (Dhaivata) to A, and Ni (Nishada) to B. Each of these notes is considered to be presided over by a deity of the Hindu pantheon : Agni (god of fire), presides over Sa; Brahma (god of creation), over Ri; Saraswati (goddess of learning), over Ga; Mahadeva over Ma; Vishnu over Pa; Ganesh over Dha, and Surya over Ni.

Instead of the 12 tones and semi-tones of the European scale, the octave of Hindu music is divided into 22 quarter tones and thirds of a tone. That is the main reason why unaccustomed Western ears cannot, at first, appreciate Hindu music. It is so delicate that it does not sound like music at all; it sounds rather like a jumble of notes without the least aesthetic significance. "But," says a European critic, "the Hindu music has attained a theoretical precision yet unknown to Europe."

From the scale of 22 notes and quarter- notes the Hindu divides certain groups into Ragas. There are six Ragas, one for each season of the year. Sri Raga is for the winter, Vasanta for the spring, Bhairava for the summer, Megh for the rainy season, and Natana- rayan for late autumn. The six Ragas are male, and there are 36 Raginis.

The Hindu masters of music have set aside different Ragas for different hours of the day. And it is improper to sing a song that U npt suited to that hour of the day. As for example, Bhairava is sung from 4 A.m. to 8 A.m.; Megh from 12 noon to 4 P.m. ; Dipak from 8 P.m. to midnight.

Again, the atmospheric conditions also go to decide on the Raga to be sung. When it rains the Hindu sings the Megh-Makar, and it makes you feel wet and hear the gentle raindrops fall. Near a fire or in an exceedingly hot hour of the day he would sing Dipak, a Raga that would make you feel a kind of burning sensation. According to Prof. Inayat Khan there are 400 main ryhthms in Hindu music.

Before singing the song itself the Hindu musician sings Alap. Alap is a kind of prelude to the song. There are no words to an Alap. It simply prepares the ground and creates an atmosphere for the ensuing song. Then, when the singer begins to sing, he is free to improvise as he wishes. He must, of course, conform to the general rule of the Raga, but he improvises according to the mood and the environment he is in, and the audience he is singing for. The master musician does not care much for the words of the song. He often sings one line, and then improvises it in a hundred different ways by repeating the same line a hundred different times. "Music," says Rabindranath Tagore, the Hindu poet and musician, "is not dependent on words. It is majestically grand in its own glory. What words fail to convey to human mind, music does with perfect ease. Music begins when words end." This is certainly the spirit of Hindu music.

Unlike the music of the West, Hindu music is purely melodic. And yet the use of such words as Vadi (principal note), Samavadi (note subordinate to it) and Vivadi (discordant) in the Vedas .plainly show that at least some of the rudimentary rules of harmony were understood by the musicians of the Vedic age. But it must be admitted, however, that Hindu music is essentially melodic. In other words, it is produced by successive sounding of single tones of different pitch, whereas the Western harmonic music is produced by the simultaneous sounding of single tones of different pitch. The melodic nature of Hindu music helps to lend itself easily to improvisation.

There are a thousand and one different kinds of musical instruments in India. For full particulars of which the reader should refer to the works of Raja Sourindra Mohon Tagore, and for a fuller account of Hindu music the reader must consult <The Music of Hindusthan' by H. H, Fox-Strangways and <The Introduction to the Study of Indian Music' by E. Clements.

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