Indian Classical Music and Sikh Kirtan


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Chapter 1: Origins and History

Origin and History

Indian music is the product of centuries of innovation
and development of melody and rhythm

The origin of Indian music lie in the cultural and spiritual values of our country and go back to the Vedic Age. In those times, music was handed down orally from the guru (teacher) to the shishya (disciple). The art was called sangeet and included vocal music, instrumental music and dance. The great sages who dwelt in ashramas (hermitages) imparted instruction to their students who lived with them on the premises. The art of music was regarded as holy and heavenly. It not only gave aesthetic pleasure but also induced a joyful religious discipline. Devotional music was intended to take man towards God and give him an inner happiness and self-realisation[1]. Subsequently this art branched off into three separate stream: vocal music (geet), instrumental music (vadya) and dancing (nirtya).

Vedic Period (2500 B. C. to A. D. 200)

The arts of vocal music, instrumental music and dance were quite popular in this age. Even the common man had some knowledge of these arts. People in general offered their musical prayers to their deities, in the morning and evening. Sessions of music called sman were held frequently and people of all classes participated in these assemblies. Artist were men and women of good character and were neither greedy nor frivolous. Different types of instruments like ban (similar to veena), karkari (somewhat like a lyre), nadi (flute) and aghati (cymbals) were used as accompaniments to vocal music. The two great epics-Ramayana and Mahabharata (c 800 B.C.) contain references to various musical instruments. Marga classical music was popular in these times. Panini (500 B.C.) has mentioned the players of the mridanga, madduba and jharjhira and the concerts of vocalists and dancers[2]. Musical concerts were held in the court of King Chandra Gupta Maurya (322 B.C.)[3]. All this indicates that music was quite popular and was regarded as a valuable achievement.

Classical Period (A. D. 100-1200)

The first authentic book on musicology was written in the second century A.D. by Bharata. His work entitled Natya Shastra deals not only with dance and music but also dramaturgy. He mentions three types of grama (scale), Shajda grama, madhyama grama and gandharva grama. The gandharva includes three categories-sacred music for temples and religious ceremonies, royal music for princely courts, and theatrical music for dramatic performances. He has mentioned the 22 shruties (microtones), svaras (notes), moorchana (scales ) and 18 kinds of jatis (ancient melodic schemes).

The period of the Gupta Kings (320-495) was conducive to the development of music. Emperor Samudra Gupta was himself a musician and a parton of arts. His son Chandra Gupta Vikramaditya ( 375-413), patronised group of poet and musicians at his court. Kalidasa, his poet laureate and playwright, made significant contributions to criticism on music, musical instruments and dance in his plays. His masterpiece, Shakuntalam, contains one song in sarang (madhyamadi) [4].

Matanga, a talented musicologist of the sixth century, wrote a comprehensive book on music entitled Brihadeshi. He explained the raga system which was in vogue and was quite developed. He made a distinction between marga and deshi/desi raga. While marga music is the classical type used for worship and devotion, and deshi music is the secular kind intended to delight the common man. He also furnished the characteristics of many ragas. Not much progress was made during the regime of the Rajput rulers of India. The greatest poet and musician of the twelfth century was Jayadeva whose Geet Govinda is well known. He had his disciples danced to his music in their ecstatic devotion to Lord Krishna.


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