Indian Classical Music and Sikh Kirtan


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India is a land of music. It is the warp and woof of her life and being. It is the quintessence of her culture and philosophy. It sums up the genius of a people rich in tradition and fine arts. In ancient India, musical chant was the vehicle of piety and spiritualism. In medieval India, folk and secular music got as much attention and response as the sacred music of the sages, saints and sufis. In fact, all sections of the community were involved in music. According to the old classical tradition, the whole year was divided into six musical seasons of about two months each. During
summer (May and June), Bhairava raga was intended to be sung, in rainy season (July and August), Megha raga, in autumn (September and October) Panchama raga, in the late winter (January and February), Sri raga, and in spring (March and April) Vasanta/Basanta raga.

In addition to the seasonal allocation of ragas, it was believed that certain ragas were particularly suitable for certain timings in the day or night. Ragas were classified round the clock. The twenty-four hours were divided into eight Pahars (periods) of three hours each, and as such melodies were earmarked for early dawn, early morning, late morning, after-noon, evening, early night, late night and after mid-night. As we move from the valley of Kashmir to Kanya-Kumari, or go from the western desert of Rajasthan to the hill tribes of eastern Assam, we hear different kinds of melodies and rhythms, both of classical and folk varieties. The baul singers of Bengal will move us to tears with their devotional folk melodies. The harvest singers of the Punjab will throw us into bursts of laughter with their gay and jaunty tunes. The Vaishanavite singers of Brindraban will recite the leela (activities) of Radha and Krishna with a haunting sweetness. The Muslim Qawals of Lucknow will infect us with their clapping rhythms. More-over, the variety of their musical instruments is amazing. The Kashmiri player of Santoor (dulcimer), the Punjab farmer with his Dadh (small hand-drum) and sarangi (a small stringed instrument), the baul singer with his Gopi Yantra, the Tamil singer with his ghatam (earthen pot), the Kannada singer with his Saraswati Veena, the Lucknow player of Sarod display only a few varieties of tuneful and rhythmical instruments available in the country. As we move from one region to another, from one province to the next, the nature and style of music as well as the instrument change. The rich and the poor with their sophisticated and simple instruments respectively enjoy music in their own way. What matters is the spirit of the song and the rasa and enjoyment of it all. Whatever one goes in India one finds people relishing music and even in a village, one will come across an artisan or farmer listening to the music broadcast by the All-India radio. Sangeet sammellans and Kirtan-darbars (sessions of professional musicians) attract thousands of people. This clearly shows that music is woven intimately into the life and genius of the people.

Music is generally divided under three categories:

i. Classical music (Shastrya Sangeet)
ii. Light classical music (Bhav Sangeet)
iii. Folk music (Deshi Sangeet)

Music which is sung or played according to the rules of the classical ragas in the field notes, rhythm and tempo is called classical music. Light classical music is less pure and rigid than classical music and does not require the knowledge of classical ragas and rhythms on the part of the audience. Bhajans, some shabads, film-songs, Lori and Dholak-kay-geet are sung in light classical style. In such music there is proper blending of poetry, tune and tempo, but less attention is paid to the purity of the raga and more to the content of the songs.

Folks music is the popular kind of regional music based on simple tunes. It pertains to the events of every-day life. It is generally meant for public entertainment and may be secular or religious. The tunes are called Dharna or Taraz.

Jotiyan-de-shabad are the most popular form of folk music in the Punjab.Ragas are like roses, different in colour, contour, flavour and fragrance, but they have something in common, namely musical notes and movements. Just as a gardener can recognise the different kinds of roses and tell their
names and characteristics, in the same way a musician or instrumentalist can describe the features of each raga and what appeals to him. Indian music is not a technique but a creative and evocative art. However, a beginner must listen to classical music to cultivate his own taste. By and by, he will get acquainted with the peculiarities of ragas- their sounds, nuances, and rhythm, in short their individual characteristics.

This book deals primarily with the classical music of north India called Hindustani music. The references to the music of south India (Karnatak music) are scanty and marginal, because of the scope of the book and the restrictions of space. The book has been written with the object of providing an introduction to the basic principles of Indian music to enable one to appreciate our rich musical heritage. Fundamentals of music, foundations of melody, principles and


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