is the giant that dominates South Asia. At the same time, it is surrounded
by other countries; Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh to the north and
Sri Lanka and the Maldives to the south, even though this last country
is part of the cultures of the Indian Ocean. These neighboring states
have not at all challenged the conception of music held by their huge
neighbor and have all adopted the same conception of music as found
in the Indian tradition, particularly in learned music for which this
continent has become famous. Thus, a homogeneous family presents itself
under the label of South Asia.
As much as
India has historically influenced the countries located towards the
East, that is to say Southeast Asia, if only for the sung theater which
draws inspiration for one of its themes from the Ramayana epic,
in return, India has received from them no influence that has changed
its conception of music. On the other hand, India has been more marked
by musical ideas coming through its western flank: the Arab, Turkish,
and Persian worlds. Brought in during recent centuries through peaceful
exchanges or imposed by the visions of invaders, these ideas have fashioned
the music presently played in the northern part of India, music which
since then has been called Hindustani music. Above all, it is characterized
by an elaborate sense of abstraction and manifests a combination of
musical degrees having a stable degree, tonality, as its reference.
This influence has been so strong that when reading over 19th century
writings devoted to Indian music, the extent of musical vocabulary peppered
with Arab-Persian terms is striking. In the 20th century, there has
been a fundamental about-face in this matter. Little by little, this
semantic intrusion has been rejected or better re-explained in an Indian
context. The most striking example of this about-face is certainly the
khyal form. It is an Arab-Persian word which came into the Hindi
language through Urdu. It means imaginary. In India, it gave birth to
a vocal form that, according to legend, was invented by Amir Khusrau
in the 13th century. This form requires of performers an unparalleled
virtuosity in singing scales. Today there is an obvious drive to re-explain
this term according to a strictly Indian approach and to see in it a
derivation from the Hindi word khel. In any case, the form and
the technique of the khyal or khayal are eminently Indian
and Pakistani. In terms of organology, another contribution that has
been re-explained is the sitar lute, which has become today one
of the jewels of art music in Northern India. It has been clearly demonstrated
that the present form of this lute is of very recent origin and that
it emerged more from the Persian setar at the end of the 18th
century. Nevertheless, the Arab-Turkish-Persian influence has not been
entirely eradicated. It is present in the repertoire of the qawwali,
Sufi groups that sing a religious repertoire.
But it must
not be thought that Indian music adheres to the canons that govern West
Asian (Near Eastern) art, although there exists a close relationship
between them rooted in commonly shared general aesthetics. In this respect,
South Asia is much more rigid in this field and in the range of voices
in art music. Two individuals cannot speak at the same time. To do so
would be the most elementary form of rudeness, bordering on arrogance.
According to custom, an instrument or a voice becomes silent so that
another can be expressed. In the music of South Asia, there is no heterophony,
the overlapping of voices that is found so frequently elsewhere as in
West Asia, where it occupies a dominant place in the development of
thought about music.
fact must be brought up that in India there is a loathing for blending.
Two voices conducted simultaneously are an example. This loathing could
be explained in part by the importance of the complex Indian caste system.
The effects of this loathing are perceived quite particularly in music
and in the technique of modulation. Technically, modulating is passing
from one mode to another and is common elsewhere, as in West Asia, for
reasons pertaining to color, musical renewal, and the enrichment of
music. In India, modulation is out of the question. When a musician
plays or sings, the audience knows perfectly well that he will execute
one and only one mode to completion, except in certain contemporary
cases (example no. 5) in which a mode blending called ragamalika
(raga garland) or mishra (blending) is permitted.
there is a term which covers all of its musical conception: the word
is raga, pronounced raag. This major term has become much
more important in the north than in the south, which form two distinct
cultural areas, the north called Hindustani and the south Karnatic.
As fundamental as understanding the term raga is (scale, mode,
color, state of mind, ornamentation, mode formula, form, etc.) and as
much as it has proven to be the key to the system of Northern India,
it becomes blurred and secondary, so to speak, in the south. Here again
is one more opportunity to recognize that in the north, the symbolic
system had to have been considerably overloaded from the 13th century
onwards, so it is thought, and as such come down to us.
that one of the first mentions of the term raga can be found
in the Matanga treatise, entitled Brihaddesi, written between
the 5th and 9th centuries. Although many definitions of raga
can be given, in the beginning it meant "what is pleasing to the spirit."
Afterwards, this term became a vehicle for conveying many meanings,
leading finally to the concept of ethos, which means the relationship
between the formalization of musical combinations, their extramusical
environment, and the expressiveness flowing from this relationship.
This concept must have been produced slowly through the course of history.
It is thus possible that in the beginning, the primary meaning of the
word raga was not matched by the importance which it assumed
later and which karnatic music has not inherited. In this regard,
although the raga form in Northern India is contrasted as the
opposite of its southern counterpart, the ragaam tanam pallavi,
in fact it is in the kriti that the conception of the primitive
raga should be sought insofar as this form is the most representative
of karnatic music. The kriti unveils a measured work that
straight-away imposes a simple melody, thus setting the discussion of
music in terms of composition.
reason, the kritis are works signed by composers whose names
have come down through the tradition. In contrast, in Northern India,
developing a raga requires controlled improvisation on the part
of the performer, who momentarily creates to become the author of the
raga, but he is not considered to be the composer of the raga.
In the course of being developed, the raga moves from a free
structure towards a rhythmed structure and then towards a measured composition,
a movement that calls on the capacities of the performer. Another notable
difference is the importance conferred on ethos in the north and its
absence in the south. It is known that the expressiveness contained
in a raga flows from a moment of the day or night and that certain
ragas are performed only in specific seasons. Confirmation of
this fact is found in just rereading the table published by Atya Begum
Fyzee-Rahamin in 1925 and discovering the close correspondences that
each note of the musical scale establishes with the positions of the
planets, the days, the hours, and the colors. All of this is one more
opportunity to give credit to the circulation of ideas that came from
West Asia or arose in India, then emigrated to the West, and finally
returned heavily imbued by a symbolic system to their place of origin,
history, learned Indians have written more than a hundred treatises
on the theory of music. However, it was only at the beginning of this
century that serious thought trying to reconcile theory and practice
appeared in India, in particular in the work of V.N. Bhatkhande (1860-1936).
Like Baron Rodolphe d'Erlanger, who undertook research on Arab music,
V.N. Bhatkhande tried to establish links between what was being done
and what was being theorized. Because of this momentum and the wider
diffusion of Indian music outside India, now as compared to the past,
a point has been reached with the discovery that one raga can
have variants in terms of scale because of the schools and with the
idea that it would be worthwhile to standardize the scales. This position
is related to a spirit of systematizing encountered almost everywhere
in the contemporary world of traditional music, and India is no exception.
Consequently there is a tendency towards standardizing the modes, but
there is a return to the theoretical plane, for as long as there are
schools in which, traditionally, teaching is dispensed, this standardization
fortunately has little chance of succeeding. The schools will remain
the best institution for teaching this music and its authentic mode