Asian Music and Dance

The Aesthetics – Part 3

Indian music gives great prominence to melody and offers musicians immense scope to pour out their emotions. The separation of a lover from the beloved (both in the worldly and godly sense), the natural world and sensual beauty are all explored through its rich vocal inflections and instrumental textures to create a bhāva (emotional effect). 

To fully enjoy rāgas, one needs to understand the classification of the Indian notes and their subtle variations. The notes are associated with the active principle (activity, desire symbolised by the sun) and the passive principle (tranquillity, serenity symbolised by the moon). The active notes are tuned a little sharper in contrast to the passive counterparts. 

After studying the musical intervals in Indian music, French musicologist Alain Daniélou writes: “The expression conveyed by these different classes of intervals is in no way arbitrary. It is related to psycho-physiological facts upon which all music depends. These intervals are used in all music more or less instinctively, by good singers and players of stringed instruments.”       

The combination of musical notes with their inherent active, extreme active, passive or extreme passive qualities into phrases gives rise to emotions, colours, moods. 

Rāgas and Times of the Day

The moods and emotional tones within the rāgas have led them to be associated to different times of the day. The day is split into eight three-hour periods with the first half starting from sunrise and the second half starting with the evening sunset. The day and night segments show some similarities in the musical notes but have a different emphasis on some notes. The position of the middle note (Madhayama) is very important as the Shudh or perfect fourth conveys tenderness and signifies morning and day. The Tivra, or sharpened fourth, conveys the active principle and signifies evening and night. Midday and midnight both show more use of the Shudh Madhyama (perfect fourth).

Sunrise (4am to 7am) and Sunset (4pm to 7pm) 

These rāgas of sunrise use the passive notes, tender in character with appropriate musical attack mostly brought out by the use of the Komal Rishab (flat second) with the combination of Shūdh Gandhār (the natural third) and a prominent perfect fourth (Madhyama). Examples: Bhairav and its varieties including the popular Rāgas Ahīr Bhairav, Lalit and Nat Bhairav.  

The Rāgas of the sunset show more prominence of the active minor second (Kōmal Rishab), Shūdh Gandhār (major third) and the Tivra Madhayama (augmented fourth). Examples: Pūrvi, Pūriyā, Pūriyā Dhanāshrī, Pūriyā Kalyān and Mārvā.

Morning (7am to 10am) and Evening (7pm to 10pm)

These also use the passive note combinations, still tender but with more prominence of the Shudh Rishab (natural second), Shudh Gandhār (natural third) and the Madhyama (perfect fourth). Examples: of Bilāval variations, the most popular being Alhaiyā Bilāval and the pentatonic Deshkār.

The evening rāgas show the prominence of Tivra Madhayama (augmented fourth) including popular Rāga Yaman Kalyān followed by more use of the perfect fourth in Rāgas  Behāg, Jhinjhōtī and Khamāj.

Late morning, midday (10am to 1pm) and late evening, midnight (10pm to 1am)

These give prominence to the minor third (Kōmal Gandhār) of the passive character in combination with the minor (Kōmal Rishab), major second (Shūdh Rishab) and perfect fourth (Shudh Madhyama) or augmented fourth (Tivra Madhyama). The rāgas in this category are the different varieties of Tōdi including Gujarī, Miya Ki, Dēsī and Bilāskhāni Tōdī. 

The midday rāgas form a category of their own and show a marked prominence of the Shudh Rishab (major second) and perfect fourth (Shudh Madhyama). Examples: all varieties of Sārang, including the popular Vrindābanī Sārang and Shūdh Sārang. 

The evening variety include Darbārī Kānhrā, varieties of Malhār and Kāfī. 

Afternoon  (1pm to 4pm) and late night (1am to 4am) 

These rāgas maintain the prominence of the minor third (Komal Gandhar) but of the active type with its interplay with the other notes of the octave. Examples: Bhīmplāsī, Patdīp and Mūltānī, Mālkauns, Paraj, Sōhīnī and Kalingdā.  

These rāgas are normally assigned to one of the moods of the classical Navarasa (nine sentiments) of Shringār (love), Hāsya (comic), Karūnā (sadness), Raudra (furious), Vīra (Heroic), Bhayānak (terrible), Vībhatsa (disgusting), Adhbuta (wonderment) and Shānta (peace). Musicians like Pandit Ravi Shankar have asserted that Indian music predominately expresses the rasas (moods) of love, sadness, heroism, wonderment and peace. 

Shringār rasa rāgas are popular as they can throw in shades of all the rasas and musicians and listeners enjoy different blends of emotions all within the sentiment of love. Rāgas like Khamāj, Bhairavi, Pīlū. Tīlang and Dēsh are all beloved rāgas. 

Seasonal rāgas associated with India

The Malhār Rāgas depict the rainy season, Basant and Hindol Rāgas the spring season and the Hemant Rāga the winter season.

Musical notes and the derived rāgas have been expressed in different moods, ascribed to different times of the day, seasons, gods, goddesses, rasa (sentiments) and rāgamāla paintings. The one aesthetic which overrides all is the feeling of shānta (peace) and godly love. So the prime goal of its music is eventually to prepare the ground for the performer and listener to become one with its source, the primordial sound – Nāda – Aum.



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