The system of Indian classical music known as Raga Sangeet can be traced back nearly two thousand years to its origin in the Vedic hymns of the Hindu temples. Unlike Western classical music which has written scores, an Indian classical performance is based on improvisation, and anywhere from 10% to 90% of the performance could be improvised, depending on the creative imagination of the artist. The music is rendered orally to the disciple by his guru, popularly known as guru-shishya (teacher-student) parampara (tradition).
The Raga – The heart of Indian music
The very heart of Indian music is the raga, the melodic form upon which the artist improvises his performance. A raga is a scientific, precise, subtle, and aesthetic melodic form with its own ascending and descending movement consisting of either a full seven-note octave or a series of six or five notes.
Every raga is characterized by its own particular mood. The acknowledged order of these nine sentiments, or emotions, is as follows: romantic and erotic, humorous, pathetic, anger, heroic, fearful, disgust, amazement and peaceful. Each raga, in addition to being associated with a particular mood, is also closely connected to a particular time of day or a season of the year. Thus, through the rich melodies and rhythm of Indian music, every human emotion, every subtle feeling in man and nature, can be musically expressed and experienced.
In terms of aesthetics, a raga is the projection of the artist’s inner spirit: a manifestation of his most profound feelings and sensibilities. The musician breathes life into each raga as he unfolds and expands it. Each note shimmers and pulsates with life and the raga is revealed vibrant and incandescent with beauty.
The Tala or rhytmic cycle
The tala, or rhythmic cycle of a raga, plays an equally important role in expressing the mood. There is a unique relationship between melody and rhythm. The intricacies depict the complexities and sophistication with which they are woven together. The division in a taal and the stress on the first beat, called sum, are the most important feature. The most exciting moment for a seasoned listener is when both the musicians, after their individual improvisations, come back together on the sum.
A part of Western Culture
No article about Indian music would be complete without mentioning Ravi Shankar. Due to him Indian music was introduced in our part of the world. He was a great musician and even influenced the Beatles. Today, Indian classical music is a permanent part of Western culture. Many composers and musicians have been influenced by our music. The openness, will to learn, and sincere enthusiasm of Western audiences are a continuing source of inspiration and delight. Indian music is one of the highest forms of music existing and nourished through its rich cultural heritage.