Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sub-Continent Classical Music

The sub-continent classical music has thousands of years of history but it remains predominantly an oral art form with very little written tradition. It is based on a system of seven notes called Sargam.The seven basic notes are as follows:-

• Sa -Shadaja
• Re- Rishab or Rekhab
• Ga- Gandhar
• Ma- Madham
• Pa -Pancham
• Dha-Dhewat
• Ni-Nishad or nikhad

According to some accounts these notes have been taken from sounds of various animals. The sound of Shadaja has come from cry of peacock; Rishab has cry of cuckoo; Gandhar is from goat; Madham from the cry of crane; Pancham from the koel; Dhewat from neighing of horse and Nishad from the trumpeting of elephant.

It is also believed that these notes come from different parts of body, Sa is from abdomen, Re from heart, Ga from chest Ma from throat, Pa from palate, Dha from mouth and Ni from the nose.

The basic scale of sub-continent music is similar to the western 12-note scale. The main difference is that the intervals between consecutive notes are not equal. This means they can be varied to suit a particular composition or raag/raga. The differences in names of notes from Western are:-

Sub-continent: Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni
Western: Do(C), Re(D), Mi(E), Fa(F), Sol(G), La(A), Si(B)

These seven notes are like the white keys on a piano keyboard. The intervals between them are further divided and there are five intermediate notes. In other words five out of these seven are further divided into two known as Komal and Teever. To clarify and make it easier; the first two notes are Sa and Re. The one between Sa and Re is called ‘Re Komal’, so the first three notes are Sa, Re Komal and Re Teever.

Likewise between Re and Ga is "Komal Ga" , between Pa and Dha is "Komal Dha" and between Dha and Ni is "Komal Ni". That accounts for four notes. The fifth lies between Ma and Pa but it is called "Teever Ma". The final result is :-

Sa, Komal Re, Teever Re, Komal Ga, Teever Ga, Komal Ma, Tivra Ma, Pa, Komal Dha, teveer Dha, Komal Ni, Teveer Ni

Hence these twelve notes compile a saptak or an octave. Two of these, the first note Sa and fifth note Pa are fixed or natural known as Shudh. Five are komal or flate and five are teever or sharp. It must be kept in mind that terms komal and teever are not exactly the same as western flate and sharp. For example, in western system every note can be flat or sharp but in sub-continent music Shajda(Sa) and Pancham(Pa) are fixed. The four Komal notes and one Teever note correspond to the black notes on a piano keyboard. Five Teever and two natural or fixed or Shud notes are like the white keys on a piano keyboard. Both western and sub-continent systems repeat the octave.

The sub continent music is based on two fundamental components; Sur and taal or melody and rhythm. Some also include “Laye” or tempo but widely agreed components are sur and taal. These two are embodied in a note pattern or raag/raga and rhythm pattern or taal. This brings us to the backbone of sub-continent classical music, RAAG or RAGA. So what is a raag?

Raag is defined as a precise, subtle, and aesthetic melodic pattern of notes with its own peculiar ascending and descending pattern consisting at least five notes. Omission of a dissonant note, or an emphasis on a particular note, or the transition from one note to another distinguishes one raag/raga from the other. Following are the important points about raag/raga:-

The first note of the sargam Sa (shadja) can never be absent in a raag/raga as it is considered the reference note.

A raag/raga can exclude either "Ma", or "Pa" but both "Ma" and "Pa" cannot be excluded simultaneously.

A raag/raga does not have less than five notes.A raag/raga with all seven notes is known as Sampooran raag.khado raag is a raag having six notes and a raag which has five notes is known as Odho raag.

Each raag/raga has its own principal mood such as tranquillity, devotion, eroticism, loneliness, pathos, heroism, etc. It is associated, according to its mood, with a particular time of the day, night or a season.

There are three basic types of raags/ragas:-

Shuddh Raag : The raag in which even if any notes that are not present in it are used, it's nature and form does not change.

Chhayalag Raag : The raag in which if any notes that are not present in it are used, it's nature and form changes.

Sankeerna Raag : The raag in which there is a combination of two or more raags.

How to describe Raag/raga?

Following important terminology is used for describing a Raag/raga:-

Vaadi : The most prominent note or most dominant note of the raag is known as its vadi sur or principle note.

Samvaadi : The second most important or complimentary note or harmonic note of the raag/raga is its samvadi. It used lesser than the vaadi but more than the other notes of the raag. Normally samvadi is the fourth or fifth note from the Vaadi.

Anuvaadi : The other remaining notes of the raag are anuvaadi.(other than Vaadi and Samvaadi).

Vevaadi or Bevaadi: The note which is not present in the raag and one which produces dissonance is vivadi sur or dissonant note.

Aaroha : Ascending order of the notes in raag/raga is known as Aaroha or Aarohi. Here each note is higher than the preceding note for example : Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni

Avaroha : The descending of the notes in raag/rag is known as its Avaroha. Here each note is lower than the preceding note for example Ni, Dha, Pa, Ma, Ga, Re, Sa

Pakad/Pakar : A small group of notes which describe the unique features of the raag.

Thaat : The system of classification for the raags/rags in different groups. In sub-continent classical music there are 10 thaats or classification scales (more on this later)

Samay : Each Raag has a certain time attached to it or the time when it should be performed. This is because specific notes are believed to be more effective or have a greater effect on audience at that particular time.

Ras : Each raag is supposed to invoke some emotion depending upon the
notes used in the raag. This is known as Ras or effect of the particular raag.

To be continued...

This article is from the research of the forthcoming book 'Classical Music of The Sub-Continent'.