An Outline of South Indian Music

India, a vast country with the worlds second largest population constituting a nation of many ethnicities, languages and faiths, boasts of a music culture that is like wise multifarious, and most of its elements have not been adequately introduced to the world. This great land was invaded by the Persians for several centuries and later by the British for another few centuries. The Northern India came under heavy influence of Persian culture where in several instruments like the Sarod, Sitar, Sarangi, Tabla etc. were introduced during the 13th and 14th century. The influence of Islamic culture on Northern India was so overwhelming that its effect could be seen through costumes, food, language and also music and dance. It was at that point that two styles of music evolved - The one from the North known as Hindustani Music which was a hybrid of Persian and Indian music and the other from of music from the South known as Carnatic classical music which represented the pure tradition of the Hindu music prevalent in South India. Obviously, none of the foreign invasions affected the basic structure of the South Indian classical music and hence this form of music is considered the purest form of Indian classical music.

The instruments and the musical styles of north and south differ. Sitar and tabla are not used In the south, where the plucked lute Veena and the violin adopted from the west, along with the accompanying double headed drum mridangam, are most prominent. The horizontal bamboo flute, although the south Indian model is smaller and has a different no. of finger holes. Regardless of such differences, however, vocal music is the undisputed nucleus of both traditions. In Carnatic music, where a separate style for instrumental music does not exist, intrumental soloists perform melody from songs. Even in Hindustani music, Sitar music has developed out of vocal styles. One might think that without an understanding of the lyrics, affiliation of the song would be difficult. In multi-lingual India, all the languages of South India, along with Sanskrit and even hindi, are to be found within the lyrics of Carnatic vocal music. Vocalists themselves often sing song texts in languages they can not speak for it is rather the music itself that is considered most important.

Classical music in India has been undergoing some changes due to improved communication between the North and the South. Musicians from either systems have been constantly adopting ragas and talas from their counterparts. Even musicians like Pt. Ravishankar have been performing several compositions based on South Indian ragas and several other musicians are seen using rhythmic improvisationational techniques from the South. Likewise, very commonly musicians from the South have also been borrowing performing techniques, voice culture techniques, ragas, rhyhm patterns and famous compostions from the Hindustani music system.

The system of Indian music ( both South and North) known as Raga Sangeet can be traced back nearly two thousand years to its origin in the Vedic hymns of the Hindu temples, the fundamental source of all Indian music. Thus, as in Western music, the roots of Indian classical music are religious. To us, music can be a spiritual discipline on the path to self-realisation, for we follow the traditional teaching that sound is God - Nada Brahma: By this process individual consciousness can be elevated to a realm of awareness where the revelation of the true meaning of the universe - its eternal and unchanging essence - can be joyfully experienced. Our ragas are the vehicles by which this essence can be perceived.

In Indian music, the seven pitch names (Sa, Ri, Ga , Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni) are used in much the same fashion as the Do Re Mi of western music The two most important concepts in this music are the raga and tala. Raga involves a procedural set of rules for generating melody, these rules stipulating the pitch level and usage of tones, relative importance, and characteristic melodic phrases in the particular raga. Normally, each individual raga has a name and distinctive ascending and descending scale forms. As an example, the raga Shankarabharanam uses the same pitches in its scale as are used in the Western major scale, which could not itself be considered a raga. Only when features such as the construction of phrases and use of ornamentation are brought to bear on the major scale does it take shape as raga Shankarabharanam. Intricate ornamentation and recognition of unique intervals the raga may indeed be the very essence of Indian music.

There is a saying in Sanskrit - "Ranjayathi iti Ragah" - which means, "that which colours the mind is a raga." For a raga to truly color the mind of the listener, its effect must be created not only through the notes and the embellishments, but also by the presentation of the specific emotion or mood characteristic of each raga. Thus through rich melodies in our music, every human emotion, every subtle feeling in man and nature can be musically expressed and experienced.

The performing arts in India - music, dance, drama, and poetry - are based on the concept of Nava Rasa , or the "nine sentiments." Literally, rasa means "juice" or "extract" but here in this context, we take it to mean "emotion" or "sentiment." The acknowledged order of these sentiments is as follows: Shringara (romantic and erotic): Hasya (humorous): Karuna (pathetic): Raudra (anger): Veera (heroic): Bhayanaka (fearful): Vibhatsa (disgustful): Adbhuta (amazement): Shanta (peaceful).

Tala refers to the Indian system of rhythm. Rather than simple measures of three or four beats such as what is used in Western music, a number of measures of one, two and three or more beats are joined together to form a rhythm cycle. The popular Adi tala, for eg. Is an eight-beat cycle comprised of 4+2+2 beats. At the concert hall you may notice that listeners as well as performers are slapping their knees, bending their fingers and waving their hands. In Adi tala, eight beat sequence is marked as "slap, small finger, ring finger, middle finger, slap, wave, slap, wave".

India is well known for long improvised performances such as in Sitar music, this is about ninety percent improvised. In South India, however, the works of composers are given importance. These composers, writing their own poems, setting them to melodies, and sing them without committing the notes to paper, were essentially singer-song writers. Right around the time of Mozart and Beethoven in Europe, city Tanjavur in South India was prospering as a center of music, and the majority of works that make up the concept repertory today are products of composers who were active back then in the Tanjavur area. Most famous among them is Tyagaraja (1767-1847), and there is hardly a concert today that does not include at least one of his pieces. Most of his works are in the vocal composition form known as krithis. A krithi sung just as it is will take only five or ten minutes, but with improvisational portions coming before and after, the performance can reach thirty minutes, or even an hour. The portion preceding the krithis proper is improvised in free rhythm, while portion after takes up one part of the song melody as a theme upon which rhythmic improvisation is built. This rhythmic part, including improvised dialogue with accompanists, brings the performance to a climax.

A concert program is built around a few krithis, and carefully arranged so that a difference raga is presented with each piece. As such, the program could not consist of a single long drawn-out item. The program begins with a piece or two designed for warming up followed by longer items with wide scope for improvisation, and finally concludes with one or more short light pieces. The concert is truly a multi-colored affair of great variation, with five, six, or even ten pieces presented. A krithi may be performed as a fixed composition, or with extensive improvisation; There are fast tunes and more mellow ones; and the players of mridangam and other rhythmic instruments are inevitably given opportunity to display their improvisational skills.

So, if you think of Indian music performances as a single item, stretching endlessly through time, give a listen to South Indian classical music program for a guarantee image adjustment.

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