(Sample Material) IAS Mains GS Online Coaching : Paper 1 - "Art Forms (Music)"

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Subject: General Studies (Paper 1 - Indian Heritage and Culture, History & Geography of the World & Society)

Culture - Art Forms (Music)

Indian music

Indus Civilisation is the live evidence of Indian Music System. Two important sites of Indus Civilisation i.e. Harappa and Mohen-Jodaro supports the presence of Indian Music. Harappa is at a distance of 100 miles to the south-west of Lahore and Mohenjodaro is at a distance of 200 miles from Karachi. Terracotta seals, vessels, images of animals,, statues, remnants of cities and forts go to prove that this was the most ancient civilisation of India.

It is considered to be at least 3,500 years old. Some regard this civilisation as pre-Vedic and some as Vedic. Among other finds, a flute, a harp with strings and percussion instruments have also been found. A bronze figurine of a dancing girl beating time to music with her foot has also been found. This shows that people in that remote age knew the use of harp, flute, percussion instruments and the art of dancing. On the basis of these scanty data, we cannot say what the music of those times was like. Seals similar to those of Mohenjodaro and Harappa have also been discovered in Sumeria. There was evidently a common civilisation in the Indus Valley and Syria, Assyria and Babylonia.

We have, however, a more detailed account of the music of the Vedic times. The date of the oldest text, i.e., Rigvedq is variously estimated by scholars from 1,500 B.C. to 1,000 B.C.

The Vedas were musically recited. Udatta (raised, Greek oxyu, sharp or acute), Anudatta (not raised, grave, Greek baryu) and Svarita (Greek oxyubaria, acute grave or circumflex) were the three pitches used in Vedic recitative. Udatta was an acute or sharp pitch, Anudatta was a grave pitch and Svarita was a pitch which combined in itself the’ characteristics of both i.e. it started with Udatta and fell down to Anudatta. In Vedic literature, Svarita is called pravana, i.e., it gradually descended from Udatta to Anudatta. It formed a link between Udatta and Anudatta. These three were not merely accents or stress on words; they were musical pitches used for simple recitative.


The Classical Music of India has its origins in the chanting of the Vedas dating back to several thousands of years ago. Since then, by oral tradition, it has been bequeathed through the generations to” its present form. In the course of time, it evolved into two distinct systems, namely the Carnatic (in the South) and the Hindustani (in the’North).

Indian classical music is based on melody. It can be described as contemplative and introspective. There is no intentional harmonic structure beneath the melodic lines.

Such freedom permits almost unlimited melodic possibilities. Another attribute of Indian music is improvisation. Most of the classical music performed is extemporaneous. Even while playing the compositions, the performer attempts variations and embellishments which bring out a unique interpretation of the composition and the artist’s individuality. This makes the ensuing music spontaneous, never ceasing to amaze the listener.
It is interesting to note that the seven notes in Indian music, Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni, correspond to Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Si, in the West. What makes Indian classical music unique is its two important characteristics: the raga and the tola. Every piece played (adheres to the confines of raga and tala. A raga defines the melodic aspects of the music. The raga is a melodic pattern defined by an ascending and a descending scale and key notes and phrases that bring out the entire character of the raga. There are numerous ragas that span an entire spectrum of emotions, colours and characters. In fact a raga has been personified as a divine being with character and moods just hke a mortal. The performer, while elaborating a raga, builds up the mood(s) portrayed by the raga.

Traditionally, most performances of Hindustani music begin with alap: an extensive solo exploration of the raga by the instrumentalist. Alap is divided into three basic parts. The first section of alap begins slowly, with an invocational and meditative approach. Within this stream like, arhythmic style the artist gradually unfolds the shape, textures and moods of the raga. Eventually, a pulse is introduced by the soloist and the second section known as jor has begun. In jor, there “is still no specific rhythmic framework to speak of.

Moving through many variations within the jor, the musician will finally arrive at the jhalla, the culminating section of the alap. Jhalla, characterised by a faster paced and rhythmically dense exposition of the raga, is carried through to the end of the alap. After the alap, the instrumentalist is joined by the accompanying drummer and together they enter the section of the raga known as the gat. Here we are introduced to the rhythmic basis of Indian music: the tala. A tala is a cycle of a fixed number of beats repeated over and over again and played as distinct patterns of strokes on the accompanying drums. There are many different talas (6 beats, 7,10, 12,14, etc.) and each one has a different rhythmic mood. Except for alap, every piece of Indian classical music is played within a particular tala.

The gat begins with the instrumentalist playing a rhythmic/melodic theme within the raga. Through this theme, the soloist thus establishes the tala within which the raga will now progress. Often, the tala will not be announced prior to the performance and is chosen on the spot by the instrumentalist. Even the accompanying drummer may not know what the rhythmic cycle will be and must infer from the first hearing of the theme what patterns to play on the drums.

The gat proceeds with the drummer supporting the soloist while variations are made and the raga is further explored. The two musicians interact rhythmically throughout the performance, always meeting on the first beat of the rhythmic cycle. This dynamic interchange becomes more prevalent as the raga progresses.

Staying within the same raga, a new theme in a new tala may eventually be introduced by the soloist. This is most often a faster-paced rhythmic cycle that adds excitement to the building energy of the music. The musicians then carry the raga to its final improvised ending.

This long exposition of the raga is often followed by a performance of light-classical raga or folk melody. These pieces are usually much shorter than the opening raga and are set in certain talas to give the music a light and lighting feel.

As regards Indian classical music in general, there are a huge number of modes (ragas). Musicians will elaborate a single mode in detail, largely through improvisation but also based on compositions and formal demands. There are also pieces (called “ragamala” or “ragamalika”) in which modulations are employed. Individual pieces are shorter in Garnatic music, so recitals are constructed by selecting items in contrasting ragas. The rationale is specifically contrast (usually), as opposed to Turkish music where modes are chosen for a directed development or Arabic music, where the frequent modulations- should be as unnoticed as possible, etc. A general aesthetic discussion of this type could become much more extensive.

In both Hindustani & Camatic music, songs (or instrumental compositions in Hindustani music) are usually (although not always) -preceded by an improvised unmeasured prelude (alap/alaapana) which is sometimes extensive. This is followed by the “composition section” in which a specific rhythmic cycle (tala) is used (ordinarily with percussion accompaniment). Although it is usually based upon a pre-existing composition, there are specific improvisationa! features to this section as well. This aspect earns Indian classical music comparisons with Western Jazz, with which it shares some demands.

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