The book gives exposition to the wide and varied concept of the Ragas, which are timeless, without history and chronicle and relate to nothing beyond the moment. The raga and its stucture, the intricate nuances of tala or rhythm, and the rendering of raga and tala as bandish or compositon, are passed on from guru to shishya by word of mouth and through direct demonstration.There is no printed sheet of music, with notation acting as the medium, to impart knowledge. This is why most of the books on Indian music are of very little use to any beginner trying to learn music and why so many people feel that music is beyond understanding. And still music is being sung and appreciated.
The book gives the reader a few facts on Indian music and tries to convey the wonder of one of the most demanding and fulfilling of human endeavours. The raga, imparted orally from one person to another, is no one's intellectual property. It is difficult to trace the authorship of a musical compostion or a raga in Indian music. The performing artist, or the guru, is just a medium through which the raga lives again in the world. The raga, unconfirmed to a single incarnation, composer or performer, is far greater than the artiste who invokes it.
What the book will certainly try to achieve is to turn the reader's eyes (and ears) to the direction and the source from which the true enjoyment and meaning of the fantastic heritage of raga music emerges. The author believes that if some of its magic comes off from these pages to the reader, then perhaps the reader will look at the music once again a little more closely.
The author maintains that the best training method for giving the swara to a student has been the time-honoured guru-shishya parampara system. The Guru-Shishya Parampara is the very soul ot the tradition of India, and embodies the living and learning relationship between master and pupil. From time immemorial what the tradition signified is the complete emotional, intellectual and spiritual surrender of the ardent shishya to the guru.This tradition is the only method of teaching music and is not a product of the social or economic predicament of a given period of history.
Dr.Raghava R. Menon (1925-2001) was one of India's best known music critics. Perceived as the father figure by many, Menon was not just an art critic and guest lecturer at many universities in the US and Europe but also a charming singer in his own right, who received instruction from Pandit Vishnu Digamber Paluskar at the Allahabad University.
Born in Kerala, Menon did his doctorate in Mathematics and Music. He later taught at several European Universities and the University of the State of New York. He worked as a public relation executive and gave lectures on Indian culture, Philosophy and music at universities in Indian and abroad.
A brilliant critic of both Western and Hindustani classical, Menon had etched a name for himself in the cultural world for several decades.
Menon was the most genial of music critics, a popular figure at all soirees and art gatherings ever willing to share his knowledge with the young and the old who approached him. He was totally free from self-righteousness and pomposity. His zeal on the philosophy of music and a way he had with words made him the most sought after person in all four of art.
He was the music critic for over twenty years for the Times of India on Western music and even longer for the Hindustan times on Hindustani classical music. His reviews were never acerbic and he never beloved in wielding the pen as a sword.
He had written several books some of them are: Pilgrims of the Sward: a Biography of Kundan Lal Saigal, The Penguin Dictionary of Indian Music, the Biography of Amjad Ali Khan, his last and by his own admission his most cherished book A Musical Journey into India: Homage to Kumar Gandharva. He died before this book could be released.
There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, about the young J. Krishnamurthy while he was still being educated at the Theosophical Society. He was asked to define his feelings about India in one sentence. It is said that he replied "Neti, Neti" (Not this, Not this.) There is also a report of what he actually said was NescioNescio in the words of St. Bernard which also means Neti, Neti. It is pretty clear that the young Krishnamurthy, not yet in his teens, knew that there is no use describing this land, that there is too much paradox and vision abounding everywhere to make any sense of descriptions. He must have known that we can cut the land any way we like, and you will get a slice that will beggar description.
Bit by bit we are learning that the best way to look at India and its timeless inheritance is to experience it and not look for facts about it. Most Indian facts are back to back and contradictory. The problem is that this is not a packaged land. You cannot open the package and look at its contents. Everywhere life substitutes for statistics. There is a fiery intensity even about the little things that cannot be mimicked. All its culture for example, and there are a million facets to it, and these facets are like the instants of life racing into the future at break-neck speed. That is why all performances of Indian culture, if it leaves the ground and climbs a stage, mocks itself just a little. For the folk lives here as almost nowhere else in the world, where life and living are entwined in a fierce and desperate embrace.
The sense of timelessness associated by scholars of Indian history is not an absence of a historical sense or of records alone which may be more or less mostly a matter of degree. It is a manner of looking at time. There is for example a haunting awareness of the perishability of material things and of men and women who have been associated with the development of creation of material artifacts however unique and strange and compelling. No one knows or cares much who made the wonderful temples of Khajuraho or Konarak or who made the shore temples at Mahabalipuramor who did the strange remains of Halebid and Hampi. They are merely symptoms of a lived life. But at the samadhi of Tansen, thousands flock every year to remember him. They will go to Tiruvannamalai where the sage Ramana Maharishi lived and will bathe in their millions at the Sangam at Allahabad not for material gain or for the cure of disease but for an after life that is less obsessed. This given life is celebrated and enjoyed with vigour and discrimination, always aware of its passing and lack of permanence.
The curious fact is, most of the innumerable physical aspects of India are not tourist aspects at all. You cannot physically see them. You have to know them by experience. The Guide books say only what can be understood in non-Indian terms and of course they say less than nothing. The Rajasthan puppeteers for example do not repair their puppets when they break. They are cremated as human bodies are when they cease to live.
It is life that gets celebrated, not its acquired circumstance whether personal or national. And life means seasons and being born and dying, harvests and rain, the summer sun and the Solstices, the sixth day of the Moon or its full and the dark night. They will call a girl Nishi not to tell you that she is dark but that she bears the mystery of the night. Or they will call a girl Kshiti only to say that she has the forbearance of the earth. What kind of music will such a culture develop?
"Every culture gets the music it deserves", said the late Alain Daneilou, more than a decade ago. He could have expanded on that theme and gone on to say that every culture develops the kind of music that it most needs. Looked at from this context, no other culture in the world could have needed the music of the Raga more than the Indian. For the Raga alone could affirm for the Indian ethos those primary paradigms on which ancient India had first defined in the Upanishads and in the Vedas the nature of man and his place in the universe of which he was an inseparable part.
The Hindu philosophical inheritance is in a certain sense one of despair. It did not believe that human societies however well fed and attired, would ever naturally evolve towards any inevitable upland of light and air. This could be done only by individuals, one always at a time and always alone. The inheritance seemed to be perfectly sure that man and society decayed and became degraded until a pralaya of epic proportion doused the fever. Out of the resulting primeval silence another epoch, a fresh yugawould be born once again only to decay to the same conclusion. An endless cycle like the India Talas, one Avarta following another a Sam and then a Khali or two for ever and ever.
There was no day of judgementin its calendar, no separating of sheep and goats, nor a heavenly paradise of flower and streams and houries in perpetuity. What the inheritance guaranteed was that any given epoch was sure to blow itself up at a certain appointed point of its doomed trajectory. There was no place in it for a promised land, no prophet, nor incarnation to take the faithful to safety, for in its definitions there was no place for any chosen people whatever their level of virtue or belief. Incarnation of God only came to put things back in balance, not to destroy evil. After the great wars of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the incarnations themselves perished, not by crucification by their crafty enemies but by the same laws that destroy every cherished human thing in its last yelp. This is ofcourse one of the principal reasons why Hindu spiritual leaders rarely meddled with social reforms or any of the abberationsof social behaviour and concentrated on the single human individual and his path towards his own personal freedom. There was no community in it.
The spiritual life in the Indian inheritance had little or nothing to do with the religious life, which was only if anything a means whereby the spiritual life could be reached under certain very special circumstances. In some cases, the religious and the spiritual pathways were at right angles to each other. One of the reasons why the Indian ethos is supposed to have been exceptionally tolerant to other religious beliefs was simply this reason. The Hindu was no more necessarily tolerant than any other group of people but knew the general futility of belief per se, if there was no experience to back it. This tradition knew by the curious apperception of old civilisations that all beliefs were finally false, that experience alone could reveal the truth and beliefs however lofty had no true existence except in the imagination. And once an inherited belief is experienced it was no longer a belief. It became a truth.
For such an inheritance the discovery of the Raga must have been an essential need and when discovered finally, after centuries of the natural human search for assurance, must have seemed almost logical and inevitable. For every one who has ever tangledwith the music of the Raga knows that the hidden agenda of this art is spiritual. That is the principal reason why it is foolish to try and learn it from a book or through five easy lessons. For the Raga is the quintessence of music in the solo form and the road into it can only be traversed alone and always singly. From this context it can be seen how the Western musical inheritance and the Indian are placed almost back to back in the directions towards which they face. In the first place Western music is team. There is very little solo music in it in the sense of Raga music. Even when a piano is being played singly without any other accompaniment it is still playing in a team. The two hands of the pianist from the Indian point of view play like two separate players playing on one instrument. The two hands do not play in the same plane as it were, but in two different directions, one horizontal in the melody and the other vertical to it. The worlds revealed in them are also vastly dissimilar. Ragas are timeless without history and chronicle and they relate to nothing beyond the moment. This is why most books on Indian music are of very little use to a lay reader, which is one of the reasons why so many people feel that music is beyond their understanding. This makes them unable to account for what they like to hear and as a result unable also to expand their experience of it, deepen or enrich it.
One reason for this situation is that while all music is largely a non-verbal art, Indian music is momentary and oral in its transmission and when you attempt to write on such a musicyou are really trying to describe little more than ordinarily ineffable, trying by means of words to communicate what words were never intended to convey.
So the writer on music takes the only other course open to him. He takes refuge in history and erudition. He will tell you very little about the nature of music or what you are likely to feel towards it or how you will discriminate between good music and bad or whether there is any way by which you can train your responses to music. This is only much worse in Western music. Western music is written down to such an extent in terms of notation and symbol and has been reduced to such a level of exactitude that a million dollar industry has sprung up around it. This industry depends for its survival on the assurance that Western music will continue to be written and published like any other calligraphic art. Special kinds of paper and other related materials and a special system of notation are all part of this corporate enterprise, and God help this industry if some day Western music should turn inwards into the rich and wonderousreceptacle of the human soul and depend at least partially on the transmission of spirit to nourish and preserve the art for the future generations.
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