This collection of essays, a thoroughly revised and enlarged version of its earlier edition (1979), is a pioneering treatment of Hindustani rhythm in the way of contemporary (Western) aesthetics. It seeks, on the one hand, to determine and distinguish the meaning of such key words as laya, matra, bol, theka, sama, and layakari and, on the other hand, to seize the details and aesthetic semblances of live rhythm as they appear to contemplation.
Some wider aesthetical questions have also been addressed in this book. How, if at tall, can rhythm be regarded as an autonomous art? What are the elements of its winged form, and how can it yet appear steadfast and virtually motionless? Is it proper to speak of the art of rhythm as symbolic in its significance or as expressive in some distinctive way? Or, can it be said to ‘embody’ what it signifies?
Insofar as rhythm is fast becoming a vital subject of aesthetic reflection in the West today, the-book also seeks to weigh the conflicting views of two modern aestheticians, Susanne K. Langer and Philip Alperson, against the theory and practice of Hindustani rhythm.
Every lover of this specific genre of rhythm stands to benefit from a reading of this book. It would prove to be of value also to those who are interested in Kathak dance, for no other classical dance of India depends so manifestly on rhythm.
As a professor of philosophy at the University of Delhi, where he started the teaching of aesthetics in 1964, Dr. Sushil Kumar Saxena (b. 1921) has made some significant contributions to metaphysics and philosophy of religion as well. This is borne out by his first book, Studies in the Metaphysics of Bradley (1967), published by George Allen & Unwin (London) acid Humanities Press (New York) in their prestigious Muirhead Library series of philosophical works; and Ever Unto God; Essays on Gandhi and Religion (1985), brought Out by the Indian Council of Philosophical Research, New Delhi. Since then Dr. Saxena has published six more books, all alike focusing on Hindustani Sangeet, and written all along from the viewpoint of contemporary Western aesthetics. Most of these books have been published by Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi. His essays and reviews have appeared in The British Journal of Aesthetics, Religious Studies (U.K.); Philosophy East and West; and The Journal of Aesthetis and Art Criticism (U.SA.). His final overseas article, ‘A Reply to My Critics’, appeared in the April 1979 issue of Philosophy East and West.
Dr. Saxena has been a regular contribution to Sangeet Natak, the journal of Sangeet Natak Akademi. For his scholarly contribution to our performing arts he has been honoured with the Fellowship of Sangeet Natak Akademi and the state honour Padma Bhushan in 2008.
Little aesthetical notice has been taken so far of rhythm in Hindustani (or north Indian) music. The book is a modest attempt to meet just this clear need.
Many of the essays that make this book have already appeared in journals devoted to philosophy and the arts. But I have at places re-written some of these for the present volume; and in doing so I have drawn not only on my essays: “Essentials of Hindustani Music” (Diogene, Paris, 1964), “Kant, Aesthetical Theory and some Indian Art” (Kant Studien, Germany, 1978) but on my numerous articles and reviews contributed — the last, as a music critic — to the The Hindustan Times, New Delhi, more than 55 years ago.
Three of the essays here presented are from different issues of Sangeet Natak, the journal of Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, then edited by Mrs. Uma Anand. The fact that this national body has now agreed to bring out a revised edition of the work is an honour to me, and I gratefully acknowledge it.
My approach in this work is all along that of philosophical aesthetics as it is done today, that is, as linguistic analysis and as phenomenology. But in accordance with the Indian view that the single word sangeet covers rhythm, music and dance, I have also taken care to include two essays on the linkages of rhythm with our classical singing and Kathak dance. Perhaps, where I speak of the structure of sthayi from the viewpoint of its approach to the Sama (Chapter 8), some insight may also be had into the art of making music.
My concern here is not only with individual concepts and problems, but with wider questions of the status of Hindustani rhythm as an independent art, and of its relevance to some modern theories of art, both as illustration and as a challenge. This explains why I begin with the essay, “Aesthetic Theory and Hindustani Rhythm” contributed to The British Journal of Aesthetics, and presented, very differently, to the World Philosophy Conference at the University of Delhi, on 2 January 1976. At the same time, I have all along kept in mind the details of practical rhythm as well. This in fact explains why, along with other ways of keeping close to fact, the syllables of rhythm too have been freely provided. Further, at the instance of Dr. Ranjan K. Ghosh, an old student of mine and now an established aesthetician himself, I have put each syllable in both English and Hindi alphabets, the latter mostly within brackets. He rightly made me see that here the use of Hindi alone could cause needless confusion to those readers who do not have any knowledge of this language.
So far as I know, this book is the first of its kind; and I am happy I could do it. It seeks to fix the meaning of such basic concepts as laya, matra, zarab, bol, theka, tala, sama and layakari in the context of both aesthetic discourse and actual contemplation of running rhythm. And where I speak of the Gestalt laws and Kathak dance, I have tried to discuss the crucial questions of rhythmic filling and structure; and to determine the individual contribution of footwork and bodily bearing (anga) to the wholeness of rhythmic appeal.
But the very singularity of my concern has in part been a handicap. The book is but a lone furrow, and quite without the weight that comes from references to parallel writings. I therefore feel deeply indebted to all those who first made it possible for me to publish this book, and earlier gave me ample chance to work and think for it, by inviting me to participate in national seminars on music and rhythm, or to straight away write on these arts. These friends, all now fond memories which I still gratefully cherish, may be listed thus: Mrs. Uma Anand and Dr. B.C. Deva (Sangeet Natak Akademi’s Assistant Secretaries for publication and music, respectively), and Professor S.S. Barlingay, the well-known editor of the Indian Philosophical Quarterly, Poona. I have also felt encouraged, I recall, by the extremely kind reactions which my essay on laya elicited from Professor Manfred Junius (sometime with the Institute of Comparative Music, Venice) who not only knew and practised Hindustani music, but remained deeply devoted to it throughout his life.
As is commonly known, a good way to diversify and enrich one’s knowledge of rhythm — and to cultivate the ability to follow passages of intricate layakari steadfastly — is close and continual attention to Kathak dance. So I am beholden also to the members of my 25-year-old Kathak team, to its key link in particular, comprising Rani Karna (the noted Kathak danseuse and an Akademi Award winner); and the late Ustad Chhamma Khan, the tabla expert of the University of Delhi, a perfect gentleman and an unforgettable friend. I need hardly add that without this association my acquaintance with rhythm would have been poorer than it is today.
Yet, from the viewpoint of the actual practice of rhythm — and also, at times, in respect of my understanding of it — my main guide and monitor has been the ablest pupil of the late Ustad Habeebuddin Khan of Meerut, the late Prof. Sudhir Kumar Saxena, who taught tabla at the College of Indian Music, Dance and Drama, Baroda University, for a number of years and was himself a drummer of no mean merit. If the book is no mere speculation, it is due as much to his ready and attentive help as to my own deep love of rhythm as an art form. The dedication is therefore heartfelt. And if the work, as it first appeared in print (1979), seemed passable, it was due to the unstinted help given by M.M. Shungloo, formerly Assistant Editor at Sangeet Natak Akademi, who chose the format and checked the proofs along with Mrs. Uma Anand; and by S.J. Dubey, the then manager of the Delhi University Press, along with A.G. Korde who saw to the printing with patience and seemed ever willing to minimise its errors.
This revised edition, however, makes me feel beholden to a quite different set of friends, and I am as thankful to them as to those who are no longer there to see how the fruit of their kindly assistance has burgeoned. These present friends are: A.N. Sharma (typing); Vinay Jain who has designed the jacket with his usual concern for visual appeal and relevance to the subject of the book; A. Chatterjee who has lent his admirable editorial expertise to all my books brought out so far by Sangeet Natak Akademi, and his usual associate in publication, S.F. Saxena; and Susheel K. Mittal of D.K. Printworld who has taken care of the printing not only of the present edition of the book, but of most of my books brought out by the Akademi.
I regret I cannot put in more detail how their individual assistance has been of help to me; but I can surely cherish, in deep and wordless gratitude, the manifold help they have all along rendered.
North Indian Music (289)
Original Texts (60)
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