Raga Bhimpalasi is a very old raga dating back at least five or six hundred years. It is to be played in the afternoon between three and five o’clock. Ravi Shankar retains the traditional style of drupad and raga Alapana of the Beenkar Gharana originated by Tansen, the great master of north Indian music, in the sixteenth century. (This school is named for the been or veena, which is the ancestor of the sitar).through his extensive and profound training from Ustad Allaudin Khan, Ravi Shankar is able to capture the highly spiritual and noble nature of this style. The rendering of this raga is in three movements: alap, jor and jhala.
Table solo in Ektal Alla Rakha plays the tabla solo in a fast ektal, a cycle of 12 beats divided 2-2-1-1.
Dhun (Dadra and Fast Teental). Ravi Shankar plays this number based on a raga known as Pancham-Se-Ghara, named and popularized by him for instruments. A dhun is a melody or “air” based on thumri, the highly ornamented romantic musical style of the Hindustani system of north India. After establishing the theme, one has the freedom to bring into the performance other melodies based on other ragas and folk tunes, but always to return to the main theme. The first piece is in a rhythm cycle of six beats known as dadra; the second is in a fast teental, a cycle of sixteen beats. Both pieces were adapted by Ravi Shankar.
Playing at the Monterey pop festival was indeed a very rare experience in my life. I was there almost two days before my performance, which was on Sunday afternoon. I came on Friday as I wanted to see and hear the other pop groups. From the very beginning I was a bit nervous in going to Monterey at all, because I knew this was going to be entirely a pop music festival and I felt, as many of my friends also felt, that my music wouldn’t fit into that atmosphere, because the music I represent is strictly classical music.
Once the other hand, I did want to play there because I knew this as one place where I could meet almost all the young people and I was very curious to know the whole situation as well as the atmosphere I would find there. When I went there two days before the program I was very happy to see this outdoor arrangement which reminded me very much of the festivals we have in India. It was very, very well managed. I thought....there was not the chaos or anything that I was told there might be. It was told there might be. It was nice to see all the people listening to the music inside the...what would we call it.....arena? And even the many people outside, just sitting or shopping in the small bazaars, were very charming and very interesting.
On Sunday when I woke up in the morning I was so depressed because it had been raining since the middle of the night and it was still drizzling. The sky was completely over-cast, so I was really worried that the program might be cancelled, or even if it went on, very few people would come because of the bad weather. We were all expecting that it might become better and stop raining. Which it did, and the program started about ten to fifteen minutes late, almost one-forty or so in the afternoon. I was amazed to see that the arena was almost full when I went to sit on the stage. Within fifteen to twenty minutes it became completely full. I had never played that hour in India or anywhere for that matter, it was overcast, not sunny at all, and it w as very cold... the whole atmosphere was very different than any I’d ever experienced to see those thousands of boys and girls full of colors and flowers and incense sticks-mine, of course, on the stage. I have to have them, plus many incense sticks-mine, of course, on the stage. I have to have them, plus many incense sticks being burned by the people in the audience; it created a beautiful atmosphere and I was very, very, very inspired. Personally I’m seldom happy. I’m always dissatisfied. I always feel I could have given a better performance, but I was almost satisfied that afternoon. The rapport and love which I felt flowing, both ways, created that miracle. I’ m sure. In the end, those beautiful orchids being thrown on the stage by the people were so beautiful-very much like we have in India.
I have come to believe that “sound is god”. According to our people and the yogis, there are two types of sound, or which you must have read in books, I am sure. One is the sound which is heard by ears normally. It is heard after a great deal of ‘Sadhana’ or dedication and working for the sound which you hear through your insides...the opening of the ‘chakras’ and all that sort of thing. That’s the sound that the yogis seek because it gives the opening to the ‘Siddhi’, which means ultimate attainment. The people who have attained that ‘Siddhi’ are called ‘Siddhas’ these are the real ‘Siddha yogis’, followers of the clean, godly ways, and who are completely free ego, physical desires and materialistic ambitions. They can know see and hear things that a normal person cannot. It takes years to attain that and it is only possible with the guidance of a guru and with his blessings.
I have had many opportunities in my life that have enriched me in many ways. It began with my coming to Europe at an early age. I was nearly ten and with my brother, Uday Shankar, one to the greatest dancers from India. He was the first one to have brought our dance and music to the west. From the age of ten until I was almost eighteen, I was with my brother, touring as part of his troupe. Our headquarters were in Paris but we toured all over the world. That was the period when I first met my music guru, Ustad Allaudin Khan. He joined the troupe for one year in 1935, and by this time I was playing all the instruments by myself, but without having had any proper training. I was a good dancer, but felt that my interest was mostly in music.
When I told Baba Allaudin khan about it, he said that it I wanted to learn from him, I would have to learn the way he would like to teach me... and that was to leave all this, come to his little village, forget everything else and become dedicated and do the ‘Sadhana’ of which I have told you. That is the way it was done in the days
Up until then, I had been taking it very easy. I had all the freedoms, in spite of being very young. I was touring all over the world, seeing everything as a trouper. I had a very good salary and I was and did much more than a normal child who stays at home. I had a good opportunity to meet all the musician, great ones like Segovia, Pablo Casals, Heifetz, even Yehudi Menuhin when he was a little boy.
When I met my guru for the first time, I saw what a great personality he was. He belongs to the very old, very traditional school of thought. He is a very hard taskmaster, very short tempered, a man of principle...he doesn’t ever touch alcohol or any drug-ever in his life. He had been celibate all those years, going through nothing but training of music and spiritual things together. He is such a beautiful person...he a very old now. He has such strong beliefs and he wants people to be like that. He cannot stand anyone being sloppy or misbehaving or not being religious. If someone has bad habits, either drinking alcohol or taking drugs, he has nothing to do with them. It was the first time I had seen someone like that, because in our troupe everyone was doing whatever he felt.
He joined our troupe for one year, and then he went away. He went back to India but it took me two years more to decide. By that time I had made a name as a dancer, but remembering him, I came to India in 1938, shaved my head and gave away all my expensive clothes and everything I had. That is what he wanted me to do before I went to him...and that is how it started. He was shocked to see me because he never thought that I would be able to do what he wanted me to do. For years I was practicing twelve and fourteen hours a day and living completely in a word of music. I stayed with him continuously for nearly eight years.
We are told there are two different paths to take in either music or religion, and we are always told to take the goldy path. Music that is very loud, music which is full of pounding beats can be attractive; music with a lot of virtuosity and speed only can be part of the whole music, but if it has only these qualities, it cannot be spiritual music which touches the heart.
Indian music was nurtured in a religion soil... it went on developing though its life of almost two thousand years, but the basic spirit remained the same. Vocal music is the basis of our expression, and we all have to learn a lot of fixed compositions. One must go through many years of hard training...the Sadhana...a dedicated fanatic practice and complete surrendering to the guru. It is only after years of training and after reaching a certain standard that one begins to improvise. I improvise now about 95 percent. Our music is principally melodic. We follow the “harmonics”, through we do not have harmony in the western musical sense. But we do have harmony between the notes...you see, we do not want fighting within the notes we do have ‘Shrutis’ or microtones, but they are used in a special way to heighten the emotional content of the raga.
The sitar has its initial advantage because some of its basic qualities are unique and also because of the variety of sounds it can produce. It has a very different sound and at no time will it resemble the guitar or the mandolin. Therefore, the sitar, because of that zany quality in the sound, is new to western ears and it has a sort of shimmering sound. It has become so popular among the youth of today. Naturally, because of the pop musicians who have taken it up... and it got a big boost when George Harrison because my student. The popularity started as just a fad, only now I think that the interest is a little more solid...I find that there is more real understanding and appreciation than before.
Personally in my very simple way of thinking, one should be able to give really as much as possible to make other people aware of feelings which a very clean and very spiritual. One can do it through talking, one can do it with his art, but only one is aware of oneself. I can only talk about music. When I play music, I really lose a lot of contact with the outside world, in the sense that my eyes automatically become closed. I slowly lose the awareness of who is listening; it might be my best friends sitting in the front. But that’s what happens to things within me.
It’s very hard to explain, but it is that feeling of extreme sadness that is the first awareness of what go through. I try to get nearer and nearer, I feel a certain peace. It can be felt by people who are hearing me, provided, they are in the right mood, receptive, and in their clear, sober mind.
Indian music can’t be listened to the same way as you hear rock and roll music. You cannot do Yea Yea and go man go. That’s not my type of music really. It should really be heard with a certain feeling of humility and a sort of concentration. If does that, there are really a lot of things that one can find in our music.
This article is reprinted from an interview with Ravi Shankar, which appeared in the oracle of southern California.
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