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Aesthetics of Indian Music And Indian Classical Music

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Music is an art and the science which is expressed through auditory medium. It is a science because it is made up of sounds and sounds is a part of physics which is universally applicable. It is an Art because as we discussed it is interpreted by different cultures in a different way. Sangeet is formed by combining two words Sam and Geet.Sam means along with and Geet means lyrics or poetry. Sangeet includes three main aspects in it. First one is Vocals, second is instrumentals and third is dance or Nritya. According to Indian philosophy, sound is called Naad. It is of two types Aahat and Anahat Naad. Aahat Naad is struct sound or that which is caused by vibrations formed by caused by the vibrations formed by the collision of two or more bodies therefore it is physical sound and is perceived by the human ears it is carried through a medium like air while anahat nod is that sound which is unstruck it is not perceived by the ears it is a metaphysical spiritual or divine sound that can be attained only through deep meditation. That’s why Indian music is considered as spiritual. Aahat Naad has three properties which are Pitch/Frequency, Loudness/Amplitude, Tone/Timbre. Timbre is a quantative property that helps us to distinguish between sound of a harmonium and a flute even though they are playing same frequency and amplitude.

There are 12 musical notes called as Swaras in Indian music. The group of swaras is called as Sargam. There are 7 shudha swaras (Sa,Re,Ga,Ma,Pa,Dha,Ni), 4 komal/Flat swaras (Re,Ga,Dha,Ni), 1 Teevra/Sharp swara (Ma). Indian Classical Music is divided into two sections which are Hindustani Shastriya Sangeet (North Indian) and Carnatic Sangeet (South Indian). The tradition of Hindustani music dates back to Vedic times where the hymns in the Sama Veda, an ancient religious text, were sung as Samagana and not chanted. Carnatic music can be traced to the 14th – 15th centuries AD and thereafter. It originated in South India during the rule of Vijayanagar Empire. Like Hindustani music, it is melodic, with improvised variations, but tends to have more fixed compositions

Now let us understand the theoretical concept of ‘Saptak’ in Indian Music. ‘Sa’ is root of Indian Music. The position of other notes depend upon the position of Sa. When the frequency of this Sa is doubled we get upper Sa or taar Sa. The frequency space between two is called as Saptak. Saptak is represented by 12 swaras. But, the name Saptak is derived from seven main notes. Upper Sa is considered as beginning of next Saptak. In Indian music, generally 3 saptaks are used- Mandra Saptak, Madhya Saptak and Taar Saptak.

Indian classical music believes in Natural tempered scale. According to this scale, Sa and pa are on exact frequency points while the other notes are not placed on an exact particular frequency. Each swara has a range of frequency in which it can operate. It is represented by it Swarakshetra. Swarakshetra is defined by lowest and highest frequency points. These defining points are called ‘Shrutis’. There are 22 shrutis in total.

This paper aims to discuss the concepts of Aesthetics, Indian culture and traditions, aesthetic components in different components of music and a personal understanding of Aesthetics in Indian Music.

Aesthetics refers to the philosophy of the beautiful. Rousseau, a French philosopher said-

Never take away the love of the beautiful from your heart. If you do it, you will lose the very charm in living!

Aesthetics is also defined as ‘critical reflection on art, culture and nature’. ‘Aesthetics’ is derived from the Greek word, ‘aisthesis’ which means perception. Although, beauty may be subjective but the notion of beauty is still built on certain parameters. These can be used to judge the beauty of a certain form of music. Before discussing about Aesthetics in Indian music, let’s discuss some important elements of Indian music.

Music finds a place in the pages of the history of world. Music denotes the inner sentiments of heroism, happiness, anger, sadness etc. of people of each age and society. The Vedic period may be considered as the beginning of science of Music. Brahma the creator accepting the request of Indra extracted the science of Music from four Vedas.

The arts of singing, playing instrument and dancing are considered as three main assets of Indian Music. Indian music comprises a vast and rich tradition of classical, semi-classical, light and folk music which has grown out of the different cultures.

Important elements of Indian Music

In Indian classical Music, Taal and Laya are two important elements of Indian Music. They are related to rhythm of music. Tal is a cycle of beats. Each Tal is made up of specific syllables and specific beats. The distance between each beat is equal. In the North Indian form of Indian classical music, called ‘khayaal’, the particular set of syllables or ‘bols’ that make up a ‘Taal’ is called the ‘Thekaa’. So, a particular composition of a ‘taal’ using a particular set of ‘bol’s is called a ‘Thekaa’. There may be a different composition for the same ‘taal’ that uses a different set of ‘bol’s and that will be a different ‘Theka’.Laya is the distance between each beat. So, lesser the distance the faster is the tempo and the larger the distance the slower is the tempo. There are broadly three types of Layas in Indian classical Music- Vilambhit (slow), Madhya (medium), Drut (fast). Beats are also known as ‘Maatras’ in Indian classical music. ‘Ati’ is also used with Vilambhit and Drut to denote ‘AtiVilabhit’ (very slow) and ‘AtiDrut’ (very fast). First beat is called as Sam. Bada khayal is played in Vilambhit and Madhya laya and Chota khayal is always played in Drut laya.

Another important concept of Indian classical Music is ‘Raga’. Raga is a set of musical notes taken from the 12 musical notes and gives a flavour. It is the colour that comes due to different number of and different rendering of notes. There is a saying in music shastra- “Ranjayeti Iti Raaga”, i.e. the combination of Swaras (musical notes) which leads to number of sentiments/ expressions (bhaav) is called Raag. Fox Strangways described raga as-

an arbitrary series of notes characterized as far as possible as individuals, by proximity to or remoteness from the note which marks the Tessitura (general level of melody); by a special order in which they are usually reinforced by a drone.

A raag must have minimum 5 notes and maximum 7 notes. There are three categories of Raga according to number of notes used- Audav (5 noted), Shadav (6 noted), Sampoorna (7 noted). Aaroh (Ascending) and Avroh (Descending) both orders are must in a Raga. This also determines the Jati of a Raga. Vadi (most important note of a Raga) and Samvadi (second most important note of a Raga) are two notes that must be defined in a Raga. In a Raga, if vadi falls in the first tetra-chord then samvadi must fall in the second tetra-chord or vice-versa. There are other important notes in a Raga such as Vivadi, Griha, Ansha, Nyas, Vakra.

The North Indian raga system is also called Hindustani, while the South Indian system is commonly referred to as Carnatic. There are 7 known modes in Western music, while 72 Melakarta (parent ragas) in Carnatic music and 10 Thaats (parent raga similar to Melakarta) in Hindustani music. The North Indian system suggests a particular time of a day or a season, in the belief that the human state of psyche and mind are affected by the seasons and by daily biological cycles and nature’s rhythms. In ancient and medieval Indian literature, the raga are described as manifestation and symbolism for gods and goddesses.

Although, Lot of combinations are possible for ragas but only a few are considered by the musiciasns. Some famous Ragas are- Bhairav, Bhairavi, Bhimpalasi, Bihag, Bilaval, Kafi, Khamaj, Malkaush, Yaman etc.

There are four movements in raag presentation. RaagVistaar-The beginning step of the raag is termed as ‘Alaap’. A singer begins with Alaaps in the beginning like Om Anant Hari Narayana. This is a slow movement without the rhythmic elements. Second part is Bandish(composition). A Bandish is a well knitted composition which denotes the key features of a Raga and the meaning of the Raga. After ‘Alaap-Jod’, singer treats the compositions in (Thaah, Daugun,Trigun, Chaugun, Aad, Kuad, Bead) layakaries. The third part is adding ‘Ras-Bhavas’ in the composition. Taans are the last part of Raag. The final and ending movement of the Raag is full of dynamism and fast swara phrases in double, triple, quadruple etc.The length of Taan may be from to any number of Maatras. The duration of Raag is approximately 10% of the total time of Raag.

Aesthetic appreciation of Raga (Rasas)

So, let’s discuss about the aesthetic appreciation of Raga. ‘Rasas’ denote the aesthetic flavour of any visual, literary or musical work that evokes an emotion or feeling in the reader or audience but cannot be described. Rasas are created by bhavas:[3] the state of mind. Bharat Muni, a trinity of Indian classical music has written a book named ‘Bharat ka Natyashastra’ in which he mentioned ‘Navrasa’ theory.

Bharata puts it very strongly: na bhavahino rasah, there is no rasa without bhava, and—stressing the reverse relationship—he adds, na bhavo rasavarjitah, no bhava is devoid of rasa

Rasa is produced from a combination of Determinants (vibhava), Consequents (anubhava) and Transitory States (vyabhicaribhava).

— Natyashastra 6.109

According to the Natya shastra, the goals of theatre are to empower aesthetic experience and deliver emotional rasa.

Bharath Muni has mentioned 8 Rasas in Natyashastra. A rasa is a sentiment or emotion evoked in audience by the art. Each rasa has a specific colour with it.

These eight are distributed among the seven notes of the octave, one or more related rasas being attached to each note, some of them sharing the same rasas. As you remember, the sequence started from sa: sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni. Their rasas are as follows: 1 ma and pa, that is to say the fourth and the fifth of the tonal sequence, belong to the rasa of love (Sringara) and the rasa of laughter (Hasya). These rasas often form a compound—’hasyasrngaran’. Next follow the sa and the ri, both connected with the same triad of rasas, Veeram (heroism), Raudra (fierceness) and’ Adbhuta (wonder or stupefaction). The third and the seventh of the note sequence, ga and ni (as you see, a fifth apart and, incidentally, forming minor intervals against the sa, viz. a minor third and a minor seventh) are linked with the sentiment of karuna (pity). Remains the dha, the sixth of the sequence, which is linked with another, frequently linked pair of rasas, Vibhatra and bhayanaka (disgust and fear).

All the nine Rasas can be described in Nritya but ‘Raudra’,’Bhayanak’ and ‘Vibhatra’ Rasas are not permissible in the vocal or instrumental classical music.

Alankaar (Ornamentation in Indian Music)

In our daily lives, we chose ornaments according to situations. We don’t wear too much or too less ornaments. In the same way, the proportion of ornamentation and the timing of ornamentation is extremely essential in Indian Music. Like ornament increase physical grace in the same way with Alankar there is a grace in singing. It defines the melody of a song.

In Indian Classical Music, the term Alankaar is used to denote ornamentation. But, this term Alankaar can also refer to ‘Paltas’. Paltas are combination of notes in Aroha and Avroha to make beginners understood the distance of swaras from each other. Eg. Sa Re, Re Ga, Ga Ma, Ma Pa.., Sa Re Ga, Re Ga Ma, Ga Ma Pa…

There are different categories of ornaments (alankār). We have shabda-alankār, which are techniques of sound production, and varna-alankār, which are formulae for patterning notes in order to achieve certain musical effects.

There are some feelings and decorations needed to be put to give a raga a distinct flavor, or simply to make it sound even more expressive. Now, Let’s discuss about some of the embellishments used in Indian Music in some detail.

First one is Meend. Meend is a smooth glide from one note to another in a curved manner. The point of a meend is that it includes all the relevant notes in a smooth transition. It is also needed to know how much importance has to be given to each note because some notes are important in a Raga while others are not. This meend has given many ragas its identity. For example, Raag Shudh kalyan it has meend from Sa to Dha and Pa to Ga, that is the essential identity of Raga Shudh kalyan. Meend is found in many Bollywood songs also. For Example, Tu bin bataye from Rang de basanti. The next ornamentation is called as a Khatka. It is a little break or jerk at a note. Khatka are found in many Bollywood songs. For Example, Main tainu samjhaawan ki, Hume tumse Pyaar kitna, Jhalak dihlaa ja etc. The third one is Zamzama. Cluster of khatkas is termed as Zamzama. This is found a lot in Maharashtrian and Punjabi folk songs. Some musicians say that Zamzama is purely an instrumental ornament played especially on strings like Sitar. Zamzama is also a characteristic of ‘Tappa Gayaki’ in Punjab. Next one is Murki. Murki is a set of notes taken together. Bollywood songs can have a lot of murkis in them. For Example, Tujh sang bair lagaya aisa. But, in Indian classical musician is asked not to take too many murkis because it can mess with the seriousness of raga. Next ornament is called Andolan which is a slow oscillation of notes. It is used to give a serious tinge to the raag or to a melody. The use in Bollywood song is in Poocha na maine kaise Rain bitaaye. Next one is a very important in Indian classical Music which is called as Gamak. Gamak is shadowing of notes or giving weightage to notes to form an effect. A 3 dimensional effect is created where the notes stand out because of Gamak. It makes a raag stand out. This is an important technique in Dhrupad and often in Bada Khayal singing. In the ancient books, 15 types of Gamaks were found.

⦁ Mudrita – Imprint

⦁ Tribhinna – Threefold

⦁ Gumphita – Threaded

⦁ Plavita – Flowing⦁ Kampita – Shake

⦁ Kurula – Spiral⦁ Ullhasit – Happy

⦁ Naamita – Obeisance⦁ Valit – Vipple

⦁ Sphurita – Pulsating

⦁ Tirip – Flurry

⦁ Leen – Absorbing⦁ Andolita – Swing

⦁ Aaghaat – Strike

⦁ Mishrit – Mixed

Carnatic Music gives a lot of weightage to kampit Gamak or shaky weightage. It is not used in indian light music. It spoils the feel of the song. It can make the music sound harsh and unmelodic if it is overused or used inappropriately.

In Hindustani classical music, Notes can be sung straight, but they are often sung with kan-swar (grace notes). This gives the music sweetness and smoothness. Grace notes can precede or follow the main note or be of a higher or lower pitch than the main note. The main note is held for the longest time while the grace note is more subtle. The usage of grace notes depend on the raga as well as the musical phrase itself.


Beauty is mostly considered in things that we can observe. But, In music it has a completely different meaning. Music gives you relaxation, satisfaction, peace of mind, pleasure which is in itself beautiful.

Three important and basic aspects that must be kept in mind while studying aesthetic value of Music are the place, the time and the circumstances. These aspects can change the beauty aspects of Music. That is why the music of older generation is not liked by the new generation. The generation gap always bring some new trends and fashion ib the culture.

Indian composers like Shama Shastri, Tyagraja and western composers like Mozart, Beethoven were ahead of their times. There have been some great composers who revolutionized the style of composing music. Great music composers like Madan Mohan, S D Burman and many other artists have contributed in this field. We can conclude that there is a fundamental relation between the music and aesthetics. That is why music is considered as close to God. Music has also been a part of cultural heritage. Thus, music cannot be studied without the study of Aesthetics.

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