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Indian Music

Music has helped me become who I am. A song is always playing on my phone or laptop while I am doing anything. Music is something I notice a lot when I watch a movie. And of late, I have learnt to produce music too! Isn't that exciting?!

Now, a lot of you might be wondering what genre I enjoy the most. Honestly, I don't have a good answer for that. For the last couple of years, I have been exploring a wide range of genres from around the world, and each has opened up a different emotion that was dormant in me. In the enormous set of music that lives within me now, I can, however, simply point out one genre that keeps me going. Indian music.

Picture of trinity of carnatic music
The Trinity of Carnatic Music

It is quite true that my upbringing has done a lot to influence my love for Indian music, particularly Carnatic and Hindustani. I have to point out, though, that I was never forced to learn it like a lot of children my age. I picked it up seriously just before I entered into my teenage years. At that time, I simply wanted to explore the genre and nothing more. Almost seven years have gone by, and today I can't finish a day without practising (doing saadhakam as we say) my vocals. And of course, I haven't reached anywhere. Indian music is a vast ocean that only a few have managed to swim through most of it, and in my belief, none have ever crossed it.

Due to the vastness and diversity of India, Indian music encompasses a wide range of genres and forms, including classical music, folk, movies (such as Bollywood), rock, and pop, among others. It has a millennia-long history and has evolved across several geo-locations across the subcontinent. Music has long been a part of India's socio-religious life.

In English, Carnatic or Karntak music refers to the music of South India (Sanskrit, Karntaka Sangtam). Over time, it has assimilated a variety of traditions, philosophies, and stylistic aspects. Many of the characteristics present in today's concerts, such as song lyrics, instrumental style, and rhythm, may be traced back to different sections of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. Because the four southern states were formed after India's independence in 1947 on the basis of linguistic concerns, it's vital to remember that this music is not limited to Karnataka, nor can it be attributed to any one ethnic, linguistic, sectarian, or social group. Early Indian music was, by definition, subservient to the needs of drama, dance, public festivities, and religious rituals. Only in the last few centuries has "music" in the modern sense of the word become an art form in its own right, and early Indian music was by definition subservient to the needs of drama, dance, public festivities, and religious rituals. Much of South India's musical evolution has thus escaped the scrutiny of historians who are more interested in factual and biographical accounts than hagiography or the complexities of current Karntak music theory. It is very difficult to make a purely chronological survey of musicological writing. There were many different musical systems, and nothing is known about their origins or demise. Some overlap in time, some remain independent of one another, and some cross paths; the impact of one can occasionally be seen on the other.

Hindustani music has a long history, dating back to the Vedic era, when hymns from the Sama Veda, an old sacred scripture, were sung as Samagana rather than uttered. Around the 13th–14th century CE, it began to deviate from Carnatic music, owing primarily to Islamic influences. It has modern customs formed mostly in India, but also in Pakistan and Bangladesh, after developing a strong and diverse legacy over several centuries. In contrast to Carnatic music, Hindustani music was strengthened by Mughal Persian performance practises as well as old Hindu musical traditions, historical Vedic philosophy, and native Indian sounds. Dhrupad, dhamar, khyal, tarana, and sadra are classical genres, and there are countless others.

Any song or musical piece can, in one way or another, be brought back to its classical roots. Even the most modern songs and genres can be connected to classical music. Even now, a good number of Indian songs in movies or series do spring directly from a classical scale known as raga (or raga or raag as well).

One particular reason that classical music saw a decline was certainly its complexity. Many of you might not know, but the precision and accuracy required in classical music is highly mathematical (and how amazingly the Indian education system has made us hate that subject one way or the other). I remember a small discourse by the prominent singer Rama Varma, a disciple of the legendary M. Balamuralikrishna. He explains how the complexity of notes and modulations, known as gamakams, is not easy to adapt to, especially when light and film music exist. He says this even irritates certain people, and for many, classical music is simply noise. If we look back, you might have had your parents hate your choice and taste in modern music, which they might not have, and vice-versa too. I don't think anyone can disregard any genre or style of music without at least 2-3 hours of listening to it. In my opinion, classical music has not declined. Modern technologies such as radio, television, the internet, etc., have helped in getting it out there to the masses. We cannot keep away from the conservative viewpoints that also existed at one point, which discriminated against teaching or learning if you belong to certain sections of society. The decline of the same has also helped in rekindling the almost lost flame of music.

I cannot deny the decrease in certain qualities of music. Give a listen to a concert by M. S. Subbulakshmi or Semmangudi Sreenivasan Iyer. Then give a listen to the same songs (if possible) by any of the present top singers. A good contrast in musical quality can be heard. Indian classical music gives great importance to the aspect of personal feeling or bhava (bhaavam, bhaava etc as well). This was the most noticeable in the past. But lyrical importance wasn't given a lot then either. Now lyrics and pronunciation have also taken centre stage. As we move ahead, the styles and ways of singing and teaching have changed widely. The Gurukula system doesn't exist in many places, and online platforms have helped in learning and re-learning too. It certainly makes me cautious, though, about how music education has entered the Indian business as well. A good reason for the decrease in musical quality is how many students simply learn for programmes or competitions alone. They do not embrace the musicality but rather the prizes, and many parents, and sadly, even some teachers, are at fault for this as well. Music is to be enjoyed, to be felt, to be tasted, and to exist to bring harmony within ourselves.

There are many people whom I have met who have zero idea of classical music and shun it away as "temple music" (as they call it) and it only makes me giggle on the inside because I know exactly what they are missing. Of course, many of them are openly miserable, and I do sometimes feel pity for them. But it also made me realise that many who might belong to that group might exist among my readers as well. And hence my humble attempt at this small introduction to this gigantic topic. Not only in disease, but in everyday life, listening to the right music brings out the best in people, allowing them to fulfil their full potential. As a result, it is as essential to human life as food, breath, and water, and it gives life a fresh meaning. People suffering from sleeplessness, sadness, anxiety, substance use disorders, developmental delays, and other childhood psychiatric illnesses can benefit from its therapeutic effects. The potential of music therapy is undeniable; nevertheless, greater efforts must be made to popularise it by highlighting the scientific basis of its benefits, which can be demonstrated by more clinical trials in this field. More research on Indian classical and traditional music genres is required.

Nonetheless I am glad to call Indian music the drug that keeps me alive.


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