Indian Classical Music
Before commenting upon the creative aspects of Indian Classical Music, we must clearly understand the essentials of musical system India. The Indian classical music is raga or melody based. A raga is a special combination of notes in ascending and descending order in a scale of notes or swaras. Every raga has some dominant/fixed phrases and notes called vadi and samvadi and also `chalan’ or ‘firat’. These are the basic parameters of raga music and remaining within them the artist has unlimited freedom and scope to present and make improvisations to create the raga and its mood. The compositions are set to the raga in certain “talas” or time beats or measures. The ragas are presented both through Raga-Alap (Portrayal of raga merely through note production without using compositions) and exposition with the help of compositions. These briefly are the rules of the game, as it were, of our classical musical system. Our system is unique in the sense that so much of freedom in improvisation of raga `roopa’ is without parallel in any other musical system of the world.
In such a system, creativity and music must necessarily go together. The classical artist is at once a creator, interpreter, and composer. This freedom of improvisation, however, definitely places a burden and responsibility upon the artist— he must not violate the sanctity of the system nor misuse the freedom the system gives him. Creativity also involves some degree of emotional commitment and personal involvement on the part of the artist.
The inspiration for creativity has come to man from Nature, the sea, rivers, mountains, the trees, the blue skies. Indian Classical music has been a direct outcome of man’s devotional nature and his quest for the Eternal and the Creator. Thus the oldest form of Traditional Indian music has been religious and devotional music.
Creativity has also been inspired by man’s interaction with his environment and quest for the beautiful and the sublime. An analysis of the historical evolution of traditional Indian classical music is the best illustration of the fantastic creativity of our musical system. Let us therefore take a look in that direction for a clearer understanding of musical creativity.
The origins of Indian Classical Music are lost in legends of mythology and religion to which the origin of ragas has often been attributed. The first authentic evidence of classical music is connected with the coming of the Aryans and the music of the Vedas. The Vedic hymns were followed by the Prabandhas and the Padas which were the precursors of Dhrupad songs. The basic creativity of our musical system lies in the assimilation and synthesis of our music with music that came to India from outside. For eight to ten centuries this process has gone on which has revolutionized and enriched our music. This is why unlike other occidental systems our music has gained in resilience and variety and not been relegated to the museums. In these process new ragas, fusions, new instruments, new styles have emerged thus giving our music an unparalleled variety and richness. Our Vocal music, the different Vinas led by the Rudra Vina, the emergence of grand instrument like the Sitar and the Sarod took place followed by highly stylized rendering by various gharanas or schools of playing.
Another sign of creativity is the gradual shifting of the venue of musical presentation from the temples to the courts and then to the chambers and finally to the concert stage. While still music continues to be an elitist activity, the inner impulse appears to be that of carrying our music to larger groups of people. This has inevitably involved much greater and improved communication between performers and the listeners.
Apart from religious devotion, the other great source of our raga music has been the vast storehouse of our folk and regional music. The third source has been the profound imagination of master musicians and experimentation by scholars. This is perhaps the explanation for the great variety of our musical forms like Dhrupads, Dhamars, Khayals, Thumris, Tappa, Hori, Kajri, Chaiti, Kirtan and others. Alongside these vocal forms developed subtle styles in instrumental styles like Map, Madh, Jor, Thok Jhala etc.
The force of creativity has led Indian Classical music to fresh woods and pastures new through uncharted courses sometimes spontaneously and sometimes through necessity. The Dhrupad system over the centuries produced four distinct styles called Banis which were the precursors of the Khayal gharanas-Gaudiya, Dagar, Khandar and Nauhar Banis. Once the Dhrupads started declining, the Rudra Bin came forward and showed the way for detailed Vocal Alap in different phases. The decline of Dhrupad and development of vocal Alap threw open the flood gates as it were of the khayal style of music with different types of compositions in various tempos through the emergence of several rich Khayal gharanas. The raga vistar portion of Khayal singing directly came from vocal Alap and layakari from the rhythmic variations of the Dhrupad style.
This was the overall situation towards the late 19th and early 20th century the backdrop being that of royal patronage and a class of elitist listeners. Then came great personalities in the field of teaching and propagation of classical music men like Bhatkhandeji and Paluskar who with the support of some of the rulers set up Music institutions and organized conferences to bring together the best musicians before the listening public. Alongside started the herculean task of standardization of our musical system both in respect of the form of ragas and collection of compositions of various ragas from different gharanas, a truly original and massive effort which settled to a large extent the endless controversies and disputes regarding the correct position regarding the ragas, classifications and the authentic compositions. The volumes of Sang it Kramik Pustak Malika brought out by Bhatkhandeji was followed by the setting up of the Maurice College of music at Lucknow and a chain of Gandharva Sangit Vidyalayas in different parts of the country —Lahore, Bombay, Pune and Delhi. All this totally changed the music scenario of classical music, bringing music within the easy reach of the common music lovers.
These were laudable efforts indeed but the real changes of far reaching nature actually started after Independence. To a great extent, creativity did play an important part in all this but the sheer pace of change and qualitative developments left back many raised eyebrows. The hard realities of music having become a highly competitive profession, commercial factors, the entry of commercial houses as advertiser-promoters, the mushrooming of both artists and institutions, the all year round conferences and Festivals changed the musical ethos altogether and the sublime aspects of music started getting blunted. A new class of listeners made up of the new rich, simple music lovers and a very large number of pure fun seekers have now become a major part of the musical scenario. The new conditions also threw up a new set of performers who have tailored their music to suit t he tastes and requirements of the new class of listeners.
Thus partly as result of creativity or desire to innovate and partly through commercial compulsions a new style of classical music presentation and appreciation have come about resulting in what is generously described as Neo-classicism. No serious study has been made how far the music now cultivated and presented has strayed from the classical mainstream. Perhaps not many are really bothered about this aspect of musical degeneration in the name innovation and catering to what is called “the demand for music” or the changed taste of the public.