Indian music is subtle and soothing, but complex by its various components and constructs (1).
A RAGA, in Indian classical music, is a melodic structure with fixed notes and a set of rules depicting a certain mood conveyed by a performer. It is often a matter of debate among music therapists around the world as to what really makes a raga system for its emotional and as a consequence, its therapeutic value, which makes it stand taller before its other counterparts elsewhere. This short write-up here makes an attempt to answer these queries.
The Comfort Levels in Musical Frequencies
Indian classical music tradition offers the flexibility of choosing a comfortable frequency for the tonic scale called Shadja (2). Since the pitch scale is the very basis for the raga system, it is very essential. Thus any singer or a vocalist can determine his or her own comfort levels in rendering the musical frequencies- tones, semi-tones etc- to choose even before a work out for a song or a kriti. Once a singer or vocalist finds his or her comfort levels, while rendering a song, then automatically the audience too gets synchronized to such a comfort state!
The Amount of Notes in an Octave
George Bernard Shaw had once remarked that music needs to get rid of temperament to be fully enjoyed. The Indian classical system, unlike its western counterpart, does not believe in writing down the well-defined notes or swaras and thus regulating the musical ‘reach’ for its connoisseurs. Since the times of the musical genius, J.S. Bach, the West is wrapped up with the concept that 12 notes is an octave are more than enough for enjoying a musical piece, with its various possibilities such as permutation or combination.
This is in contrast to the age-old understanding in India that music exists as a pyshoacoustical phenomenon, especially in the context of so-called Just Intonation (JI). The long traditions of Nada Yoga have injected this concept deeper into the psyche of Indian musicians as well! Though the Indian system approaches towards an octave (called saptak), being formed by seven major “expressive” intervals (swaras or notes), it is the power of expression as clothed in the selected note that comes handy to focus in evolving a raga scale, in tune with the human psyche. Not only that. The dire need of expression as well as appreciation – as craved by any performer of music- has also been taken into this formulation. The long period of development of Indian music (which is estimated to be over five millennia) has thus given birth to a unique scale, based on a large number of basic microtonal intervals (called shrutis), i.e smaller, standard intervals. Thus the system helps in choosing any of the shrutis which supports the interval. It is interesting that there has been various opinions about the number of such shrutis, though in recent years, it is broadly agreed upon as 22 (if not 53 or 66) . However, there still exists a debate over these numbers and the exact ratio of the shruti intervals supporting each swara. In brief, due to the number of additional frequencies as available through shruti possibilities, Indian music can be enjoyed almost twice or even upto 6 times fuller than what is possible with a system of 12 equal divisions of the octave (12EDO) – as in the West. (3)
Dr T V Sairam is from F/48B, Hari Nagar,New Delhi 110064. For any doubts you can contact him at - firstname.lastname@example.org