History of Hindustani (North Indian) Indian Music
India’s musical history dates back to the prehistoric times and is in fact regarded as one of the oldest and most sophisticated in the world. Most experts claim that the origins of Indian music dates back to the era when the Vedas were created. Music, according to Hindu mythology, originated with the first sound ever to be heard in the universe, the "Om". This "Omkaar" resonates through the entire universe and is the purest sound to be heard. It is this purity that the musician attempts to achieve in his artistic pursuit, or sadhana, of the music s/he is involved in
Where Indian cultural history is concerned, the farthest one can go back is, perhaps, to the time of the Vedas - approximately 5000 to 4000 BC. Rig Veda, the oldest Veda, is a compilation of chants and Hymns that were regularly used to conduct rituals in those days. These are arguably the earliest written documents to have emerged from the Indian subcontinent. Since the Vedas were primarily taught by oral tradition, from Teacher to disciple, these chants probably go back even farther.
According to researchers, by 600 BC or so the dramatization of music was evolved. The three saptaks, octaves -- mandra saptak, the lower octave, madhya saptak, the middle octave, and taar saptak, the higher octave -- had been established as ranges within which musical composition could function. Concepts like taal, beat, and jati - ways in which notes could be used - were recognized and established. It was around this time, between 200 BC and 200 AD, that Bharata's Natyashastra (Indian Dramatic Techniques) were said to have been written.
Prior to the 13th century, there was primarily one type of musical form. This form -- which still exists primarily as Carnatik style -- was the indigenous form of music in India. But with the invasion of the Mughals (ie: Moguls), the music of north and central India blended with the Mughal influences of Arabia and Persia; which gradually evolved as the free flowing, mostly improvised present-day Hindustani music. On the other hand, the Carnatic music of the south has remained untouched by any kind of external influence.India’s music is a combination of vocal and instrumental music, along with dance. These three combined form is what is known as Sangeet. According to the documented history of Indian music, performances were considered complete with the combination of these three. This includes musical performances in the royal court, temples, at celebrations and festivals and in villages as part of their entertainment program.
With the Muslim rulers came the Mehfil - gatherings of musicians, singers, dancers and poets at the homes of noblemen and royalty. These gatherings were for the express purpose of patronizing artistes and performers in their skills and giving them platforms to display their talents. In fact, for many performers, these Mehfils were a way of earning their living. For, if they pleased the nobleman or royal, rewards were to be received in the form of precious jewels or sovereigns - rewards that would see them through hard times and help build a legacy for their descendants. These Mehfils - primarily the royal courts.
Indian music has continued to evolve and develop through the eras. It undoubtedly forms an essential part of every Indian’s life, whether living in India or abroad. There is also a large number of foreigners who have taken to learning Indian music.
Present Day Gharanas
Today, Hindustani music continues to be spread and taught, from Guru (teacher) to disciples. The subtle differences in the rendering of music and style by various artists can be traced to their Gharanas ( schools). Though initially started from singers in royal courts, the Gharanas continue to exist, presenting the same Hindustani music with unique modulations and subtle variations. Example of Gharanas of vocal and instrumental tradition today include: Agra, Patiala, Jaipur, Gwalior, Kirana, Rampur, Maihar, Farukkabad and Benaras styles.
Vocal Music Presentation
Hindustani vocal music is presented today in the form of Ragas. A Raga is like a set of alphabets. Each Raga involves a format of specific notes that can be used in ascending and descending patterns. Using this format, an artist creates his/her music for audience as s/he performs. The music is therefore mainly improvised.
Importance is given to the purity of the Raga being rendered, melodic rhythm and also, poetry. The more
skilled and well-versed the artist, the more variable is the rendering. Typically, a single Raga is rendered anywhere between 45 minutes to 2 hours duration. Though the specific format of the Raga is maintained, there is still unlimited freedom to create one’s improvisation within this format. A Raga can also only be performed during certain times of the day. Often, it’s a time that blends beautifully with the intended mood of the Raga.
Taal or rhythm is also important. Most frequently used Taals in Hindustani singing arr Teen taal of 16 beats, Ektaal of 12 beats, Rupak of 7 beats and Jhaptaal of 10 beats. In each Taal, the beats are evenly or sometimes unevenly spaced over rhythm cycles. The beginning of the cycle is known as “Sam”. A vocalist, while being mindful of the impromptu improvisations, quality of Raga, tonality of notes is also expected to follow the intricate patterns of the rhythm cycle and coordinate the poetry according to the rhythm cycle.
This very sophisticated, intricate and beautiful music demand utmost concentration, focus, training and perseverance from its performers. It is, as depicted in the Mythology, the quest for perfection which has deeply spiritual meaning for an artist that chooses to follow this form of music.