Friday, June 8, 2018

Raga clusters in Hindustani music

Lecture demonstration 
The Music Academy, Madras
December 18, 2011

I have to begin with a couple of confessions. Firstly, I am a late entrant to musicology. I am therefore primarily a student of the performing tradition, and much less so of the scholarly tradition. Secondly, my knowledge of Carnatic music is negligible. I will try to conceal these weaknesses. But, they could very well get exposed. In such event, I shall be grateful for your indulgence.

The subject:

I have chosen to share with you my understanding of raga clusters, formed by raga transformations and compound raga-s, as practiced in Hindustani music. I chose this subject on the advice of knowledgeable friends in Chennai. They thought this phenomenon was largely unfamiliar to those cultivated in the Carnatic tradition. As audiences in the South get progressively exposed to Hindustani music, a discussion could aid a better appreciation.   

The perspective:

As a melodic entity, a Raga is a set of rules governing the (a) selection (b) sequencing and (c) treatment of swara-s.

This definition has two perspectives – one is the scale (selection of swara-s), and the other is the melodic personality (sequencing and treatment). The scale is the skeleton of a raga, while the sequencing and treatment are the flesh and blood. The melodic personality subsumes the scale, and is therefore a larger perspective, and closer to the notion of rasa, which is fundamental to raga-based music.

Hindustani music devotes a lot of attention to the melodic personality as a guide to the performing tradition. Based on this focus, it classifies a large number of raga-s into clusters which share the same melodic personality. In Hindustani music, these clusters have been variously called RagaAnga Raga-s or Raga Prakar-s.

I shall avoid using the term RagAnga Raga-s because of the possibility of stepping into the medieval classification of raga-s into RagAnga, BhashAnga and KriyAnga Raga-s, which I do not understand.

I am also avoiding the colloquial notion of raga families; and for a good reason. There exists an ancient classification of raga-s into (1) Six Primary raga-s, (2) Thirty ragini-s/ wives (3) Napungsaka raga-s, (4) putra raga-s/ sons and (5) putra-vadhu raga-s / daughters-in-law. This is an area I have not studied, and do not understand. I will therefore continue with the caveat that there is no reference here to this ancient classification either.

I shall stick to the nomenclature of Raga Clusters. In music theory, I am relying on a concept that is primarily 20th century (post-Bhatkhande), and using a term (cluster) derived from modern social sciences research, which suggests a synchronicity and commonality without necessarily implying any causality between members.  

How the clusters are conceived:

Clusters are formed around the major/ popular melodic personalities encountered in Hindustani raga-s – treated as the “reference/ base” raga-s. All raga-s do not necessarily belong to particular clusters. But, many do.

Examples of base/reference raga-s which serve as the nucleus for Raga clusters are.
1.      Bhairav (Reference raga: Bhairav)
2.      Bilawal  (Reference raga: Bilawal)
3.      Todi       (Reference raga: Miya ki Todi)
4.      Sarang   (Reference raga: Vrindavani Sarang (? )
5.      Kanada  (Reference raga: Darbari Kanada)
6.      Malhar   (Reference raga: Miya ki Malhar)
7.      Bahar     (Reference raga: Bahar)
8.      Kauns (Reference raga: Malkauns)

Note: This list is not exhaustive, as several other Reference raga-s/ Raga clusters have been proposed by different musicians/ scholars.

Membership of the raga-clusters is defined broadly by two types of transformations with the reference raga as the focal point.

(a)    A change in the scale or phrasing in the reference raga, which is so minor that, although it creates a different raga, it does so without permitting the shadow (Chhaya) of another major raga from falling upon the transformation. I have chosen to call this category a “Raga Transformation”.

      Historically, these transformations need not necessarily have been derived from the “Reference Raga”. But, it is possible that many of them are  derived. Shahana Kanada of the Kanada cluster (bearing no similarity to the Carnatic raga, Sahana), for instance, probably precedes the emergence of Darbari Kanada. Ahir Bhairav of the Bhairav cluster is, however, considered a derivation from Bhairav.

(b)   A purposive and deliberate combination of two or more raga-s, in which both/ all the component raga-s are visibly present, but one of them dominates the totality of the musical experience. Although this process of combining raga-s can take several forms, they can be clubbed together in the category of “Compound Raga-s”. In modern musicological literature, they are also occasionally referred to as “Sankeerna Raga-s”.

The logic:

Why is it important to practice a notion of raga clusters based on the melodic personality?

The aesthetic purpose of raga transformations and compound raga-s is to establish or create relatively unfamiliar melodic entities within, or from, relatively familiar melodic material. In these transformations/ compound raga-s, the familiar boundaries of the reference raga are “breached”. But, the resultant melodic entity does not lose its anchoring in the melodic personality governing the raga cluster.

To achieve this result, the scale is clearly insufficient because in Hindustani music, the same scale can deliver a multiplicity of raga-s, each governed by a different melodic personality.

Many instances of this phenomenon can be cited. I will limit my observations to just two. Take for instance, the scale of Raga Madhyamavati in Carnatic music. The same scale delivers two raga-s in Hindustani music – one is Raga Megh, performed as a member of the Malhar cluster, and the other is Madhumad Sarang, performed as a member of the Sarang cluster. Consider another example – the Bhoop (Mohanam in Carnatic) scale of Hindustani music delivers three different Hindustani raga-s – Bhoop/ Bhoopali, Deshkar, and Jait. The scale is identical, but the sequencing and treatment of swara-s is distinct.

The second issue is the importance of improvisation in the totality of the music making process. I am not competent to compare this facet of Hindustani music with Carnatic music. Within Hindustani music, however, the post-Dhrupad era has seen Hindustani music progressively become a highly individualistic, improvisation dominant art. It has steadily shrunk the role of the pre-composed element, and progressively enlarged the role of the musician as a composer. As it has expanded the role of improvisatory process, musicians – and their audiences – have sought a more categorical anchoring in the melodic personality within which the raga functions.  Originality has flowered because of its ability to remain anchored in the familiar.

The essence of the cluster phenomenon:

Raga transformations and compound raga-s are both deviations from the established grammar of the Reference Raga considered in isolation.  In effect, they enable the musician to enlarge his role as a composer beyond the boundaries of familiar raga-grammar. Although the deviations do follow certain conventions, all musicians may not interpret the conventions in an identical manner.  To this, extent, within limits, the musician actually writes the grammar of these melodic entities. As a result, several Raga variants, bearing the same name, may vary in their detailing of the transformed/compound melodic entity.

Broadly, however, certain statements can be made on this subject.

(a)    Raga transformations do, by and large, exhibit a standardized Raga grammar. For instance the Raga Shahana Kanada is performed as a variant of Raga Darbari Kanada, the Reference raga of the Kanada cluster.  To my knowledge, Shahana Kanada is encountered in three variants, each very close to the other. All the variants identify themselves as Shahana Kanada instantly.

(b)   Compound Raga-s can often exhibit what looks like “non-standard” Raga grammar because Raga-s can be dovetailed/ combined in a variety of ways. Even within the same dovetailing convention, the same compound Raga performed by one musician may sound slightly different from the same Raga performed by another musician. For instance, the Raga Kaunsi Kanada (a combination of Malkauns/ Hindolam and Darbari Kanada) sung by different musicians may sound marginally different, depending on the musician’s interpretation of the combination. And, yet, the compound will identify itself instantly as Kausi Kanada, and as a member of the Kanada cluster. 

It would be incorrect to see this phenomenon in Hindustani music as a region of grammatical laxity. Its logic is well documented in the scholarly tradition, and the major variants of each cluster are documented in terms of raga grammar. But, a musician is not entirely bound by the documented versions. The critical viewpoint subjects the performance of these raga-s to a different yardstick of validation  – the emphasis here is on aesthetic coherence, handling of the deviations from the reference raga (in the case of raga transformations), the dovetailing of the component raga-s (in the case of compound raga-s), and the element of novelty/surprise.

Patterns in raga transformations

1.      The dominant and identifying melodic features of the base/ reference raga are kept intact.
2.      With no change in scale, only some swara sangati-s or phrasing patterns may be changed.
3.      OR: Some swara-s may be altered from shuddha to komal/tivra or the other way around.
4.      OR: Some swara-s of the reference/ base raga may be omitted in the ascent or descent or both.

(a)   Transformation: Example 1.
Raga Khem Kalayan belongs to the Kalyan cluster. Features: The scale is identical to Yaman Kalyan. But, Re, Ma and Dh are omitted in the aroha, and (tivra) Ma is used subliminally in the avaroha.
Demo: Yaman Kalyan by Shujaat Khan, Khem Kalyan by Purnima Sen

(b)   Transformation: Example 2
Raga Shukla Bilawal belongs to the Bilawal cluster
The reference raga is Bilawal. Features. One signatory phrase (SGRGM) is added to Bilawal to create Shukla Bilawal.
Demo: Bilawal: Abdul Kareem Khan. Shukla Bilawal: Kalyan Mukherjea

(c)    Transformation: Example 3.
Raga Gaud Malhar belongs to the Malhar cluster
Reference raga: Miya Malhar
Features: (the most common version)
Komal Ga of Miya Malhar is replaced with Shuddha Ga Demo: Miya Malhar: Ameer Khan. Gaud Malhar: Vilayat Khan

Conventions for forging compound raga-s
The forging of two raga-s into compounds follows two classical conventions:
Raga-s are classified as either Aroha Pradhan (ascent dominant) or Avaroha Pradhan (descent dominant). The compound is forged by dovetailing the Aroha of the Aroha Pradhan raga with the avaroha of the avaroha pradhan raga.

2.      Raga-s are also alternatively classified as Purvanga pradhan (centered in the lower tetrachord) or Uttaranga Pradhan (centred in the upper tetrachord). A compound can be forged by fusing the Purvanga of a purvanga pradhan raga with the uttaranga of an uttaranga pradhan raga. Uttaranga pradhan raga-s are (as Bhatkhande observes) also frequently avaroha pradhan raga-s. Therefore, the dovetailing may not always seem clinically rigorous.

In a compound raga, there is no distinction between “native” and “alien” melodic features. Both are explicitly present in a pre-determined relationship, though one of the components tends to dominate the musical experience. The conventions for forging compounds work efficiently under most conditions. However, in extra-ordinary conditions, Hindustani music resorts to the third category of binding/ dovetailing.  

Extraordinary conditions
What does a musician do if he wishes to fuse one araoha pradhan raga with another aroha pradhan raga? Or, one uttaranga pradhan raga with another uttaranga pradhan raga? And, what will he do if he wishes to blend more than two raga-s? The classical conventions for fusing raga-s will not work.

In recent history, musicians have attempted to perform fusions of up to ten raga-s. Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, for instance, frequently sang Raga Patmanjari, a combination of five raga-s. Kesarbai Kerkar often sang Raga Khat (Shath), which is a combination of six raga-s.  The Gwalior tradition has documented a Raga Sagar, which is a combination of ten raga-s. One may question the aesthetic purpose of fusing more than three raga-s. But, this has been attempted, and its melodic logic can be deciphered.

In such raga-s, typical individual phrases from the component (primary) raga-s are fused together in alternating sequence in order to forge a novel melodic entity. As a result, in every melodic line (or at least in the entirety of the composition), you would experience the features of three or more different raga-s in interesting juxtaposition.

As may be expected, such multiple-raga combinations belong to a territory beyond grammar as applied to a single raga or even to compounds of two raga-s. Their “grammar” lies in their ability to distinctly express the different melodic identities they incorporate, the coherence of the resulting melodic entity, and the handling of the transitions between the different raga-s as it takes place in the fused melodic entity. 

1.      Compound raga: Example 1
Raga Basant Bahar belongs to the Bahar cluster.
Reference raga: Bahar
Features: Bahar in aroha, and Basant in avaroha
Demo: Hirabai Barodekar.

2.      Compound raga: Example 2
Raga Kaunsi Kanada belongs to the Kanada cluster
Reference raga: Darbari Kanada
Features: Malkauns in aroha and Darbari in avaroha
Demo: Vilayat Hussain Khan. Malkauns in aroha and Adana (a Darbari variant) in avaroha.

3.      Compound raga: Example 3
Raga Jog Kauns is a member of the Kauns cluster
Reference raga: Malkauns
Features: Jog in the purvanga, and Malkauns in the uttaranga
Demo: Vilayat Khan.

4.      Complex compound (more than two raga-s):
Raga Sampoorna Malkauns
This is not a raga, but a raga enhancement concept, providing a variety of options. Malkauns (SgMdn) is an audava jati (pentatonic) raga. It can be made “sampoorna” (Heptatonic) by adding Re and Pa. This can be done in a variety of ways. One approach: Practiced in Jaipur-Atrauli gharana of Khayal vocalism. A dovetailing of Malkauns, Kafi, and Bageshri
Demo: Dhondutai Kulkarni

Reconsidering the term “Sankeerna”
I do not claim scholarship in Sanskrit. But, in addition to the connotation of  (संक्रमण = Transit) “compounds” of different elements, the dictionary also suggests the connotations of “narrow”, and “inferior”.  On the evidence of the quality of music that has been delivered in the “Sankeerna” category in recent times, the derogatory suggestion warrants a second thought. It is plausible that Sankeerna Raga-s provide limited freedom for improvisation, compared to the major raga-s, which function as their reference raga-s. But, in a different sort of way, they provide a wider canvas for individual creativity.

To some extent, they liberate the reference raga from its established grammar. And, it is this liberating effect that places them in the region of literature.  But, it is not as if they are liberated from all forms of discipline that governs raga-based classical music. They have their own guiding principles. They constitute only a partial leap into unfamiliar melodic territory. They are governed by a more amorphous – but equally meaningful – entity I have chosen to describe as a राग स्वरुप = “melodic personality”. Music performed within such a framework is a creative challenge to musicians and an intellectual challenge to Rasika-s.

It challenges the musician to create something new from familiar melodic material while abandoning the safety of well-established grammatical rules. He has to achieve this result within the overall melodic personality governing the transformation or compound.

It is an equally great challenge to rasika-s. They are shaken out of the comfort of the entirely familiar melodic experience, and obliged to listen more attentively to the music being performed. The mature rasika-s can not only enjoy the novelty of the experience, but also the nuances and subtleties of its melodic engineering. Understandably, raga transformations and compound raga-s are performed mainly by musicians of some stature. And, of course, they are performed selectively, for audiences of high aesthetic cultivation.

In the early half of the 20th century, it was common practice for the leading musicians to start performing any raga without announcing it. The musician often tried cleverly to disguise the melodic logic of his raga, and the rasika-s managed to astutely decipher it.

Obviously, we are talking about a bygone era. Barring a few raga transformations which have become quite popular and are easily recognised (e.g. Ahir Bhairav of the Bhairav cluster or Shahana Kanada of the Kanada cluster), the performance of such raga-s is now rare. Fewer and fewer musicians can handle such raga-s. And, fewer and fewer audiences can appreciate them.

Although today I am addressing a predominantly Carnatic oriented audience, it seems to me that contemporary Hindustani audiences also need to be re-educated on this enchanting region of Hindustani music.

(c) Deepak S. Raja 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Pt. Brijbhushan Kabra (1937-2018) and the Indian Classical Guitar

Until the 1960s, the Hawaiian Slide Guitar had been heard mainly in film songs, and in the regional music of Bengal. The credit for elevating the instrument to the Hindustani art music platform goes to Pandit Brijbhushan Kabra.
With friend and collaborator: 
Pt. Shivkumar Sharma
In 1968, Kabra recorded the album “Call of the valley” with Shivkumar Sharma (Santoor) and Hariprasad Chaurasia (Flute), which won a Platinum Disc. After this landmark release, there was no looking back for Kabra and the instrument. Thereafter it has maintained a stable presence on the Hindustani music platform, and also created an impressive constituency for itself in North America and Europe.  
In the basic model, the shell of the instrument is an F-hole Guitar of European design, acoustically and structurally enhanced to support a multitude of strings. But, the design of the Indian adaptation is far from standard yet. There are several variants in circulation, with some of them even sporting names suggesting the identities of their “creators”.

The Vichitra Veena legacy

 In Hindustani music, the Hawaiian Guitar has filled the vacuum created by the decline of the Vichitra Veena, which has been used as an accompanist to vocal music, and also as a solo instrument. The technique of executing melody on these two instruments is identical, and draws upon a history of older Indian instruments -- the Ghoshaka Veena described in Bharata’s Natyashastra [200 BC- 200 AD], and the Ekatantri Veena repeatedly referred to in musicological texts from the eleventh century AD. In the Carnatic tradition, the same technique is used for melodic execution on the Gottu Vaadyam, --also called Chitra Veena. All these instruments execute melody by sliding the hard cylindrical or round object along the strings, rather than stopping the strings against the frets, as in the case of instruments like the Rudra Veena, Sitar or the Spanish guitar.
The Vichitra Veena receded from the mainstream almost simultaneously with the Dhrupad/ Dhamar genre of mainstream music, of which the instrument was once an integral part. The major reason for its decline would appear to be its cumbersome handling, and an acoustic quality unsuited for the contemporary environment, governed by the electronic manipulation of musical output.
The Hawaiian slide-Guitar appeared to solve both these problems simultaneously while offering the distinctive quality of the slide-Veena -- the ability to reproduce every nuance of Indian vocalism with minimum interference from the sound-priming [plucking] activity. Admittedly, the slide-Guitar was inferior in this role to the Sarangi, a bowed instrument. But, within the plucked lute family, and as a successor to the Vichitra Veena, it could have no peer as a mimic of the vocal expression. Because of this advantage, the Hawaiian slide-Guitar offered a much wider range of stylistic options than the Sitar and Sarod, both of which required a higher frequency of plucking.
The only trigger the slide-Guitar required for reviving the Vichitra Veena legacy was towering musicianship, which could demonstrate its musical potential, especially relative to the dominant plucked lutes -- the Sitar and Sarod.  The instrument found its  champion in Brijbhushan Kabra.

Kabra’s Guitar

Brijbhushan, a qualified mining geologist, came from a business family with a deep involvement in music. His father had studied the Sitar under the legendary Ustad Enayet Khan, the father of Ustad Vilayat Khan. Brijbhushan’s elder brother, Damodarlal, was a distinguished Sarod player trained by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. In defiance of acute cynicism within the family, Brijbhushan said “no” to the Sitar as well as the Sarod, and accepted the challenge of elevating the slide-Guitar to a level of parity with them under the tutelage of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.
Inevitably, Kabra went along with the established musical approach of the major plucked lutes, the Sitar and Sarod. The first step in this direction was the introduction of chikari [drone] strings. As on the Sitar and the Sarod, his chikari set is mounted on a post midway up the stem of the Guitar on the bass [inward] side. His repertoire includes a three/four tiered alap-jod-jhala movement, slow tempo compositions primarily of Masitkhani format in Tritala, medium tempo compositions in Rupak [seven beats] and Jhaptala [ten beats], and fast tempo compositions in Tritala [sixteen beats] followed by a jhala. As with the Sitar and Sarod, light and semi-classical compositions in a variety of tala-s [rhythmic cycles] became an important part of a comprehensive repertoire to satisfy contemporary audiences.
Despite the benefit of guidance from Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, a colossus amongst instrumentalists, Kabra had to rely on his own resourcefulness for technique. Kabra’s musical vision is deeply entrenched in vocalism. It might even be said that, in the melodic content of his music, he has pitted his instrument against the Sarangi, rather than the Sitar or Sarod. He places the highest premium on the capabilities of the slide-Guitar for delivering the melodic continuity and microtonal subtleties of Hindustani vocalism. This logically meant the development of an idiom and technique that would minimize the frequency of strokes, and maximize the melodic density achievable under the impact of each stroke. These became the guiding principles of Kabra’s musical endeavors.
Within the raga presentation format of the plucked lutes, Kabra’s musical vision, and the instrument’s capabilities, led him to develop the anarhythmic and melodically rich alap form as his forte. In order to pack the maximum power into each stroke, Kabra dispensed with the picks conventionally used by slide-Guitarists, and opted to play with wire plectra [mizrab-s] used by Sitarists.
Once he had harnessed additional stroke power with Sitar plectra, he could achieve the desired manipulation of timbre, volume, and sustain without the addition of sympathetic strings. In an interview with the present author, Kabra expressed the view that the slide-Guitar is so rich in the delivery of microtonal values and melodic continuity,  that the Sitar/ Sarod model of acoustic design is irrelevant for the instrument. Kabra also argued that the sympathetic strings, which support only the discrete swara-s in the raga scale, have the effect of drowning out microtonal subtleties on the Slide guitar. As a result, the delivery of melodic value is limited, rather than enhanced, by the sympathetic strings, which his juniors amongst Guitarists have widely adopted.
In order to minimize the melodic discontinuity in his music, Kabra reduced the role of multiple-string execution by opting, once again, for a Sitar-style solution -- of using the first string as the main melodic string, and tuning the second and third strings also in the Sitar style . This enabled him to execute melody across two full octaves on the main string, requiring the second and third strings only for the lower octave. In his interviews to the American press, he has argued that Hindustani music, with its vocalist model, does not require a melodic canvas larger than three octaves. 

Kabra’s music
Kabra’s repertoire is basically mainstream music, biased in favour of popular raga-s like Puriya Kalyan, Bageshri, Bihag Madhuwanti, Jaijaiwanti, Hameer and Nat Bhairav. His discography shows a fair representation of light music – melodies like Kafi, Gara, Rajasthani folk, Mand, and Piloo. The patent raga-s of the Maihar Senia lineage, such as Gauri Manjari and the Carnatic raga Kirwani appear to have only a small presence in his performing material.
With his design of the instrument, and his novel technique, Kabra has achieved an acoustic richness in the musical output of the Slide Guitar, which approaches the more mature plucked instruments like the Sitar and the Sarod. In the presentation of raga-based music, Kabra strongly favors the alap-jod-jhala forms, often even as stand-alone pieces of music, without rhythm-accompanied forms following it. Even on a mass medium like the radio, he is known to have performed a 40-minute alap-jod-jhala as a self-sufficient rendition. This predilection is consistent with his highly vocalized melodic imagination, and his belief that these movements are the best vehicles for the unique melodic capabilities of his instrument. Kabra’s percussion-accompanied music largely follows the orientations of the Maihar Senia lineage. His bandishes are composed in vilambit, madhyalaya or drut Tritala, or in madhyalaya Roopak or Jhaptala.
Kabra has also been an immensely successful duet musician. His partnership with Shivkaumar Sharma and Hariprasad Chaurasia produced the “Call of the valley” album, which is now the stuff of legend. His duets with Shivkumar Sharma – particularly the LP recording of Jhinjhoti – ia also amongst the most memorable pieces of duets produced in recent history.
Kabra established himself and the slide-Guitar in Hindustani music at a time when three giants -- Ustad Vilayat Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan – were at the peak of their creative and technical prowess. In such an environment, the mere novelty of the slide-Guitar could not have assured the instrument a future in Hindustani music. Kabra’s success can be explained only as a victory of his perception, and exploitation, of the distinctive musical value that the Hawaiian slide-Guitar had to offer.

After Kabra

In response to the changes in the environment of Hindustani music, Kabra’s successors on the slide-Guitar scene, including his own disciples, have drifted away from the technical and stylistic choices he made. Most of them have chosen a stylistic direction with a much higher stroke density than Kabra’s, and an extensive use of multiple-string execution as an important element in their music. The slide-Guitar idiom is now drifting closer to the idiom of the Sarod, but surpassing it in dazzling potential, thanks to the slide-Guitar’s superior ergonomics. The technical decisions of the younger Guitarists reflect these directions.
A melodic canvas spanning four octaves, and across five strings, is now in favour.  Sympathetic strings have now become a stable feature of the Indian classical Guitar. The emphasis is now on kaleidoscopic tonal patterning and dazzling virtuosity, rather than elaborate raga presentation and melodic richness. Strokes therefore need ergonomic facility more than depth or power. To this end, Guitar-style picks have replaced Kabra’s mizrab. Some Guitarists have also found it efficient to shift the chikari drones to the treble [outward] side of the instrument.   
Whether as an acoustic machine, or as the presenter of a well-defined style of instrumental music, the Indian classical Guitar is still in a state of evolution. While the succeeding generations of Hindustani Slide Guitar maestros have successfully sent the instrument into international orbit, Kabra's pioneering and formidable musicianship remains a landmark in the history of Hindustani instrumental music. .
(c) Deepak Raja. April 2005

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Shaping a life in classical music

Paper presented to the Seminar on Pedagogy of Performing Arts, hosted by the Lalit Kala Kendra, Gurukul, Savitribai Phule Pune University, on March 6-7, 2018. 

This seminar is focused on the pedagogy concerns of the University system.  The system represents a massive commitment of public funds. Those concerned about the social value of this commitment are best equipped to evolve the processes suited to its objectives. I have neither studied Hindustani music in the University environment, nor taught in it. I can therefore contribute only tangentially to the theme of today’s seminar. 

Whatever I say is based on 60 years of research on a perfect sample of one – myself – and my interactions with some of the leading musicians of our times. As I see it, we are talking, essentially, about shaping lives in classical music. And, this will be the focus of my observations. 

I have a mildly eccentric view on the serious engagement of individuals with classical music. Most of us in this room consider ourselves “trained musicians” or “trained musicologists”.  We also gladly admit that we are whatever we are because of our Guru-s/ teachers. In my view, this is a culturally conditioned notion, not entirely supported by the reality. I state this as an academic observation. And, I say this with the benefit of studying with some of the finest Guru-s, and without the slightest disrespect to their contribution to my evolution. But, if I, or my Guru-s, try putting our fingers on what precisely was taught, when, and how, we are likely to come up with amusing answers which carry no conviction. 

Thousands of people go through degrees in music or personalized taleem, but never emerge as either musicians or musicologists. It is also possible to prove that many who have devoted their lives to the pursuit of classical music in either pursuit, and even excelled, had no degrees or taleem. So, whether we are talking of the personalized system of art transmission, or of institutionalized teaching, or something entirely different, the key to excellence in classical music lies within the aspirant, far more than in the environment which may claim to shape his/ her potential. In addition to their natural endowments of musicality, musicians and musicologists of any significance are born with an obsession with the mysteries of patterned sound, and pursue that obsession irrespective of economic and other consequences. 

Allied to this is my view that a life in classical music may flower as a commitment to either performance or scholarship. From my own experience, I can say that when I was only pursuing performance, I was also acquiring a great wealth of musical thought. And, when I began to pursue musicology, the quality of my performance improved steadily and perceptibly. From this, I infer that the same person may pursue different routes simultaneously or at different stages in his life. The two are, indeed, distinct professions, because they are accountable to different audiences and constituencies. But, this does not make theory and performance distinct pedagogical issues – except at an advanced level and except in the department of communication skills. A life in music is a life in music. 

This is so because our music is a process, and not a product. It has no existence independently of performance.  Without a deep involvement with the process, you qualify neither for musicianship, nor for scholarship. Society changes.  The aesthetic assumptions underlying performance change.  The music changes. Theory gets re-written. But, musical thought and performance remain perennially connected. 

Having laid out my perspective on a life in music, I shall proceed more systematically to look at the shaping of musicianship, which I possibly understand better than scholarship. I shall deal with the following dimensions of musicianship, and consider what each one might signify as a pedagogical issue. 

1. The basic equipment of musicianship
2. The communicative dimension of musicianship
3. The expressive dimension of musicianship
4. The meditative dimension of musicianship

The basic equipment
An individual qualifies for a serious involvement in music by having an above-average endowment of two faculties: 
(1) Pitch differentiation: the ability to distinguish sounds as being either higher or lower than others.
(2) Pattern recognition: The ability to identify sound patterns. 

Pitch differentiation is, I suspect, largely a genetically ingrained faculty. An above-average score on this dimension is required for intense involvement with all categories of music. Classical music certainly demands more refined pitch differentiation abilities than other categories of music. I am not aware if research in neuro-acoustics now enables aspirants to improve their scores on this count. My suspicion, however, is that the possibilities for such enhancement would be limited. 

Pattern recognition is an entirely different ability of the mind. The word “recognition” provides the clue to its character. We recognize patterns only by relating them to familiar patterns stored in the mind. Some basic patterns may be genetically embedded at birth – I don’t know what science has to say about this. But, beyond this, our entire bank of stored patterns is acquired either involuntarily from the environment or by the purposive cultivation of the mind.  

Classical music demands a more sophisticated ability of pattern-recognition than other categories of music. A person’s ability to perceive, store, and recall patterns is largely a function of the intelligence and memory. These, too, are grey areas in psychology. There is, to my knowledge, no consensus on the degree to which these are genetically ingrained, or acquired, or to what extent these can be enhanced. 

Of immediate concern to us are Raga and Tala patterns.  This sounds easy, and manageable. What is “easily” taught, however, is limited by the limitations of the teachers and aspirants. The great musician is known for having explored a canvas of patterns far beyond what can be taught by one Guru or even multiple Gurus or at a University. The idea of patterning is not finite. Any cluster of entities which cannot be considered random is a pattern. And, in mathematics, randomness itself is considered only a measure of man’s ignorance. So, within what is considered random, many “patterns” may yet be discovered. And, of course, music also has use for obviously random “patterns”. So, the pattern recognition/creation issue is far more complicated than it seems. 

Patterning belongs to the territory of “ideation” – abstract thinking --  which maestros often develop  through a study of abstract subjects like aesthetics, philosophy, psychology, mathematics, metaphysics, and even occult sciences like astrology. The personalized mode of art transmission in Hindustani music adopted the model of mystical apprenticeship, and is known to have encompassed  such initiation. Should the pedagogy of institutional art transmission concern itself with this resource of extra-musical ideation? The proposition is worth considering. 

The communicative dimension
The communicative dimension of classical music relates to the ability of a musician to execute and deliver musical ideas to his/her listeners. This has two facets. The first is technical command over his instrument/ voice. The second is a command over the architecture of the genre in which he/she performs. Casting the Raga (a Formless Form) into Communicable Form requires the agency of an established genre, each with its distinctive interaction between melody, rhythm, and poetry (where relevant), and movements sequenced “logically” for cumulative absorption, retention and response. Prof. Ashok Ranade referred to this process as one of “Ritualisation”. 

This dimension of classical music is “mechanical” and structural, and possibly the easiest to teach – whether in the personalized model of art-transmission or in the University system. It can be imparted through riyaz routines, and even memorization.  

A command over the communicative dimension is, of course, crucial because a musician experiences two kinds of anxiety in performance – execution anxiety and ideation anxiety. A mastery over the communicative dimension relieves the musician of the execution anxiety during performance, and frees his musical energies for attending to the ideational content of the music. But, the communicative dimension – no matter how highly developed – has little musical value unless supported by the flowering of musicianship. This flowering relies predominantly on the remaining two dimensions – the expressive and meditative. 

The expressive dimension
The expressive dimension in music produces a manner of manifesting the character, quality of feelings, sentiments or intentions of the musician. Expression is primarily a manifestation of the musician’s sense of self-hood, and an awareness of himself as the generator of aesthetic value. It is this dimension which Prof. Ranade once described as “Individuation”. 

As a pedagogical issue, this is perhaps the toughest challenge. How do you generate/ inculcate/ activate the sense of self-hood in a musician? Guru-s in the personalized model perhaps did not see this as a significant issue at all. Enlightened present-day Guru-s have, however, often struggled with this issue for decades even with their most talented students. 

Eminent Guru-s, with whom I have discussed this issue have expressed two views: Some believe that such a flowering of the musical personality usually begins between the ages of 40 and 45. Others believe that a growing involvement in the Raga-ness results in the musician building a special relationship with Raga-s, and this relationship causes an “Individuation” to surface in its rendition. 

These two views could well be saying the same thing. Amercian composer, WA Mathieu, well versed in Hindustani music, articulates this memorably in his work “A musical life”. We often speak of a musical performance as a “piece”. What is it a “piece” of? It is, indeed, a piece of life itself. Feeling and expressing a Raga in an individualistic manner could well require the musician to have started understanding life -- a possibility that crystallizes only after 40. 

Does this dimension of musicianship deserve pedagogical attention? Is there a way of speeding up the evolution of a musician’s special relationship with the Raga-ness ahead of his/her emotional maturity as a person? Or is the whole dimension of expression to be left to the natural processes of personality development? 

With a musician’s involvement in Raga-ness being a factor, we are approaching the meditative/ contemplative dimension of Hindustani music. 

The meditative dimension
The meditative dimension of Hindustani music – the element of “Ideation” -- is fundamental because the Hindustani musician combines in himself the role of the composer and performer, both roles working simultaneously during performance. Performance is nothing but the rendering/ translating/ interpreting the Formless Form of the Raga in communicable form. Being formless, the Raga is pregnant with a virtually infinite number of aesthetically coherent melodic ideas. This is why we need to recognize three levels of access to the Raga form. 

1. Gurumukhi Swaroop: This is the Raga-form that a musician imbibes from his Guru/ Guru-s/ Teachers. 
2. Sarvamanya Swaroop: The consensual melodic personality of the Raga, as has been explored by all musicians whose music is available – an aggregate of all the melodic ideas hitherto explored -- and which listeners recognize as belonging to a Raga.
3. Virata Swaroop: This represents all the melodic possibilities of the Formless Form of the Raga – including those yet remaining unexplored. This notion of Raga-Swaroop is limited only by the boundaries between the specific Raga and other Raga-s. 

Our tradition expects that every musician will aim at penetrating/ transcending the Sarvamanya Swaroop and access the Virata Swaroop for newer insights into the melodic and emotional possibilities latent in the Raga. But, how can he penetrate the Sarvmanya sawroopa without having first mastered it? 

This is a serious pedagogical issue for institutionalized education which, I suspect, remains, largely neglected. Even in my interactions with serious young musicians, I have found the greatest lethargy on this count. A Raga belongs to nobody. Every musician participates in its evolution.The musical culture has not been able to come to terms with the reality that a serious study of the tradition is a rent every generation has to pay in order to occupy a place in the tradition. It is clearly absurd to assume or believe that anyone can be an original interpreter of a Raga without having taken the trouble of absorbing every facet of it that has already been explored.  

The key to excellence
This brings me to the argument I suggested in the earlier part of my observations . Hindustani music cannot produce either a great musician or a significant musicologist without a vast exposure to performed/ recorded music. No Guru, no University, no books can cultivate his musical/ critical abilities to a level of excellence without extensive and intensive listening. And, fortunately for today's aspirants, never before in history has a 100 years of music been available for study, thus permitting a panoramic as well as encyclopedic understanding of the tradition. 

In such exposure, the aspiring musician/ scholar has access to all the three dimensions of Hindustani music. The communicative. The expressive. The meditative. He will absorb the insights according to his innate endowments of musicality.  His insights will grow at a pace permitted by his intellect, memory, and his exposure to the world beyond music. His individuality will grow as he evolves his“Personal Musical Statement”with the help of all the inputs he has absorbed. There is a pedagogical perspective here. But, that is possibly less important than my basic argument. 

A life in classical music is a self-driven journey. There is a space in it for mentors, inspirations, and even guides. If one tries to quantify the size of this space, one may produce numbers that are culturally repugnant. But, the truth is that no Guru, and no University, can entirely claim the shaping of either an eminent musician or an eminent musicologist. 

If a great musician has spent a total of 10,000 hours receiving taleem from his Guru, he has almost certainly spent 20,000 hours of life listening to other musicians of stature. If a significant scholar of music has spent 5000 hours pursuing degrees in music, I am certain that he has spent 10,000 hours studying works unrelated to the syllabus. And, those who match a yardstick of excellence in either department can be expected to have had intensive exposure to other department as much as their own pursuit. 

Classical music is a philosophical art. Involvement with it arises from a thirst for unraveling a mysterious territory of human experience. It can be compared, in some ways, to the spiritual urge with which the more evolved souls are born. Those born to this calling will quench their thirst, with or without any guidance. 

(c) Deepak S. Raja .March, 2018

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Abstraction in our times

A paper presented to a workshop for art critics,  ROOP AROOP, organised by the Raza Foundation, New Delhi, on February 19, 2018. 

I am a musician, who has been asked to address a workshop for art critics on abstraction.  If I speak on abstraction in music, this is the wrong place. And, if I try speaking on abstraction in the visual arts, I am the wrong person to be facing a microphone. 

The reason for my caution is the fundamental difference between the way the visual arts and Indian classical music view abstraction. In the visual arts, abstraction is seen as a degree of departure from representational images, and a proximity to an experience engendered by the relationship between the basic elements -- form, color and texture. In classical music, we view abstraction from the opposite end. 

For us, the primary focus is the experience engendered by the interaction between the basic elements -- melody, rhythm, and poetry, and abstraction is viewed as degree to which this experience is conditioned/ moderated/ diluted by the manner in which it manifests itself in performance. Therefore, while the visual arts can be discussed in terms of "degrees of abstraction", classical music needs to be discussed in terms of "degrees of dis-abstraction". The difference will become clearer, I hope, as I proceed. 


At the outset I must share what I understand by abstraction.The Oxford dictionary defines abstraction thus: “The act of considering something independently of its associations, attributes, or concrete accompaniments/ a thing so considered/ a thing that exists only in idea/ freedom from representational qualities”.

With reference to art in general, I understand abstraction as the seeking of a reference point outside of the artist, the subject, as well as its audience. With reference to music in particular, I have two ways of understanding abstraction:

Music has three dimensions – the contemplative, the expressive, and the communicative.  Abstraction is that territory in which the contemplative dimension dominates the expressive and the communicative dimensions.  

With specific reference to Hindustani music, I have found it helpful to draw on the notion of “Commanding Form” enunciated by Prof. Susanne Langer, and interpreted by Prof. SK Saxena.

The notion of a “Commanding Form”

In the context of Western art music, Langer accords the status of the “Commanding Form” to the composition, which determines the whole subsequent process of invention and elaboration. India’s eminent aesthetician, SK Saxena (Hindustani Sangeet and a philosopher of art. DK Printworld Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi. 2001) argues that, in Hindustani music, the Raga rightfully occupies this status.

But, a Raga is merely a set of rules governing the selection, sequencing, and treatment of selected Swara-s (tones). Can it be considered a “form” at all? Saxena answers in the affirmative because, it is possessed of a distinct shape which makes it identifiable, and distinguishable from others. A Raga is, indeed, a “Form”, but a “Formless Form”.

It is the task of the musician to translate/ interpret/render the “Formless Form” as a “Communicable Form”.  What, then, is the territory of abstraction in Hindustani music? It is the territory in which the communicable form remains rooted in its source, the Formless Form.

What does it mean to interpret a “formless form” as a “communicable form”? It means giving it a structure. And, for communicability, the structure has to be familiar. This process, which Prof. Ashok Ranade described as “Ritualisation”, involves casting the Raga into a genre.

“Ritualisation” is, in effect, a process of dis-abstraction. This dis-abstraction varies in degree, depending on the genre in which the formless form of the Raga is cast. So, the tradition gives us a choice of various genres, each involving a different degree of dis-abstraction.  

The Classification Of Genres

With specific reference to Hindustani music, a genre may be defined as a distinctive hierarchy of melodic, rhythmic and phonetic (where relevant) elements, with one of the three constituting the primary determinant of aesthetic satisfaction, and the remaining two being supportive to it. This hierarchy is reflected in the “architecture” of each genre – the specific features of the different movements and their sequencing.  In terms of their specific features, the movements constituting a genre may themselves be classified as predominantly melodic, rhythmic, or phonetic.

I present below my classification of Hindustani music genres, based on the predominant musical element.

(1) Swarashrita (स्वराश्रित = Melody dominant), where primary target for musical energies is the melody.
(2) Padashrita (पदाश्रित= Poetry dominant), in which the target of musical energies in the totality of the pre-composed melodic-rhythmic-poetic entity;
(3) Layashrita (लयाश्रित = tempo dominant), in which the primary target of musical energies is the tempo of rendition, which forges a distinctive relationship between the melody, rhythm and the lyrics,
(4) Arthashrita (अर्थाश्रित= Interpretative), where the musical endeavour is focused on the musical interpretation of the lyrics. This classification recognizes the interpretation of literary meaning as a musical endeavour qualitatively distinct from the one characteristic of the “Padashrita” genres. 

These are not mutually exclusive categories, but indications of dominant tendencies.  Some genres qualify for a dual classification.  And, indeed, individual musical personalities may also tilt the balance of musical energies in one genre towards those characteristic of another.

Though these categories appear to pertain only to the genres of vocal music, they are applicable to instrumental music also, because instrumental genres derive their basic architecture from one or more of the vocal genres.

The Inverse Hierarchy Of Dis-Abstraction

The Swarashrita genres: The Raga is a melodic entity. Therefore, the inverse hierarchy is defined by the extent to which the Ritualisation imposes a dis-abstraction on the “Commanding Form”. By this criterion, the Swarashrit genres rank highest in their “abstraction quotient”. They are Dhrupad and Khayal.

The Dhrupad genre: The Dhrupad genre imposes the lowest degree of dis-abstraction on the Formless Form of the Raga. It does indeed feature Swarashrit as well as Padashrit movements; but treats them separately, The Swarashrit movement allows interpretations of the Commanding form – the Formless Form – as abstractly as the musician’s imagination will permit.

The Khayal Genre: The Swarashrit Khayal genre comes next in the inverse hierarchy of dis-abstraction. The genre integrates Swarashrit, Layashrit, as well Padashrit movements; but it is designed to devote the highest importance to the Swarashrit movements.

The Layashrit genres: In this category, we may classify Tappas and Taranas. They come lower in the hierarchy because they deploy rhythm for forging an engaging relationship between the phonetic and melodic elements. In this process, they permit only a limited exploration of the Formless Form.

The Padashrita Genres: The Padashrita genres, focused on the totality of the composition, present a limited perspective on the Raga, with only negligible scope for its exploration beyond the pre-composed form. In this category, we may include Bandish-ki-thumrees, and Bhajans.

The Arthashrit Genres: These genres are concerned entirely with the interpretation of literary content, and not governed by the Raga form at all. These genres may more accurately be described as poetic genres presented musically. 

What trends do we observe today?

In the Swarashrit genres: The movements devoted to the exploration of the Formless Form are shrinking in terms of duration and attention to the contemplative process. The movements devoted to rhythmicality are gaining prominence. There is a growing presence of phonetic elements --  poetic as well as non-poetic.

The Layashrit Genres: These genres, which have traditionally had a minor share of performance, are gaining in popularity and frequency of performance.

The Padashrit Genres: These genres are also gaining in terms of frequency of performance on the concert platform, and as determinants of the popularity of musicians.

The Arthashrit genres: There is a virtual explosion of the Arthashrit genres evident in the last two decades. They do not require an anchoring in the Raga as the “Commanding Form”.  They may, however, conform to definitive commanding forms in poetry, and informal/minor melodic forms.  

The trends -- In Summary

Of the three elements of Hindustani music -- melody, rhythm, and poetry/ articulation -- it is the melodic element that is receding from prominence, while the rhythmic and poetic/ phonetic elements are gaining prominence.  The aggregate “abstraction quotient” of art music available to the listener is shrinking.   

This proposition can also be stated in terms of the creative process. Currently predominant tendencies in Hindustani music suggest that the contemplative dimension of the art is shrinking and being progressively subordinated to/ replaced by the expressive and communicative dimensions.

Stated in this fashion, Hindustani music becomes comparable to other arts. Art distinguishes itself from other voluntary and pleasing human endeavors by the dominance of the contemplative dimension over the expressive and the communicative.

In music, I would ask the question – how much can you dilute the contemplative genres and movements before you are obliged to call it entertainment? In the visual arts, you would probably ask – how much loss of abstraction can an art work accept before you are obliged to call it interior decoration?

I have the impression that Hindustani music and the visual arts are both obliged to answer these questions today. If this is so, the roots of the phenomenon must be traced to the larger cultural process determined by socio-economic change.

The cultural process

The hospitability of the musical culture to abstraction needs to be viewed from three angles: The socio-economic angle, the demographic angle, and the technological angle.

Hindustani music is a legacy of the feudal-agrarian culture that dominated India right up to the end of colonial rule. After independence, that music was transplanted to the urban-industrial-commercial culture of the metropolitan cities. Aesthetic values are governed largely by the predominant means of livelihood in a society. Different means of livelihood subject man to different relationships with time and space – both fundamental to the shaping of aesthetic values. To this extent, Hindustani music had to undergo a transformation to satisfy the musical needs of its new patron class.

It is also important to acknowledge the role of growing sexual freedom in shaping aesthetic values. The relative anonymity of urban-industrial-commercial societies grants much greater sexual freedom to its members than feudal-agrarian societies did. Superficially, these two might seem unrelated. In reality, however, they are intimately connected. Art and sexual activity both belong to the pleasure principle in human nature. Art represents the sublimation of the pleasure principle, while sexual activity represents man’s proximity to the animal kingdom.

The investment of emotional energies and intensity of the induced pleasurable experience may be equally great in art and in sexual activity; but the two differ substantially in the speed with which they build and release tension. Orgasm-directed sexual activity delivers a speedy build-up and release of tension. Art, on the other hand, delivers a gradual build-up and release of aesthetic tension. The two fall at different -- and indeed, very distant -- points of the pleasure-seeking spectrum of human behaviour.

The greater sexual freedom characteristic of the urban-industrial-commercial environment shapes what may be called a culture of extended adolescence. Though we must grant hormonal activity its legitimate due in this reality, adolescence -- as a cultural force --  is not merely an age-group. It is a heightened awareness of physicality and a subdued awareness of emotionality. It is, in effect, a culture of cerebral and emotional laziness. The contemplative dimension of art demands exactly the opposite – the cerebral and emotional interpretation of the manifest form in terms of its formless source.

In the Indian context, the notion of “extended adolescence” is unnecessary for defining the culture. The demographics of the country make adolescence almost literally a here-and-now reality. India’s median age is 27. Statistically, half of India’s population is below 27. That is adolescent enough. Impelled primarily by biological forces, and aided by socio-economic realities, today’s culture dominated by the 25-30 age-group cannot be particularly hospitable to abstraction as a significant quality in the arts.

Yes, India is a young country; but not for long. The median age will be touching 30 by 2025, and 35 by 2045. Birth rates are falling; but death rates are slowing faster. Demographic trends point towards increasing life expectancies, and the emergence of a “counter culture” or a “sub-culture” shaped by the “Grey Generation” (60+). This is a generation outside the realm of sexual activity, and hospitable to abstraction as a significant presence in the arts.

I find it interesting that the pre-independence high of median age around 22 comes down for about 30 years, before it rises, and crosses 22 again in the year 2000, a time-span of 53/55 years, conforming to the cyclicity indicated by the Kondratiev model and the generational perspectives of the modern Spanish thinker, Jose Ortega Y Gasset. 

What appears to be a polarization of society in terms of generations -- and implicitly aesthetic values – may well be the germ of a new cultural paradigm emerging from the nascent demography. India appears to be on the threshold of a radical change in the pattern of interaction between co-existing generations. I shall review the Ortega and Kondratiev propositions later in the paper.

The third issue is technological. The explosion of recording, storage and distribution technologies has isolated the musician from the audience in time and space. This isolation has played a major role in replacing the “process” of music with the “product”.  

Unlike the visual arts which are created in the absence of its audience, Hindustani music is interactive, and relies on the presence of its audience for shaping the musical endeavour. Hindustani music requires the musician to simultaneously perform the roles of composer and performer in real time during a performance. It can therefore be said that Hindustani music does not exist except in performance. Implicitly, it acquires an existence only in the presence of the audience, with the audience being a participant in the music-making process. 

The “absence” of an audience affects the contemplative dimension of the endeavour more than the expressive and the communicative. As recordings became the primary vehicle for delivering music to its audiences, the contemplative inclinations and abilities of musicians tend to fall into disuse, even as audiences experience the growing sterility of music.

What was really happening to Hindustani music in the latter half of the 20th century? Hindustani music – rooted as it was in the feudal-agrarian modes of presentation and in direct interface with audiences -- was struggling to remain aesthetically relevant. In this process, it drifted away from the process (contemplative), and focused on the product (expression and communication).  The result was interesting.

Hindustani music lost young concert hall audiences in India, but was retaining the loyalty of the 60+ generation. Simultaneously, the art expanded speedily in the West. There is sufficient evidence to believe that Hindustani music enthusiasts in the West tend to be, on an average, people of much higher intellect and academic accomplishment than average Indian audiences. Evidently, therefore, the “Grey Generation” in India and intellectual elites in the West were supporting the contemplative dimension of Hindustani music, while young Indian audiences were dropping out. But, were they really demanding its abandonment? This question may be tentatively answered later in this paper.

The question before the critic is – is the decay of abstraction/ contemplative process  irreversible? The answer depends on whether we regard the cultural process as being linear or cyclical, or entirely open-ended with no pre-determined destination.


In the last decade, we have seen indications that the contemplative dimension of Hindustani music is resisting its inundation by adolescent values. The second post-independence generation of musicians exhibits a considerable involvement with the contemplative dimension, and a fresh – and sometimes even baffling -- approach to it, relatively unfettered by the influence of the pre-independence generation in music.  

A parallel movement has emerged with the aim of reviving the intimate concert (Chamber-music) format with small, knowledgeable audiences. This format is gathering momentum with the support of audiences cutting across generations and social class. Simultaneously, it is also bringing young audiences back into the orbit of Hindustani music.

This is probably to be expected, considering the historical perspectives of the Russian scientist, Nikolai Kondratiev and the Spanish thinker, Jose Ortega Y Gasset. This is a vast area. I have written about it in detail elsewhere. I shall deal with it only briefly here.

Using economic, sociological, political, and demographic data from 1790 to 1920, Kondratiev published (1925) a highly respected model of socio-economic cyclicity, which suggests a mega-cycle of 50-60 years in the lives of societies, and in human history. The Kondratiev cycles consist of 25-30 years of economic expansion and as many years of economic contraction. The expansionary phase has been found to coincide with productivity enhancing technological developments. The comprehensiveness of the model obliges us to regard it as culturally significant. 

As an observer of the culture environment, I am inclined to read Kondratiev’s work along with Ortega’s generational analysis of history and culture.

The Ortega perspective defines 30 years as constituting a “psychological/ cultural generation”. His theory implies that imperceptible changes are taking place in society constantly because of the interaction between various co-existing generations. Their cumulative effect becomes perceptible as a paradigm shift approximately every 60 years. In simple terms, all the environmental forces acting upon the values of the “grandfather generation” have either faded away or become impotent by the time the “grandchild generation” begins to interact with the world.

The Kondratiev and Ortega models of cyclicity, derived by entirely different logical processes, exhibit a striking similarity of cyclical durations, and are therefore collectively even more significant.

The Paradigm Shift

If we regard independence (1947) as the watershed in India’s cultural history, the first post-independence generation of musicians came on the scene in around 1977, and remained active till 2007 (30 years). It is during this period that Hindustani music lost audiences in India, and gained audiences in the West. It is with the arrival of the second post-independence generation (born around 1977) and emerging on the stage around 2007, that the abstractionist/contemplative dimension of Hindustani music appears to be making a come-back.

Music now appears to be making contemporary sense despite a massive churning – or perhaps emerging from it. Established genres of the pre-independence era are exhibiting signs of aesthetic obsolescence. Their idiomatic boundaries look increasingly blurred. Discontinuities are evident, but continuities have not been jettisoned. At the core of this seeming chaos appears to be an attempt to rediscover the abstract foundations of this music in the Raga – the “Commanding Form”.

If my reading of the “straws in the wind” of Hindustani music is valid, we could today be welcoming the dawn of the post-independence renaissance in Hindustani music.

© Deepak Raja. February 2018