Monday, July 29, 2013

Raga: The "Commanding Form" in Hindustani music

All art submits to its audience a form for aesthetic appreciation.  Literature submits a verbal form. Painting and sculpture submit a visual form. Architecture submits visual and spatial/enveloping forms which warrant aesthetic evaluation apart from the structure’s functional values. Music submits an auditory form.  Like other forms, the musical form is governed by a “commanding form” which governs the entirety of the musical endeavor and its experience. With specific reference to Western art music, the influential aesthetician, Susanne K Langer, granted the status of the "Commanding Form" appropriately to the composition. In Hindustani music, we find that the composition is itself subservient to the Raga.  In our music, therefore, the status of the “commanding form” most be  accorded to the Raga.

A Raga is a partially precomposed matrix of melodic contours, tight enough to remain recognizable and loose enough to provide substantial creative freedom. Each Raga justifies itself as performance material because it makes a distinctive emotional statement. It can be described as a psycho acoustic hypothesis which relates qualifying melodic patterns to the associated quality of emotional responses. At each rendition, a musician works on this hypothesis and deploys his creativity in an attempt to maximize the probability of communicating the associated emotional idea.

Raga-s are not “composed” by any particular musician. Their origins are mostly indeterminate. They evolve over a period of time from a variety of source melodies as plausible triggers for well-defined categories of emotional responses. It is estimated that the melodic grammar of about a 1500 Ragas has been documented.  The music-scape of each generation sees some Raga-s coming into circulation, and some going out of fashion. The core of commonly performed ragas remains around 200. 

Note: For a comprehensive view on this subject, read:  "Hindustani Sangeet and a Philosopher of Art" by SK Saxena, DK Printworld, New Delhi 2001.