Music While Carnatic music is based on ‘tala’ and ‘laya’, Hindustani revolves round ‘sruti’. RANEE KUMAR

For most south Indians, Carnatic music is synonymous with classicality or shastra of music (geetham) while North Indian or Hindustani music is often misinterpreted as being just ‘melody-based,’ despite the tag of classicality it bears. Since the southern music is structured in a rigid framework and intricate mathematics of tala (cycles of count), it gives us the impression of being a tightly-knit musical configuration that is difficult to crack, much less mess around in the name of something as abstract as emotion. Though the basis of our musical compositions is bhakti, when it comes to classicality, it gets translated into treating the composition with reverence rather than modulating the voice to echo that special feeling called bhakti or piety. Like all classics, music too has its artistic boundaries well laid-out with little scope to tamper.

What we are unaware of, is that Hindustani music more or less has all the binding of classicality with its rigid grammar intact. Yet, the space for artistic creativity is rather wide than its southern counterpart. The scope for artistic creativity takes an upper hand here but that does not mean, that the music is loosely structured or lacks specific guidelines. For a lay listener, both genre of music are simply difficult to apprehend or appreciate. Both require at least a little knowledge of the rudiments of classical music (shastriya sangeet). It goes without saying, that classical Indian music is far from entertaining; it is meant for enriching the mind and heart through churning an artistic emotion in the listener which is called ‘rasanubhuti’(artistically aesthetic experience).

In a broad sense, if Carnatic music is essentially tala (time-count) and sahitya (lyric/poesy) based, well, shruti is the axis on which Hindustani music revolves. Now the question pops up: what is shruti? It is the microtonal interval of sound and is called the musical pitch. The derivative is from the word ‘shru’ (to hear) and its core meaning is any sound that can be distinctly heard by the ear. Shruti is determined by auditory perception; it is smallest interval of pitch which the ear can perceive. According to Natyasastra, the first available treatise on music and dance, there are 22 pitches that can be distinguished by aural sensitivity in music and these have been allotted a melodic structure by the author/compiler of this treatise, Bharatha. The 22 pitches (shruti) have been divided into basically two main music scales called ‘grama’: the tonic pitch ‘shadja/shadaj’ (Sa) and the centre pitch ‘madhyama/madhya’ (Ma). The difference between these two scales is just one note and that is called ‘pancham’ (Pa). Within these two named ‘grama’ (units) are embodied the minute intervals of sound for the seven notes (saptak/saptaswara) that form the pivot of Indian music.

Hindustani music hinges on ‘naadh’ (musical sound). Every shruti may be a naadh but the opposite is not true. Naadh (naadam) with specific frequency is termed as ‘swar’ (notes). There are 12 swar (dwadasha swara sthan) in music. The seven basic swar are known as ‘shudh swar’, four of these are termed as ‘komal swar’ and one is ‘teevr swar’. The tonic notes (Sa and Pa) remain constant. Swar that is sung slightly below its original position is referred to as ‘komal’ (soft). The four ‘komal swar’ are ‘rishabh (re), gandhar (ga), dhaivath (dha) and nishadh (ni). The musical notation to note these komal swar is done by underlining the note (swar). A note that is sung slightly high from its original position is called ‘teevr swar’. There is only one teevr swar in Hindustani music and that is madhyam (M’a).

Like in Carnatic music, each swar of the saptak is derived from the sounds in Nature (animals/birds). And there is a connotation that goes along with it as well as a deity presiding over the swar. For instance, the first tonic note Shadaj (Sa) is derived from the peacock; the deity is Ganesh and the swar connotes sagar (ocean); Rishabh (Re) originated from the skylark; the god that reigns over it is Agni and it denotes Aparajith (unconquerable); the Gandhar (Ga) comes from the goat; the god is Rudra (Shiv) and it spans across the Gagan (sky); the Madhyam (Ma) draws its source from the dove/heron and the deity is Vishnu; it means Madhy (middle); Pancham (Pa) originated from the Cuckoo/nightingale; the presiding deity is Narada and it means Panch (fifth); the Dhaivath (Dha) came from the neighing of a horse with Sadashiv to rule over it and it indicated Dharthi (earth); the Nishadh (Ni) was derived from the elephant and Surya was the ruling god; it connotes Vyaadah (hunter). Hindustani music training begins with tuning in to sruti and continues till learner achieves perfection in synchronizing with one’s shruti.

It goes without saying, that classical Indian music is far from entertaining; it is meant for enriching the mind and heart