The Ragas of Early Indian Music: Modes, Melodies and Musical Notations from the Gupta Period to c.1250

The Ragas of Early Indian Music: Modes, Melodies and Musical Notations from the Gupta Period to c.1250

The Ragas of Early Indian Music: Modes, Melodies and Musical Notations from the Gupta Period to c.1250

The Ragas of Early Indian Music: Modes, Melodies and Musical Notations from the Gupta Period to c.1250

Synopsis

The concept of raga, the traditional basis of melodic composition and improvisation in Indian classical music, has become familiar to listeners and musicologists throughout the world, but its historial origins and early development have been little explored. Richard Widdess draws on writtendocuments from the pre-Islamic period in India, including musical treatises (especially that of the thirteenth-century theorist, Sarngadeva), literary works, and a remarkable inscription comprising musical notation. These documents bear witness to the development of the earlier ragas, which theyname, classify, define, and in some cases illustrate with melodic examples. The melodies, which have not previously been studied in detail, form the focus of the book, which analyses their notation, musical structure and relationship to the theoretical tradition in which they are embedded, as evidence for the early history of melodic compostion and improvisation in the Indian tradition.

Excerpt

The concept of rāga, as manifested in the modern performing traditions of Indian classical music, is undoubtedly India's richest achievement in the field of musical art. It is an achievement that has been continuously upheld, refined and elaborated over a period of more than a thousand years, and has, in the present age, secured the admiration of audiences in every part of the world. Surprisingly little attention, however, has been devoted to the origins of this phenomenon. These lie, no doubt, in a performing tradition that has vanished for ever, or rather, has become gradually transformed over the centuries into the traditions we know today, but is inaccessible in its earlier stages of development. Something can be learned, however, about these earlier stages, and about earlier modal systems and practices, from the written sources about music that have come down to us, beginning with the Nāṭyaśāstra of the early first millennium AD. These sources, principally comprising theoretical treatises in Sanskrit, include two types of information about the earliest known rāgas: verbal information, including both general theory and definitions of individual rāgas; and musical illustrations, in the form of sample melodies in musical notation. Taken together, these two types of information enable us to study the formation and early development of the concept, system, and practice of rāga, in the period before the Muslim conquest of India, which began in the twelfth century and was to have a profound effect on the subsequent development of Indian musical art.

Previous writers have attempted to trace the history of individual modern rāgas through written documents. Some have emphasized the remarkable continuity of structure that is to be found in some cases (te Nijenhuis 1970), while others have analysed the equally significant changes that have also occurred (Powers 1970, Jairazbhoy 1971). Evidence for the history of specific modern rāgas is found mainly in sources from the thirteenth century onwards, in which the rāgas begin to assume, in both name and structure, their modern identities. The present study is confined to a remoter period of history and adopts a broader approach: the question at issue here is not the specific origin of particular modern rāgas, but the extent to which the general characteristics of rāga today were present from the beginning, evolved during the period under consideration, or represent more recent developments.

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