Hindu music

Hindu music. The music of India is entirely monodic. To Westerners it is the most accessible of all Asian musical cultures. Its tonal system divides the octave into 22 segments called srutis, not all equal but each roughly equal to one quarter of a whole tone of Western music. The basic scales are sa-grāma and ma-grāma. The more important of these, the sa-grāma, closely approximates the C Major scale. Ma-grāma, which differs from the sa-grāma in only one interval, is said to have disappeared from use about the 16th cent. Other scales are derived from these by the sharping or flatting of some of the intervals or by leaving out some of the tones. Melody is based on the system of rāgas, which are melody types used as the basis for improvisation. There are innumerable rāgas, and with each there is an accompanying set of rules for improvisation in that rāga. To each is ascribed certain ethical and emotional properties, and each is associated with a certain season and a certain time of day. For a single rāga, however, these connotations vary in different parts of India. The rāgas were the inspiration for much Rajput miniature painting, the iconography of which varied according to its period, place of production, and creator. Legend celebrates the powers of the rāgas; e.g., a rāga associated with darkness could, if sung in the middle of the day by a singer whose skill was great enough, bring darkness upon the earth. In the performance of the rāgas, great importance is attached to the gamakas, the ornaments, or graces, that are characteristic of this music. Accompanied song is considered the highest type of music. In the accompaniment, rhythm is very complex and is based on certain rhythmic patterns, called talas, which are often combined in the most intricate ways. The oldest instrument is the drum, of which there are several types, an example of which is the tablā; it can be tuned by means of special kinds of coating given the skin. The most important instrument is the vina. In antiquity the name was given to a harp, but the modern vina is a zither with gourd resonators. A similar instrument is the sitar, the most popular instrument in N India. It has movable frets, is played with a plectrum, and has greater volume than the vina. In addition, various types of bagpipe, lute, fiddle, oboe, trumpet, flute, cymbal, and gong have been known in India. Many of the instruments are of Islamic origin. Hindu music has, through its influence on the Beatles in the 1960s, enjoyed considerable popularity in the West. Ravi Shankar is known internationally for his sitar playing.

See A. Daniélou, Northern Indian Music (new ed. 1969); H. A. Popleg, The Music of India (3d ed. 1970); D. Chaitanya, An Introduction to Indian Music (2d ed. 1981); S. Bishan, Theory of Indian Music (1987).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Music: History