By Hans Vermeersch

Well, it is a pleasure to meet You again on this page.
On this page we browse through aspects of the music called " Hindusthani" music.
To understand this one must primarily know what denotes the word "Hindusthan".
It is a Persian name denoting all territories of the Indian subcontinent.
However, some scholars attach this word mainly to the Indian civilization between, roughly ,12th and mid 16th century AD.

  What is Hindusthani music?

Hindusthani music concerns the classical and semi-classical music performed in Northern India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan
 (in India the states of: Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal, Maharashtra and Orissa). 
You will see that in the other remaining Southern Indian states a different kind of music is prevailing.
It will not come as a surprise to You to know that, for a western ear,
it requires quit a bit of random study / information on the subject before You'll start appreciating this kind of music.
Quite normal, it is after all music from another continent !
Be assured, for a Indian music lover ( rasika ), the discovery and appreciation of european classical music is equally confusing !

Hindusthani music is the music that most Westerners will label as "the music of India", because of the presentation of
Northern Indian classical music and musicians in the western hemisphere dating back to the famous "Sixties".
May I remind You of masters like : Ravi Shankar, Ram Narayan, Joshi Bhimsen and others.....
All of them great legends already.  So  'sitar', 'sarod', 'tabla' and 'raga' were roaming the West,
while the Carnatic music remained somehow in obscurity towards western attention.

Vandhe Materam image

The melodic 'Construction Set' for Indian art music


So, let's face one of India's most known and famous musical forms: the "Raga".
The word Raga comes from the Sanskrit word 'ranj' which means "to colour with emotion".
It is a kind of music combining 'free rhythmic' form ( alaap ) next to a  'metric bound'  form ( gath ).
There are two forms of 'raga style' in Northern India:
the dhrupad,
( an older and more 'orthodox ' manner in rendering  raga)  and
the Khayal style
( this new style slightly 'replaced' the elderly dhrupad, and stimulated the Hindusthani music in a
revolutionary way - most instrumental compositions follow the rules of khayal ).

Anouschka Shankar on sitar

What is a RAGA ?

The simplest  way of explaining  "what is a raga ?"  is to imagine it as a "build-it-yourself construction set" (containing the raga-mala, the season, the mood, the time of performance).  So let's continue presenting "Raga" in this visual explication
On the front-page of the box you see the image of  what 'should' be the result after construction, (e.g.. instrumental or vocal representation) and inside the box  the various items necessary for assemblage. (containing information concerning the 'that', including the selected raga with its components, a choice of 'tala' and a prefixed composition for the last part of the 'raga') Any written information will be in Devnagari script. 
Additionally you have to purchase paint , brushes, glue, and you'll have to call in the experience of someone 
"who made it already" (  the choice of a 'gharana', the choice of a  particular 'guru' ).
of a raga

 1) Aesthetically chosen pre-designed sequence of sounds

2) Presented in ascent and descent order ( aroha - avaroha )

 3) Consisting of a minimum of  5 and a maximum of  7 different' sounds'
     a) included in 3 classes or 'jatis'  - using 5 sounds = odava
                                                           - using 6 sounds = saadava
                                                             - using 7 sounds = sampurna
     b) mixed class : amount of sounds in ascent & descent is different

 4) Having a pivotal sound in each tetra chord : the vadi and the samvadi.
     a) vadi : has its origin in the word ' vad' which means 'to speak'.
         Placed normally in the lower tetra chord - is the raga's dominant sound,  start and ends all variations.
     b) samvadi : has its origin in the word 'vad'. It is 4 or 5 sounds away from the vadi. It is the ragas subdominant

5) Enriched with clearly designed 'motifs' ( catch phrase ) called "pakad"
    which is a set of sounds giving a instant clue to this particular raga only.
    There is a certain resemblance with the european 18th century principle of "Treaty of affects".

6) Starting on a pitch which is comfortable and handy for the vocal or
    instrumental performer. There is no fixed system-tonic pitch in Indian music.

7) Having a set of embellished sounds and deviating sound pitches for one or several swara's.

8) Resolving the "free rhythm" development into a mathematical
    controlled pre-composed last part: the tala, which is  in interaction with a percussion player.

Vocalist Joshi Bhimsen in concert...
The 'ARCHITECTURE' of a raga.

A raga is established in four different sections :
Alaap-Jodh-Jhalla and Gath

The substances of the raga are established in a slow, timeless and pulse-free exposition
(villambit- vistar, no percussion, no tala).  Gradually the tempo speeds up to: Jorh
Moving the mood of the raga to a slightly faster movement, no rhythmic pulse
( madhya, no percussion, no tala).  Gradually the tempo speeds up to: Jhalla
Faster rendering of the raga, with a rhythmic pulse brought in. Stringed instruments will  use their chickari strings in this.
(drut - no percussion, no tala) Tempo speeds up to: Gath
Full virtuosity of the performers is on display. The percussion is brought in while introducing a mathematical system,
the tala. Villambit-madhya and drut stages are again worked through. The building up of tension, because of the increasing
complexity of the variations and the interactions of soloist and percussions, create a feeling of excitement with the audience.

The 'Performing' of a raga

1. Bound to be performed, by tradition, on a precisely defined season, month, festival, occasion,  time.
The raga is chosen out of one of the 10 "Parent Scales" or "that", or, can also be newly created.
In am convinced  there is a strong similarity with the European ancient system of "treaty of affects".

2. Consists minimum of 1 main soloist, 1 percussionist
( only 1 percussion instrument will be used) and 1 or 2  tanpura player  providing the drone.

3. The music is focussing more on the improvisational aspect than on
    the rendering of a 'composition'. Hence the great importance and influence of gharanas and gurus.

4. The Hindusthani raga as a' form' is undoubtedly  the major item of a concert.  Nowadays,
as a  deviation of traditions, a concert might be concluded with a 'tappa' or even a folk song.

5. Instrumental compositions are recognized through their 'raga' name.
    No title referring to lyrics will be used.