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Indian classic

Background text by Yogendra
(January 2012)

The classical Indian music tradition and its instruments are the basis for the work of India Instruments. But what is this tradition about? Yogendra gives an introduction to beginners.

1. Spirituality - From coloring the mind
2. Raga & Tala - soul & heart
3. North & South India - Two great traditions
4. Dhrupad, Khyal, Thumri & instrumental style
5. Performers - masters of the raga
6. Instruments - the magic of sound
7. Tradition & Renewal


1. Spirituality - From coloring the mind


Nada Brahma - "God is vibration" or "the world is sound" is a central concept of ancient Indian philosophy. The view that the fabric of the cosmos is an interactive dance of the finest vibrations can already be found in Natya Shastra, a basic work of Indian art theory, which was probably written between 200 BC. BC and AD 200 originated - and it is impressively confirmed by modern physics today.


Audible and inaudible vibration

The finest vibrations, Anahata Nada ("unbeatable vibration"), can only be experienced internally after many years of practice in deep meditation, according to Indian teaching. The audible sounds, Ahata Nada ("struck vibration"), offer easier access to the vibration level. Music, too, is nada, vibration, and so in experiencing music - whether as a musician or as a listener - people can be particularly easily and directly aware of their being integrated into the fabric of the cosmos.


Feelings as a gateway to the essence

The Natya Shastra explains that all human feelings can be traced back to eight essential emotional qualities: love, cheerfulness, compassion, horror, courage, fear, disgust and astonishment. In everyday life we ​​experience these feelings in a wide variety of mixtures. If, however, an essential emotion is expressed while making music, it becomes possible to experience it in its pure form without personal concern. Through this experience, called rasa (literally “juice” or “essence”), the identification with the limited individual personality can be released and access to transpersonal bliss can be opened up. It does not matter whether it is a "pleasant" (eg cheerfulness) or an "uncomfortable" (eg disgust) Rasa - if the experience goes down to the essence, then each Rasa becomes the transforming power that the little everyday life -I dissolve and merge with the bigger picture.

The power of raga

The key to the mystical experience of unity in Indian music is called raga. According to a well-known definition, raga is "that which colors the mind". In the classical music traditions of North and South India there are hundreds of ragas, some dozen of which are generally known, but some are only passed down in the oral student-teacher tradition. Each raga has its very own melodic form that is unmistakable for the initiated. This melody shape is created by a sophisticated set of rules that specify for each raga exactly which notes may be played upwards and which downwards, where melodies begin or end, how ornaments are to be used, which notes are strong or weak or completely forbidden, etc. etc. If all these rules are followed and if you manage to tune yourself into the very individual expressive quality of the chosen raga while playing, if the time and place are also chosen correctly, then a raga performance becomes a mystical experience. Under special circumstances, a raga should even be able to magically influence the forces of nature: The Mallik family of musicians reports that their ancestors ended a dangerous drought in Darbhanga in 1788 and thus averted a famine by singing a monsoon raga and thus causing rain .

From silence to ecstasy

“Coloring the mind” with Rasa takes time - an hour to play a single raga is not uncommon. First, the tanpura stringed instrument lays a shimmering carpet of sound in the room, onto which musicians and listeners can swing and whose uninterrupted keynote serves as the foundation for building the raga figure. Then the first melody notes are played or sung, slowly and meditatively at first, slowly revealing the shape of the raga piece by piece, over time more and more complex and expansive, revealing ever new details, condensing into a melodic pulsation that is hardly noticeably faster and becomes denser and at some point the rhythmic accompaniment invites you, initially at a slow pace, in wide circling arcs, but gradually more lively and expressive, spontaneous dialogues of melody and rhythm spinning, faster and faster, more and more virtuoso and dynamic, until finally in a brilliant one Fireworks a whirling ecstatic final climax is reached.


2. Raga & Tala - soul & heart

Raga and tala, melody and rhythm, are the soul and heart of Indian classical music tradition. The Sanskrit word raga is derived from the verb "ranj", which means "to color". Ragas are melodic structures for improvisation and composition that, figuratively speaking, color the mind, that is, are supposed to have a certain emotional effect on the listener. Tala literally means "clapping" and describes the rhythmic level, the lively pulse beat in which the music unfolds.


Rules for ragas

Each of the several hundred known ragas has its own individual sound design that distinguishes it from all other ragas. It is defined by an ascending and a descending tone movement with five to seven tones each. Often the ascending and descending movement use the same tones, but sometimes completely different tones appear. Sometimes the notes come in a straight line like a musical scale, but sometimes they also make zigzags. Some tones are used almost naked, while others are played around with sophisticated ornaments. Some tones invite you to linger, others are only briefly touched upon. Some combine with others in characteristic sequences, while others are constantly being recombined. And all tones relate to an uninterrupted fundamental tone, which is usually played by an instrument called a tanpura as a shimmering carpet of sound in the background.

Development of the structure

All of this results in a unique structure for each raga. It can be visually compared with the vocabulary and grammar of a language, the sequence of steps in a dance or the genetic information of a living being. In order for this structure to develop, the language must be spoken, the dance must be danced, and the living being must grow and develop. Only in this development does the raga come to life and take on a concrete form. This can be a fixed form in a certain composition - similar to a written poem in which the rules and the beauty of a language are manifested. Most of the time, the raga unfolds spontaneously improvising out of the moment - just as we usually don't recite memorized texts when speaking but express ourselves spontaneously according to the situation.

Magic of the Ragas

Every raga has not only a certain formal structure but also a spiritual vibration, a mood, color, energy or however you like to express it. Many ragas are therefore associated with the times of the day, seasons or deities that correspond to them. For centuries, attempts have also been made to portray the special character of a raga in the form of paintings and poems. All these associations and attempts at translation can be helpful when approaching a raga in order to open doors to inner spaces of experience. The magic of a raga cannot really be captured with it. Completely without words, only with abstract tones, he is able to touch our innermost being through the art of great musicians cultivated for decades, to bring a fresh source of subtle joy to flow again and again and to lead us to a place of deep peace.

Eternal flow of time

The tala, the rhythmic structure, plays a major role in the development of the raga. Talas are not straight like the bars in Western music, but circular - the beginning and the end coincide, so that the movement basically goes on forever. We know this from the clock, where at the end of the twelfth hour we can either speak of midnight, the beginning of the new day, or midnight, the end of the previous day. But no matter how we look at it - time continues to run steadily and unmoved. And the tala also keeps moving in steady pulses, creating a dynamic framework for the music. The one, the first beat, at which the beginning and the end coincide, has a special meaning. The music revolves around this one, circles it, sometimes apparently moves away from it, until the musicians come together again and again, as if by magic, exactly at this point.

Order of Talas

This intuitive, seemingly magical interplay is only possible because each tala has a precisely defined order. The total number of even pulses in the tala is usually between six and sixteen, divided into subgroups of 2, 3 or 4. In this structure, a certain sound is assigned to each pulse beat, which is played on a drum in concerts. This gives the tala, in addition to its mathematical clarity, a beguiling sensual quality and characteristic movement. And it is precisely this movement that ticks exactly in the heads of the musicians and those in the audience when they play, creating a sometimes intoxicating inner connection.


3. North and South India - Two great traditions

Common roots

In classical Indian music today there are two great traditions that differ significantly in the instruments used, in the repertoire, vocabulary and the musical forms: Hindustani music in the north and Carnatic music in the south. But they have common roots in Sama-Veda, where musical rules for the use of three to seven notes in the recitation of sacred texts of the Rig-Veda were described. Both music systems are based on raga as a melodic principle and on tala as a rhythmic basis, are unanimously modal, are based on singing as an ideal, are passed down orally by professional musicians, use the seven tone syllables Sa, Re / Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni and place great emphasis on improvisation. It was not until around the 12th century that two different lines of tradition developed from the common elements.

Hindustani music

Hindustani music is cultivated north of the states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh throughout India, but also in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Afghanistan. It developed through dealing with Persian influences that came to northern India through the Muslim rulers. Stars like Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan and later Zakir Hussain made them famous around the world in the 20th century. Many non-Indians today are so fascinated by Hindustani music that they learn it and, together with the enormously widespread Indian diaspora, ensure that high-class concerts with Hindustani music can also be enjoyed in Europe, North America, Japan, Australia and the Arab Gulf states. Can experience music. Because of this great popularity, the next few installments in this series will be devoted to the styles, performers, and instruments of Hindustani music in greater detail.

Carnatic music

Carnatic music is primarily at home in the four southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, which are characterized by Dravidian languages, as well as in the Tamil part of Sri Lanka. Its core is the vocal compositions of great masters, both in class and in concert. The musical structure and the text are equally important. Even if carnatic music is played on an instrument, one orientates oneself on the singing - special instrumental compositions are not common. Improvisation in raga and tala takes up less space than in Hindustani music and is often incorporated into the composition. But with Ragam Tanam Pallavi there is also its own form of improvisation, which consists of three elements that build on each other: In the Ragam, the raga unfolds in a purely melodic manner without any rhythmic connection, in the Tanam the raga melodies are played in a rhythmic pulse and in the Pallavi it is a kind of recurring short refrain that is improvised on.

Purandara Dasa and the big three

After Carnatic music had developed independently over several centuries, Purandara Dasa laid the foundations for today's practice in the 16th century. About 1000 songs by him have come down to us, in which he created an exemplary combination of expression, melodic beauty and rhythmic sophistication. He integrated everyday stories and colloquial language into the texts, but also explanations of philosophical topics, thus making the music accessible to a wider audience. But he also developed a teaching method with systematic exercises, according to which carnatic music is taught to this day. Carnatic music experienced a great heyday in the late 18th and early 19th centuries with the three composers Tygaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Shastri. Their works form the core of the modern concert repertoire and they are sometimes venerated almost like saints. Their song lyrics are mostly about religious or philosophical topics.

Carnatic instruments

The basis for the music is the tanpura string instrument with its long neck and spherical resonance body. The open strings of the tanpura are plucked gently and evenly, so that a continuous soundscape results. The sliding melodic movements and the long notes and the rhythmic articulation of the human voice can be imitated particularly well on the violin. The violin is therefore often used in carnatic music to accompany the lead singer. But it can also be used as a solo instrument. The most common solo instrument is the Saraswati-Vina, a fingered and plucked string instrument that at first glance looks similar to the North Indian sitar. Thanks to the great differences in construction and playing technique, the Saraswati-Vina has its own unmistakable sound. The rhythmic accompaniment is also important for carnatic music. The main instrument for this is the strong cross drum mridangam, which is covered with skins on both sides. Larger ensembles also have a ghatam, a kind of clay pot, the small tambourine kanjira and the jaw harp Morsing.

Carnatic concerts

A typical Carnatic concert lasts around three hours. At the beginning there are usually several shorter pieces, in the middle a long main piece with Ragam Tanam Pallavi and towards the end several shorter and easier pieces. Often there is also a separate percussion part. If several percussionists are present, this often results in rousing rhythmic dialogues. The high season for concerts in December and January is the six-week Madras Music Season in Chennai, one of the largest cultural festivals in the world. In Central Europe, on the other hand, Carnatic music can unfortunately only rarely be experienced live.


4. Dhrupad, Khyal, Thumri & instrumental style

Singing - the basis

In classical North Indian music there are a number of different styles in which a raga can be performed. Each style has its own rules in terms of formal structure and sound aesthetics. What they all have in common, however, is that the human voice's flexibility and richness of nuances form the ideal by which they are oriented.

Dhrupad - centuries-old tradition

The oldest style still alive today is the dhrupad. The name is derived from dhruva pada = fixed verse. Dhrupad experienced its greatest heyday in the second half of the 16th century at the court of the Great Mogul Akbar. To this day, many families of musicians trace their tradition back to Akbar's legendary court singer tansen, to whom almost magical abilities and the invention of many new ragas are ascribed. Over the centuries, however, Dhrupad has been superseded by more modern styles. However, it is still cultivated by a few families and has retained its very own niche in classical Indian concert life. Many musicians study Dhrupad today because a very old musical and spiritual knowledge is preserved in it, which forms the basis for all other styles. Well-known Dhrupad musicians are e.g. the families Dagar and Mallick and the Gundecha Brothers.

Dhrupad - strict form & grandeur

Typical of the Dhrupad is a very strict form that places great value on the exact intonation of each individual note and the raga systematically unfolds note by note - first in the freely rhythmic Alap, and then in the pulsating Jor. Alap and Jor often make up the bulk of a dhrupad presentation. There is no lavish ornamentation of the tones - the focus is on pure vibration, sung with abstract syllables. As a result, the dhrupad usually has a very meditative, serious and majestic character. Only towards the end of a raga interpretation does the mighty pakhawaj cross drum join in, and solemn song compositions with elaborate texts are performed. Usually, rhythmic variations of the text are used to improvise. It is often concluded with a shorter song at a faster pace.

Khyal - flight of imagination

The khyal superseded the dhrupad in the 19th century and is now the most common style in North Indian classical music.The word comes from Arabic and means idea, idea or imagination. In keeping with this name, the khyal focuses on the creative genius of the soloist. Besides tabla and tanpura, Khyal is usually accompanied by the sarangi string instrument or the harmonium keyboard instrument. Famous khyal singers today include Pandit Jasraj, Ulhas Kashalkar, Ajoy Chakraborty and Rashid Khan. Singers such as Kishori Amonkar, Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande, Veena Sahasrabuddhe, Prabha Atre, Parveen Sultana or Shruti Sadolikar are also highly valued.

Khyal - flexible form & creative freedom

In the beginning there is usually only a very short alap, and after a few minutes the tabla is added. An extremely slow tempo is played, which gives the soloist almost unlimited freedom to systematically turn to the development of the raga, to play through melodic and rhythmic variations, to weave increasingly complex patterns and finally to shine with virtuoso fast runs. After this detailed and dramaturgically skillfully increased slow part, a fast composition usually follows, in which above all fast runs and rhythmic variations are performed with the highest virtuosity. The song texts only play a subordinate role in the khyal - they serve more as a syllable fundus for improvisations and often only the vowel a or the names of the notes are sung.

Thumri - romantic love mysticism

Thumri and related styles are only considered to be semi-classical because they take great liberties in the treatment of the ragas. More important in Thumri is the highly emotional interpretation of the lyrics. It is mostly about unfulfilled romantic love, which symbolizes the soul's longing for the divine, which can never be completely satisfied. Often a line of text is repeated in ever new variations in order to sound out the whole spectrum of the feelings associated with it. Tones are also used that do not actually belong in the raga if it is useful for the expression. Thumris are often presented by khyal singers at the end of a concert. The most famous living Thumri specialist today is Girija Devi.

Instrumental style - the best of everything

The instrumentalists of Indian classical music also orientate themselves towards the human voice as an ideal. From the Dhrupad they use the systematic meditative raga development in Alap and Jor. From the khyal they use the extended, increasingly condensed improvisations over a slow basic tempo and then the fast form with virtuoso runs as a furious finale. And from the thumri comes a filigree, lush and emotional ornamentation. In addition, they also use the technical features of the respective instrument - on the sitar and sarod, for example, the rhythmic attack patterns and the groovy impulses of the open drone strings. The modern instrumental concert practice thus combines the strengths of the different styles in varied complexity and is therefore often more accessible to laypeople than pure vocal concerts. So it's no wonder that the real world stars of Indian classical music, such as Ravi Shankar, are now more instrumentalists than singers. Some of these masters of raga will be dealt with in the next installment in this series.


5. Performers - masters of the raga

In the 20th century, instrumental virtuosos became great stars of Indian classical music. Their newly developed forms shape all musicians who are active today. We present some of these pioneers here.

Ravi Shankar - the pioneer in the west

Even as a teenager, the sitarist and composer Ravi Shankar (* 1920) had the vision of bringing Indian music to the West. After his apprenticeship with old master Allauddin Khan, he led the orchestra of All India Radio in the 1950s, wrote film scores for the Oscar-winning director Satyajit Ray and began to perform in Europe and North America and to work with jazz musicians. Thanks to his empathy, creativity and communicative talent, Ravi Shankar managed to inspire more and more circles for his music. In the 1960s he achieved cult status by playing with star violinist Yehudi Menuhin, teaching Beatle George Harrison and performing at the legendary Woodstock Festival. Later he concentrated more on teaching, classical concerts and composing - e.g. for the Oscar-winning film Gandhi and in collaboration with minimal composer Philip Glass. For many western ears, the sound of his sitar is the epitome of Indian music.

Vilayat Khan - the singing sitar

While Ravi Shankar occupied himself with new creative ideas and made Indian music popular worldwide, Vilayat Khan (1928 - 2004) moved entirely within the framework of tradition and revolutionized the sitar playing from within, so to speak. He came from an old musical dynasty, but lost his father at an early age. As a result, he had a solid classical music education from an early age, but as a young man also enjoyed the freedom to develop his own unmistakable style. Like no other before him, Vilayat Khan succeeded in making his sitar sing with his clear, little rasping tone and playing with drawn tones. He found numerous students and imitators and was formative for almost all sitarists after him. In the tradition of Vilayat Khan in the narrower sense are today his brother Imrat Khan, his sons Nishat and Irshad Khan, his sons Shujaat and Hidayat Khan, his cousin Rais Khan and Shahid Parvez and Budhaditya Mukherjee.

Nikhil Banerjee - the perfect form

Like Vilayat Khan, the sitarist Nikhil Banerjee (1931-1986) was also a representative of pure Indian classical music. But he was also a student of Allauddin Khan, the unconventional, experimental old master, and received there essential impulses for the development of his very own style. In it Nikhil Banerjee integrated the vocal style of playing and the fast runs of a Vilayat Khan as well as the rhythmic sophistication of Ravi Shankar and combined the meditative raga development and strict form of the Dhrupad with the elegance and creativity of the Khyal and the romantic emotionality of the Thumri. This synthesis is still regarded by many as the perfect form and Nikhil Banerjee as the greatest sitar master of the last century. Today the sitarists Kushal Das, Partha Bose, Partha Chatterjee and his son Purbayan Chatterjee are shaped by his sound aesthetics and his sense of form.

Ali Akbar Khan - the depths of the soul

As the son of old master Allauddin Khan, the life of Ali Akbar Khan (1922 - 2009) was filled with music practically from birth. The eruptive energy and at the same time crystal clarity of his playing on the fretless lute sarod drew people into a hypnotic vortex that touched the deepest roots of the soul. The violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin simply considered him the greatest musician in the world. Ali Akbar Khan wrote film scores and played with jazz musicians, but he always remained deeply rooted in Indian classical music. He settled in California in the 1960s and devoted most of the second half of his life to the mission of sharing his music with students around the world. Echoes of his sarod playing can now be heard from his sons Aashish and Alam Khan and from musicians such as Tejendra Narayan Mazumdar or Ranajit Sengupta.

Amjad Ali Khan - courtly elegance

In addition to Ali Akbar Khan, Amjad Ali Khan (* 1945) has shaped the sarod game in the last few decades. He comes from an old family of court musicians who contributed significantly to the development of the modern sarod. Flawless technology and compelling elegance are the hallmarks of his style. Amjad Ali Khan's sons Ayaan and Amaan continue the family tradition in the next generation.

Hariprasad Chaurasia - Krishna's flute

Thanks in particular to Hariprasad Chaurasia (* 1938), the Bansuri bamboo flute, formerly a purely folk instrument, is now a fully recognized classical solo instrument. On a large, deep bansuri, he succeeded in combining vocal playing in the khyal style with the rhythmic complexity of the dhrupad style using new blowing techniques, thus creating a uniquely multi-layered synthesis. In addition, Hariprasad Chaurasia has also been active as a flautist and composer for numerous Bollywood films and has played in fusion projects with great musicians from all over the world, including John McLaughlin and Jan Garbarek. Hariprasad's playing with its ingratiating sound, groovy rhythm and melodic complexity is perhaps the most easily accessible form of great Indian classical music today and has shaped a whole generation of Bansuri players.His ideas are carried on by flautists such as Rakesh Chaurasia, Rupak Kulkarni, Ronu Mazumdar, Nityanand Haldipur and Ragunath Seth.

Shivkumar Sharma - the scent of Kashmir

The shimmering cascades of sound of the Indian chopping board Santur are associated with the pure clarity of the mountains in North Indian Kashmir. Shivkumar Sharma (* 1938) used innovative playing techniques to make the santoor socially acceptable for classic ragas. Its pleasing sound appeals to the heart and its diverse rhythmic possibilities ensure exciting complexity. In addition to his classic career, Shivkumar Sharma was also successful together with Hariprasad Chaurasia as the Duo Shiv-Hari in numerous Bollywood films. His son Rahul as well as Ulhas Bapat, Bhajan Sopori and Satish Vyas are important santur masters today.

Bismillah Khan - the call of Varanasi

The Shahnai player Bismillah Khan (1916 - 2006) was one of the greatest charismatics of Indian classical music. Although himself a devout Muslim, he spent most of his life in Varanasi, the holy city of the Hindus on the banks of the Ganges, and took an active part in the unique cultural life there. In this way, Bismillah Khan embodied both in his person and in his simultaneously majestic and deeply cheerful game the spirit of Varanasi as well as the ideal of a peaceful coexistence of religions from the spirit of a deep spirituality. Well-known Shahnai players today are Daya Shankar and Ali Ahmed Hussain.

Zakir Hussain - magic of the tabla

The tabla is actually only an accompanying instrument - but under the hands of Zakir Hussain (* 1951) it steals the show from some soloists and becomes a secret star itself. After learning the traditional tabla art from his father Alla Rakha from early childhood, Zakir Hussain went to the USA as a teenager and became one of the heads of the legendary group Shakti alongside John McLaughlin and L. Shankar. In this and many other groundbreaking world music projects, Zakir Hussain proved to be both a cosmopolitan, creative composer and improviser and a brilliant entertainer. His charisma, his infectious joy in playing and his wealth of tonal nuances have shaped a whole generation of tabla players. Today there is hardly a tabla player who is not influenced by Zakir Hussain.


6. Instruments - the magic of sound

The instruments of classical Indian music have their very own unmistakable sound magic. Particularly typical are their dazzling wealth of overtones, which is created by bridges with ingeniously polished arches and many sympathetic strings, and the ability to imitate many facets of the human voice. Although Indian classical music can also be played on instruments such as the violin or saxophone, its special features are particularly evident on the instruments made in India itself.

Tanpura - symbol of eternity

Even before the first note of a raga sounds, a fine, shimmering carpet of sound can almost always be heard in classical Indian music, which continues unchanged in the background during the entire raga performance. It is played on the tanpura, one of the most unknown and most important traditional instruments. The Tanpura defines the fundamental tone with its constant drone sound - it is the foundation on which the entire filigree raga temple is built; the canvas on which the raga painting will be painted; the earth on which the raga dances. Tanpuras usually have four to five strings that are only plucked openly in a constant rhythm. The attack is so soft that the vibrations of the individual strings seem to merge into a continuously shimmering sound. The Tanpura symbolizes the eternal primordial ground of being, from which the entire (musical) creation emerges. Since tanpuras have to be tuned to the respective keynote of the singer or instrument, they come in all possible sizes and shapes. Typical is the design with a large dried pumpkin as a resonance body and a long wooden neck attached to it. In concerts, mostly students of the main artists play the tanpura.

Sitar - the sound of India

Probably no other instrument is perceived as so typically Indian as the sitar. Especially thanks to the world-famous sitar master Ravi Shankar, its whirring sound is now the epitome of Indian music itself. It is a technically demanding solo instrument with mostly 20 strings. Of these, however, only seven are used as playing strings. The remaining 13 are not struck, but vibrate when their note is played on the melody strings. So these sympathetic strings create a kind of built-in reverb effect. Similar to the Tanpura, the pumpkin resonator has a long wooden neck over which the strings run. Many sitars have an additional second resonator at the top of the neck. Tied across the neck are metal bars (frets) on which you press the strings down to change the pitch - similar to a guitar. You can also change the pitch fluently by pulling the string that is pressed on the fret sideways and thus increasing its tension. This technique is particularly good at simulating the gliding tone movements of the human voice - after all, Indian classical music is derived from singing. However, it is also particularly difficult to master. But don't worry - even beginners can quickly create fascinating typical Indian sounds on a well-tuned sitar!

Sarod - the unknown excellence

The sarod is much less well known in this country than the sitar - although it enjoys the same high status as a solo instrument in India. Its sound is rounder and more brilliant than that of the sitar. The touch with a thick coconut pick allows an extremely dynamic rhythmic game, which can develop a very powerful volume by covering the body with a goat skin. The fine melodic articulation options are also unique: the four melody strings are pressed with the fingernails onto a fretless fingerboard made of extremely smooth, chrome-plated stainless steel. Every small change in the position of the fingernail changes the pitch - so sliding along the strings creates fascinating opportunities for expression. The sarod is an instrument that is definitely worth discovering!

Vina - queen of instruments

The word vina is actually a generic term for various string instruments. The best known are the Rudra-Vina in North India and the Saraswati-Vina in South India. The Rudra-Vina is several centuries old, has long been considered the most precious of all instruments and is now also seen as one of the pre-forms of the sitar. Its two large pumpkin bodies are attached to a wooden resonance tube over which the strings run and on which the frets sit. The Rudra-Vina has an archaic, majestic character and is unfortunately almost extinct today. In contrast, the Saraswati Vina, the most important solo instrument of Carnatic music and thus the equivalent of the North Indian sitar, is very lively. Its shape with a spherical body, long neck, frets, pegs and second upper resonator is similar to the sitar. However, the Saraswati-Vina has no sympathetic strings and is made of other materials. She also differs significantly from her North Indian sister in terms of playing technique and musical repertoire.

Bansuri - Krishna's temptation

The bansuri is actually nothing more than a simple bamboo tube with six to seven burnt-in grip holes and a blow hole. It is blown like a western flute and is the instrument of the god Krishna in mythology - with his small, high-sounding bansuri, he beguiled the hearts of cowherdesses as a young man and lured them to erotic games. For centuries, the bansuri was considered a purely folk instrument because of its simplicity - popular, but very limited in its possibilities. It was not until the middle of the 20th century that musicians began to play classic ragas on particularly large, deep, warm and round-sounding bansuris. Since the bansuri has no mechanics, difficult grips with extremely splayed fingers have to be practiced for these large instruments. The blowing technique has also expanded a lot through its use as a classic solo instrument and now allows for sophisticated rhythmic variations.

Santoor - the scent of Kashmir

The santur is originally a folk musical instrument from Kashmir, the mountainous northern border region between India and Pakistan. Her enchanting, crystal clear sound cascades have meanwhile won fans all over the world. The sound body is a trapezoidal wooden box. About 90 strings are stretched across it, which run over small bridges. Any three strings lying next to each other are tuned to the same note and always struck together. They are made to sound with two wooden mallets, which are held between the fingers on the right and left. The previously tuned pitches cannot be changed while playing - no sliding tone movements are possible.Thanks to the refined rhythmic possibilities and refined new playing techniques, the santur has nevertheless gained a place among the classical melody solo instruments in the last few decades.

Sarangi - song of the soul

The nasal singing sound of the bowed string instrument sarangi is one of the most fascinating phenomena in Indian music. It has more sympathetic strings than any other Indian instrument and therefore an unmatched reverberation - especially since the vibration of the melody strings is transmitted directly to the sympathetic strings through the thin goat skin on the wooden body. The melody is played on three thick gut strings. The pitches are changed by pressing these strings sideways with the bed of nails without a fingerboard or frets. This unique playing technique and the very short distances from note to note ensure unbeatable flexibility in articulation. As a result, the sarangi is as good as any other instrument able to imitate all the subtleties of the human voice. Traditionally, it was therefore mostly used to accompany singing. But now it can also be heard as a solo instrument. Unfortunately, because of the extremely demanding handling, fewer and fewer musicians play sarangi today.

Harmonium - Europe in India

The harmonium has largely replaced the sarangi in vocal accompaniment - an extremely practical, easy-to-play instrument. It was invented in Europe in the 19th century and then imported and modified to India. In the west it has meanwhile practically died out, but in India it is now the universal accompanying instrument for all classical and semi-classical singing styles as well as for spiritual songs of various traditions - from bhajan, kirtan and mantra chants to qawwali and shabad. The harmonium doesn't have to be tuned, you don't need any practice to create a tone at all, and you can use it to support a singing voice without getting in its way. You simply pump the bellows attached to the back with one hand and press the desired note on the keyboard with the other - ideal for everyone. However, it has not yet been used as a classical solo instrument.

Tabla - universe of rhythms

Faster than the eyes can follow the fingers dance over the tabla and ignite a rhythmic hurricane that one would never have expected a single musician to be capable of. Anyone who has ever seen a good tabla player live should never forget the experience. The tabla is one of the most complex rhythm instruments in the world and offers as wide a range of playing possibilities as an entire percussion group. It consists of two hand timpani, which are always used together as a pair. The smaller one is made of heavy wood and can produce several precisely tunable bell-clear tones as well as noisy slaps and taps. The larger, bulbous timpani, mostly made of chrome-plated copper, provides the bass. By pressing and moving the playing hand lying on the skin, the pitch can be changed with incredible flexibility, so that the instrument seems to speak properly. A black paste made of boiled rice mass and iron filings, which is applied to the goat skin skins in a complicated process, is decisive for the sound. Tabla sounds are now also available as digital samples, which are now used in a wide variety of musical styles.


7. Tradition & Renewal
The subtleties of classical Indian music can hardly be represented in notation. That is why the letter notation developed in India is not used as a precise game instruction (as in western classical music), but only as a memory aid. But how do you learn this music and how is it passed on?

Oral tradition - Guru Shishya Parampara

The key to this is the oral tradition in Guru Shishya Parampara. Guru means teacher, Shishya means disciple and Parampara means the transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next. Not only music is passed on in this way, but also, for example, spiritual, medical or craft knowledge. Since a divine origin is ultimately seen in all knowledge, its transmission is a sacred act. A separate goddess named Saraswati is responsible for this - not only the goddess of wisdom and learning, but also of language and music! The guru is the refuge of this knowledge and ideally the disciple takes it in faith and obedience, with awe and fervor, patience and trust in himself, keeps it and one day, when he has become a guru himself, passes it on unadulterated.

Traditional training - path to mastery

From time to time the music guru selects particularly talented boys from his family or friends and takes them into his household. He looks after them like his own children and takes full responsibility for their musical and personal development. His knowledge and his understanding of art - and thus his purpose in life - can only be passed on if he chooses the right students and trains them accordingly. For several years the students received daily instruction, practicing under the ears of the guru and listening to his practice. In audition and replay, without notes or other written recordings, they learn the playing technique of the instrument, an extensive fund of compositions in various ragas and talas and the ability to improvise. When a student has reached concert maturity, the guru takes him on stage and plays with him in a duet. He uses his prestige to make a worthy successor known and to give him artistic recognition.

Technique - training and structure

For the development of the technical mastery there is an extensive canon of exercises with scales, rhythm and melody formulas, which are also regularly exercised by great masters with regard to strength, speed, precision and endurance. The exercises are not just pure technique training, they also grind in melodic and rhythmic structures that can then be used in improvisation. At the same time, they develop perceptual grids that mentally structure the musical events. In this way one learns to understand and use complex interrelationships of tone sequences and rhythms as units of meaning.

Compositions - essence of the ragas

Compositions usually only consist of two to four short stanza-like melody lines. They are, so to speak, a miniature representation of a raga that is concentrated on the essentials. While the raga itself can never be finally fixed and described exhaustively, the composition offers a handy model that is authorized by tradition and on which one can orientate oneself. The more compositions the student has mentally, the more plastic and precise the raga interpretation will be, which he improvises from them. It is therefore important to memorize the compositions true to detail and to keep them in your memory for a lifetime.

Improvisation - spontaneity with a system

For the development of the ability to improvise it is important to be surrounded by the music as much as possible, to constantly absorb it on all levels, no matter how far one already consciously understands it. As with toddler language development or learning a foreign language, one has to hear, hear, hear as much as possible. Experience again and again how to do it right. Experience through the ear. Perceive. Compassionate. Settling in. But also conscious learning is part of it: First the guru improvises one melody line after the other and the student plays them back as a faithful echo. Once this level has been mastered, the student no longer plays the guru's phrases as an echo, but as a shadow, following closely, almost simultaneously. Then the student begins to independently continue the guru's melodies with his own ideas. Finally, only the pupil plays, drawing on the memory of countless earlier improvisations, of the formulas he has learned, of the compositions he has learned; and the guru listens, nods, comments, only gives small corrections and blesses his disciple, who has now become a master himself.

Learning today - ideal and reality

In our globalized present, traditional India is changing at an ever faster pace. Economic pressure is increasing, as is the turning away from old traditions and the desire for individual development. Classical musicians are no longer entertained by princes, but have to assert themselves on the free market. The ideal of Guru Shishya Parampara is still upheld, but it is becoming more and more difficult to carry it on in its old form. Lessons must be paid for and limited by the hour. The little time that the guru and disciple have together must be used as intensively as possible. Digital recording devices and the recordings of great masters, which are accessible everywhere, partially replace personal contact and help the students to learn more independently. In addition to the protégés of established gurus, talented outsiders also have the chance to make it to the top as musicians.

Changing tradition - the key to vitality

Classical Indian music is certainly not as popular around the world today as it was in the late 1960s and 1970s. But as a pioneer of what has now become an independent area of ​​the global music industry under the name of world music, it has conquered a permanent niche in concert life in Japan, North America, Australia and Europe. And in India itself it is still in full bloom. Masters of Indian classical music are well-known stars who are also reported in the gossip columns of the newspapers. And many great younger musicians carry the tradition into the 21st century. This is probably only possible because on the one hand Indian classical music is deeply rooted in Indian culture and has a unique solid core with raga and tala, but on the other hand it has never been frozen in the mere repetition of firmly established forms. A musician who would just repeat exactly what his guru taught him would be nothing more than a parrot. Every raga performance requires a creative interpretation in which raga and tala are filled with new life through the unrepeatable quality of the present moment. As long as Indian classical music succeeds in achieving this balance between preservation of tradition and renewal, it will retain its enchanting freshness and continue to inspire and delight people from all over the world.