The concept of rasa, the nine permanent emotions


heroic erotic mirthful wondrous tranquil fear anger disgust sorrow


Recalling that, in general, “music theory” may include theories of construction, purpose, & justification, we find that Indian theory describes & justifies in a very speculative way, but is also conditioned by actual practice. 


Origins of theory in Hindu recitation of the sacred Vedas, c. 1000 B.C.E.; instructions on preservation in the Natyasastra, 400 A.D. or 200 B.C.E.


The great chain of categories

starting from cosmic ideas –

nada -- sound, sound vibrations; "The word has peculiar philosophical connotations.  Nada is cosmic energy; it is the First Cause."  The Music of India, Reginald and Jamila Massey, 1976.  Shiva dances the cosmos into existence.


sruti -- microtonal intervals of various sizes (3); the smallest detectable intervals as judged by human hearing;  non-equal division of the octave (eventually a 22-part division of the octave);  can also refer to pitch in general or the specific pitch to which the drone is tuned.


svara -- actual musical intervals made up of combinations of sruti


grama -- basic tonal vocabularies made up of 7 svara; parent scales (some reserved for divine beings) (theory still at some remove from actual music-making)


murcchana -- scales derived from the two surviving parent scales (grama)


jati -- basic modes [one could say here that the difference between these conceptual scales and the modes are that the scales are collections of notes of generally equal importance; a mode is created from a scale by selecting a most-important note (“vadi” in the Indian system) and a second-most-important note (“samvadi” – because everybody needs samvadi sometime)]; later a classification of modes by their number of pitches


all leading to actual ragas to be played and heard by actual people –


raga -- scalar-melody forms based on various jati.  These in turn may be reclassified into hierarchies of types of raga: 72 melakarta (K) and 10 that-s or thatas (H).  These classifications are very practical and are based on actual practice and the intervallic structures of the raga-s.  Furthermore, they allow the creation of new raga-s, especially in the Southern tradition.


Systems of notation are very old, but even ones as recent as the 12th century are difficult to interpret.  Notation from the 16th century forward can be interpreted with effort by music historians.  Learning of the music is an aural/oral practice, and does not rely on notation.


Indian solfege syllables:  sa re ga ma pa dha ni  (probably older than “do-re-mi” system in Europe)


The preference for monophony (as compared to polyphony) is said to date back to theories about Sanskrit that held that the divergence of spoken language, dance and music was a "recent" phenomenon.  Spoken language and musical language are held to be two aspects of communication.  It would be impolite for two people to talk at the same time!


(adapted from Malm and notes to the Anthology of World Music:

North Indian Classical Music, Rounder CD 5101/04)


DC Meckler, Oct 2007

MUS250 World Music