“Hindu music is a subjective, spiritual, and individualistic art, aiming not at symphonic brilliance but at personal harmony with the Over-Soul.”
—The Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda
The 17 traditional Ragas on the International Music Series, Vol. 4, Music of India are beautiful without knowing the philosophy behind them. But, they are more powerful when the meaning is known.
The only way to understand music that is so different from the Western tradition, is to understand the reason this music is created and performed the way it is.
In The Autobiography of a Yogi it is explained that the basis of Hindu music are Ragas, or fixed melodic scales. From the six basic Ragas come 126 derivative Raginis (wives) and Putras (sons). Unlike the Western octive, the scale in a Raga must only include five notes. These notes must include a leading note (Vadi or king), a secondary note (Samavadi or prime minister), helping notes (Anuvadi or attendants), and a dissonant note (Vivadi or the enemy).
The Music of India compilation is arranged in a traditional format to correspond with the philosophy of the Raga. Arranged by Jonathan Mayer and performed by Jonathan Mayer (sitar), John Mayer (tampura), and Esmail Sheikh (sitar), the compilation introduces Westerners to the original way Indian music has been performed.
“Each of the six basic Ragas has a natural correspondence with a certain hour of the day, season of the year, and a presiding deity who bestows a particular potency,” Yogananda explained in The Autobiography.
Music of India starts off with six morning Ragas and then moves to two midday Ragas. Then there are both early and late afternoon Ragas. There are three evening Ragas and finally there are the early night, night, and late midnight Ragas.
Each type of Raga is performed to create different sensations, such as universal love, compassion, courage, and valor. Unfortunately the CD insert doesn’t explain which Raga does what. But, even without these explainations, concentrating on the music will create a trance-like and meditative mood. Through repeated patterns and rhythms, and the soothing sound of the sitar, this music is sure to relax those who’ve had a difficult day at the office.
One of the lures of Indian music is the seeming simplicity rought with intricate complexity. They may only use five notes in a scale and keep repeating one pattern. But just when it seems it’s all the same there will be a tiny diversion that will make the song sound completely different.
There are only two disappointing aspects of this compilation. Since there is so much to know to appreciate traditional Indian music, it seems there should have been more of an explaination in the CD insert. Also, the compilation is purely instrumental, and I would’ve liked to have heard some mantras.
Most Americans have heard sitars in popular music. Whether from the Beatles, Ravi Shankar, Cornershop, Kula Shaker, or DJ Cheb i Sabbah. These artists help the Western world open their ears to different sounds. If you want to take a step further and discover the traditional way Ragas were performed, pick up Music of India.