....Not surprisingly, the Vedic civilisations knowledge of the power of sound extended to music and much of Indias great musical heritage is based on the celestial rhythms, sounds, notes and harmonies cognised by the Vedic Sages from the deepest levels of consciousness.It is said that at such a level of consciousness one can hear the music of the Celestial Musicians, the Gandharvas.
....Indian music comes in many forms but it is mainly in its classical mode -- raga -- that it is best known in the West, largely through the cultural bridge-building of Ravi Shankar and his ebullient tabla player, Ali Akbar Khan. Despite the predominance of the raga as the representative musical form of the Indian sub-continent, there are many other forms, most of them with a religious or spiritual connection. Indeed, until the recent ascendency of the Bollywood genre of glitzy show music, almost all the art forms of India were based on the spiritual epics such as the Ramayana and the Mahabarata. Both dance and theatre -- both often involving a narrator who speaks or sings the storyline while the actors and dancers portray the action -- have distnctive musical forms, often based on folk melodies. These are obviously vocal musical forms, as are the kirtans and bhajans which are the equivalent of hymns for congregational singing praising various gods from the Hindu pantheon. Both these semi-classical musical forms are alive and well but living in India.
....(Interesting sociological note: The singing of bhajans remains a largely Indian practice. In India itself it is very common to hear bhajans being sung but in the West the practice is mainly kept within the Hindu community and the temples. Except. In Amsterdam, bhajan singing by non-Indians is a common place phenomenon.)
....It is, however, in the instrumental form of the raga (although ragas can have a vocal element) that Indian music is best known in the West.The term raga means colour or passion and refers not only to a musical scale but to style and form. Although folk melodies may be utilised in the playing of ragas, it is an essentially improvisational musical form that is based around a particular musical scale of between five and seven notes and a particular time scale or tala. Each raga scale has associations with a time of day, a colour, a deity and a mood. By using only the notes within the scale, through a matter of emphasis and dynamics, the performer sets out to create a mood or atmosphere (rasa) that is unqiue to but reflective of the raga being played.
....Every raga is based around a tonic note that is often maintained as a drone throughout the performance of the raga. Although ragas are almost invariably ensemble pieces involving between two (a sitar or sarod player and a tabla player) and up to six players, almost all the stringed and some of the wind instruments in India have the facility of maintaining a drone. In the West, the lead instrument is almost always the sitar but in India many ragas involve the sarod and violin or bamboo flute.
....Although improvisational, ragas have a clear structure. Best known is the northern Indian form as played by Ravi Shankar, which is noted for its increasing beat and dramatic climax. Ragas always start with an unaccom-panied introductory interlude, called the alap, during which the soloist defines and explores the notes of the ragas scale. Towards the end of the alap, the soloist will start to explore the tala, or time scale of the raga, and the tabla player and other musicians will join in. The raga will then go through a number of movements, called gats, during which the scale and time scale will be further explored and exptrapolated. As the pace of the raga quickens, there is often an electric buzz between the lead instrumentalists as they display their music prowess in rippling casades of notes and a drum beat that almost talks. The raga ends with a rapid and often virtuoso display of fast finger-work that is both impressive and exciting. In India, the playing of ragas is a extremely interactive experience with the audience shouting encouragement to the musicians as the performance progresses.
....Although it is largely through sitarist, Ravi Shankar, and his association with Beatle, George Harrison, that Indian music came to the attention of the West, it remains heavily rooted in the Vedic culture. And, indeed, its precursor is available through the auspices of that revivalist of the Vedic world, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In bringing the ancient music of the Vedas back to the world as Gandharva Veda, the Maharishi describes it as: . . . . the expression of the eternal music of Nature. It is the music that is in alliance with Natural Law. If you can hear the music of Nature as the sun rises, as it shines in the fullness of the midday, as the soft shadows of late afternoon spread across the land, if you can hear the sun set, the deep silence of midnight, the stillness of early morning and the first awakening of the dawn, these are the melodies and rhythms of gandharva music. They match perfectly with the cycles of Nature and the changing rhythms of Nature that govern the evolution of all levels of creation, from the minute to the ever-expanding universe. Who says hyperbole doesnt sell records?
....The Maharishi claims that: For centuries the magical and sublime melodies of gandharva music have been lost to the West. But he has done something about that by producing a set of Gandharva Veda CDs and tapes. These offer appropriate ragas for different times of the day and night and are said to neutralise stress and promote harmony, peace and balance in the atmosphere. Each CD covers a three hour period and provides a raga approximately appropriate to the mood for the time of day. The morning ragas offer melodies for dynamism (7.00 - 10.00) and joyfulness (10.00-1.00.) There are also melodies for creativity, relaxation, compassion, love and happiness and a better sleep. Unusually for Westernised ragas, the Gandharva Veda pieces feature the bamboo flute as the lead instrument, altrhough the sitar and tamboura are not far behind.
....Despite the somewhat off-putting sales hype, the ragas on the Gandharva Veda CDs are particularly beautiful and are, indeed, both relaxing and energising.