This week I wanted to take a look at classical North indian music. I started off today's show trying to describe the Sapir Whorf Hypothesis and before I go on I feel I owe you guys a better explanation that the one I gave this afternoon...
The Sapir Whorf Hypothesis, or Linguistic Relativity principal was named after Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Lee Whorf in the early 20th century. The idea is that the nature of the language that you speak, it's grammar vocabulary and respective connotations, predisposes you to certain thoughts and can potentially prevent you from fully understanding concepts in other languages. The hypothesis has been reworked and refined since and as you probably already suspected, its not entirely accurate. Later linguists argued that sure direct translation may not always be possible, but one can still use multiple words to describe something that might be encapsulated by a single word in another language. There is no question however, that somethings are easily lost in translation if one is not careful. The question for researchers nowadays is, in what ways and to what extent does language influence thought?
Hokay, I say all of this because the idea of a raga is pretty tricky to understand and explain as a westerner. There is no direct English translation for a raga, in fact the literal translation would be something like "that which colors the mind." A raga is like a recipe or formula for creating composed or improvised melodies. Its similar to the western concept of a mode, but not exactly. A raga includes an ascending pattern, or aroha, and descending pattern, avaroha, of at least 5 notes. In addition to these guidelines, a raga dictates a hierarchy of notes. There is the “king-note,” the vadi, and the “minister-note”, the samvadi, which the musician pays special attention to in his improvisation. Last but not least, a raga should be played at a specific time or season, and should inspire/embody a particular emotion. Raag Bhairav for example, which I played two renditions of on today’s show, should always be played at daybreak. In regards to the emotion conveyed by the Bhairav, Joep Boer in his book The Raga Guide tells us…
Bhairav is one of the names of Lord Shiva in his awe-inspiring appearance as an ascetic with a trident, skulls and snakes, and with matted locks and a body smeared with ashes. Some musicians believe that Bhairav still represents awesome grandeur, horror and fright. Yet this solemn raga is usually found to evoke peace and devotion, with a shade of melancholy. Comparing the many paintings of Bhairav, writes Ebeling, “one begins to appreciate the problem of the painter who tries to reconcile the fearsome image of the ascetic god with the more romantic and human concept of the patriarchal ruler.”
The paintings Boer speaks of are called the ragamala paintings. These are a series of medieval Indian paintings each depicting a particular raga and just goes to show the inseparable nature of the arts in India at the time. They’re all pretty beautiful, check it out:
This one was painted in 1610 and is of the Bhairavi Ragini, one of the many wife ragas of the Raag Bhairav.
Asavari Ragini- 1610
The Bhairava Raga - 1591
There are plenty more where that came from, but those were some of my favorites...
Alrighty then, so another guy I wanted to talk about today but didn't get a chance to was Allaudin Khan. Allaudin Khan was arguably the most important 20th century Hindustani musician, I mean the guy was Ravi Shankar's guru and laid the foundation for the Maihar gharana (gharana being a prticular school/lineage/family that a musician belongs to) so he's pretty "legit". Khan's primary instruments were the violin and sarod, here are a coupe clips of Khan from a great documentary on the man called BABA:
Lastly, I wanted to show you guys that video of Kishori Amonkar that I talked about today. This is a manifestation of Raag Alhaiya Bilaval in the khyal style, meaning it is a vocal composition, and khyals usually prove to be my favorite raga performances...
So Sapir and Whorf might not have been entirely right, but they were certainly on to something. The concept of a raga is difficult to comprehend and appreciate without an understanding of context, history, and the language. The Hindustani have a word for the raga connoisseur, rasika (literally "person of taste") because the performer/listener feedback loop is so crucial to the raga performance. The listener is just as important as the performer, it's kind of like the " if a tree falls in a forest with no one around, does it make a sound?" thought experiment. If a raga is played with noone to hear it, is it really a raga? From what I can gather, the answer is no.The perception and comprehension of the raga is just as important as the creation. So the question I'd like to leave you guys with is, could a non-indian ever grow to become a true rasika? Can an inexperienced listener every fully appreciate and understand the raga or will there be something lost in translation, leaving the music to fall on deaf ears, so to speak? Leave me some feedback! I'd love to hear what you guys think!
Aaaaand coming up next week, Japanese Noise Rock: Boredoms, Acid Mothers Temple, OOIOO and more!!! Tooon in Sunday 10/17 2-3!
I stumbled upon this trailer in my research earlier this week. Looks like an all-star cast; George Harrison, Ravi Shankar, Ustad Allaudin Khan, Yehudi Menuhin, and it was filmed during such a pivotal time in Hindustani music history! The only problem is, I can't find a copy of it anywhere, not the Uconn library, not even through the so-called "World"Cat search engine. If anybody knows where I can get my hands on a copy shoot me an email at email@example.com