RaagTime Episode 1 – Introduction to Indian Music

Where does one start “a show on Indian music?” Late last year, as I sat down to plan the first ever radio show that I was going to produce and host, this was the question that faced me. RaagTime, labeled as a show on Indian music was going to air every Sunday on Columbus community radio WCRS 102.1 and 98.3 FM, largely to an audience that had never encountered any Indian music.

Rather than spend enormous amounts of time thinking about, I spent it mostly listening to a wide variety of Indian music and decided to make the first episode of RaagTime an introduction to the different genres of Indian music from Hindustani and Carnatic to Abhangs, Bhajans and Ghazals.

The origin of Indian classical music is attributed to the Vedas, ancient Hindu scriptures.The present structure of classical music with melodies (ragas) and rhythms (talas) is believed to have evolved over time from the  hymns of the Samaveda, one of the four primary Vedas. Classical Indian music is usually categorized as Hindustani from northern India and Carnatic from southern India. In both styles of classical music the seven notes Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni form the basis of the melodic structure which is similar to Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti in the Western music scale.

In the introductory episode, Pandit Ravi Shankar plays Hindustani music on the sitar and M.S.Subbalakshmi sings a song in the Carnatic tradition.

In semi-classical Indian music, bhajans occupy prime spot. Bhajans are songs with simple tunes and words that people can easily pick up and sing along. Anup Jalota‘s rendition of the bhajan Aisi laagi lagan has listeners relive the story of the saint Meera and her travails before she unites with her Lord Krishna. Another semi-classical form of Indian music is the abhang which is devotional poetry in Marathi sung in praise of Lord Vittala of Pandaripur, Maharashtra. The abhang Majhe maher Pandhari composed by Sant Eknath talks about how a mother’s home (maher) is always the only real home for a woman throughout her life. In this case Sant Eknath refers to Pandaripur as his home. The abhang is rendered by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi.

Ghazals are poetic compositions that speak of love, longing and loss. The form originated in Arabia and eventually came to India due to the influence of Sufi saints. Ghazals were composed primarily in Urdu. Chupke Chupke Raat Din, a ghazal by singer Ghulam Ali which was based on classical raag Kaafi became an instant hit after it appeared in the movie Nikaah.

India is one of the largest producers of movies in the world. Songs produced by music composers for Indian movies are a key factor in the success of a movie. Movie music is the most popular music of the masses in the country. The first episode of RaagTime begins with Jai Ho, the song from the movie Slumdog Millionaire. This song which was composed by A.R.Rahman and the movie won Academy Awards.

Listening to the different forms of Indian music reminded me of Swami Dayananda Saraswathi’s words.

Though music transcends language, culture and time, and though notes are the same, Indian music is unique because it is evolved, sophisticated and melodies are defined.

Click here for RaagTime Episode 1

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