The origins of Indian music can be found in the Vedas, the oldest writings of the Hindu tradition. Sama Veda whose name comes from sanskrit (where shaman means melody and veeda means knowledge) represents the third of the four Vedas, along with the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. Sama Veda is made up of a collection (Samhita) of sacred hymns, initially intended for sacrificial rituals and ceremonies to different Hindu deities.
The oldest treatise of the Ancient India in which music is talked about is Natyashastra. This treatise is attributed to the great Indian playwright Bharata, being one of the most complex works that relates to art and that includes theater, dance and music.
Old Indian music is very elaborate and expressive. Unlike western classical music, which divides the octave into 12 halftones, the Indian one is much more refined, the division of the octaves being made into 22 srutis or halftones. These microtonal intervals allow the expression of the most delicate musical nuances impossible to render with the means of the range of 12 Western halftones.
Each of the seven fundamental notes of the octave is associated according to Hindu philosophy with a color and a cry of a bird or animal. For example, the DO note is associated with the green color and the peacock’s cry, Re is associated with the red and the song of the lark and so on.
In Western music, only three stairs are used – major, minor harmonic and melodic minor, but in the Indian one, 72 such stairs or tathas are distinguished. Another feature of Indian music is improvisation.
Indian musicians can improvise endless variations on traditional raga themes; they focus on a certain state or feeling that dominates the theme, and then improvise to the extent that their talent and originality allows. Often, they are limited to a single musical sequence that is accentuated by repeating in all rhythmic and microtonal variations with little.
These ragas are considered to be the real cornerstones of Indian music. Each raga contains a minimum of five notes: a ruling note (vadi or king), a secondary note (samavadi or prime minister), helpful notes (anuvadi or servants), and a dissonant note (vivadi or enemy).
Of the Western composers, only Bach seems to have understood the power of extraordinary fascination of repeating in hundreds of ways a theme (raga) or group of sounds, in his famous fugues and sings.
In India, the human voice was considered to be the perfect musical instrument, perhaps that is why it was limited only to the three musical octaves accessible to the human voice, emphasizing the melodic line or the relationships between successive sounds. From this perspective we can say that Indian music is monophonic, that is, it is based on a single melodic line, unlike the Western one that uses polyphony or harmony, that is, the relationship between the notes issued simultaneously.
Besides ragas (traditional themes), and tathas (musical stairs), old Indian literature also describes 120 talas (or measures) that indicate the rhythm of the music, in Sanskrit tala (or talam) means batting, rhythmic sound. The famous Bharata who is considered to be the founder of traditional Hindu music discovered no less than 32 thalasso in the song of the lark.
Indian music is a true spiritual art, unique in its own way, which seeks not the brilliance in the symphony but the personal harmony of the one who plays it with the Supreme Self (Atman). It is not by chance that the Sanskrit word for the musician is bhagasvathar or ” he who sings hymns of the glory of God”.
One of the most famous forms of devotional songs that includes the recitation of hymns, or mantras accompanied by various instruments such as harmonium or tablas is the kirtan. Musical ensembles or sankirtans are a form of yoga spiritual discipline, which requires deep concentration and intense absorption of thinking into the fundamental sound of AUM.
The ancient rishi Indian sages discovered the laws of subtle sound harmony that govern nature and people, and how primordial sound (AUM) is objectified throughout creation, so we can consider everything related to this wonderful art which is music, as being of a divine nature.
Autobiography of a Yogi – Paramahansa Yogananda