iii. Raag or melody.
These three are the fundamental constituents of music:
Swara is that sound which has some meaning and which possesses a distinct identity. Sound becomes music only when it holds a specific connotation among other sound along with rhythm. Music, be it Indian or Western, is based on Swaras. It is composed of different configurations of Swaras. The basic Swara in Indian music is called Shadaj.
It is also known as the basic swara. Since the literal meaning of the word shadaj is six, it can be easily understood that this basic swara is always related to six other swaras. The spectrum of swaras in Indian music is thus composed of seven bands also known as saptak. In Indian music the swaras are not related with a fixed pitch unlike the Western music.
It is the musician here who defines the pitch of shadaj and accordingly other six swaras get located on the musical spectrum. Western music, however, has the concept of an “absolute pitch”. This means specific pitch for specific swaras. Likewise the musical instruments are created according to fixed pitches.
The second important element in Indian music is the beat or taal. Traditionally taal is considered an integral feature of Indian music. It is a process through which rhythm gets depicted in musical compositions. The taal is further measured in terms of the numerical content of the pulse in each composition.
Thus when the pulse is slow, the composition is called vilambit. A medium pulse count makes it madhyam; the faster counts are called as drut pulse. Innumerable combinations of these pulse counts provide such a tremendous variety in Indian music. The taals are generally played through percussion instruments such as jhanjh, manjira (metallic) etc. and mridang, pakhavaj, tabla, (drums) etc.
The music exponents who play taal instruments also practice a vocabulary of their own during the performances. Some of these words are theka, bol, gat, tutra, tihal, palta etc. The two main percussion instruments, tabla and mridang, used in North Indian and South Indian music systems respectively, use the same words.
The third chief element of music is melody (raag) which is also the characteristic feature of Indian music. Whereas Western music is known for its harmony, the Indian music is famous for its melody. Interestingly melody is not confined to India, but is the main element of the musical tradition in such countries as Iran, Arabia, Afghanistan, and China etc.
The central manifestation of a raag is delightfulness. It is still possible to have a composition of sound which may not delight – we shall not call it raag. There are, in addition to the quality of delighfulness, ten other features that make a raag. The various permutations and combinations of these features give birth to the whole repertoire of raag music. Another significant quality of a raag is that it should also be imbibed with sentiments.
The melody, it is believed in Indian music, becomes mechanical if it is devoid of the sensuousness. This element of sensuousness creates a sub-division of raag which is called raagini. The famous Raagmula series of paintings in India are in fact based on this element as they depict the various moods of raag and raagini in their pictorial representation.