Yogic Sounds of India
Yogic Sounds of India
K. Sridhar, sarod
Kishna Ramdas, tabla
This performance was recorded live in concert on October 26, 2013. It was presented in conjunction with the exhibition Yoga: The Art of Transformation, which was organized by and exhibited at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian, and toured to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Alap (free and unmetered, without tabla accompaniment)
Vilambit and drut gat in tintal (Compositions in slow and fast tempo with a 16 beat rhythmic cycle, accompanied by tabla)
| Raga Sindhu Bhairavi (in thumri, or light classical, style)
Aochar (brief) alap, jor, jhala (no accompaniment)
Vilambit gat in dadra tala (slow composition in 6-beat rhythmic cycle, accompanied by tabla)
The Yoga of Sound
India has a long and varied tradition of using sound and music to worship the Divine: chanting sacred texts, ringing temple bells and thumping drums, keening voices in call and response, repeating names given to a particular god or goddess, singing praise to the Beloved, whispering pleas of prayer, offering ecstatic trance-inducing melodies, and appreciating the silence between inhalation and exhalation. To experience sound is to experience the Divine.
The term raga can be loosely translated as “that which colors the mind.” It can be thought of as a melodic structure that conveys a mood—in other words, a specific series of tones that expresses a certain coloration. Thus, ragas can be appreciated as a language that reveals different aspects of the Divine. The music on this podcast was spontaneously composed. Just as the best chef uses freshly ground spices, a musician improvising with sound starts fresh each time he paints on a mental canvas with musical colors. In fact, the ambiance of the audience is the primary inspiration for the coloration of the music. The more open-minded the audience, the greater variety of tastes the musicians can offer.
There is also an art to listening. Just as worshipers leave their shoes outside temples in India, listeners leave their egos out of a performance. Their open hearts allow them to hear clearly. Surrendering to the sound is where the magic starts. In the beginning there is the musician, the instrument, and the audience. In the end, all three merge into the ocean of sound.
The most familiar forms of yoga in the Western world relate to “physical therapy.” Other forms of yoga are involved with more subtle aspects of the human being. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit yuj, revealing that yoga has to do with union, especially when used as a verb meaning “to yoke” or “to bind together.” Traditionally, yoga was action taken with the hopes of binding oneself to the Divine. In the Western world, music is often considered to be an entertainment. In the Indian world, it can be a path to attainment.
Perhaps more so than any other art, music is capable of capturing and focusing the mind. It has been credited with calming the nerves, arousing the passions, and feeding the soul. The use of chanting, of repeating a mantra, of singing namasan, kirtan, or bhajans (popular devotional songs)—these are all examples of using sound to bring the mind’s attention to the Divine. The Sanskrit word nada can be translated as tone or vibration. Nada yoga is thus a practice that involves “union through sound.” In many forms of yoga, the student is asked to pay attention to posture and breath. An erect spine and flexible ribcage facilitate the production of proper tone;
after all, the same vocal range cannot be reached while lying on one’s back as when standing. Posture and breath can also aid deep listening. When tones are produced to invoke and join with different aspects of the Divine, they can have the same beneficial effects as other forms of yoga. Thus, a concert of music has the potential to bring all participants into union with the Divine.
Indian ragas are melodic modes. Each raga has its own set of pitches, which are ranked in terms of importance and emphasis. Each raga also has characteristic melodic phrases that are incorporated into the performance during the soloist’s improvisations. Traditionally, each raga was associated with a particular season of the year and time of day. The ragas of northern India (of which there are hundreds) are related to musical concepts and practices in Persian and Arab cultures, where they are called dastgah and maqamat, respectively. Trade routes such as the Silk Road moved musical concepts and instruments between the Middle East to modern-day India and Pakistan.
The sarod is a kind of lute made of teak, mahogany, or red cedar, with a thin, stretched goatskin over the sound box. The fingerboard is overlaid with polished metal that is often chrome-plated. This smooth surface allows a musician to slide the fingers of the left hand up and down the fingerboard to create novel effects after a string is plucked. The modern instrument has six melody strings, two rhythm strings, and four other drone strings tuned to the dominant note of a given raga. The lowest-pitched string is made of brass; the rest are of steel. Each sarod also has eleven to sixteen sympathetic strings that are not plucked. Instead, the melody strings stimulate them to vibrate and emit sound.
Although the creation of the sarod is traditionally attributed to Tansen (circa 1520–1590), court musician to Akbar the Great, scholars suggest the plucked instrument originated as the rebab, an ancient bowed lute of the Middle East. The instrument took many forms as its use spread along the Silk Road and other trade routes to Central, South, and Southeast Asia. The pinched shape of sound box, which facilitates bowing, resembles the rebab and related stringed instruments.
K. Sridhar, sarod, has dedicated his life to expressing the Divine through music. From infancy he was initiated into the highly structured and precise training of Carnatic (South Indian classical) music. His mother, a renowned vocalist, was descended from fourteen generations of musicians that were originally allied with the temple complex at Tanjore. From an early age he accompanied her as she sang for many of India’s great musical saints and sages, including her own guru, Swami Shivananda. At the age of twelve Sridhar became the youngest member of Ravi Shankar’s orchestra, and he later toured internationally as a solo artist and under the auspices of Peter Gabriel’s nonprofit WOMAD (World Music and Dance).
As a virtuoso sarodist, K. Sridhar has performed for audiences around the globe. At the age of twenty-five, he received the honorary title of Sur Mani (Sky Jewel) at the famous festival of Kal-ke-Kalakar in Mumbai. He has been featured on British, Irish, and French television as well as American, Danish, and Swedish radio. He has made fourteen recordings on European, Middle Eastern, and American labels, and he has composed numerous soundtracks for film. His musical fluency has not only allowed for exciting explorations into other musical cultures, but it has also resulted in classical Indian concerts that feature the traditionally devotional dhrupad style.
K. Sridhar’s practice of yoga (especially older forms of it) lends his music a quality that he describes as “an aspiration towards spiritual bliss.” His combination of music, breath, posture, and attunement with the Divine has flowered into a rare ability to bring the music and the audience into an awe-inspired unity.
Krishna Ramdas, tabla, comes from a musical family. He started learning tabla at a young age from his guru, Shri Ravindra Nikte, an A-grade artist at All India Radio (Baroda) and a leading disciple of Shri Sudhirkumar Saxena. Krishna specializes in the Ajraada gharana (style-school) of tabla playing and continues to receive advanced training under maestros Pandit Anindo Chatterjee and Pandit Shankar Ghosh. He has accompanied a number of eminent artists in both the Hindustani and Carnatic styles of Indian classical music.
K. Sridhar performs on the sarod, an instrument closely associated with North Indian classical music. Unique for its polished metal fingerboard, the sarod evolved from the Middle Eastern rebab, an ancient fiddle that assumed many forms as it traveled the Silk Road and other trade routes to Central, South, and Southeast Asia. (Photos courtesy of K. Sridhar.)
K. Sridhar performs on sarod at the Freer Gallery in 2002 and is accompanied on tabla by Anil Datar. The scalloped insets at the top of the sarod’s sound box were originally designed to facilitate bowing and attest to the instrument’s origins as a fiddle. (Photo courtesy of Neil Greentree)
Melodic modes in Indian music are traditionally considered male (ragas) or female (ragini). The ragini known as kedar is considered one of the most peaceful. It is traditionally depicted in paintings (ragamala) as a sage who accompanies his own singing on the vina (zither) while seated before a prince or another holy man, in this case a Muslim dervish.
Detail: Kedar Ragini, by Shaykh Hatim; India, Uttar Pradesh; Hara dynasty, 1591; opaque watercolor and gold on paper; Purchase, F1985.2
The raga called shri conveys a mood of love and is meant to be heard on late afternoons in winter. This seventeenth-century ragamala depicts the raga shri as a prince on his throne listening to music.
Shri Raga from the Chawand Ragamala, by Nasiruddin; India, Rajasthan, Chawand; Sisodia dynasty, dated 1605; opaque watercolor on paper; Purchase, F1991.1
This raga shri shows the god Krishna listening to music with his consort Radha.
Krishna and Radha on a Terrace; India, Rajasthan; 19th century; opaque watercolor and gold on paper; Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1907.248
This podcast is coordinated by Michael Wilpers, public programs manager. It was made possible through support from the Thaw Charitable Trust. Audio preservation and editing of this recording were supported by funds from the Smithsonian Women’s Committee.
The concert on this recording was presented in conjunction with the exhibition Yoga: The Art of Transformation, which was organized by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Generous support for the exhibition was provided by the Friends of the Freer and Sackler, Whole Foods Market, ArtMentor Foundation Lucerne, and the Alec Baldwin Foundation.
Thanks to Andy Finch for audio recording, SuMo Productions for audio editing, Neil Greentree for photography, Nancy Eickel for text editing, Torie Castiello Ketcham for web design, Betsy Kohut and Cory Grace for artwork images, and especially K. Sridhar for permission to podcast his performance at the Freer Gallery of Art.
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