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Message About Melody


Krishna Chaitanya


The union of word and music, lyric and melody, has been repeatedly com­pared in the Indian tradition to the union of man and woman in sacramental nuptials. The perception of this perfect analogue in affinity was initiated by Vedic poetry where, interestingly, the direction and point-making thrust of the comparison was the other way round. In the hymeneal hymn, addressing the bride, the bridegroom says, ‘I am the melody (Saman), you are the lyric (Rik).’ Recalling and reversing this, centuries later, Kalidasa compared the union of words and rhythm in poetry to the union of Siva and Uma in the integrated iconic form of the Ardhanarisvara. The analogy is even more apt in the case of music. But words can link up with music in a different way and the alliance can often be like an incompatible marriage. I mean here the analytical writing on music-history, systematization and analysis, criticism, evaluation. Here the medium itself may become the message, making no illuminating reference to the tradition and expression it is supposed to be talking about. Mercifully, this failure has not been universal. Writings on music can still help you to know something about music and to appreciate it better. Here is a travelogue among books of this kind on Indian music. Since readers are not generally polyglots I have confined myself to books written in English. The first important notice in English of India's musical tradition is the treatise On the Musical Modes of the Hindus published by Sir William Jones in 1793. Far more important than the intrinsic contribution of the paper in terms of analysis and interpretation is its reference to the wealth of Indian musicological texts till then unknown to European scholarship. Augustus Willard who followed four decades later with A Treatise on the Music of Hindustan (1834) was a trained musician. He was an officer in the army of the Banda state and could play several Indian instruments. He notes several interesting facts: there was no clear rapport between theory and practice; technical terms from the old Sanskrit texts had gained currency but were not being used with accuracy in meaning; there was no reference to the Bilawal or any other scale as the Suddha or basic scale of Indian music. This last point is interesting because, about a century later, Bhatkhande would strongly argue the case for Bilawal being the parent scale. E. Clements, a member ...


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