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Vidya Rao

By Deepak Raja
D.K. Printworld, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 480, Rs. 1125.00


Writing about music is not easy; it has never been. Music writers (and readers) are painfully aware of the fact that something is always lost in the translation from one form to another— from verbal/oral music to the written word, from what is at heart a transient, impermanent form that exists only in the moment, to something that becomes an indelible document for all time. Yet people do write about music and have always done. There are, moreover, many ways that people have chosen to write about music. There’s the novel, or the biography and autobiography of musicians—that bring to the reader, through these accounts, aspects of musical form and performance, contexts of taleem, performance, and patronage, emotional responses to music, music histories, legends and stories. There are histories of music. There are studies that examine social relationships within the world of music, the social organization of traditions of discipleship, performance, families, patronage. And there is work that focuses just on the music and tries to understand it. This last approach is perhaps the most difficult of all—how does one write about something as ephemeral as musical sound? Deepak Raja chooses this last, most difficult approach to write about music. And he chooses the extremely subtle question— what is the tattva of a raga, what is its essential quality that makes it what it is; what he calls its raga-ness? Where does the raga-ness of any particular raga begin and where does it end? What is the essence of a raga and how can one map it? Can one map it at all? Raja candidly shares with his readers that he is still asking these questions, but nevertheless, attempts here to share some insights gained in his exploration. The result is an extremely complex, quite difficult, yet quite insightful exploration into the idea of raga. Indeed, Raja is well equipped to write on this complex topic. The author of several books on music, he is one of the most respected writers on Hindustani music today, apart from himself being an accomplished sitar and surbahar player and a Khayal vocalist. The book is divided into two parts. The first deals with a conceptual exploration of the raga ‘as a cultural force and as the regulating authority over composition and performance’. The second part features case studies of some ragas; these studies demonstrate the ways in which Raja ...

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