Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Heritage of the Arts of Southasia









Classical Music of South Asia



Classical Music Of South Asia

We trace the classical arts in South Asia back to Vedic times, roughly from 1500 BC. There may be even a longer tradition rooted in the Indus Valley cultures, but is the Indo-Aryan migration into the Gangetic plains that lays the classical foundations for the arts. Music has many parallels with the recitation practices of the sacred Vedas themselves: it is done by specialists who memorize a vast oral literature. They regard music as a divine manifestation in sound, Nad-brahma, "the language of God." They view their art and its practice as a yoga that leads to mukti, release. And they work intensely with abstract syllables for the names of notes, the rhythms, and even the abbreviations for the texts of the song-literature itself. Meaning becomes sound.

As in other cultures, the idea of "classical" in India is associated with refinement-refinement of the technique and presentation of the musician himself or herself, and refinement among the listeners, the rasikas, "the ones who can taste the inner juice of the arts." For centuries the arts have been the nurtured province of the elite classes and heard only by those fortunate enough to live near the nobles who patronized the arts in their homes. The public concert was in fact unknown until the twentieth century. As a result, knowledge of the fine arts is not widespread, and has had the greatest opportunities for propagation and survival in a few of the larger cities, and today in the West.

An artist learns with a teacher, a guru, who imparts the training over a long period of time, literally molding the student into a vessel worthy of conveying the great river of knowledge and experience which the guru in turn learned from his/her teacher. It is a long and respected cooperative journey into which both the teacher and the student put countless hours of practice and dedication.

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