It’s time for Margazhi and Sawai!

Hear the rustle of silks against anklets as the world’s Indian classical music lovers descend on Pune to sample the best that Hindustani music have to offer. While the beloved Margazhi, which comprises over a 1000 Carnatic music concerts, is bound to be affected in the aftermath of the devastating floods in Chennai, Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Sangeet Mahotsav, popularly known as Sawai, will still take place over four days in Pune between the 10th and the 13th of December. Sawai is one of India’s largest classical music festivals and also one of its oldest; this will be its 63rd year.

Highlights include Shubha Mudgal on the 13th of Deember as well as a joint performance of Manju Mehta (Sitar) and Partho Sarthy (Sarod). Tickets available at the venue as well as in select locations in Pune. More details on this can be found on our page on the Sawai Gandharva.

With regard to the century old tradition of Margazhi, artists like Bombay Jayashri and Priya Murle have already cancelled and sale of tickets are at an all time low. On the other hand many Sabahs are dedicating the concerts to flood relief and intend to open as scheduled. While the Chennai December Season website has the complete schedule, we recommend checking the newspapers for updates.

Our little primer on Indian Classical music
By – Novice Listener

While Western classical music focuses harmony and precision, Indian classical music has no harmonies or key changes and is driven by melody, rhythm and improvisation within a set scale. Confused? Here’s our quick guide. At the heart of Indian classical music is the Raga. A raga is a melodic form that ascends and descends differently and is derived from 72 parent scales, each scale comprising over a 100 Ragas. There is also no staccato in Indian classical music, each note bends into the other making the music fluid.

The Raga originated from Vedic Chants. Three note chants evolved into Ragas. There are two principal forms of Indian Classical music, Hindustani music from the north of the country and Carnatic music from the south. Temples were venues where the music was performed and so Ragas took on aspects of a time of day, so certain melodies were dedicated to the morning and others to evening and late night. A Hindustani musician will rarely play a morning raga at an evening performance whereas a Carnatic performer has no such qualms because they do not subscribe to the theory of time. I just think its because most concerts happen in the evening in Chennai. Can you imagine attending a Kutcheri at 12 in the afternoon?

A raga is not a scale in the traditional western sense, primarily because it can differ going up and coming down. Each one inhabits its own emotional world and acts like a reservoir of sentiments; each sentiment is known a Raasa of which there are nine. Every piece begins with the Shanta Raasa, which then develops into different emotions, perhaps one of sadness or someone missing her lover. This tranquil beginning is meant to welcome you into the melodic world and prepare you for the next state where the soloist will introduce the Raag, known as the Alap. You will hear the main points of the Raga and the tempo increases after which it’s finally joined by the Tala, the rhythmic cycle, which follows a certain Gath. The two musicians will spend time developing the Gath before improvisation takes place, which sees a constant play of ‘hear and respond’ between the two instruments. Much of this sounds like Jazz, and while it’s true that Indian classical and Jazz share many musical aspects, there is one key difference. A jazz musician can change key and go in a completely different direction while the Indian Classical piece is still governed by the chosen Raga.

Now here’s the thing, we have only just started listening to Indian Classical music and there could be a few things wrong in the above write up. Help us out? Tell us if we’ve got a certain aspect wrong, or are just holding the wrong end of the stick completely.

To get you into the mood, here is the Grammy Award winning Anoushka Shankar with a great piece from her latest album.

(Image by Fabien Agon)

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