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The Rasa Theory and the Raaga -Time Cycle:Colors of sound

The Rasa Theory was the first systematized attempt to explain the cause-effect relationship between an intangible concept like ‘emotion’ with its tangible factors. It was expounded by Bharata Muni in his treatise 'Natyashastra'. The concept of 'rasa' originated and developed in the context of dramaturgy, since drama is a dynamic art form combining the audio and visual impact.

The word 'rasa' has three primary associations:
a. Of being the object of perception by the sense of taste,
b. Of being the 'essence' of anything or any being,
c. Of being something dynamic and not static.

To paraphrase the Rasa Theory propounded by Bharata Muni: “When different emotional states come together, the aesthetic flavor comes through and makes the experience enjoyable.”

There are many factors that make up the composite texture of the aesthetic enjoyment of music. However the unique and simply outstanding characteristic of North Indian Classical Music is the 'raaga-time' relationship. This theory has not been postulated as such, but it has stood the most stringent test, that of time. It is an accepted set of ideas that have been laid down and adhered to since time immemorial.

The raaga-time cycle starts even before daybreak. Each raaga is assigned to a particular time of the day and evokes a certain mood, related to the human mind and its dynamic relation with nature and its surroundings. Incidentally, in Sanskrit, raaga also means color.

The 'sandhiprakaash raagas' are those melodies assigned for the twilight hours around dawn and dusk. The major morning ragas are essentially somber in mood and devotional in nature. In our tradition, morning is a time for introspection- one looks forward to a new day, symbolizing renewed faith in God. These melodies capture the essence of abject surrender to the Almighty, entrusting Him with our dreams, hopes, fears and joys. The pre-dawn raagas have Komal Rishabh-Dhaivat combination. These raagas have a very dominant Shuddha Madhyam-perceived as an inky Prussian blue. Wherever there are both forms of the Madhyam, the Teevra Madhyam noticeably takes a back seat as it were, e.g.: Bhatiyar, Ramkali.

As the light gets stronger, the raagas become more luminous. There is a direct relationship between the mood of the raaga and the intensity of the sun's rays. Komal Rishabh is gently edged out by the Shuddha Rishabh and raagas like Jaunpuri and Bilawal enter the scene.

The afternoon raagas can be perceived as leafy green to a shimmering yellow.

The Saarang family of raagas performed at mid-day reflect the scorching heat of the sun's rays. The anxious hope for long awaited showers to drench the parched earth; in fact many compositions reflect this, and are in tune with nature as she is seen during this phase of the day.

The late afternoon raagas like Patdeep, Multani, and so on are restless in nature. They reflect the intense activity in the day. Teevra Madhyam, which has been faintly but firmly perfuming the ragas, not unlike a whiff of fragrance carried by a breeze, now makes its presence felt.

An interesting observation is the role played by the Madhyam Svara. In the context of the Kaal-Chakra, the Madhyam is called the 'Adhvadarshak Svara' - the pointer or indicative note. My guru, the late Ustad Z.M. Dagar explained this concept with a beautiful example. Bilawal and Yaman, two raagas with the difference of the Madhyam - and what a difference it makes! Like milk and curd - an eloquent analogy indeed.

Just as in the morning melodies, the Shuddha Madhyam dominates Teevra Madhyam; when the evening sets in Teevra Madhyam takes the center stage.

The sun has set - it is time for the evening raagas to soothe you with their tranquil presence. These melodies are also introspective in nature. As in normal life, one tends to recapitulate the day's events, so also in music. It reflects a retrospective frame of mind - looking inward, reviewing the day gone past, unlike the morning ragas, which look forward to a new day.

The same combination of Komal Rishabh and Dhaivat along with Teevra Madhyam is a peaceful one. A soothing background of blue-tempered with gray. Raagas like Marwa, Pooriya, Shree belong to this time phase.

Between sunset and late night, lie the light and lyrical melodies. Raagas that are romantic in nature, joyful creations celebrating life, the spirit of living and loving. Raagas like Khamaj, Jhinjoti, Bihag, belong to this phase.

As the night advances, the raagas become more profound. They are searching creations, as if in quest of the solutions to the aura of magic and mystery surrounding the earth. These raagas have a strong Madhyam, intriguing in its inky darkness. Raagas like Malkauns, Abhogi-Kanhada, Chandrakauns are examples in this genre.

Time has turned a full cycle - we come to that phase of the night, which is full of promise of oncoming dawn. The Shudha Madhyam in combination with the Teevra Madhyam in raaga Lalit is like blue tinged with gray, like the sea before sunrise, a combination of darkness and light. The mood is once again devotional - one of faith, prayer and hope.

Just as an artist uses colors to paint nature and people, the musician uses tonal colors to paint the state of the human mind. All sound intervals are color effects, depending on the way in which the colors are sculpted.

I have attempted to convey, what of course is a purely subjective view, of the sound images that our music evokes and inspires. After all, the whole beauty of this wonderful art form is that it says so little and conveys so much. A gentle hint here, a pleasant emotion there and then it is up to the 'rasika' to imbibe the heady nectar of the melody.

The unfolding of a raaga is like that of a flower blooming - a thing of infinite beauty and sheer poetry. When the artist and the listener reach out together for a shared moment of discovery that is the essence or rasa of music. This shared experience, which breathes life into our music.

Padmini K. Rao is a senior vocalist of the Kirana Gharana style of North Indian Classical Music and has trained extensively under Dhrupad Maestro Ustad Zia Moiuddin Dagar and Padma Bhushan Dr. Prabha Atre.

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