Alaap is an unfolding of the essence of the raga. The melody is very slowly materialized from simple, elegant phrases of 2, 3, 4 notes and developed in a purely spontaneous expression. This act of letting go or allowing the melodies to take shape reveals an immersion into the ocean of the raga. The fascination and artistry of Indian classical music stems from this ability to create freely within these highly structured and disciplined music forms.

Great care must be taken to not only adhere to the structured path of the raga but also to breathe life, called prana into the music beyond the skeletal form into the realm of transcendence. In the alaap movement, the raga moves through themes unfolding itís most amorphous forms. In this stately & majestic non-rhythmic movement, the melody is an evolving meditative reflection. This classic personality or taste is called raga bhav and often formalized in one of the 9 traditional aesthetics called rasas. This entire mood in revealed slowly, being molded through the constraints of the raga science and reborn in its purest form, free the restrictions of rhythm. This is alaap.

After alaap the tabla joins and adds to this unfolding of melody the element of cycle called tala. Through the various compostions called gats, the drums then outline the rhythmic space and framework upon which a myriad of interplay, improvisations & calculations in time are executed in a dance of polyrhythm and play. The final movement, jhala is a driving surge of sound, which brings to an urgent climax the same timeless themes that began in the alaap and resolves in a crashing calculated rhythmic cadence called tehai.

On the science of raga, it should be understood that elements such as arohi and avaraohi, the ascending and descending scale patterns as well as vadi and samvadi, the king and queen notes of the raga and the characteristic movements called chalan greatly support the colors of sound that evolve. As the melodies emerge through the prism of these particular combinations of notes and phraseology, the raga character is revealed. The weight of each note and phrase gives the essential balance that each raga possesses. Ultimately, it is both through and beyond this structure that these ancient melodies and cycles of rhythm are reborn in the present reflecting the consciousness of the artist, audience & location.

A concert of Indian classical music involves the creative unfolding of traditional melodic forms known as ragas. The development of specific themes are presented in a manner which is fundamentally improvisatory. Within a highly organized framework of limits and fixed phraseology these constraints give each raga its own distinct rasa, taste or mood which is unique to its own system.

In the 2nd portion of the performance the cyclic framework of rhythm call tala is introduced. The tala which can vary from 6 to 100+ beats provides an additional context of limits from which an endless waterfall of mathematical variation and calculation is poured. Through the intersection of the raga (melody) & tala (rhythm) the music will dance and wrestle and at times explode into a spontaneous interactive dynamism where the music takes on a life of its own for those rarified moments in time.

It is probably through the ragas of Indian classical music that the concept of painting with sound was introduced. One of the early Sanskrit definitions of raga was... 'that which colors the mind is raga'


Additional Writing