The singing voice is believed to be the primary instrument that can have a positive impact on the mind, bringing it back to its natural state and opening up inner energy. Voice serves as a medium for communication and expression and plays a vital role in abstract creativity. A pleasant, melodious, powerful, smooth, consistent, effective, and flexible speaking or singing voice is always appreciated. A good voice can help in aligning the head and the heart, inner and outer, and manifestation. In ancient times, it was considered an excellent means for realizing God. Indian music has a unique character that distinguishes it from music in other countries, with its particular structure, temperament, and improvisation methods, and it synthesizes four critical aspects: philosophy, psychology, spirituality, and aesthetics.
The science of vocal music was developed considerably during the Vedic period, and it is proved beyond doubt. The Hindu scriptures are the first recorded history to mention vocal music or the method of using the voice for music as a science. Vocal music played an essential role in ancient India in assisting religious ceremonies, and even today, most of the daily devotional duties of Hindus are performed in chant or in rhythmical movements of the body. In ancient times, the singer’s voice was referred to as “Sarira,” meaning that which can bring out the beauties of a “Raga” without undergoing any training and has come out with the body.
Indian music is one of the world’s oldest musical traditions, with sculptures from the Indus Valley civilization showing dance and musical instruments. The Vedas have elements of present Indian music, with a musical notation to denote the meter and mode of chanting. Early Indian musical tradition speaks of three accents and vocal music, known as “Samagana” (Sama meaning melody and “Gana” meaning to sing). The methods of chanting and uses of the voice and notation system of Indian classical music were so rich that the famous music theorist of medieval era, who is regarded as the inventor of modern staff notation, agreed that it passed through the Persians to Arabia and was from there introduced into European music.
India’s classical music tradition is an essential source of religious inspiration, cultural expression, and entertainment. According to Hindu mythology, the first sound or “voice” ever to be heard in the universe is “Naadbrahma” or “Om.” This Naadbrahma pervades the entire universe and is the purest sound “voice” to be heard, being a manifestation of the divine power or Brahma. It is this purity that the musician or “vocalist” strives to achieve in their dedicated pursuit or Sadhana of the music they are involved in. The origin of Indian music lies in chanting the mantra of Sama Veda. In ancient India, the voice was the only means of passing knowledge down the generations, as before writing, shruti or vocal music was in existence and practice much before the Vedas were written. The Vedic chants set in three basic notes formed a melody that gave them a rhythm that made them easier to remember
The role of voice in Indian music can be traced back to the Vedas, which are the most sacred texts of the Indian tradition. These texts contain a thousand hymns that were used to preserve poetry, invocations, and mythology in the form of sacrificial chants dedicated to the Gods. Voice was the only medium used to sing the glory of God and pass the tradition to the next generation. The Vedic chants and music were intoned with utmost care as each intonation and inflection of voice could have beneficial or adverse effects. Voice set to tunes and tones in the form of samaganas, which were cultured with a religious motive and spiritual purpose.
The Indian tradition recognized the power of sound or voice in every condition of life, including healing, teaching, evolving, and accomplishment. The Vedic chants and Upanishads were used as a source of healing and upliftment. There are several references to vocal music in the Vedas, Upanishads, Srimad Bhagavata, the Puranas, and the epics. Music originated from chanting of Vedas from the Aryan age ‘Nada’ the source of sound turned into Chandas prosody. The priests chanted hymns in a musical tone with the pronunciation according to the tune. Melody and rhythm created the music. Priests used to perform group chanting at the sacrifices.
In later periods, many works were written on music that explained various characteristics, types, and techniques. Sam Veda was a source of music meant to be sung and the voice production of Indian classical music originated from it. Gandharva Veda was an aspect of the main Vedas that dealt with the science of music.
According to Sir Yehudi Menuhin, the singing style of Indian classical music is pure like a crystal compared to Western music. The performer in Indian classical music has freedom to improvise within certain limits without external restraint, but polyphony and modulation are excluded from the basic style.
Claude Alvares said that the Indian system of Talas has extreme mathematical complexity based on pattern recognition rather than conventional arithmetic. The aim of voice modulation was on the harmony between speech, tune, and rhythm. The Indian Raga System originated in the Vedic period and the seven notes evolved from the Samagana. The system of Nada Yoga in India works on the premise that the entire Universe and ourselves are made of Nada, which is sound vibrations, and this concept is recognized by ancient and primitive human societies around the world.
The Indian classical music system allows freedom of developing the voice, accorded to the performer, who is free to improvise within fixed limits without any external restraint imposed by other voices, whether concordant or discordant. However, the basic style excludes polyphony and modulation. The great system of Nada Yoga, an ancient practice in India, works on the premise that the entire Universe around us and we ourselves are made of Nada, that is sound vibrations
From ancient time the merits and demerits of the voice are expounded in Siksas. In “Natya Shstra“ Bharat says as
Durattu sruyate yasmat tasmacchravaka uccyate
The singing voice is considered as the first instrument which can influence and rebalance the mind, bringing it back to its bright essence‖ and open inner energies. Indian music is art nearest to life. That is why Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1856-1939) a 1923 Nobel Laureate in Literature has aptly described Indian music “not an art but life itself.” The music of India is one of the oldest unbroken musical traditions in the world. It is said that the origins of this system go back to the Vedas (ancient scripts of the Hindus). Sangita, which originally meant drama, music and dance was closely associated with religion and philosophy. At first it was inextricably interwoven with the ritualistic and devotional side of religious life. The recital and chant of mantras has been an essential element of Vedic ritual throughout the centuries. According to Indian philosophy, the ultimate goal of human existence is moksha, liberation of the Aatman (Soul) from the life-cycle or spiritual enlightenment; and Nadopasana (literally the worship of sound) is taught as an important means for teaching this goal. The highest musical experience is ananda, the divine bliss. This devotional approach to music is a significant feature of Indian culture. In India, from ancient times the prime importance is given to Vocal Music and hence music itself is called Sangita
Gitavadhittra nrityanama trayam sangitam uccyate
Ganasytra pradhanatvat sangita mitiriyam
To be continued……….
Vidwan Prashanth Iyengar