Indian Classical Music during Vedic Age
The Indian Classical Music constitutes perhaps one of the oldest musical styles in the world. It is believed to have incorporated formal structures with finitely defined rules of many thousands of years during a time termed as the Vedic period. This period of time which is known to date back to approximately three to five thousand years B.C. is so named because of four Vedas namely Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yagur Veda and Atharva Veda were compiled and written during that period. Of these four Vedas, Sama Veda is musical Veda. It is a complete text of composed and noted melodies with few descriptions of various aspects of formal music. Almost all the old treaties and musical scriptures are believed to be based primarily on the writings in the Sama Veda.
The word Sama literally means listening to or hearing. However the term itself is a jointed word of two Sanskrit words, 'Sa' and 'Ama', the former representing a 'Richa' which is a unit of all the Vedas. In the Vedic period singing of the Sama Veda, called Sama gan, was done in a group singing method. With group singing arose the necessity of a leader and also of some definite rules and regulations for precision in singing. The leader became the guru of the group. The guru had an absolute authority over the way of reciting the Richas. He led the group singing exactly according to the rules he saw it fit. The followers were required to follow the guru precisely memorizing the recitations with all its rules and conditions to the last detail. Eventually the followers would assume the role of the guru for the younger followers and this method continued for generations. This method originated the well known rote method or the oral tradition for learning music. The oral tradition is practiced quite intensely even today in India's classical music training.
The chanting of Sama Gan was done in a melodic descending format and there were some written symbols that regulated the intonation of chanting. All the leaders and the gurus utilized these symbols for reciting and guiding the groups in singing and chanting. Sama gan does not however have any raaga related to it but melodic structures called Tathis have been referenced in almost all of the old books. These were formed in the Vedic age strictly as an aid in the chanting and as the chanting and reciting of the Richas became more stringent and jathi assumed rigid forms.
With time Sama gan evolved into what came to be known as Gandharva gan. The term Gandharva denotes a special kind of ritual music and the term also stands for very specialized and skilled people who were considered to be the masters of singing.
Indian Classical Music in Puranas
In Puranas the word Gandharva has been used in place of music or musician. Puranas are believed to be written atleast five centuries B.C. In one such specialized authentic scripture named Ramayana, there is a reference about the sons of King Rama named Lava and Kusha being the brilliant masters of Gandharva Gan. They were also respected philosophers of the times. In the old treatise, the word Gandharva gan is frequently used in reference to the traditional music. No reference has been found about the usage of any kind of musical instrument during the Sama gan. However many references have been found that point to the fact that the Gandharva gan was always accompanied by either some kind of a stringed lute or a flute or sometimes both. Gandharva gan continued its journey for many centuries into the time period after Christ.
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