This book has no precedent. It is a pioneering attempt to look at Hindustani music in the way
of contemporary aesthetics. The ways we talk about, experience, or evaluate music, as also its
composition and overt performance- all have been given due attention in this work. In other
words, reflection on music here proceeds along the three major ways in which aesthetics is
being done (in the West) today- that is, not only the linguistic- analytic and
phenomenological approaches, but the one that looks at art as a kind of world-making.
Correspondingly, the content of this book can be put under three different heads: (a) an
attempt to determine the full aesthetic significance, as against the traditionally specified
(verbal) meanings of the key words that are used in respect of the elements and different
genres of our music; (b) discussion of concepts like aesthetic attitude, experience, and point
of view as they relate to Hindustani music; and (c) analysis of the devices through which the
structure and actual singing of a dhruvapad, dhamar, khyal, or tarana is (or can be) invested
with some extra appeal- all duly buttressed with notational analysis of some actual
Care has also been taken to discuss such problems as: (a) Is musical time different from, or
identical with, time as we experience it in daily life; (b) How can we distinguish the form
from the content of a work in the region of an occurrent art like music or rhythm; (c) Can
rhythm be regarded as an autonomous art; and (b) How can our music be said to be spiritual?
By and large, this book may well be expected to encourage readers to think about our music
along some quite untrodden lines. The author, Dr Sushil Kumar Saxena (b. 1921), has been
writing on Hindustani music regularly for almost half a century, and all along in the way of
contemporary aesthetics. Well before he retired as a Professor of philosophy from Delhi
University (1986), he distinguished himself by producing his first book, Studies in the
Metaphysics of Bradley (1967) which was published by George Allen and Unwin (London) and
Humanities Press (New York) in their prestigious Muirhead Library series of philosophical
Since then, however, what has made him better known is his prolific scholarly contribution to
our performing arts, namely, his two books, The Winged Form: Aesthetical Essays on Hindustani
Rhythm (1979) and Swinging Syllables: Aesthetics of Kathak Dance (1991), both brought out by
Sanger Natak Akademi, besides his numerous essays contributed to the Akademi’s journal Sangeet
Natak. Another book which has won him a measure of international acclaim is Art and
Philosophy: Seven Aestheticians (Indian council of Philosophical research, 1994) By way of
both exposition and critique, this work covers a galaxy of aestheticians, from Croce to L.A.
Reid. In respect of traversing cross-cultural boundaries, however, Saxena’s most significant
work is Hindustani Sanger and A philosopher of Art (D.K.Printworld, 2001). It seeks to
determine the relevance of Susanne K.Langer’s aesthetics to Hindustani music, rhythm, and
Professor Saxena received the fellowship of Sanger Natak Akademi and the Padma Bhushan in
2008. His next work, Avenues to Beauty, will be published by Sangeet Natak Akademi.
Music is not merely a matter of reyaz, composition or rasasvadana (aesthetic relish). Nor is
our concern with this art confined to recitals. We, in India, have always regarded it as a
vidya too, that is, as something which deserves serious study, and calls for a clear
understanding not only of its basic concepts, but of the many formal qualities and devices
that determine its beauty. What is more, though our practice of it today has clearly moved
away from the age-old view of it as a means to spiritual liberation, our attitude to it is
still often seen to be tinged with a measure of reverence. Even today there is a measure of
sanctity about the way one is ceremonially enrolled as the ganda-band shagird (or formally
accepted pupil) or a maestro. So it is only proper that, as a rule, our educational
institutions take care to teach the theory of music too, along with provision for practical
training in how to sing or play. What is more, where our higher centers of learning run a
separate department or faculty of music, the prescribed courses of study include a paper also
on aesthetics which is fast gaining ground in the teaching of philosophy today.
So ar, however, no such book is available as could be fairly regarded as a study of Hindustani
music in the way of contemporary (Western) aesthetical thinking which is impressively
philosophical, that is, analytic and detailed. It is precisely this lacuna that this book
seeks to fill- in part, to be sure- yet (I hope) fairly and sensibly.
I hasten to add here that whereas the relevance of our theory of rasa (in its totality) to
present-day classical music is debatable, the main approaches of philosophical aesthetics
today- that is, the linguistic-analytic and phenomenological ones- can be easily applied to
the study of our music, with definite intellectual gain. It is indeed this faith which
determines my thinking in this book all along. Aesthetics, today, is dominantly philosophical.
In respect of music too, it discusses the basic questions of philosophy. What is the meaning
of the language that we use in our talk about this art? What is the true character of our
experience of creating and listening to music? And what are the legitimate criteria for
determining the value not only of music as an art taken generally, but of individual music
recitals? Questions of meaning, truth and value, as we know, are commonly accepted concerns of
philosophy; and it is exactly these questions which dominate discussion in the present work.
Therefore, it may well be regarded as an essay in the philosophical aesthetics of music.
Let me now spell out simply what this book seeks to do or deal with:
a. Clarifying the meaning of words that distinguish our talk about our music, words like
svara, raga, laya, tala, sama, layakari, alapa, dhruvapada, khyal, bandish and sangati- and
this, all along, in the context of the actual practice of music today, yet without ignoring
our traditional thinking on the subject.
b. Form, content and expressiveness- all as related to Hindustani music.
c. Analyzing our experience of listening to music, instead of merely calling it aesthetic
d. Aesthetic attitude/viewpoint, and our music.
e. Functions and criteria of music criticism.
Further, in so far as comprehensiveness and not mere acuity of concern has been quite a
feature of philosophy traditionally, I have devoted, in this book, separate chapters to such
questions of wider significance as the following: music and silence, our music and the
spiritual, and the relation of music to human life and experience as a whole. An attempt has
also been made, it rather feebly, to make sense of our ancient view that music is (in
principle) a means to spiritual realization.
Be it noted that as I say all this, I all this, I speak on the basis of my actual experience
of listening to a good deal of superlative music; and it is this unremitting care for music as
it really appears to contemplation that enables me to do some corrective thinking in respect
of the way we freely talk about some basic concepts of our music. Take the case of Sama, for
instance. It is common to speak of it simply as the first beat of the cycle. But, in actual
music, do we not repeatedly come back to the beat where the rhythm begins, and so complete a
round or avartan, whereupon the beat in question becomes a kind of centre of a cycle? But
here, again, it would be wrong to think of it abstractly, or on the image of a geometrical
centre. This (geometrical) centre is inert. Sama, on the other hand, is the focus of a flow.
What is more, it is an aesthetic centre. Generally, it lends a look of wholeness to the
sthayi, making it appear duly formed; and where- as in some skillfully designed sthayis- it
climaxes such a flowing segment of sthayi as seems to be heading for it, the sama makes the
sthayi appear to bloom, and itself comes to look like the line’s very destiny, and no mere
terminus. I regard it as a special ‘occurrence’ within what has been generally spoken of (by
aestheticians) as music’s occurrent form. This explains why, in the book, I have given quite
some attention to amad, that is, a noticeable oriented pa passage towards the Sama. And if a
fair part of the book is devoted to rhythm, it is simply because, is spite of its admitted
role in eliciting audience applause for our leading instrumentalists, the only attempt in
English so far to make it an object of serious aesthetical thinking is my little book on the
subject, The Winged Form: Aesthetical Essays on Hindustani Rhythm, published by Sangeet Natak
Akademi more than twenty-five years back.
Yet, though in the present book I resort freely to close and detailed thinking, it is not a
work on philosophy as such. Nor does it deal with music in the way in which its theory is
commonly regarded today. Its purpose is simply to show how we can do significant aesthetical
thinking in the contemporary way, and thereby gain in our basic understanding and actual
practice of music. Incidentally, at places I have also tried to show, where I fairly could,
how some details and emphases of Western aesthetic thinking today become not only quite clear,
but at places even suspect in the light of Hindustani music. Here, if I keep referring to
Susanne K. Langer freely, the reason is not merely that she is one of the more important
‘systematic’ aestheticians- systematic in the sense of attempting to provide a duly unified
theory of all the major arts- whose works I have had the privilege of reading closely, but
because perhaps she alone has sought to make her reflections on music the very basis of her
So I cannot help hoping that this book, which issues from almost half a century of listening
to and reflecting on music, both devotedly, will serve as a dependable text-book for those who
are themselves interested in, or are somehow required to study, our music aesthetically.
Finally, a word about the compositions which have been notated and discussed in this book, by
way of illustrating some points of theory. I have included those bandishes (or sthayis) alone
which can be presented without infringing any artist’s copyright on music already recorded. At
the same time, I must also own up to what I have left out. Limitations of my own interest and
ability, as also of the time allowed for completing this project, have compelled me to skip
references to our instrumental music almost totally. On the other hand, in so far as I have
tried to reflect- at fair length- on the basic concepts and excellences of our music, the
whole of it may be said to have been covered, it but generally.
My first book on a key segment of our sangeet was, The Winged Form: Aesthetical Essays on
Hindustani Rhythm (1979); and the second one was Swinging Syllables: Aesthetics of Kathak
Dance (1991). Both have been published by Sangeet Natak Akademi. It has also financed, it in
part, the publication of my third book on sangeet: Hindustani Sangeet and A Philosopher of art
(2001). The present book too has been written with the help of a (senior) National Fellowship
awarded by the Akademi. So I have reason to feel deeply indebted to it; and my gratitude
intensifies when I think of the award (2004) given to me by the same institution for my
overall scholarly contribution to our music and dance. Yet, as I come to the close of this
preface, the overtopping attitude is one of reverent bowing to the memory of all those
musicians who are no longer alive and whose informal talk and stage performances have opened
my eyes to the riches of this glorious art of melody and rhythm.
North Indian Music (289)
Original Texts (60)
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