Tag Archives: India

Rāgs and recipes

In “Why Hindustani musicians are good cooks: Analogies between music and food in North India” (Asian music XXV/1–2 (1993–94), pp. 69–80), Adrian McNeil notes that culinary topics are frequent—sometimes even favorite—subjects of conversation among Hindustani musicians, and that a notable number of top Indian musicians are also expert cooks. He attributes this phenomenon to the similarities between the cognitive and sensory aspects of the two activities, and proposes a “culinary perspective” on rāg.

Offering a basic “culinary recipe” alongside a basic “melodic recipe”, McNeil similarly juxtaposes, in a two-page spread, a photographic “depiction of potato with ginger and puris” with a rāgamālā “depiction of rāg sārant”. Further positing a “melodic conception of food”, he recounts examples of Indian musicians using culinary analogies to illustrate musical matters, and cites a use of the phrase biryāni chicken khā (eat chicken biryāni) to convey a rhythmic pattern to a hungry mrdangam player.

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Ethnomusicology, Food, Theory, World music

Multifunctioning publications

Ethnomusicological monographs are often published with transcriptions, photographs, and recordings; the printed texts present the primary information, while the other materials serve a secondary, supporting role. For ethnographic recordings, these functions are reversed: The recordings themselves are the primary concern, and the other materials fill in contextual or technical information.

Some publications occupy the border between these two types, where neither the printed texts nor the other materials can be definitively deemed secondary. The raga guide: A survey of 74 Hindustani ragas, published by Nimbus in 1999, is an example of such a multifunctioning publication. On its four CDs, each rāga is portrayed in a three- to six-minute rendition by a top-ranking performer; this is arguably the primary information, and RILM classified the publication as a sound recording. But the 196-page book in the package is hard to consider merely supportive—it includes analytical and historical notes for each rāga and its performance, including its basic structures shown in both Western and Indian sargam notation; full transcriptions of the ālāp (introductory) sections of each recording; and 40 full-color reproductions of rāgamālā paintings

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Filed under Asia, Ethnomusicology, Iconography, Publication types, Theory

Rāgamālā paintings

Bhairavi

Rāgamālā painting is a form of iconography that arose around 1600 in northern India.

These visual depictions of rāgas involve the various extramusical associations that theorists have assigned to them; for example, this visualization of the Hindustani rāg bhairavī from about 1610 depicts women worshiping at a shrine to Śiva, embodying the rāga’s association with both Śiva and feminine energy, and evoking the colors of its traditional early-morning context.

Below, the śahnāī player Bismillāh Khān (1915–2006) renders rāg bhairavī.

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Filed under Asia, Iconography

Postage stamps

Postage stamps are singular sources for music iconography. Since these images comprise officially sanctioned national and international recognition, they provide windows on what governments and constituencies in various cultures and at various times have deemed worthy of celebration.

For example, the South Indian magazine Sruti regularly features philatelic reports on stamps issued by the Indian Department of Posts; these include an impressive number of commemorations of composers and performers from India’s classical Karnatak and Hindustani traditions. The stamp pictured above was issued to honor the śahnāī player Bismillāh Khān (1915–2006) on 21 August 2008.

Below, the music of Ghanaian postal workers canceling stamps.

Related article: Music stamps redux

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Filed under Asia, Iconography, Reception

Sruti

Sruti: India’s premier magazine for the performing arts (ISSN 0970-7816) is a Chennai-based magazine. While its primary focus is the South Indian Karnatak music world and its related dance traditions, most issues include at least one article devoted to the North Indian Hindustani tradition; it also carries occasional features on Indian folk traditions. Sruti tends to concentrate on events in recent musical life and profiles of current—and occasionally past—performers. RILM focuses on covering the latter, including the former only when sufficient historical interest is indicated.

Research-based contributions from the independent scholar Sriram Venkatakrishnan (writing under the name Sriram V) are often included, providing notes on important persons or places in the history of the Karnatak tradition. Another regular contributor, S. Sankaranarayanan, writes philatelic reports on Indian stamps depicting musical subjects—a type of music iconography.

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Filed under Asia, Dance, Dramatic arts, Music magazines, Reception