Microtones in Indian Classical Music

Shrutis (microtones) is a widely used term in the context of Indian Classical Music. Some say there are 22 Shrutis while some say they are infinite. What are these Shrutis? Can they be heard? In this exhibition we present to you some thoughts with examples.

Pt. Vijay Sardeshmukh during a concert (2009) by Photograph by: Soumitra InamdarBaithak Foundation

Pandit Vijay Sardeshmukh - A Tanpura Magician

Vijay dada was born in a musical household. He learnt under the legendary Pt. Kumar Gandharva and owing to his taciturn temperament he naturally developed a deep relationship with his tanpuras. He was sensitive to the minutest of changes in frequency and tone. 

Two well-tuned tanpuras play music. My attempt as a singer is to sing what I listen to. - Pt. Vijay Sardeshmukh

Pt. Vijay Sardeshmukh tuning his tanpura by Sunil MoravekarBaithak Foundation

All Ears On The Canvas

In this exhibition we present to you snippets from a lecture demonstration on the subject of Tanpuras by Pt. Vijay Sardeshmukh. We present recordings which will bring your attention to the peculiar usage of Shrutis (microtones).

Lady playing a tambura (circa 1720-1750) by UnknownArt Gallery of New South Wales

Notes Heard In A Tuned Tanpura.mp3

Why is Tanpura the canvas of Indian Classical Music?

Vijay dada explains how in a  tuned tanpura one can listen to Shadja, Pancham, Gandhar, Reeshabh, two shades of Nishad, Madhyam and Dhaivat. He emphasises how all notes emanate from the tanpura

Female performer with tanpura (18th century)Smithsonian's National Museum of Asian Art

Can everyone listen to these microtones?

Silence and excellence in tuning are prerequisites to be able to listen to microtones. Vijay dada explains that one can see different notes as concentration increases. He also explains that application of mind plays an important role in our listening.

"A Raja and a Guest Seated on a Terrace Listening to Musicians Perform", Folio from a manuscript of the Raga Darshan of AnupThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Raga Bibhas By Vidushi Kishori Amonkar.mp3

The Dhaivat in Raga Bibhas

In her celebrated book Swarartharamani, Gaansaraswati Kishori Aamonkar speaks of this specific position of Dhaivat. Her sharp listening and immersion in music stuns a listener when one keenly observes this shade of Dhaivat in her renditions of Raga Bhibhas

Bhairava Raga, Folio from a Ragamala (Garland of Melodies) (circa 1650) by UnknownLos Angeles County Museum of Art

Raga Ahir Bhairav By Vidushi Kishori Amonkar

The Ahir Bhairav Reeshabh

The Reeshabh used in Raga Ahir Bhairav is Komal (flat as in Western Music). However it is interesting to observe how Kishori taai uses Re that is flatter than the usual one. In this recording one can listen to the Komal Re that is in-between Shadja and Komal Reeshabh. 

Bhairavi Ragini, First Wife of Bhairava Raga, Folio from a Ragamala (Garland of Melodies) (1685-1690) by UnknownLos Angeles County Museum of Art

Raga Lagan Gandhar By Pt. Vijay Sardeshmukh.mp3

The Special Gandhar - Lagan Gandhar

The name of the Raga is the indicative of the special position of the note Gandhar. Pt. Kumar Gandharva created the Raga inspired by the note. Pt. Vijay Sardeshmukh demonstrates the different positions of Komal Gandhar, Shuddha Gandhar and this Special one used in the Raga

Credits: Story

We have a special exhibition on Tanpura that speaks about the various parts, the making and tuning. Have you seen it yet? Find it here. 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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