Indian Art and Architecture and its relation to Indian Music

Aug 16


Brain Haley

Brain Haley

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Every culture of the world develops from the beliefs, practices and customs, traditions and values of its people. Through their lifestyle they develop systems of moral codes and norms, which they enrich with their activities and customs, of, which the arts, music, architecture, literature etc. have been a very majorly integral component.

To understand a kind of people the most important thing to study is their literature, Indian Art and Architecture and its relation to Indian Music Articles and art. In case of India, the cultures that have developed are not one but many. The subcontinent has been a rich base for the cultivation of an even richer set of cultures, which have been influenced by different settlers of over thousands of years. The multitude of languages spoken and the mix of religions present have further enriched the land and its people. This paper in particular focuses on the visual arts and architecture in relation to their influence on Indian music.

Indian art is highly symbolic. The much-developed ritual-religious symbolism presupposes the existence of a spiritual reality that, being in constant touch with phenomenal reality, may make its presence and influence felt and can also be approached through the symbols that belong to both spheres. The art and architecture produced on the Indian subcontinent dates back to the 3rd millennium BC. Therefore from that alone it can be determined as to how culturally influenced it must have been. To Western eyes, Indian art can appear strikingly ornate, exaggeratedly sensuous, and voluptuous. A strong sense of design is also characteristic of Indian art and can be observed in its modern as well as in its traditional forms. Indian art is religious inasmuch as it is largely dedicated to the service of one of several great religions. It may be didactic or edificatory as is the relief sculpture of the two centuries before and after Christ; or, by representing the divinity in symbolic form (whether architectural or figural), its purpose may be to induce contemplation and thereby put the worshipper in communication with the divine. Not all Indian art, however, is purely religious, and some of it is only nominally so. There were periods when humanistic currents flowed strongly under the guise of edificatory or contemplative imagery, the art inspired by and delighting in the life of this world. Although Indian art is religious, there is no such thing as a sectarian Hindu or Buddhist art, for style is a function of time and place and not of religion. Thus it is not strictly correct to speak of Hindu or Buddhist art, but, rather, of Indian art that happens to render Hindu or Buddhist themes. For example, an image of Vishnu and an image of Buddha of the same period are stylistically the same, religion having little to do with the mode of artistic expression. Nor should this be surprising in view of the fact that the artists belonged to nondenominational guilds, ready to lend their services to any patron, whether Hindu, Buddhist, or Jaina. The religious nature of Indian art accounts to some extent for its essentially symbolic and abstract nature. It scrupulously avoids illusionistic effects, evoked by imitation of the physical and ephemeral world of the senses; instead, objects are made in imitation of ideal, divine prototypes, whose source is the inner world of the mind. This attitude may account for the relative absence of portraiture and for the fact that, even when it is attempted, the emphasis is on the ideal person behind the human lineaments rather than on the physical likeness. To be properly understood, the art of India must be placed in the ideological, aesthetic, and religious framework of Indian civilization. This framework was formed as early as the 1st century BC and has shown a remarkable continuity through the ages. The Hindu-Buddhist-Jain view of the world is largely concerned with the resolution of the central paradox of all existence, which is that change and perfection, time and eternity, immanence and transcendence, operate dichotomously and integrally as parts of a single process. In such a situation creation cannot be separated from the creator, and time can be comprehended only as eternity. This conceptual view, when expressed in art, divides the universe of aesthetic experience into three distinct, although interrelated, elements—the senses, the emotions, and the spirit. These elements dictate the norms for architecture as an instrument of enclosing and transforming space and for sculpture in its volume, plasticity, modeling, composition, and aesthetic values. Instead of depicting the dichotomy between the flesh and the spirit, Indian art, through a deliberate sensuousness and voluptuousness, uses one with the other through a complex symbolism that, for example, attempts to transform the fleshiness of a feminine form into a perennial mystery of sex and creativity, wherein the momentary spouse stands revealed as the eternal mother.

The Indian artist deftly uses certain primeval motifs, such as the feminine figure, the tree, water, the lion, and the elephant. In a given composition, although the result is sometimes conceptually unsettling, the qualities of sensuous vitality, earthiness, muscular energy, and rhythmic movement remain unmistakable.

The form of the Hindu temple; the contours of the bodies of the Hindu gods and goddesses; and the light, shade, composition, and volume in Indian painting are all used to glorify the mystery that resolves the conflict between life and death, time and eternity.

The arts of India expressed in architecture, sculpture, painting, jewelers, pottery, metalwork, and textiles, were spread throughout the Far East with the diffusion of Buddhism and Hinduism and exercised a strong influence on the arts of China, Japan, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, and Java. These two religions with their various offshoots were dominant in India until Islam became powerful from the 13th to the 18th century. With Islam, which forbids the representation of the human figure in religious contexts, geometrical patterns became the most common form of decoration in art and architecture created under India’s Muslim rulers, especially the Mughals.

The earliest surviving Indian architecture consists of brick buildings. While early wooden structures have generally not survived, later stone buildings, built in a similar style, are known. The oldest traces of architecture in India are the vestiges of buildings of burnt brick found at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa (now in Pakistan), dating from about 2500-1750 BC. The subsequent Vedic period, which precedes the beginning of historical styles, is represented by burial mounds at Lauriya Nandangarh, in Bihâr State, and rock-cut tombs in Malabar, Kerala State. The establishment of historical styles began about 250 BC in the time of the Indian king Ashoka, who gave imperial patronage to Buddhism. Accordingly, the monuments of this time were built for Buddhist purposes. A characteristic Buddhist construction was the tope, or stupa, a hemispherical or bell-shaped masonry monument, typically surrounded by a railing, and with four entrances marked by gateways, and designed as a shrine or reliquary. Buddhism waned after the 5th century as Hinduism and Jainism became dominant. The Jain and Hindu styles overlapped and produced the elaborate allover patterns carved in bands that became the distinguishing feature of Indian architecture. The Jains often built on a gigantic scale, a marked feature of their architecture being pointed domes constructed of level courses of corbelled stones.

The Hindu style is closely related to the Jain style. It is divided into three general categories: northern, from AD 600 to the present; central, from 1000 to 1300; and southern, or Dravidian, from 1350 to 1750. In all three periods the style is marked by great ornateness and the use of pyramidal roofs. Spire-like domes terminate in delicate finials. Other features include the elaborate, grand-scale gopuras, or gates, and the choultries, or ceremonial halls. The next style that remained dominant was that of the Islamic era. Islamic architecture in India dates from the 13th century to the present. Brought to India by the first Muslim conquerors, Islamic architecture soon lost its original purity and borrowed such elements from Indian architecture as courtyards surrounded by colonnades, balconies supported by brackets, and above all, decoration. Islam, on the other hand, introduced to India the dome, the true arch, geometric motifs, mosaics, and minarets. Despite fundamental conceptual differences, Indian and Islamic architecture achieved a harmonious fusion, especially in certain regional styles.

Indo-Islamic style is usually divided into three phases: the Pashtun, the Provincial, and the Mughal. Examples of the earlier Pashtun style in stone are at Ahmadabad in Gujarat State, and in brick at Gaur-Pandua in West Bengal State. These structures are closely allied to Hindu models, but are simpler and lack sculptures of human figures. The dome, the arch, and the minaret are constant features of the style. The Provincial style reflected the continued rebellion of the provinces against the imperial style of Delhi. The best example of this phase is in Gujarat, where for almost two centuries until 1572, when Emperor Akbar finally conquered the region, the dynasties that succeeded one another erected many monuments in varying styles. The most notable structures in this phase are found in the capital, Ahmadabad. The Mughal phase of the Indo-Islamic style, from the 16th to the 18th century, developed to a high degree the use of such luxurious materials as marble. The culminating example of the style is the Taj Mahal in Agra. This domed mausoleum of white marble inlaid with gemstones was built (1632-1648) by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his beloved wife. It stands on a platform set off by four slender minarets and is reflected in a shallow pool.

Building in India since the 18th century has either carried on the indigenous historical forms or has been modelled after European models introduced by the British. Numerous examples of Western styles of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries may be seen in public buildings, factories, hotels, and houses. The most outstanding example of modern architecture in India is the city of Chandîgarh, the joint capital of Haryana and Punjab; the city was designed by the Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier in collaboration with Indian architects. The broad layout of the city was completed in the early 1960s. Notable architectural features include the vaulted structure, topped by a huge, concrete dome, and the use of concrete grille and bright pastel colours in the Palace of Justice; the arrangement of concrete cubes topped by a concrete dome that is the Governor’s Palace; and the use of projections, recesses, stair towers, and other contrasting elements to break the monotony of the long façades of the secretariat building, which are 244 m (800 ft) long. Modern Indian architecture has incorporated Western styles, adapting them to local traditions and needs—as in the design of the railway station at Alwar, Rajasthan State. The next most important aspect of Indian culture is Indian Music. It is an element that forms an integral part of their religion in addition to the culture. Dance in fact is an expression of that music and that too has religious importance in Hinduism. However one other important issue to consider is that the art and the architecture of the land were greatly influenced by religious beliefs and customs, as has been seen especially by the Buddhist and Islamic religions. The same is true for the music. That too was greatly influenced by religion. In fact the first forms of music were religious hymns and ballads called bhajans. They were songs sets to musical instruments such as the sitar and table and they were stories about religion and mythology.

Just as there is no such language as Indian, but instead many hundreds of languages, with over a dozen considered major, so there is no single entity as Indian music. The range of musical styles and traditions in the subcontinent of South Asia, which comprises modern India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, is in proportion to the vastness of the geographical area and the density of population. This is most obviously the case with folk and tribal music. Given that India is predominantly rural, it could be claimed that such categories of music are those of the majority. On the other hand, the rapid development of communications and wider access to the mass media have helped to create what is almost, despite the language differences, a pan-Indian popular music, recorded and disseminated electronically. This emanates from the Indian film industry, the largest in the world, of which the products tend to adhere to formulaic devices, including many songs and dances.

What is usually understood by the term Indian music refers to the classical tradition, based on the melodic system of raga and the rhythmic system of tala. This music is traced back thousands of years to the vedic chants of the early Hindu settlers, though it has reached its present form in the last four or five hundred years. Its development over almost the last two thousand years has been documented in a series of theoretical treatises, mostly written in Sanskrit, which enhance its status, whether they elucidate or obscure its actual practices. The word commonly found in Sanskrit for music is sangit, which denotes the primacy of vocal music, with instrumental music largely derived from it, and dance as a further integral element. Although it is not expected that musicians will be dancers, it is still vital that dancers be musicians. Muslim invasions and the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate in the 13th century and the Mughal Empire in the 16th century in the northern part of the subcontinent greatly contributed to a bifurcation of classical music by the 16th century into a northern tradition of Hindustani music, and a southern tradition of Carnatic music, and a gradual shift in both from religious application to a courtly entertainment. Both retain their basis in raga and tala and share many other general features, though they are sufficiently different in detail to necessitate separate training. Since independence from British rule in 1947 and the demise of the princely courts, Indian music has moved to the concert hall, the recording studio, and the world stage.

Hindustani Music is the classical tradition of the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and, to some extent, Afghanistan. It also corresponds to the area of Indo-Aryan languages and the greatest concentrations of Muslims within a predominantly Hindu region. Many of its characteristics are traced back to the court poet and musician, Amir Khusrou, at the end of the 13th century. From his accounts, and from treatises by other authors, it is clear that the Indian music of that time was already highly sophisticated, and he is said to have introduced several Arabic and Persian elements. This process continued under subsequent rulers, especially the Mughal Emperor Akbar in the late 16th century, whose court boasted the legendary singer, Tansen, and the later Mughals and regional rulers in the 18th and 19th centuries. Under their patronage music became a matter of prestige, and there was intense rivalry between courts and between the musicians themselves. Repertoires were often jealously guarded, and much of the teaching was kept strictly within the family. This helps to explain the rise of gharanas, traditions associated with different families, usually of Muslim court musicians and named after the city in which they were employed. Although gharanas are still talked about as a means of indicating a musical pedigree, they have been dying out since the demise of the courts and the advent of recordings and rapid communication, and also because of the greater mobility and independence of the musicians.

When the great theorist, Bhatkhande, collected music from court musicians in the early years of the 20th century, he found not only a huge range of compositions but also of performing styles. As part of his effort to classify Hindustani music and reconcile theory with practice, he grouped the thousands of melodic types, ragas, under ten scales, or thats. Only a fraction of the ragas in existence are in common use. The priority in Hindustani music is the maximum development of the minimum material, so a musician needs to know a few ragas in depth, rather than a large number superficially.

However the most important relation of Indian music to art is through the raga. Raga is the melodic basis of Indian classical music. Each raga has infinite possibilities of variation, and a skilful performer can extend improvised and composed material from a few minutes to well over an hour. The origin of the word, from a Sanskrit root meaning color, suggests that a raga is more than a musical idea. Its correct rendition must instill a certain mood in its listeners, creating aesthetic delight (rasa), and ragas have been associated with paintings and poetic aphorisms in the thousand or so years of their existence. Therefore the visual arts through the paintings and their rendition into architecture have influenced music through the development of the ragas. There are many and they in turn form the basis for all kinds of musical interpretations.

In the North Indian tradition of Hindustani music, ragas are also assigned to particular times of the day or night, and, in many cases, also to seasons of the year. Each raga must be distinguishable from all others, whether in the Hindustani or the southern tradition of Carnatic music.

The development of the raga will normally continue with one or more compositions, set in particular talas, or time cycles. In vocal music, which is always pre-eminent in Indian music, the main Hindustani song forms are the khyal and dhrupad, and there are several shorter forms, usually of a lighter nature, such as thumri, and tarana.

Khyal, as its name suggests, has strong Muslim influences, while dhrupad, a term from Sanskrit, is older and regarded as essentially Hindu, although it developed to its present form in the Mughal courts.

Conclusively it can be said that the development of music descended for art, in the sense that the basis of Indian music the ragas, were musical expressions of the existing art, and architectural depictions of the periods and styles that they were developed in. In addition it can also be determined that Indian music is the soul of the Indian culture whose body is the art of the subcontinent.