|Jagannatha Svami Nayanapathagami Bhavatu Me|
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— Acharya Dr Chintamani Rath PhD
(Tauranga, 7 November 2008)
This article is a short guide for a student (particularly one of instrumental music) to supplement (not replace!) his/her study with a qualified teacher. The purpose of this article is to crystallise the process usually followed in creating a standard free flowing Poornanga Alap in any Raga.
The Alap is unique to Hindustani music. It is a fully imporvised form of music. It is a complete form and stands on its own right. Thus it is quite appropriate to present a full Alap in a concert without presenting Gat in the same Raga. Thus it is very common nowadays to come across an artiste who announces (or causes to be announced on his behalf) that he or she will present an Alap, Jod and Jhala in a certain Raga which will be followed by Vilambita and Drut Gat in a completely different Raga. This trend of presenting the Gat in a different raga was revived and made popular by Ravi Shankar.
Like all music (as distinct from noise – remember that a collection pretty notes, regardless of how prettily played, by themselves do not music make!), Alap has a fairly formalised framework of rules. This constitutes the "grammar", so to speak, of the Alap. There is a step by step approach to the creation of an Alap. Not following this "grammar" but meandering willy-nilly all over the place makes for bad music! Hopefully, this article will help the gentle student proceed along the right direction.
The first step is to understand the form or the structure of an Alap – to see the big picture and how its smaller parts cohese to make up the big picture. This article will restrict itself to the general structure of a standard present-day Alap, particularly Poornanga Alap (for the meaning of Alap and Poornanga Alap, including the difference between the its two broad types Svar-Alap and Rag-Alap, click here). After understanding the structure of the Alap, the next step is to understand how the structure may be used as a vehicle for Raga delineation, which is the essential purpose of the Alap.
Structure – the big picture:
The full Alap (i.e., Poornanga Alap) is also known as the Alap Jod Jhala, because it comprises three divisions, called the Alap, the Jod and the Jhala respectively and always performed in that order. Thus Alap here is used in two senses – one, it is the name of the total structure and two, it denotes that part of the total structure that is not the Jod or the Jhala. This is not as confusing as it may seem on first reading: the context usually makes it abundantly clear as to which sense of the term is in use.
The following chart details the contituents of an Alap and shows how it is structured:–
A Poornanga Alap has two broad sections:
The Vilambita Laya Alap – Sthayi & Antaraa :
Consider the following schematic diagram in the form of a grid representing the format of the Vilambita Alap in an imaginary Raga, here considered hypothetically and solely as a general example:–
In the grid above, the numbers denote episodes. Thus, 1 is the first episode, 2 is the second episode, 3 is the third episode, and so on. There are 16 episodes in this particular Alap. Why 16? Well, why not? It is only a number in a purely hypothetical example. In practice, the number of episodes may be anything from 1 onwards, depending upon the whim of the artiste and, of course, the time available.
As said above, an episode is akin to a paragraph in an essay - it presents an idea or a group of closely related ideas – in this case, musical ideas that describe, in musical terms, some characteristic of the Raga being presented. Such an idea may be any of the following:
To return to the above grid, the column on the extreme left and that on the extreme right show the notes of a hypothetical Raga assumed here for the sake of example. The Moharaa are marked on the Sa line, because Sa is the strongest note of the Moharaa – that's where the Alap transitions from one idea to the next. The notes below (in bold font) – N, D, P and M – are Ni, Dha, Pa and Ma of the Mandra Saptaka (the lower register) – the notes below the Maddhya Saptaka (middle register) Sa. The notes above Sa are the successive notes of the Maddhya Saptaka until Ni, after which the Tara Saptaka (the high register) starts, when the notes are shown as S', R' and G', meaning Sa, Re and Ga of the Tara Saptaka. [For the purposes of this example, it is assumed that the artiste will restrict his presentation to the notes ranging between M and G'.]
Finally, in the grid, if there is a number against a note, it means that the note is used in the episode concerned. The symbol : against a note means that the note is used only a little, being introduced to the listener for the first time but being held back for a fuller elaboration in the next episode. For example, in episode number 8, all notes from M to M are used, but not P, D, N, S', R' or G'. Similarly, in episode number 15, all notes except G' are used, with the main note for development being S' (the note farthest from S in this case), with a hint of R' being shown now and again.
Episode # 1: Start on S. Gradually introduce N and D, weaving little figures using these three notes. If N is a strong note in the Raga, halt often and long on N, approaching each long N with a little phrase or figure using the D, S and even N itself if desired. If desired, expand the range of possible phrases by sometimes using P, too – this is indicated in the grid by the symbol : against P. But take care to take sufficient time before moving so far afield from S as P. Keep the interest alive by sometimes halting on D and sometimes on S. But since it is N that is now being considered as the Amsha Svara (the important tonal centre currently being presented), return repeatedly to N. When N has been thus elaborated upon in different ways for a sufficiently long time without the Alap becoming repetitive or monotonous, end the episode by going to S, either directly from N or via a little phrase ending on S.
Present the Moharaa to take the Alap to the next step. Take care that the Moharaa does not use any note above S, because no note above S has yet been introduced to the listener.
Episode # 2: Since in the first episode N and D had been presented so many times, there is no point in halting on D in this episode. Start on S and descend fairly rapidly – after one or two phrases – to the next Amsha, which in this case is now P. Use traces of M if desired. After P is sufficiently well established by showing the various ways it is used in the Raga, end the episode by reverting to S.
Present the Moharaa to take the Alap to the next step. Take care that the Moharaa does not use any note above S, because no note above S has yet been introduced to the listener.
Episode # 3: It is now the turn of M to be the Amsha Svara. Use all lower notes to create newer and newer phrases and patterns, halting sometimes on one note and sometimes on another. Because the Alap must move on (say for example due to constraints of time), use small amounts of R as well, to show to the listnee that in the Raga, R too us used. End the episode with a gradual return to S.
Present the Moharaa to take the Alap to the next step. Take care that the Moharaa does not use any note above R, because no note above R has yet been introduced to the listener. [Note: The Moharaa may or may not be the same throughout. It is enough if the three (or more) S are sounded clearly enough to indicate the Moharaa, which could be followed by the same rhythmic phrase as in the earlier Moharaa or optionally by a new rhythmic phrase.]
Episode # 4: In the previous episode (# 3), R was introduced sparingly. In this episode, the Amsha shifts to R. That is, R becomes to tonal centre for the time being. It is R that is now held longer, with little phrases preceding the long-held R note. These preceding phrases may use any or all of the notes that have already been shown in the earlier episodes. But they should not anticipate a note that has not yet been shown in the earlier episodes. Thus, in this episode, do not sound G.
At the conclusion of the episode, sound the Moharaa.
Episode # 5: Now that R had been elaborated upon "from below" (i.e., using notes lower in pitch than R), it is time to show the different ways in which R may be approached using a little bit of G now and again. So, in this episode, R remains the tonal centre for the time being (the Amsha Svara), only this time R is developed "from above" (i.e., using a note higher than R – in other words, G – in building little phrases that end in R, which is now the note held for long).
As before, play the Moharaa at the end of the episode.
Episode # 6: And so on and so forth – it is now G that is the new tonal centre for the time being, being developed "from below".
Episode # 7: G elaborated "from above".
And so on. One hesitates to needlessly dwell on what is now reasonably obvious as the way to go for the Vilambita Alap. The grid indicates the process right until the end of the Antara phase. The only extra point to remember here is that once the high Sa – the S' of the Tara Saptak has been presented as the tonal centre, there is no longer a return to the Moharaa. This is the Antara portion of the Alap, which is a reflection of the Sthati part in the higher register. It does not need to descent all the way down to the Maddhya Saptak S every now and again to sound the Moharaa. Once the high S' is made the tonal centre, each episode ends on the S' and a new one begins with new material and possibly newer and higher tonal centres, but it is all centered around S'.
The above is merely a guide, an indication of one way to play an Alap. It is important to remember that any indicated episode can be either skipped or repeated (with new material!), depending upon the desire (and the expertise!) of the artiste. The Alap is a 100% improvised form, unique to Hindustani music. It – particularly the Vilambita Alap – is one of the outstanding features of Indian art music (Hindustani music) that makes it so sublime an art form. This is so because it affords the artiste:–
The Maddhya Laya Alap – Sanchari:
After the Alap (i.e., the Vilambita Laya section of the Poornanga Alap) comes the Jod. The Jod has two parts to it - the Sanchari part of the Alap and the start of the Abhoga part, which carries through to the Jhala, the concluding part of the complete Alap.
The Sanchari – This portion is virtually a repitition of the Sthayi part of the Vilambita Laya Alap, with the important difference that now there is a perceptible, almost relentless as it were, rhythmic pulse throughout. As before in the Sthayi, so too here: the development proceeds from tonal centre to tonal centre, using little motifs or figures depicting a particular feature of the Raga. The transition from one tonal centre to the next, or from one motif or group of related motifs to the next is separated with Moharaa. Usually, the Moharaa in this stage is short and to the point, serving as a sharp and clear punctuation without any frills.
The rhythmic pulse or beat used here is generally (in fact, almost universally nowadays) "linear". This needs explanation:
In Indian music, rhythm may be "linear" or "cyclic":
Obviously, "cyclic" rhythm is not a rhythmic scheme that can be sounded out by a metronome, because the metronome has only a single sound that it produces at regular time intervals. To have a rhythm cycle as above, it is necessary to have distinctive sounds that differentiate between beats. In other words, it is necessary to have different and distinctly recognisable rhythmic syllables, such as those produced on a Tabla, Pahkavaj or other drum. This is why "cyclic" rhythm is presented only with an accompanying drum.
The first beat of a "cyclic" rhythm is usually referred to as the Sum (pronounce "u" as in "but", "hum", "number" etc.) of the cycle. The cycle itself is called the Avartana and the scheme of a "cyclic" rhythm is known as Tala.
The rhythmic schme most commonly adopted during the Maddhya Laya (as well as the Druta Laya) Alap is that of "linear" rhythm. In olden days, there was also a practice of adopting certain "cyclic" rhythms like Jhaptala (10 beats), Choutala (12 beats), Dhamar (14 beats), etc., during the Alap – when this happened, the accompanist on the drum (which used to be the Pakhavaj) would set up a flowing, rhythmically embellished, beat closely following the rhythmic motifs of the soloist. The Moharaa would coincide with the Sum of the Tala. The other type of rhythmic Alap presented would be where "linear" rhythm was used during Maddhya and Druta Laya Alap. Here, the drummer would merely imitate the soloist's motifs. But all this is more or less history today. In present times, it is quite rare to come across these Alap forms where the drummer joins in during the Sanchari and Abhogaa. The Maddhya and Druta Laya Alap – the Sanchari and the Abhoga – are today generally presented in "linear" rhythm and without the participation of the drummer.
The Druta Laya Alap – [Abhoga (part 1)]:
The Druta Laya Alap is Alap at high speed. It includes the latter part of the Jod and the entire Jhala. It is the Abhoga portion of the complete or Poornanga Alap.
The Abhoga (part 1) – This is the part of the Abhoga that is included in the Jod. This is analogous to the Antaraa portion of the Vilambita Alap, but now with the addition of an overt, strongly perceptible beat. Usually, the tempo of beats here is quicker than that in the Sanchari. The Moharaa here is generally used less and less frequently as the speed builds up to higher and higher levels. The passages towards the end of the Jod are often very agile. At first (during this phase of Jod conclusion) they may cover a large meoldic range but usually the range becomes progressively shorter and shorter. It is not unusual to have fast rhythmic passages using about three, or even two, notes centering around the S of the Tara Saptak. This is the part that corresponds to the final leg of the Nome-Tome Alap by a vocalist in the best Dhrupad tradition, when the vocalist sometimes mimics (using syllables like Na-na-na-naom, Ta-na-na-naom, Ta-na-na-na-Na-na-na-na-Na-na-na-na-Naom-naom-naom-naom, etc.) the sound of bells etc. used during worship in a religious service. Vocalists presenting a Poornanga Alap in the time honoured Alap–Dhrupad–Dhamar tradition end their Alap here and move on to a Dhrupad in the same Raga.
Instrumentalists continue: once the tempo of the Jod reaches a certain level of agility, the Jod flows seamlessly into the Jhala, which is another – and concluding – part of the Abhoga and the Alap itself. For convenience, we will call this the second part of the Abhoga.
The Druta Laya Alap – [Jhala or Abhoga (part 2)]:
This is a fast passage heralding the conclusion of the Alap. Like the previous sections of the Alap, here too the development generally follows a progressively ascending order, moving from tonal centre to tonal centre. The most usual method adopted for the Jhala is to sound a single note of the Raga and follow it with three S notes and repeat this process at high speed. Thus a notation of the Jhala would look somewhat like this:
Veena, Sitar and Sarod players usually use Chikari strings to play the three S. Sometimes, instead of one Raga note and three S, the performer plays the Raga note twice and two S. At other times, the order is reversed, with one S and the Raga note played thrice: S M M M | S M M M | S P P P | S P P P | and so on. Also, the individual group of the sounds (Raga note and Chikari) need not be in groups of four – they could be grouped in threes or sixes, in sevens, in fives, etc., depending upon the skill and expertise of the performer.
It is possible to have a variety of interesting rhythmic effects using different combinations of Raga notes and Chikari, building little rhythmic motifs with them and playing one motif against another, with or without syncopations, implied cyclic rhythm, and other little tricks that make the Jhala a rivettingly entertaining experience, particularly for the lay listener.
The Jhala (and therefore the Alap) is usually concluded by a return to a short rhythm-free passage that rounds of the proceedings with a satisfactory return to S.
A word now about the meanings of the terms Sthayi, Antaraa, Sanchari and Abhoga – an appreciation of these meanings will help lend further perspective on the Alap. These terms are used in two contexts:
In the context of the Alap, the Sthayi portion is that part of the Alap that fixes itself to the Sa note of the Maddhya Saptak – the Sa with which the Alap begins. The Alap is always considered to begin with the Sa of the Maddyha Saptak because right from the start it is this note that is presented by the Tanpura, whether or not the soloist chooses to reiterate its presence by starting his recital with a Sa. Each episode of the Alap – presenting and exploring as it does possibly a new tonal centre, a new figure, a new motif or some new material – concludes with a return to the Mohara where the Sa is reiterated repeatedly, merging everything musical and emotional into this one note (the Maddhya Saptak Sa) from which Indian music theory has it that all other notes are born. [Sa is said to denote the word Shadja, meaning "six born", referring to the six other notes that bear fixed acoustic relations with Sa.]
Such episodic elaboration of the Raga – travelling farther afield from Sa each time before returning to it by way of the Moharaa – continues until the Ni of the Maddhya Saptak has been dwelt upon (or D if there is no N in the Raga) and a Moharaa sounded thereafter. All of the Alap until this final Moharaa is the Sthayi section of the Alap.
Antaraa: The word Antaraa [pronunciation: UN-tu-raa (all "u" as in "but", "hut", "run" etc.)] derives from Antar, which has several meanings, the one in this context being "difference", "variance", etc. This part of the Alap is akin to a reply to the statements made in the Sthayi: the ideas of the Antara are similar to those of the Sthayi except that they are all perceived from the focus of the high S'. While the Sthayi gives a view of the Raga as seen from the Sa of the Maddhya Saptak, the Antara gives a view of the Raga as seen from the Tara Sa – the Sa of the Tara Saptak. In this way, the Antara gives a different view of the Raga. In many ways, this new view is similar to the view from the Maddhya Saptak Sa because the same notes, phrases, note weightages, ornaments, etc. are used. Yet, the difference is marked, because the line of sight, as it were, is now different. Hence Antaraa – "different"! Not being the Sthayi, the Antara passages do not lead to the Moharaa. Each Antara episode ends on S' (Tara Sa). When the whole Antara has ended, there is a return to the Sthayi: a return to Maddhya Saptak Sa and a Moharaa before embarking upon the next section of the Alap, which is Sanchari.
Sanchari: This word derives from Sanchara, which, in this context, means "movement" as well as "infusion", as in "infusing life (into an inanimate object)". In the Sthati and the Antara, the Raga was established. The notes, characteristic phrases, note combinations, weightages accorded to notes, Shruti involvement and so on were gradually introduced to the audience. It was as if a drama was being enacted on the stage, with characters in the play and their relationships with one another in the story to be told being introduced one by one to the audience, in the form of the notes, motifs and so on. The Sthayi laid the foundation and built the edifice. The Antaraa explored it from another viewpoint and beautified it with newer embellishments. Yet, the edifice remained a shell – albeit a complete one – of the Raga: there was no life giving movement, no breath of rhythm.
This is where the Sanchari comes in. In the Sanchari stage, periodic rhythm starts. There is a regular, perceptible beat. There now flows through this grand edifice the pulse of life. All the characters in the play now interact more closely with one another, according to the direction of the story (the Raga rules). The buildup is, of course, like that is the Sthayi - tonal centre by tonal centre, punctuated with the Moharaa. But with the presence of the pulsating, relentless and inexorable beat, there is now movement – the breath of life – running through the Alap. As in the case of the Sthayi, here too this progression proceeds to a point just before the high S' becomes the tonal centre, after which there is no more Moharaa. There are two courses open after reaching the high S':
Abhoga: The word means, among other things, "to enjoy" or "enjoyment". having built the Raga and infused life into it by movement, it is time now to sit back and savour the beauty of the creation. It is as if the the artiste delights in its beauty, saying, "Ah, what a beautiful Raga this has turned out to be!"
Once the structure of the Alap is understood, all that is needed is to follow the dictates of the structure to create the Alap. In order to do this, there are three more things the student will need:–