Interestingly, while playing instrumental music the smallest ‘discernible interval of pure sound’ is again termed shruti .They are 22 in number. This is the finest scale of tones that can be comfortably played on the stringed instruments. One of these instruments is the dhruva veena, an instrument with 22 strings, which is the reference standard of the Indian music system. For, dhruva means ‘constant’ and is also the name of the ‘north-star’. The Carnatic music system of south-India still adheres to the shruti system for its daily vocal rendering.
All the present day ragas are based on the selection of 7, 6 or 5 notes out of these 12 notes. And in an Indian classical music composition you can go up the scale in one raga and come down the scale in another. This is termed as the aroha and the avaroha respectively. This gives us the possibility of hundreds of thousands of combinations – the ragas therefore change with the season, the time of day, location and so on. The multiplicity of the world around us reflects comfortably within this structure of the ragas and those who sing the Divine song are thus called the raagis .
A word on the rhythm. The regularity of the accent is the meter or chhand in the prose. In music the tempo is set by the interval between two regular beats and this interval is called the laya . Kaal is time and kalaa means an art form. The beat is therefore termed as kaal-kalaa or taal in short. This beat can be introduced through an external percussion instrument like the mridangam, pakhawaj or tabla etc. or the performer may maintain this tempo as laya in the playing or singing. The laya normally has three time-speeds viz. vilambit (slow), madhyam (medium) and druta (rapid). The number of beats can alter and the taals are so variously named – dadra(6) , rupak(7), kaharwa(8), jhaptaal(10), ektaal(12), teentaal(16) and so on. In ‘Sangitratnaakar’ , a 13th century exposition on music Sharangdeva rishi describes fully 108 taals. Incidentally, 108 is also the number of beads in the mala or rosary… and arithmetically 108 = 1 x (2×2) x (3x3x3).
The three components of vaani are, therefore, vaak, dhvani and taal(or laya).
■■ In the Agamas literature of Hindu thought the ‘non-sound’ Brahman is referred to as the Naad-Brahman . At a more meta-physical level this is termed as Naad-bindu in the Shiva- sutras. These sutras or ‘condensed mantras’ were first revealed, in the late 8th century A.D., by Lord Shiva directly to Vasugupta on mount Mahadeva in the Kashmir Himalayas. Later expounded by his student Abhinavagupta, this philosophy came to be known as Kashmir Shaivism.
“Here bindu – ‘is a throbbing point of stress or a pulsation called spanda’ and Naad – ‘is the generic potency representing all undifferentiated sounds’”. The latter is represented by the Chandra or ‘half-moon’ adorning Shiva’s matted hair. Together they symbolize the anunasik or the ‘nasal-hum’. The anunasik is also the name of a class of letters in the last and fifth column of the table of mute-consonants in the Sanskrit alphabet. These letters are themselves five in number and are uttered through both the mouth and nose simultaneously. In the language this nasal sound when added to other consonants is indicated as a Chandra-bindu above the alphabet. This is the ‘mmm’ sound, at the end, as we pronounce ( ! ) or ‘aum’ – the universal mantra of yogic chanting.
Naad-bindu, Dhyan-bindu, Amrit-nada and many other later Upanishads explain the unfolding of all creation and its names through Naad-Brahman and how a practitioner can attain ‘moksha’ or liberation. There is an outward evolution of sound from ‘eternal silence’ or anahat- naad and then there is the involution through yoga and the chanting of ‘aum’.
In yoga, while doing the pranayama or ‘breath-training’, the first step is to plug one’s ears with the thumbs of both outstretched hands while placing the corresponding little fingers lightly on one’s nostrils – one can hear this ‘Universal-hum’ inside one’s head. This is the first step in meditation. The deep breathing that follows synchronizes the practitioner’s pranic life-force with the universal shakti or energy. The expansion of this universal energy through the individual mind into human expression is called pranav – which, interestingly, is another word for ‘aum’ in all Vedic literature. When the conch-shell or shankh is blown in Vedic rituals it is symbolic of this praṇav, for it is the individual praṇa that combines with the vayu or ‘breath’ to bring about the resonance.
Thus the conch-shell and the damaroo are both symbols of Naad. Whereas the former signifies creative energy, the latter stands for destructive forces. In short, Naad encompasses all universal vibrations – their evolution and dissolution.
The ‘intent to act’ is called the samkalpa and is first felt in the mind as a thought, as an idea to do something. This latent desire is in the realm of anahat- naad and is also called the para-vaak or the region ‘beyond speech’. It is constructed out of our previous experience, the learned language, the symbolic memory and so on. The desire precipitates a need, a reason or a sense of purpose – this is called vikalpa . The mind observes, it searches for ways and means to crystallize this thought. This is the second layer of speech and it is called pashyanti. The next & third stage is madhyama, literally meaning ‘in-between’, where the life-force or prana lowers itself into the heart through 22 nervous paths called nadis. These 22 paths constitute the collection of shrutis and the heart is also the seat of the fourth chakra called the Anaahat-chakra for this reason. The breath or vayu rises from the navel or nabhi, the seat of the Manipura-chakra, in a ‘tight knot’ and combines with the prana in the hridaya or heart. Till now the sound is unbroken. As the vayu emerges from the throat, the Vishuddhi-chakra it finds distinction, delineation into the various components of speech and this fourth stage is called vaikhari. Till here the Shiva- sutras follow, a 5th century A.D. scholar, Bhartrihari’s sphota theory of language. The sutras however add the matrika as the fifth stage of speech synthesis. Now, let us look at the string of Sanskrit alphabets in detail.