Notes 60.1 (2003) 164-165
[Access article in PDF]
Indian Music—Eminent Thinkers on Core Issues. Discourses by Premlata Sharma, S. K. Saxena, and Kapila Vatsyayana. Edited by R. C. Mehta. Mumbai: Indian Musicological Society, 2002. [113 p. $15.]
This set of essays by three senior North Indian musicologists is based on lectures which they presented in Mumbai and Delhi in 1992, 1998, and 2000. The lecture series honoring Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande (1860-1936), the early-twentieth-century systematizer of North Indian music theory, was organized by the Indian Musicological Society and its director, R. C. Mehta. People familiar with writings on North Indian music theory and criticism in the last several decades will recognize these scholars' names. For the most part, it is this audience which will find this book of interest. Avid listeners to Indian music might also find portions of these essays enjoyable and thought provoking. The use of technical terms, however, and the intimate insiders' perspectives offered here will make the book a difficult one for nonspecialist readers.
Premlata Sharma was known for her works on Sanskrit musicological texts, and mentored many scholars during her decades at Banaras Hindu University. In her series of short linked essays she rethinks the standard periodization and conceptualizaton of Indian music history. The essays were prepared directly from her recorded talk, and the repetitions, asides, and generally oral nature of the writing read like a very informal talk to undergraduate students. Stylistic as well as grammatical and typographical flaws, however, will be taken in stride if the reader is curious about this senior scholar's thoughts on broad issues late in her life. She argues that Indian music history has been constructed on Western criteria and English terms, many of which are inappropriate for the subject. Although her argument is vaguely responsive to quotations from authors of the colonial era and earlier times, few contemporary scholars will disagree with the general point. After briefly examining some Sanskrit terms relating to conceptions of history, such as those for time and space, she proposes using the terms rta and satya as superior indigenous principles on which to base formulations about Indian music history. These terms denote movement and order, and endurance and sustaining, respectively.
Regarding the chronological periods that are standard in writings on Indian music history, Sharma suggests a new set of divisions that would express the changing aims of the authors, as opposed to implying linear progress. She makes a few interesting points from the musicological literature that she knows so well to explain her thinking in coming up with the overlapping periods "formative," "expository and expansive," "reconciliatory and re-evaluative," and "interpretive." Sharma excelled at dealing in detail with texts, but does so here only a little. Reading these essays is comparable to hearing her talk, for there are points to puzzle over, to appreciate, and to quibble with, but we hear one of the important Indian musicologists of our era speak in her own voice.
Sushil Kumar Saxena, formerly a professor of philosophy at Delhi University, is an active writer on aesthetics, music, and dance, and has also been a music critic for the Hindustan Times newspaper. This essay is an expanded and reworked version of his 1998 talk in Delhi. The title "Some Basic-Aesthetic Reflections" is an apt one. The essay consists of the author's minutely thought-out and deeply held opinions about what makes good music. The style is personal, and is clearly the accumulation of a lifetime of experience in giving critiques of Hindustani music, especially vocal. A reader who is also an experienced listener and is familiar with technical terms will find much pleasure in reading these paragraphs. Saxena begins by reflecting on what makes Indian music an art instead of a craft, then considers how a swara (tone) attains the quality of "attractiveness." He describes applications in specific ragas in passages which are enjoyable to read if one knows those ragas. Some passages indeed evoke experiences of listening to music. A passage describing an artist's inclusion of a tone forbidden in a raga gives a sense...