"... when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance."
August 15, 2011 10:25 AM   Subscribe

জয় হে : So you have seven swara's, or musical notes, each associated with elements, animals, chakra's and Hindu gods. Linearly arranged swara's, or sur's in Hindi, form a swaramalika, a chain of swara's. Mixing yours and my swara's, for instance, produces our sur(YT) (text). Once again,(YT) on a Continuum Fingerboard. The seven swara's together are also called a 'sargam', a Devnaagri acronym formed by taking the first letter of each note. Sargam mix with each other and form raaga's, melodic modes that depict the colours, hues and moods in Indian classical music. Assembling known maestros from every corner of the nation, and asking them to play their sargam's, you get desh raag(YT): the Sound of a Nation.

Now, performing the desh raaga in its purest form is not easy; not only are is the conflux of swara's and modalities and all that delightfully complex, in the North Indian tradition, it is also meant to evoke a certain gentle midnight romance. Like in this song(YT).

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee's Anand Math was neither a romantic nor a gentle novel, so it may seem surprising that its most famous excerpt, the Vande Mataram was originally set to this raga. It strikes a sprightly optimistic(YT) tone, uplifting enough for All India Radio stations to play it every day at the start of their day's broadcasts. A far cry, if you will, from Hemant Kumar Mukhopadyaya's stirring, passionate 1952 interpretation(YT), or Lata Mangeshkar's flag-wavy, but more inclusive 1998 re-interpretation(YT) of her own '52 rendering. Or even, as it happens, from AR Rahman's contemporary cover(YT), or his rock-isque 1997 tribute(YT), featuring Sivamani's drums and Rahman's trademark boatman call. Or the cover of the tribute in 256 languages(YT), elements we saw four years back in the blue.

What we didn't see, though, is the main song, India's national anthem. Now, the Jana Gana Mana(YT) (wiki) seemingly presents us with a much more straightforward musical recipe, a 52 second, single stanza piece, originally set to the morning Bilaval raaga, but now generally performed without necessarily conforming to it. You don't even need spoken words to sing it; it has been touchingly sung in Indian Sign language(YT) as well.

The lyrical, musical and cultural complexity here is not in this verse, but in the poem from which it has been excerpted from. Because it evokes morning calls, it is in the genre of a south Indian suprabhata kaavya, but written in a north Indian raaga. Because Rabindranath Tagore wrote it in Bengali and immediately translated it himself to English, it is at least bi-lingual. Set to Bilaval raaga and to Western musical score, it easily conforms to two musical traditions. On this, India's 64th Indepedence Day, presented for your perusal, once again, the Morning Song of India and the politico-musical heritage it represents.
posted by the cydonian (10 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Can't see it in your links but you'd know better, did you add Mile Sur mera tumhara ? (Ah, yes "our sur" link) but shamelessly highlighting my favourite...
posted by infini at 10:56 AM on August 15, 2011

For those interested in knowing more about Des(h) raaga, here is a nice treatment with examples from classical and film music and its relation to other close raagas. While many Hindustani raagas usually have a similar counterpart in the Carnatic (South Indian classical music) system and vice versa, Des has been appropriated as is.
posted by ssri at 10:58 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

More links, knowledge, and music than I can digest along with my lunch, but there are some great stuff here! (Then I got derailed into YouTube national anthems and wondered about how pebbles turn into boulders in ten thousand years in Japan's song...)
posted by kozad at 11:09 AM on August 15, 2011

I've listened to the Jana Gana Mana video a couple of times now, and wow, it's really beautiful and well done! Looking forward to perusing the others tonight.
posted by LN at 1:16 PM on August 15, 2011

Wow, what a great post! Bravo the cydonian.

You took the Indian national anthem and turned it into a marvelous opportunity to discuss Indian music, culture and history.

Jai Hindustan on its Independence Day. India is a spectacular example of unity in diversity. Not the cliche but an extraordinary reality. Even when invaded-oppressed by the Mughals, then by the Brits, India somehow absorbed those other cultures and transformed them into its own, elegantly, beautifully.

Long Live India, a very special and wonderful country.
posted by nickyskye at 4:28 PM on August 15, 2011

See also: The Silent Indian National Anthem (YouTube)
posted by vidur at 4:39 PM on August 15, 2011

vidur: The "Indian sign language" link. :)
infini: Not to mention, links to the lyrics and to the "new" version, Phir mile sur. :)
nickyskye: Thanks much! Knew you'd like this; . :)

Here's another take on Vande Mataram versus Jana Gana Mana.
posted by the cydonian at 7:47 PM on August 15, 2011

Sorry, I need to learn to not read so fast that I miss stuff that's right there. I swear I read it twice!
posted by vidur at 8:40 PM on August 15, 2011

I just wanted to pop in with a great mnemonic a college classmate came up with to remember Indian solfege

Sorry, Grandma. Pardon me sir.

The s'real solfege is Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Da Ni Sah.
posted by frecklefaerie at 6:43 AM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

infini: "Can't see it in your links but you'd know better, did you add Mile Sur mera tumhara ? (Ah, yes "our sur" link) but shamelessly highlighting my favourite..."

Oooh... the end of that one (with the running tricolour kids) was filmed in my old school. I recognize most of those kids, who look very different twenty years later.
posted by vanar sena at 12:09 AM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

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