Why Raga Music is more Therapeutic than other Music-Cultures?

raga impact on brain

raga impact on brain

Music in India has great potential in this study because Indian music is melodic and has somewhat different pitch perception mechanisms. Western classical music which is based on harmonic relation between notes versus the melodic mode (raaga) structures in the Indian Classical Music System (ICM) within the rhythmic cycle music may demand qualitatively different cognitive engagement. The analysis of EEG data to determine the relation between the brain state condition in the presence of ICM and its absence would therefore be an interesting study. How rhythm, pitch, loudness etc. interrelate to influence our appreciation of the emotional content of music might be another important area of study. This might decipher a technique to monitor the course of activation in the time domain in a three-dimensional state space, revealing patterns of global dynamical states of the brain. It might also be interesting to see whether the arousal activities remain after removal of music stimuli.

There are a few unique aspects of raga music which may be considered more therapeutic and recommended for healing. However, there is a scarcity of rational researches in the field, whereas, west music has been researched and has gained pretty much authenticity. But there are various unique elements in raga music or Indian music which can be considered as the medium of more explorations and analysis and further for healing.

1. Home-concept: Indian music is a modal music or based on One base note system, having Sa as the base note. We set a specific shruti or scale in accordance with Sa. Sa defines different octaves, pitches, location of other 6 notes and so on. Sa has many names: base-note, unison, tonic note, or the adhaar-swar, Shadjam, Swarit, etc. Therefore, Sa provides home or stable, fixed platform to the music. Raga music incorporates a basis, a stable platform in which one finds refuge and stability of mind. Certain satisfaction, belongingness, relief dwells in the concept of Swarit or Sa which makes the listener and musician feel that ‘we need to return home’. Each interval is a tone defined by the ratio of its fundamental frequency with the tonic, or ‘root’ note and is termed as tonic interval. The “major” intervals are the shuddh swaras or the natural notes namely, second, third, sixth, and seventh while the “minor” intervals are the komal swaras (flat) positions of the same tones. (Tonic interval names used in NICM, frequency ratios, sizes in cents in Just intonation and 12-tone equal temperament (12-TET) tunings.

Psychologically, we all spend ample of time and money building homes because returning home is an essential factor in our lives. Our brain and mind is conditioned to settle on stable place, even after it gallivants the whole day, months or years. We do not forget our home while traveling in fact, we miss the home after excess of travelling. Because the home provides us the base, stability, space, where we sustain, rest, sleep, work, clean, amidst of all the freedom, routine and regularity. Similarly, SA is a fundamental note which works as a home where the musical tunes, tones or micro-tones find refuge. Why do we find peace and power in chanting mantras? Because we primarily use the base note SA on AUM and the nearby semi-notes ni komal or re komal. We majorly stick to the adhaar swar SA which mollifies the mind, and body. People subtly compose the mantras on the base note so that its connects us to the omnipresent while praying or meditating.

On the contrary, the European music culture which is adopted in many countries, comprises of the harmonized music, i.e., harmonization/syncing the different chords at a time in same piece. Jumping from on chord to another might lack stability, and belongingness.

Indian rhythm system also enriches the ‘home-concept’ through returning on the Sam (x), or the first beat of the tala. Sam is the stress-point or the ‘weight-beat’ in every single musical piece, which is attained regularly after every longer or shorter voyage of the full avartan/cycle. It can also be characterized as ‘tension-resolution’ state as said in the west music. Tension is when we wander throughout the talavartan, and resolution is returning to the sam. We find the listeners nodding their heads in bliss on the sam, which is an ‘aha’ moment for them.
Spiritually, meditation is said to be more effective when we return to watching our subtle breath or ‘pran’ or ‘adhaar’ even after mind wanders hither and thither within thoughts and memories. We should not repress our mind from generating thoughts as it’s the work of the mind, but we must return to accentuate on the focal breath whenever it is recalled. Gradually, frequent reminders of breath-watch make us stable, tranquillised and we reach less-thoughts zone to no-thought zone. That’s how the transcended sages and saints attain the advanced stages of realisation.

2. Repetition of the same set of sound frequencies: Another essential aspect of Indian ragas is rendering ‘a set of selected sound frequencies’. Every raga consists of selected minimum five and maximum seven notes and that too bound with the pattern and rule of ascend and descend. The repetition of these selected notes make the raga a unique feature. It’s like, among the 12 notes (7+5) in an octave, one is served a handful of sound frequencies and instructed to recite for an hour. The basic set of tones and tone-relationships used in North Indian classical music from which ragas are derived are the 12-tone octave divisions. For instance, we are served with S, G, m, P, D, n, N, these notes omitting re while heading up; ascending with shuddha N and descending with the komal n. We name it raga Khamaj. The repetition renditions keeping in mind the rules of ascend-descend, structure, and chalan goes like this: S, GMP, GMRS, G M P D n D P, M G, P M G R S… n D M P D M G, G P M G S G… S M, S P G M G P, n D n P D N S, S N D N S, R S n D P D N D S… PDMP S… PDMP R n D P S and so on…
Revolving and traversing around a few fixed set of frequencies only, abiding by the sound structure (Chalan) is a great healing aspect. These structured set of notes (Swar-sanchaar) make the specific characteristic tunes that provide belongingness and intimacy after a while. We familiarize and get intimate with those structures of sounds and our body cells starts reacting for good. Especially, a competent musician and his extempore unlimited abilities of improvisation makes one travel into the blissful world. It is known fact that specifically structured sounds, like in our ragas, stimulate the brain cells. The characteristic pattern of notes in every raga depending upon the transition of aaroh-avroh (ascend-descend), vadi-samvadi (Stressed/frequent notes), nyas-swar (sustained note), swar-samudaye (Phrases of notes), etc. when sung or played repeatedly, evoke a certain emotion because they vibrate at a certain level.
Repeatedly listening to the correct ragas produces sound vibrations which passing through the nerves (which have the most connections in the body) produces contractions and relaxations in specific muscle, nerve, and chakras linked to the affected part. The contraction occurs when the musical impulse is received; the relaxation occurs between two impulses. During the contraction, blood is squeezed out of the affected part and during relaxation, blood from the neighbouring part flows in. The blood flow release appropriate energy flow to the affected parts which helps in the healing process.

3. Ornamentation: Indian classical music comprises of certain unique style, mannerism of singing which is hardly found in the other musical cultures. The purpose of the mannerism or mechanism of note-treatment (Swar-lagaav) is to enhance the aesthetics and prospective mood of the raga. These ornamentations are: Kan, khatka, murki, meend, jhatka, gamak, zamzama, khanak, and so on. These elements add invariably to the songs if used favourably keeping in mind its nature and temperament. For instance, meend or the glide journey from one note to another is used for enhancing the seriousness or serenity of a raga or song therefore, it is used in raga bhairava, Todi, Ahir bhairav, puriyadhanashri more frequently than in the playful ragas like khamaj or kafi. The individualistic ornamenting styles sometimes, change the voice or tones of the singers. Therefore, we find the numerous varieties of voices in the Indian music paradigm compared to the other music world. We have Chithra singing high-pitched; shubha Mudgal with a soprano voice on G#; Indian music heritage has Asha Bhonsle on one hand and Begum Akhtar on the other with totally different tonal quality, styles and singing mannerism.

ICM is monophonic or quasi monophonic. Well trained artists can highlight a definite rasa by altering the structures of musical presentations such as stressing on specific notes, accents, slurs, gamakas or taans varying in tempo etc. Musicians as well as ardent connoisseurs of music would agree that every single note can convey an emotion. Many experience a ‘chill’ or ‘shiver down the spine’ when a musician touches certain note or sustains of a note. The meter system is again quite complex. Indian rhythm & meter system is one of the most complex systems compared to other meters used in world music. Film music, which has been influenced by music from all over the world, is much more popular in the current times.

Ornamentations make the compositions and voices special and unique. Some of the Indian musicians by default or innately, have these ornamentations in their throat, which make them more popular a singer. The khanak in their voice quality is developed by birth by imitating, learning, or listening to the Indian music since childhood.