Indian Oral Tradition

The teaching of classical music has primarily been oral. The raga and its structure, the intricate nuances of tala or rhythm, and the rendering of raga and tala as bandish or composition, are passed on from guru to shishya by word of mouth and through direct demonstration. There is no printed sheet of music, with notation acting as the medium, to impart knowledge.

The oral tradition remains a unique testament to the capacity of the human brain to absorb, remember and reproduce structures of great complexity and sophistication without a system of written notation. ITCSRA epitomises the effort to institutionalise Hindustani Classical Music while maintaining the life-breath of its historic oral tradition.

In Western music, every composition is written down with proper notation. Every musical composition in Western music is, therefore, clearly the intellectual property of a particular composer. But keeping records is alien to the predominantly oral Indian musical tradition.

The raga, imparted orally from one person to another, is no one’s intellectual property. It is difficult to trace the authorship of a musical composition or a raga in Indian music. The performing artiste, or the guru, is just a medium through which the raga lives again in the world. The raga, unconfined to a single incarnation, composer or performer, is far greater than the artiste who invokes it.