Wellbeing, New to Indian Music, General

Musical Musing by Sandeep Virdee, OBE

  • Author: Sandeep Vidree, OBE, Artistic Director, Darbar

5 Reasons to Listen to Indian Classical Music 

It’s no surprise that we at Darbar believe in the power of the Indian classical arts to thrill, stir and inspire a global audience. But what does that mean, in praxis? And essentially, it all boils down to one overwhelming question: why should one listen to Indian classical music? What is the reason? 

Today, I’d like to share that reason. In fact, I’d like to share five.

Reason # 1: Indian classical music is often misunderstood.

To the uninitiated, the perception of Indian classical music at first glance is an old man playing a weird looking instrument. And initially, we might think it’s really slow, boring music we can’t relate to straight away. I hear you. 

But Indian classical music is far from that. As Darbar believes, and as our successful delivery of profoundly impactful festivals and content attests, Indian classical music has the power to stir, thrill and inspire the soul. It can move you to tears, trigger deep introspection and uplift your spirit. It’s not an obscure artform that distances the audience—far from it. It’s music for your soul. 

Reason # 2: There’s something for everyone. 

The reason I say ‘something for everyone’ in the truest sense of the phrase is the innate structure and progression of an Indian classical music piece. 

Indian classical music, and especially from the North Indian tradition, has slow and languid parts, deeply evocative imagery that can make you cry, as well as rhythmic pulsations can make you feel upbeat. The music can also put you in a trance because of the rhythmic patterns and emotive nature of the rasa theory. Time and time again, we’ve had people at the Darbar festival or viewers of our content have shared their trance-like experiences—so to come back to reason number 1, no, it's not boring. 

Reason # 3: It’s anywhere, anytime music. 

It’s only natural that different pieces resonate with you depending on your mood. But Indian classical music offers a vast repertoire of music styles and subgenres depending on your emotional state. In a light mood? Maybe a thumri will tickle your fancy. Feeling spiritual? Perhaps a bhajan would help. Need an immersive and extended spiritual experience? A full length, 90-minute raga may be what you crave. 

In an interesting way, despite being a centuries-old tradition, it’s also very intuitive music—it’s on the go, on demand, when you want it, wherever you are, and whatever you need. I don’t know if all art forms can do that with the same dexterity and grace that Indian classical music does. For instance, rock and jazz may elicit a certain type of emotional response. 

Reason # 4: Now, perhaps more than ever before, we need a holistic system to look inwards 

I’m a true believer that as we have moved from rural areas close to nature and submerged ourselves in city centers, the cadence and structure of our day means that we’re looking for wellbeing...but somehow can’t unplug. I often joke with my team that those futuristic visions of us being cyborgs are no longer a distant reality. We are all cyborgs already, attached to our devices. We can’t breathe without WiFi. But with Indian classical music, you get the opportunity to come at wellbeing from a holistic lens. The music is intimately connected to nature, different seasons of the year and even different times of the day. I wouldn’t say it’s prescriptive, but just like Ayurveda, or breathwork in yoga, it’s a structured system for wellbeing. Indian classical music gives you that system and that framework. 

Reason # 5: And that holistic system is rooted not only in our DNA, but in the universe 

Ultimately, we delude ourselves into thinking that we’re perfectly stationary and static, but we’re not. The universe—and we—are in a constant state of flux. There’s nothing static about us. Indian classical music, at an intrinsic level, is quite closely aligned not just with the galaxy or Earth’s rotation and seasons, but our own heartbeat and rhythm. 

There’s just something so primal, so visceral, about tabla and drumming, for instance. The unfiltered and untainted response that you’d see from, for example, a child, to that kind of music is that they can’t stop boogying around. The music speaks to you. And the cyclical nature of the compositions ties us together. While in some types of western classical music, cyclic rhythms may be frowned upon in favour of more complex progression, in Indian classical music, the cyclical patterns are a unifying thread. 

And if a style of music has the potential to bridge gaps, blur boundaries and bring humanity closer together? Well, that’s the best reason I’ve ever heard of to enjoy it.

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