Supplementary Notes To DJ Ritu's A World in London Iranian Music Special With Fari Bradley of 4th December, 2010

The following article arose out of a discussion with DJ Ritu, the presenter of the wonderful A World in London show. These supplementary notes were originally posted on the Facebook page of the Save DJ Ritu's A World in London show on BBC London campaign on 28th February 2011 in relation to the second half of the 4th December show being made available as a Cloudcast on MixCloud. They have been somewhat expanded upon here.

The Cloudcast on MixCloud of the second half of the 4th December 2010 broadcast (on BBC London 94.9) of DJ Ritu's A World in London, an Iranian music special with Fari Bradley, is embedded at right for your convenience if you should wish to listen again or haven't heard this excellent special before.

It also serves as a stark reminder of the kind of excellence that DJ Ritu brought to BBC London 94.9 with A World in London and that, at any rate for the time being, BBC London has lost by canceling the show with effect after the 1st January 2011 show, and that listeners in the London area - and indeed far beyond - are currently being deprived of.

Dj Ritu/A World In London. Part 2, Dec 4th 2010 by Djritu on Mixcloud

The Persian/Indian Music Connection

It all started from a question by DJ Ritu to Fari Bradley on air, did Persian musicians coming to India also bring percussion instruments with them? Ms. Bradley wasn't too sure about this point.

But, yes, Persian percussion instruments did indeed also travel to India with the masses of musicians that the Mughals brought with them and indeed continued to import during their rule.

Most notable was the tombak (also tombek, dombak, dombek, dhoumbak etc.), the most important drum of Persian classical music. Although not tunable like the modern North Indian tabla (which has a definite pitch and is tuned to the tonic in use), it's expressive range is easily as wide as that of the tabla. For a superb illustration have a look at the solo recordings of Iranian tombak master Madjid Khaladj.

It's generally thought that the tombak led directly to the North Indian, or Hindustani, pakhwaj (mridangam in the South) being 'split in half' to create the tabla, although it took some considerable time for the tabla to be accepted by classical musicians (about the mid to late 19th c. if memory serves) as the then still prevalent dhrupad style demanded the pakhwaj. (The tabla became the pre-eminent drum in Hindustani classical music only along with the rise of the now dominant, lighter khyal style.)

On the whole, the influence of Persian (classical) music on Hindustani (classical) music was overwhelming. This, and Arabic/Turkic influences, goes back to about the 12th c., well before the Mughal invasion of India. Hindustani classical music is in many respects much closer to Persian classical music right to the present day than it is to Carnatic (or South Indian) classical music with which it shares its origins. Even today, many of the leading families of Hindustani classical musicians are of direct Persian descent - for a start almost all those named 'Khan.'

Hindustani classical music's most iconic instrument, the sitar, is of partly Persian origin, having been developed out of the Persian setar and the Hindustani rudra been, the name being a corruption of the Persian (or Farsi) term setar (lit., 'three strings'). The sitar is, incidentally, much younger than many assume, being developed from around the mid-18th c. onwards but like the tabla not gaining widespread acceptance among classical musicians until the rise of the khyal form in the 19th c.

The santoor (also transliterated santur) also came from Persia (despite Kashmiri claims to the contrary) and indeed travelled as far as China (where it is known as the yang ch'in, or foreign zither) in the East and Europe (cymbalom, hammered dulcimer) in the West, while the modern sarod had its origin in the Central Asian rubab (still popular throughout the region inc. Afghanistan, and

Link Button - Top of Page

in India still found as a folk instrument), likewise brought along by the Persians. Much of Central Asia was originally part of Iran and subsequently the Mughal Empire. The name rubab is a corruption of the Arabic rebek or rebab, originally a type of fiddle. It is thought that it was brought to Central Asia by Jewish settlers, along with the Arabic classical maqam system.

The Guts Of The Music

Importantly, many of the Hindustani ragas derive from Persian dastgahs (and also from Arabic maqams, just to confuse things), and more so the note structure of Hindustani music owes its form to that of Arabic/Persian music. I.e., just as in Persian (as well as Arabic & Turkish) music, the notes Re, Ga, Dha, Ni (that is, the second, third, sixth and seventh) can only be komal (flat), while Ma (the fourth or sub-dominant) can only be tivra (sharp) apart from shuddha or natural, while Sa (the tonic) and Pa (the dominant) are of course immutable.

By contrast, in Carnatic music Ri, Ga, Dha and Ni can effectively also be tivra and Ma also komal. (Carnatic classical music uses different terminology - I have used the Hindustani equivalents here.)

Conversely, much Persian and Arabic practice has adopted the use of the Indian note names. (Think of these as a variation on tonic solfa.)

Afghanistan represents a special case. Around the end of the 19th c. the Arabic maqam system was replaced by the Hindustani raga system! The Persian tombak likewise has been largely replaced by the tabla, although otherwise Hindustani instruments have not made any significant inroads and Afghanistan's instruments of choice remain the rubab and dotar.

The sruti or shruti (microtonal, 22 note positions) system is shared by Carnatic, Hindustani, Persian, Arabic and Turkish classical music alike, although its use in practice is disputed by Indian scholars. In reality, I heard from many practicing Hindustani classical musicians that sruti is of paramount importance in certain ragas, in particular with regard to the notes komal Re and komal Dha. In the Persian and other Middle Eastern traditions, sruti is still vital without dispute. In fact, better examples of santoors and qanuns can be found with special microtonal tuning mechanisms, allowing quick and easy adjustment.


Although broadly comparable to the Hindustani raga system, the Persian dastgah and Arabic maqam/Turkish makam systems are somewhat more complicated and more highly formalised. Additionally, the latter systems in performance prominently utilize 'modal equivalence' and 'modal progression' - kinds of 'modulation.' In the first, the tonic is shifted to one of the other notes of the current dastgah or maqam to enter another dastgah or maqam that uses the same notes.

This is similar to moving say from the Dorian to the Phrygian medieval church mode of European music.

In modal progression, the tonic remains the same but a related dastgah or maqam is entered with different note intervals.

In Persian and Arabic / Turkish music, the more different dastgahs / maqams a musician can pass through in quick succession in his improvisations, the more highly he is regarded - it is a matter of great kudos, exposing the depth of a musician's knowledge, understanding, and skill.

In Hindustani music, modal equivalence would be particularly problematic, not only on account of the ever present drone (tonic and dominant, normally) but also as the number of 'equivalent' ragas is rather more limited and would involve other factors than just the modal scales, such as obligatory melodic progressions that do not always 'translate' between different ragas, and more esoteric factors like rasa - the colours or flavours of ragas.

One of the few examples where modal progression could work relatively smoothly is between raga Todi and and a variant of raga Lalit (with a minor sixth instead of the more common major). Todi's scale of Sa, komal Re, komal Ga, tivra Ma, Pa, komal Dha, Ni, Sa enables relatively easy transition on Pa, which becomes Lalit's Sa (and hence the new tonic). Todi's Sa becomes Lalit's Ma (shuddha), komal Re becomes tivra Ma (Lalit has both the perfect and augmented fourth but no fifth), komal Ga - komal Dha, tivra Ma - Ni, Pa - Sa, komal Dha - komal Re, and Ni - Ga.

Or, in western terms, Todi's note interals from the tonic of minor second, minor third, augmented fourth, perfect fifth, minor sixth, major seventh, remain unchanged but obviously just assume a different order when the tonic is shifted to the original dominant (fifth). Thus, we get Lalit's intervals of minor second, major third, perfect fourth, augmented fourth, minor sixth, and major seventh.

In reverse, the move from Lalit back to Todi is also relatively easy although a bit more complex, with Lalit's (shuddha) Ma once again becoming Todi's Sa, and so on.

Most importantly, what makes these transitions relatively    smooth   is   that    certain    defining     note

progressions or melodic figures around these notes 'translate' well, or in other words, coincide around the transitionary notes. To illustrate, the note progression tivra Ma, komal Dha, Pa in Todi 'coincides' with Lalit's Ni, komal Re, Sa. (There are others as well.)

(It should be noted, however, that this minor sixth variant of raga Lalit is relatively rare, the major sixth one being the standard. As far as I can remember, the 'father' of modern Hindustani musicology Bhatkande only lists the latter in his magnum opus.)

Nonetheless, despite the inherent problems, some Hindustani musicians have apparently occasionally experimented with both modal progression and modal equivalence, at least, outside the mainstream.

However, a full-scale adoption of modal equivalence and modal progression in Hindustani music from its Persian (and Arabic) cousin would likely have resulted not so much in a fusion of Indian and Persian music but rather the former's wholesale replacement by the latter.


...And Commonalities

Today, there is still one musical form that is common to both Persian and Hindustani music, the ghazal. (This derives from the poetic form of that name common to the Arabic, Persian and North Indian traditions.)

This forms a common ground and is sometimes used as such, as a bridge if you like, between Persian and Hindustani classical musicians performing together. A notable example of this is that of outstanding Iranian kemanche (a spiked fiddle) player and composer Kayhan Kalhor's ensemble Ghazal, with Shujaat Husain Khan, sitar, Shri Swapan Chaudhuri, tabla, and Ravi Kumar, dholak or Pejman Hadadi, tombak. Two of their albums in particular, 1998's As Night Falls On The Silk Road and 2000's Moon Rise Over The Silk Road, are nothing short of spectacular and represent some of the most exciting music of its kind.


N.B. - While as noted, 'setar' translates a 'three strings', the instrument had a fourth string added around the mid-18th c. It must also be noted that the concept of the Persian 'dastgah' has been represented in a considerably simplified form here.

Logo - DJ Ritu

The above is only a very 'potted' overview of the relationship between Persian and Hindustani classical music (and musical instruments), of course. I'm not sure what the situation is nowadays with regard to general literature on the subject. Certainly, not too long ago the main sources of information, or rather, the only ones, used to be a few scholarly text books and mainly PhD dissertations. If you want to learn more, you may have to dig deep. Online sources such as Wikipedia unfortunately tend to be flawed and unreliable.

To keep in touch with what's happening with DJ Ritu and lots of info, entertainment and more please visit DJ Ritu's web site.

And please support the Save DJ Ritu's A World in London show on BBC London campaign. You can also find out more and add your support here:

Save AWiL Blog
AWiL On twitter
Save AWiL Online Petition

Thank you!

© 2011 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.

Link Button - Top of Page

All original content except where stated otherwise © Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore.
All rights reserved.

All original art, web design and realisation, except where stated otherwise, by Logo - scarlet Eyebis . All rights reserved.