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Chapter 07: Thāt: The Indian Modal Form
Before entering a chapter on the Indian modal form, I would like to share a personal experience. I play the harmonium for myself whenever I sing for myself. I play a very classical style. Of course, there will be people who will sing and want a harmonium accompanying him or her. I get the melody so perfectly, even if I never heard the song or melody before. After the programs, kirtans, or bhajans, a handful of people come up to me and tell me, “Oh wow! You play very nice harmonium!” Then, immediately, a question comes up, “Can you teach me to play the harmonium?” I never deny musical education, so I begin my first lesson with my new-student. Almost 90% of the time, with due respect to my students, I get asked the question, “Can you teach me this melody?” Initially, I was like, “Sure” and I would teach them the melody. They play the melody satisfactorily well. Then they hear another song they like, and they like me to teach them. I notice that the melody is almost the same. There are many songs with very similar melodies. To teach a student every single melody is virtually impossible and impractical. To be a good harmonium player, one must know two things in order to make melodies. Those two things are the modal form and the raga. The modal form is discussed in the chapter.
A modal form is nothing more than a scale. However, the scale we discussed in the previous chapters was defining a scale as a range. In addition, we were talking about straight natural scales. In fact, the natural scale in itself is a modal form.
However, not every scale will be pure natural. We will have some sharpening or flattening of notes. We will work with ten particular scales. These scales or modal forms are called thāts. The ten thāts have seven notes each. The ten thāts along with their swara sets, also known as swarasthanas, are shown below.
S R g m P d n S’
Bilaval: (the major scale that we worked with)
S R G m P D N S’
S r G m P d N S’
Bhairavi: (komala thāt)
S r g m P d n S’
Kalyana: (tivra thāt)
S R G M P D N S’
S R G m P D n S’
S r G M P d N S’
S r G M P D N S’
S r g M P d N S’
These ten thāts have been developed by a 1910s musicologist, Visnu Narayana Bhatkhande. Even though these ten thāts have some shortcomings to them; they are an excellent way to study developing melodies. Of course, initially it will be quite difficult to determine whether the note you wish to chose is going to be a ga or a “re.” It will take a while to first adopt to an ear to determine what each that sounds like. Once you chose the right thāt, it will be a while to adopt a sense of which notes to select when you accompany a singer. First, play each of these ten thāts while reciting the name of each thāt and singing the swars along. Practice three rounds of each thāt.
Just for your information, Bhairavi is known as the komal thāt, because all of the notes are the flattest as they can be. S and P can never be flat as they are fixed notes. But, re, ga, dha, and ni are all flat, as that as the flattest as they could be. Between ma and tivra ma, ma is flatter than the two, so ma is used. Likewise, Kalyana Thāt is known as the tivra thāt, because every note is the highest value possible. Re, Ga, Dha, and Ni are all suddha as they are the highest of their notes. Again, between Tivra ma, and
Let’s assume that you have had some experience with these thāts. Let’s pick two songs from the Asavari Thāt. The two songs are “Antara Mandire Jago Jago” and a mahamantra tune. Notice that even though the melodies are entirely different, the same set of notes of the Asavari thāt is used.
Asavari Thāt: S R g m P d n S’
S n S R R R g m R S
An ta ra mandire jago-- ja-go
R S S n d n R S
madhava krsna gopala
m m P P n d d n S’ S’ n R’ S’ S’
nava aruna sama jago hrdoye mama
P n P m m P m g g m R R S
sundara giridhari la-a-a-a-l
Here is a Hare Krsna melody
Ha re kr - sna hare krsna
S R g – R – S – n d n P
Krsna kr - sna hare ha – re-----
P P S – S- R – S R g – g m g R S
Since they did not deviate from the scale of S R g m P d n S’, it is of the Asavari Thāt. Of course, when someone is singing, you will have to think, “Which of the ten thāts sound the closest to the melody I am hearing?” Once you develop that kind of mentality, accompanying an artist will become very easy. For now, practice the ten thāts in such a way that you will not forget them. Practice playing the ten thāts correctly with their correct names. Once you master this, you may move onto the next chapter.
UPDATED: June 18, 2009