Madhyama – The Central One
by Shekhar Shastri
It was late in the evening and as I turned on All India Radio to listen to my favorite classical music program, a voice pierced through the darkness into my heart. I quickly found the cassette tape recorder and hit the record button. 30 years later that Raaga Bageshri composition remains etched inside me. It is the easiest way to restore my center, my musical home. Listen to a Raaga Bageshri-based song from film Sangeet Samrat Tansen: Raaga Bageshri: Madhura Madhura Sangeet
What is in Raaga Bageshri that frequently evokes a serene romance in listeners? Quite likely it is due to its dominant use of the middle note Madhyama. Of the seven notes (saptaka): Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni – Ma stands in the center, with 3 notes on each of its sides.
Madhyama occupies the central position and divides the other notes of the saptaka into two equal halves … it is the pivot on which all other notes are hinged. Scholars have indicated deeper correspondence between the Madhyama musical note and consciousness: “Just as central reality or universal consciousness is the ground or support of everything, even so the note madhyama which is the pivotal point is the ground or support of the entire saptak (heptad). “ [Jaidev Singh 1977]
There are several Raagas where Madhyama plays a dominant role. For example, Raaga Malkauns where most of the action is around the Ma; just listen to this timeless song in Raaga Malkauns: Raaga Malkauns: Man Tarapat
In tantra, the heart is said to be the seat of the Anaahata chakra; when this chakra is awakened, the yogi can listen to the Anaahat Naada – the ground of melodious sound. This cosmic sound (Naada) is always present, yet requires tuning oneself to a supreme reality. When a music maestro hits the Madhyama, the receptive listener is instantly connected to a higher reality, and a link to the heart is established. Romance is a state where one is reflecting on one’s own higher nature. Another gem worth listening:
This song is in Raaga Lalit, where both the Madhyama-s are used – the normal Ma and teevra Ma (sharp Ma): Raaga Lalit: Tu Hai Mera
Most raaga-s involve a play around Ma, sometimes forcefully, and sometimes, quite subtly. Take this song in Raaga Bhimpalasi, where the play with Madhyama is essential in generating a lilting flutter in the heart: Raaga Bhimpalasi: Kuchh Dil Ne kahaa
From the Vedic times, scholars and musicians have maintained that madhyama cannot be omitted in any scale, whether it is manifest or not, it is always the source for all other notes. So the next time you feel touched by a melody, try to feel the source of the warmth in your heart, because that is your true home. Have a melodious week!