Emotions in Carnatic Music

Article by Ms. Revathi S.

    Ms. Revathi S.The idea of life without "emotions" is just inanimate. We often use words to express emotions. We paint words so beautifully, yet sometimes fail to express the right emotion. Art is a means of expressing emotions to the fullest. One element that is common among all performing arts is their ability to express the emotions which make up different slices of life. Emotions characterize life as well as art. Music is one such language of emotion.

    Music without emotions is lifeless and an emotion without music is inadequate. Navarasayutha krithiche ...A famous phrase from Thyagaraja's "Sogasuga mridhanga thalamu" states that the nine emotions ("Rasas") are very essential aspects of a krithi. The present article focuses on the emotional power of music & the science behind these emotions.

    Science of emotion: The effect of music on emotions is a result of embodied mind thesis. According to a theory, an embodied philosophy or embodied mind thesis proves that the laws of thought are metaphorical, not logical. What this means is the truth would be constructed from metaphorical reasoning and is not an attribute of reality. The truth would be an outcome of feelings of certain situation, not attributed to facts, science or religion., say for instance the chirp of birds, cry of a child....There is no science written from where these emotions or feelings are derived, but they raise from situation. Each time we hear a piece of music, we are actually re-experiencing the emotion which we would have experienced earlier. So, the statement "Music brings out emotions" is wrongly termed. The correct way of stating this is- we reflect emotions on hearing to a piece of music. The first time when an emotion is aroused, it creates a pattern in certain part of the brain and each time a similar emotion is felt, this pattern/template is invoked.

    Source of emotions: Emotions in music need not be associated with the phrases and the words that make up the song. Pure music i.e., music without words (instrumental, aalaapana or swara kalpana) can bring out emotions too. To site a good example, the tone of a person on the other end of the phone can make us get a feel of his/her mood. Whether it is a face to face conversation or a phone conversation, gesture and tone constitute around 90% of what is being conveyed. In a similar way tone & its quality constitute a major part of what is being expressed in music. Perhaps the brain identifies and catches the gestures employed in music; gestures here being referred to the aural gestures and not the body language. On recognizing the gestures, the brain tends to imagine if it were to bring out these gestures, what would its emotional state be? That explains how music creates emotions. To quote the theory in a nut shell,

    • the ears capture the music and its tone
    • the brain listens and analyses the musical content
    • imagines what feelings/emotions would have produced that configuration of music


    If Raga is the soul of Carnatic music, rasa or bhava is its emotional quality. Good quality rendering can arise intense emotional feelings in both the person rendering the music and the person listening. Nine types of rasas are identified predominantly in Carnatic arts, be it music or dance.

    They are:

             Wonder- Adbhutha

             Love/Beauty- Shringara

             Anger- Roudhra

             Fear- Bhayanaka

             Compassion- Karuna

             Disgust- Bibhatsya

             Valor- Veera



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