Writings about Music

Origins of Music

Relating to lost notions of beauty from antiquity, the very stuff music is made of, known in India as swaras (tones or “that which shines”), forming the saptaka (octave or “cluster of seven”), are believed to have originated from the cries of animals and birds.

Shadja (tonic) cry of the peacock

Rishaba (second) cry of the bull

Gandhara (third) cry of the goat

Madhyama (fourth) cry of the heron

Panchama (fifth) cry of the cuckoo

Dhaivata (sixth) cry of the horse

Nishada (seventh) cry of the elephant

Komal (flat) and Tivra (sharp) alter tones by a half-step. Specific tunings relate to the individual espressive nature of each raga.

Todi is an actual raga related to animals, often depicted in ancient ragamalas (paintings of ragas) being rendered deep in the forest, attracting and enchanting deer who have gathered to listen in hypnotic fashion.


Todi Ragini (artist unknown) Late Mughal circa 1720-1857 India


I once had opportunity to hold such ancient paintings in my hands while visiting the hilltop home of a Beverly Hills collector, and the sheer vibrancy of the astoundingly rich and subtle colorations and compositions possessed a physical presence beyond mere image.




Todi is one of the most famous Hindustani ragas, yet paradoxically, I never came across a recording that I truly enjoyed, and because it is a morning raga, I never heard it performed live with nearly all Indian classical concerts in the Western world held in the evening. All of this inspired me to attempt my own composition (above), and it was a pleasant surprise to find myself extremely comfortable within Todi’s imposing melodic structure, which, technically speaking, includes four minor seconds, two minor thirds, and one major second.

When I began contemplating the specific form and content of my 2006 composition, the unusual melodic shape and rasa (expressive nature) of Todi led to selecting a clarinet and trumpet timbre together with another major influence – Baroque music – expressed by a harpsichord timbre.



Hansadhvani, a janya raga belonging to Dhirasankarabharanam mela, has a deep emotional connection for me established mostly through a recording by Shivkumar Sharma, and my viewings of two swans that live in a protected place here in Los Angeles. It is a pentatonic raga that is beyond beautiful, with origins rooted in the voice of the swan. My instincts tell me that the raga also depicts the undulating shape of a swan's body.

- Michael Robinson, June 2017, Los Angeles


© 2017 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).