Saturday, April 14, 2012

How our universe began

Today I write about the very beginning of all that is known, the big bang. This is what created the universe, and all of space and time as well. There is nothing known before this happened. This is the fundamental base of astronomy (the science of celestial objects and their study) too. This created all existing matter.

Billions of year back, our universe did not exist the same way it does today. Much happened to form the universe we presently live in. Let me make the process simple, in steps.

(Image courtesy:

1. 14 billion years - The earliest thing known to exist was a tiny, red, extremely hot (4 trillion degrees Celsius) ball. This singularity was the earliest stage of the universe.

2. Within a fraction of a second, the ball grew to the size of a football. Due to a super-force it expanded within a tiny fraction of a second to the size of the universe. This is called inflation. As it grew in size, it got cooler and cooler.

3. Forces separated from the ball and created a huge cloudy and soupy material made of very tiny particles (smaller than atoms), like quarks.

4. Quarks and anti-quarks which make matter and anti-matter respectively, destroyed each other and some of the matter survived at the end.

5. Quarks combined to form subatomic particles, and these subatomic particles fused (joined) to form the simplest atom, of Hydrogen. Hydrogen atoms fused to form Helium atoms, which in turn fused to form Lithium and so all gases were formed.

6. Due to expansion of universe radiations are stretched and diluted to exist in the form of microwaves which  are present throughout the universe.

7. These gases curdled into strands with black holes (empty spaces which suck up everything) in between.

8. Clouds combined to form galaxies and stars were created.

Our sun is a medium - sized star. All stars have their respective systems, and our sun's system is known as the solar system. The sun, the 8 planets, their moons, the asteroids, meteors together form the solar system.

(image courtesy:

Here's a timeline of the big bang:

1. 10-43 seconds - the universe starts as a little hot ball
2. 10-35 - 10-33 seconds - inflation of the ball and cooling down
3. 10-6 seconds - separation of forces and tiny particles formed
4. 3 seconds - formation of hydrogen and helium atoms
5. 10, 000 years - radiations form microwaves
6. 300, 000 years - electrons link with hydrogen and helium atoms to form neutrons
7. 300 million years - formation of stars and galaxies

What would be the future of our universe? The universe could either continue expanding, or it would experience a 'Big Crunch', which is the opposite of a big bang. Isn't it surprise to imagine our universe in such a way? Life itself appeared on earth much later. I will post about that another time :)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Have you heard 'Hindustani' Raags of 3 minutes?

Indian classical music is of two kinds, Hindustani of north India and Carnatic of south India. Though these have many distinguishing features, many concepts are shared, the main difference being the way they are presented. They are dominated by Raags, melodic modes with fixed features for each one. These are explored and their beauty is displayed through various slow and fast speeds. There are 3 main octaves, the Mandra (low), Madhya (middle) and Taar (high) Saptaks (collection of seven fundamental notes Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa Dha, Ni, Sa equalling the western Solf├Ęge - Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti). These are explored along with restrictions like leaving behind a few or using Komal (note below its natural position) and Teevra (note above its natural position) for particular notes, depending on the Raag.

Hindustani music has many kinds of 'main' songs from various Raags, which go along with various combination displays of notes, etc (all from the same Raag when one Raag is sung). Everything depends on the restriction of the Raag. The most popular usage in vocal Hindustani music is of Bandish. Consisting of:
  • a kind of main song, a Khayal - usually with poetrydisplaying intense feelings using good lyrics. The slower one is Badakhayal (generally sung first) and the faster one the Chotakhayal. Usually 4 - 6 lines.
  • Alaap, slowly exploring the Raag with its combinations and displaying its beauty, generally sung using some phrases like Aa (called Aakar), Nom, Tom, etc.
  • Swar Alaap, Sargam, Laykaari showing note combinations of the Raag using the respective note - names. Generally a bit faster than the slow Alaap.
  • Bol Alaap, matching note - phrases with beginning words from the Khayal and using words to show note combinations.
  • Bol Taan, matching speedy trills with beginning words from the Khayal.
  • Taan, speedy trills using various note patterns. 
In the above, all Alaaps begin from lower octaves and slowly proceed towards higher octaves. The mood and feeling of the Raag is explored slowly and with various combinations are listed above created by self - thinking (etymology of Khayal/Khyal: either Khel i.e. game in Hindi Khayal in Hindi or Khayal = thinking in Urdu from Farsi), understanding the Raag and its restrictions. The best possible combinations are used and bring out the Raag beautifully. Hence it takes a lot of time, and usual concerts/performances last upto 2 hours.

At the beginning of recording in India (the first Hindustani recording dating to 1902), records were limited to 3 minutes and the like. So long performances were not possible. But vintage music was predominantly classical (apart from semi - classical music and folk music, the latter being quite limited to local folk). So the earliest records were classical and semi - classical. As far as Bandishes are concerned, Chotakhayals which were faster were generally sung. Bol Alaaps and Taans were the common parts to go along with these. But still, limiting it to less than 5 minutes was something really difficult, but an art which few great classical singers were quite adept at.

This is quite an impressive feat and some artists like Gauharjaan Ji, Zohrabai Ji of Agra, Jankibai Ji of Allahabad and Malkajaan Ji of Agra among others, who were paid princely amounts for performing for a period of time for the first recording company in India, HMV (His Master's Voice). They were famous for showing the best possible substance of the Raag within a limited period of time. The artists had to announce their names at the end for technicians to produce it on the records. These date back to the period 1900 - 1930.

Listen to some mellifluous renditions by the above mentioned sweet and powerful voices. Video courtesy of respective uploaders from Youtube.

Gauharjaan Ji - Raag Bhoopali - Chotakhayal
Gauharjaan Ji - Raag Multani - Chotakhayal
Zohrabai Ji of Agra - Raag Bhoopali - Tarana
Zohrabai Ji of Agra - Raag Sohni - Chotakhayal
Jankibai Ji of Allahabad - Raag Bhairavi - Chotakhayal
Jankibai Ji of Allahabad - Raag Sohni - Chotakhayal
Malkajaan Ji of Agra - a Hori (a kind of song dedicated to the Indian festival Holi)

In the last video's page wrong information has been given that Malkajaan was Gauharjaan's mother whereas they were just contemporaries.