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Article: WAAH!: The ecstatic exclamation of appreciation

By Haresh Bakshi
  A tastefully decorated stage. Right atmosphere. The performing artist in a great, creative mood. The audience in a great, receptive mood.

Now the tanpura-s start streaming. The tabla is being tuned. The artist is sitting patiently, praying Goddess Saraswati, or his religious Guru, to bless him, and his performance which he is about to begin.

The tonic, 'Sa', is the artist's opening note. It is smooth and soft and sweet, imperceptibly gradual and subtle. It fills the air, reaching his expectant audience as if surreptitiously. Though this opening 'Sa' lasts for only a few seconds, yet it is the synopsis of the entire history of the aesthetics of Indian classical music; it is the summary of all the inspired work of artists from one generation to another; it is the encapsulation of the exquisite beauty of the vast culture which produced Indian music; it is the very epitome of the embellishments that will soon follow; it is the very incarnation of the Deity, the Raga. The 'Sa' is always present in all the raga-s, but this 'Sa' somehow belongs exclusively to the raga being performed by the artist. This could elicit the first of many hushed "WAAH!"-s from the audience which is sitting completely still, enraptured by the music. As the improvisation proceeds, many embellishments, delicate executions of nuances, deft and elegant expressions of great skill, flowing taan-s, exposition of exquisite melodic patterns -- all these bring out many more "WAAH!"-s as the listeners in rapt attention express their delighted approval.

Tis "WAAH!" is used by different listeners to express different aspects of Unqualified, uncontaminated admiration. Thus, it is an expression of delighted approval; a communication to demonstrate esteem; it is the delighted or astonished approbation, appreciation; adoration, reverence, veneration, worship; deference, homage, honor; cherishing, and prizing.

It is a burst of unrestrained expression of emotion, an act,a process, or instance of erupting; an abrupt excited utterance: overflowing with joyful enthusiasm; exuberance, ecstasy: a state of being carried away by overwhelming emotion; a state of elated bliss; a state of rapturous delight; a state of being beyond reason and self-control; a kind of trance, especially a mystic trance.

"WAAH!" is given out unashamedly, without self-consciousness. Each "WAAH" is a listener's compliment from the bottom of his heart.

Realization of the raga as the IDEA (in Platonic sense of the term), it is recognition of the raga as the universal archetypal essence in which all the individuals, whether performers or listeners, coming under a universal concept participate. Plato used the Greek word idea to designate the universal Forms.

There is no performer, there is no listener; there is only music -- no, not even music; there is just unstruck Sound, Nada-Brahma, in total void. Even the raga feels like personifying as a Deity, so as to enjoy being glorified by the devotees of music.

The story goes somewhat like this: King Akbar challenged Birbal to devise a ruthlessly rigorous test to identify those music listeners in his court, who could not help appreciating music very genuinely. Birbal agreed, and Akbar, following Birbal's suggested plan, in a state-wide proclamation, warned the people that anyone nodding his head and uttering "WAAH!" during a musical performance in his court, would be beheaded. Fear struck the audience attending the music performance in Akbar's court, when Tansen, one of the greatest singers ever, was singing at his very best. Nobody in the audience dared to nod his head and utter "WAAH!" in appreciation -- except the few, who could not help doing so, in sheer and genuine ecstasy. Akbar spotted them and ordered them beheaded. It was then that Birbal told Akbar that this was the test of genuine appreciation of music, devised according to the King's desire. Akbar pardoned those who could not help uttering "WAAH!" even under threat to their life, Indeed, Akbar rewarded them.

I do not know what expressions convey appreciation of Western music by Western audiences during a musical performance.

The listener who expresses "WAAH!" is mostly quite uninitiated in music. He is neither trained nor learned. His sole qulification is his intuition, his innate ability to enjoy the most aesthetically pleasing musical nuances and niceties. In fact, such listeners' pre-eminent qualification is their naivete. I would dare to add that, in general, the more "educated and learned" the listeners are, the less spontaneous their "WAAH!" is likely to become: they may try to evaluate 'intellectually' what is a purely aesthetic (if not also spiritual) experience. This intereference of the intellect introduces delay and doubt, causing such listeners to miss the whole point of listening.




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