Music, literature, and philosophy are akin to our souls,
whatever be our faith or belief or our way of looking at life.
India, in the history of the world, represents a country and
a people engaged in the search for truth through the realm of
music, philosophy and poetry at a time when the rest of the
world had not yet begun to do so. It is therefore necessary
to study Indian music, philosophy, and poetry in order to understand
their foundation. Linguists today agree that the Sanskrit language
was the origin or mother of many languages. The origin of the
science of music is also to be found in Sanskrit.
It is a fact that not only art, but even science has its
source in intuition. This seems to have been sometimes forgotten,
but undoubtedly even the scientist is helped by intuition, although
he may not always recognize the fact. Scientists who have delved
deeply into their science will admit this. Intuition working
in answer to the need of the mind and the body, inventing, through
matter, things of daily use, and gaining knowledge of the nature
and character of things, is called science. Intuition working
through beauty, which is produced in the form of line and color
and rhythm, is called art. Therefore, the source of both science
and art is intuition.
Realizing this source, the Hindus based their music on intuition,
and the practice of Indian music has been a culture of stimulating
intuition, and awakening the faculty of appreciating beautiful
sounds and often words, and expressing itself in beautiful forms.
In India, life has always begun with the soul; therefore
science, art, philosophy, and mysticism were all directed to
one and the same goal. And not only arts and sciences, but even
professions and commerce were not without a religious view.
One can imagine how in a country where even business and professional
men had a spiritual outlook, the musicians life was full of
No part of the world, East or West, can really deny the divinity
of music. In the first place, music is the language of the soul.
And for two people of different nations or races to unite there
is no better means than music. For music not only unites man
to man, but man to God. Now, the question comes: when is it
that music unites man with God, and how? Belief in God has two
aspects. One belief in God is when a person thinks, 'Perhaps
there is a God,' or 'As others believe, I believe too.' He does
not know God by reason nor does he see God before him. God for
him is perhaps in heaven. Whether He exists or does not exist,
he does not know. And from one who has just this kind of belief,
a little confusion or disappointment or injustice takes it away.
It is for this reason that thousands and thousands of men who
worshipped God gave up their belief in Him.
There is another aspect of belief, and it is gained through
the realization of God's presence, not only in the heavens,
but in one's own surroundings. When a person arrives at this
point, this belief becomes a living identity. To him God is
not only a judge or a sustainer. To him, He is a friend who
hears the cry of his soul in the solitude, and knows the best
and greatest secret he has in his heart. A Friend upon whom
one can always rely in good and bad experiences, and even in
the hereafter. For a musician, music is the best way to unite
with God. A musician with a belief in God brings to God the
beauty and perfume and the color of his soul.
From the metaphysical point of view there is nothing that
can touch the formless except the art of music, which in itself
is formless. There is another point of view: that the innermost
being of man is the Akasha, which means capacity. Therefore,
all that is directed from the external world to the world within
can reach this realm, and music can reach it best. A third point
of view is that all creation came from vibrations, which the
Hindus have called Nada. In the Bible, we can find it
as the Word, which came first of all. On this point all the
different religions unite. Man, therefore, loves music more
than anything else. Music is his nature, it has come from vibrations
and he himself is vibration.
There are two aspects of life: the first is that man is tuned
by his surroundings, and the second is that man can tune himself
in spite of his surroundings. This latter is the work of the
mystic. The Sufis in the East work for years together to tune
themselves. By the help of music they tune themselves to the
spheres where they wish to be, as the Yogis do. Therefore, the
beginning of music in India was at the time of Shiva, Lord of
the Yogis. The great yogi teacher taught to the world the science
of breath. Among the Sufis there was a great saint, Muinuddin
Chishti of Ajmer. At his grave music is played, the Hindus and
Muslims go their on pilgrimage. This shows that the religion
of the knowers of truth is the religion of God. The prayer of
the greatest devotee rises from his heart into the realm of
music. All the various methods of bringing about calm and peace
can be attained through the help of music.
The music of India can be divided into four periods: the
Sanskrit period, the Prakrit period, the Mogul period and the
modern period. The Sanskrit period is on mystical lines. The
Prakrit period is expressive of emotions of different sorts.
In the Mogul period music was influenced by Persia and Arabia,
and developed into modern music. Besides this, the two different
races in India, the Dravidians and the Aryans, both had their
own tradition of music. The Dravidians or Karnatic race produced
the music of Southern India, and the Aryans or Hindus, produced
the music of Northern India.
The science of Indian music has come from three sources:
mathematics, astrology, and psychology. We find this in Western
music also, for the entire science of harmony and counterpoint
is based on mathematics. In Sanskrit the science of Hindu music
is called Prestara, which means mathematical arrangement
of rhythm and modes.
In the Indian system there are a great many modes and rhythms
which are used in everyday music. The modes are called ragas,
and they are grouped together in four classes. One class has
seven notes, as in the natural scale of Western music. Then
there are the modes of six notes, where one note of the seven-note
raga is omitted. That gives quite another effect to the octave
and has a different influence on the human mind. There are also
ragas of five notes, omitting two notes of the scale. In China
they use a scale of four notes, but not in India.
Some say that the origin of the scale of four or five notes
lies in the natural instinct that man shows in his discovery
of instruments. The first instrument was the flute, symbolical
of the human voice. It seems natural that after taking a piece
of reed from the forest, man would make four holes in that reed
at distances where he could place the tips of his fingers without
effort, and would then make one hole below. That made the raga
of five notes. It was only later that scientists arrived at
the knowledge of vibrations. But this scale comes naturally
when a man places his hand on the reed, and a great psychological
power seems to be attached to it. It has a great influence on
human nature. This shows that the power of anything deriving
directly from nature is much greater than when man has made
changes and alterations in order to create a new form in art.
The science of astrology was based on the science of cosmic
vibrations, for everything depends on vibratory conditions,
including the position of the stars and planets and of individuals,
nations, races and all objects. A great deal of secret power
which the Hindus have found in the science of music has been
derived from the science of astrology. Every note of Hindu music
corresponds with a certain planet. And every note reflects a
certain pitch of the animal world.
In the ancient Vedas, the science of the elements, fire,
water, air and ether, is to be found. These words should not
be taken as meaning the same as in everyday language. The element
of water for instance signifies a liquid state. Fire signifies
heat or warmth. Through this science the Hindus have been able
to arrange some ragas or modes to be sung or played at a certain
time of day or night. Undoubtedly, those who knew the alchemy
of the vibrations have worked wonders by the power of their
music. After the songs have been sung for thousands of years,
the race has developed such a sense of appreciation of these
ragas, that even an ordinary man in the street cannot bear to
hear a morning raga sung in the evening. He may not know the
notes, but to his ears it sounds disagreeable. He cannot bear
to hear it. It is like taking a stroll on a midsummer morning
wearing an evening dress! We may say it is a matter of habit,
and that is true. But at the same time, a mode that should be
sung in the middle of the night loses its beautiful influence
if we sing it at noon.
Every planet has a certain influence, and there must be a
certain mode to answer it. If this is not taken into consideration
music may become a pastime. But it does not do the work for
which it is designed.
To an Indian, music is not an amusement or only for entertainment.
It is something more than that. It answers the deepest demands
of the soul. Man is not only a physical body, he has a mind
too. The body hungers for food, and what generally happens is
that man only ministers to his bodily needs and gives no attention
to his inner existence and its demands. He experiences momentary
satisfaction but then he hungers again, not knowing that the
soul is the finest of man's being. And so that unconscious craving
of the soul remains.
In the undeveloped person that silent craving of the soul
becomes something disagreeable and makes him restless or irritated.
He does not feel contented with anything in life, he feels like
quarrelling and fighting. In the person of fine feeling, this
hunger of the soul expresses itself in depression and despair.
He finds some satisfaction in love of reading, love of art.
The soul feels buried in the outer, material world, and the
soul feels satisfied and living when it is touched with fine
vibrations. The finest matter is spirit and the grosser spirit
is matter. Music, being the finest of the arts, helps the soul
to rise above differences. It unites souls, because even words
are not necessary. Music is beyond words.
The Hindu music is unique in character, for the player and
singer are given perfect freedom in expressing their soul through
their art. The character of the Indian nature can be understood
by the spirit of individualism. The whole education tends to
individualism, to express one's self in whatever form one is
capable of. Therefore, in some ways to their disadvantage, but
in many ways to their advantage, they have to express their
freedom. Uniformity has its advantages, but it very often paralyzes
progress in art.
There are two ways in life, uniformity and individualism.
Uniformity has its strength, but individualism has its beauty.
When one hears an artist, a singer of Hindu music, the first
thing he will do is to tune his tambura, to give one
chord. While he tunes his tambura he tunes his own soul, and
this has such an influence on his hearers that they can wait
patiently, often for a considerable time. Once he finds he is
in tune with his instrument, with that chord, his soul, mind
and body all seem to be one with the instrument. A person with
a sensitive heart listening to his song, even a foreigner, will
perceive the way he sings into that chord, the way he tunes
his spirit to that chord. And by that time he has become concentrated,
and by that time he has tuned himself to all who are there.
Not only has he tuned the instrument, but he has felt the need
of every soul in the audience and the demands of their souls,
what they want at that time. Not every musician can do this.
But the best can. When he synthesizes, and it all comes automatically
as he begins his song, it seems that it touches every person
in the audience, for it is all the answer to the demand of the
souls that are sitting there. He has not made a program beforehand.
He does not know what he will sing next. But each time he is
inspired to sing a certain song, or to play a certain mode.
He becomes an instrument of the whole cosmic system, open to
all inspiration, at one with the audience, in tune with the
chord of the tambura, and it is not only music, but spiritual
phenomena that he gives to the people.
The traditional ancient songs of India composed by great
Masters have been handed down from father to son. The way music
is taught is different from the Western way. It is not always
written, but it is taught by imitation. The teacher sings and
the pupil imitates, and all the intricacies and subtleties are
learned by imitation.
It is the mystical aspect of music which has been the secret
of all religions. The great ones of this world such as Christ,
Buddha, and others have come from time to time to be examples
for the people, and to express that perfection which is the
object of every soul. The secret which was hidden behind all
these great religions, and in the work of these teachers, was
that man should reach that utmost height which is called perfection.
It is the principle which is taught from the first lesson the
musician gives to his pupils. The pupil does not only imitate
the teacher. He focuses his spirit upon the spirit of the teacher.
He not only learns, but he inherits from his teacher.
The lack we find today of spiritual awakening, the reason
so many seekers after truth have not come to a satisfactory
result, is that they always pursue it outwardly. They take it
from a book or learn it from a teacher. There was a time in
the East, and this still exists even now, when a little boy
who went to a teacher to learn, had a great regard for his teacher;
his respect, his attitude toward his teacher was as it would
be towards a priest. Therefore, in this manner he learned to
value and appreciate and respect the knowledge of the teacher.
It is most wonderful to read about the lives of the great singers
in India, how they imitated their teachers, and how they sometimes
became even greater than their teachers.
The object of Indian music is the training of the mind and
the soul, for music is the best way of concentration. When you
tell a person to concentrate on a certain object, the very fact
of trying to concentrate makes his mind more disturbed. But
music, which attracts the soul, keeps the mind concentrated.
If one only knows how to appreciate it and give one's mind to
it, keeping all other things away, one naturally develops the
power of concentration.
Besides the beauty of music, there is the tenderness, which
brings life to the heart. For a person of fine feelings, of
kindly thought, life in the world is very trying. It is jarring,
and it sometimes has a freezing effect. It makes the heart,
so to speak, frozen. In that condition one experiences depression,
and the whole of life becomes distasteful. The very life, which
is meant to be heaven, becomes a place of suffering.
If one can focus one's heart on music, it is just like warming
something that was frozen. The heart returns to its natural
condition, and the rhythm regulates the beating of the heart,
which helps to restore health of body, mind, and soul, and bring
them to their proper tuning. The joy of life depends upon the
perfect tuning of mind and body.