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Volume II - The Mysticism of Music, Sound and Word

Part II: Music

Chapter VI

A great Indian poet sang in Sanskrit the praise of the vina, 'That instrument of gut strings! By looking at it, by touching it, by hearing it you can be made free, even if you kill a Brahmin!' And to kill a Brahmin is considered to be the greatest of all sins.

This instrument was invented by the Lord of the Yogis, Shiva, Whose name is also Mahadeva. He gave to the world his lifelong experiences in the practice of Yoga and is worshipped in India as a godhead. His scriptures are considered to be holy. He was a great master of breathing and an ascetic; he lived in the mountains, where he sat and breathed the free air of the wide horizons of the East and practiced Mantras, words and phrases, which change the whole being of man. Then he wanted to make some instrument to be used for higher exaltation through music. In the forest he cut a piece of bamboo. He then took two pumpkins, hollowed them out and tied them onto the bamboo. He made gut strings from animals and these he tied on to the instrument; in this way he made the first vina, and he practiced on it in the solitude. It is told that when the deer in the forest heard him play they used to say, 'Make the strings of my own veins, and put them on your vina, but as long as I live, continue to play'.

Mahadeva made his instrument as a help for the human body and mind, considering its condition in the morning, in the midst of the day, in the afternoon, in the night and when waking at dawn. He found that at every time of the day and night a particular effect was made upon the human body and spirit, and that a rhythm akin to that particular time should be prescribed psychologically and mystically in order to elevate the soul. And therefore a psychological science of music was made by Mahadeva, a science which was called Raga which means emotion; emotion controlled and used to the best purpose. When his consort Parvati saw this instrument, she said; 'I must invent my vina'. So she took halves of the pumpkins and produced another kind of vina, the Sarasvati vina. So there are two vinas; men play one, the other by women. On this latter instrument not only sharp and flat notes are produced, but also microtones, and in this way the music becomes rich. But to develop the science of microtones is so difficult that it takes a lifetime.

The musicians of India devote twelve hours or more of the day to the practice of the different rhythms, improvising on them. And in the end they produce a psychological effect which is not music but magic; a magic that can thrill a person and that can penetrate the heart of man. It is a dream, a meditation; it is paradise. When hearing it, one feels one is in a different world. Yet their music is hardly audible. Instead of it being played before thousands of people, only one or two or three persons of the same quality and nature come together to enjoy that music thoroughly. If a foreign element is present the musician does not feel inspired.

Once a musician was invited to play the vina. The musician came and was welcomed. He uncovered his vina. Then he looked here and there, and found some discord. He covered his vina, saluted and began to leave. Those present felt disappointed and begged him to play; but his answer was, 'No matter what you give me, I do not feel like playing'. This is a very different thing from making a program months ahead. The musician in the west is bound six months beforehand to play a certain program; he is helpless. But in this way it is not music, it is labor, it is done mechanically. A singer in the East never knows what he is going to sing before he starts singing. He feels the atmosphere of the place and the time and then begins to sing or to play whatever comes to his mind. It is a very special thing. I do not mean to say that music of this kind can be universal music; it belongs to some rare person in a secluded place.

In India musicians are now dying out because of lack of appreciation. Those potentates, those Gurus, those teachers of high inspiration who lived in the past, appreciated this music. But even in India people are becoming industrialized and more materialistic, and music is dying. There are very few now of those musicians of former times who would make all those who listened spellbound; they hardly exist any longer. Among millions there are perhaps three or four and they will have vanished in a few years. Maybe one day the Western world will awaken to India's music as now the West is awakening to the poetry of the East, and beginning to appreciate such works as those of Rabindranath Tagore. There will come a time when they will ask for music of that kind too, and then it will not be found, it will be too late. But there is no doubt that if that music, which is magic and which is built on a psychological basis is introduced in the West, it will root out all such things as jazz. People seem to spoil their senses. This music is destroying their delicacy of sense. Thousands every day are dancing to jazz music and they forget the effect it has upon their spirit, upon their mind, upon their delicate senses.

There was a prince of Rampur who wanted to study music with a great teacher. But the teacher knew the character of the prince who was fond of music, and he understood that many musicians would want to show their talents before him. He said, 'I can only teach you on one condition: I do not want to hear any musician who is not an accomplished artist, because your sense of music must not be destroyed; it must be preserved for delicate music, it must be able to appreciate the fine intricacies.'

When the education of the public destroys the delicacy of its musical appreciation, it cannot help the fact that it does not like listening to real music but prefers jazz. Instead of going forward, it is going backward. And if music which is the central theme of the whole human culture is not helping people to go forward, it is a great pity.

Vina-music is very much like the human voice. If you heard the vina played, you would never think that it is an instrument. Vina music is not as magnetic as the music of the human voice, but it is more attractive, more impressive. And all the delicacies of the human voice and its silky structure are perfected in the sound of the vina.

checked 23-Oct-2005