Motion is the significance of life, and the law of motion
is rhythm. Rhythm is life disguised in motion, and in every
guise it seems to attract the attention of man; from a child
who is pleased with the moving of a rattle and is soothed by
the swing of its cradle, to a grown person whose every game,
sport and enjoyment has rhythm disguised in it in some way or
another, whether it is a game of tennis, cricket or golf, as
well as boxing and wrestling. Again, in the intellectual recreations
of man, both poetry and music, vocal or instrumental, have rhythm
as their very spirit and life. There is a saying in Sanskrit
that tone is the mother of nature, but that rhythm is its father.
An infant once given the habit of a regular time for his food
demands it at that time, although he has no idea of time. This
is accounted for by the fact that the very nature of life is
rhythm. The infant begins his life on earth by moving its arms
and legs, thus showing the rhythm of its nature, and illustrating
the philosophy which teaches that rhythm is the sign of life.
The inclination to dance shown by every man illustrates also
that innate nature of beauty which chooses rhythm for its expression.
Rhythm produces an ecstasy which is inexplicable, and incomparable
with any other source of intoxication. This is why the dance
has been the most fascinating pastime of all people, both civilized
and savage, and has delighted alike saint and sinner. The races
which show a tendency for strongly accentuated rhythm must be
vigorous by nature. Jazz has come from the Negroes, and the
syncopation is the secret of its charm and is the natural expression
of their racial rhythm. Its rhythm arouses a kind of life among
performers and audience alike, and it is the love of this life
that has given such popularity to jazz. The dances among many
wild tribes in different parts of the world show a most pronounced
rhythm, which proves that rhythm is not a culture, but is natural.
Among Europeans, the Spanish, Poles, Hungarians and Russians
show the greatest tendency toward rhythm.
The secret of the success of the Russian ballet and the Spanish
dance lies in their exquisite rhythm. Among the Asiatic races
the music of the Mongolians is chiefly based on rhythm, it being
more pronounced than melody in their music. In Turkish and Persian
music rhythm is also pronounced, and among the Arabs the variety
of rhythms is very vast. In India however the culture of rhythm
has reached perfection. An expert musician in India improvises
a melody, keeping the same time throughout the whole improvisation.
In order to become a master musician in India, one must master
thoroughly not only raga, the scale, but also tala,
the rhythm. Indians as a race are naturally inclined to rhythm;
their dance Tandava Nritya, the dance of the South, is
an expression of rhythm through movement.
In the Hindu science of music there are five different rhythms
which are generally derived from the study of nature;
- Caturasra, the rhythm of four beats, which was invented
by Devas or divine men.
- Tisra, the rhythm of three beats, invented by Rishis
- Khanda, the rhythm of five beats, in vented by the Rakshasas,
- Mishra, the rhythm of seven beats, invented by the people.
- Sankirna, the rhythm of nine beats, invented by the
Mahadeva, the great Lord of the Yogis, was the dancer of
Tandava Nritya and his consort Parvati danced the
The traditions of the Hindus have as a most sacred record
the mystical legend of Shri Krishna dancing with the Gopis.
The story relates how Krishna, the charming youthful Lord of
the Hindus, was moving among the dwellings of the cowherds,
and every maiden attracted by his beauty and charm asked him
to dance with her. He promised every maiden that asked him to
dance with him that he would dance with her on the full moon.
On the night of the full moon there assembled sixteen hundred
Gopis, and the miracle of Krishna was performed when he appeared
as a separate Krishna to each Gopi and all of them danced with
their beloved Lord at one and the same time.
There is a tradition in Islam, where music, dancing, and
all amusements and light occupations are strictly prohibited,
that on one occasion, it being a holiday, the Prophet called
his wife Ayesha to look at the dance and listen to the music
of some street musicians. In the meantime his great Khalif happened
to come by and was shocked at seeing the Prophet who had prohibited
such things himself permitting music in front of his house.
When he stopped the music of the street players, pointing out
to them that it was the house of the Prophet, Muhammad requested
that they might continue, saying that it was a holiday and that
there is no heart that does not move with the motion of rhythm.
In the traditions of the Sufis Raqs, the sacred dance
of spiritual ecstasy which even now is prevalent among the Sufis
of the East, is traced to the time when contemplation of the
Creator impressed the wonderful reality of his vision so deeply
on the heart of Jalaluddin Rumi that he became entirely
absorbed in the whole and single immanence of nature, and took
a rhythmic turn which caused the skirt of his garment to form
a circle, and the movements of his hands and neck made a circle;
and it is the memory of this moment of vision which is celebrated
in the dance of dervishes. Even in the lower creation, among
beasts and birds, their joy is always expressed in dance; a
bird like the peacock, when conscious of his beauty and of the
beauty of the forest around him, expresses his joy in dance.
Dance arouses passion and emotion in all living creatures.
In the East, and especially in India where the life of the
people for centuries has been based on psychological principles,
in the royal processions or at durbars an impression of kingly
grandeur is made upon the minds of people by the beating of
drums; and the same beating of drums takes place at wedding
ceremonies and at the services in the temples.
Sufis, in order to awaken in man that part of his emotional
nature which is generally asleep, have a rhythmic practice which
sets the whole mechanism of body and mind in rhythm. There exists
in all people, either consciously or unconsciously, a tendency
toward rhythm. Among European nations the expression of pleasure
is shown by the clapping of the hands; a farewell sign is made
by the waving of the hand which makes rhythm.
All labor and toil, however hard and difficult, is made easy
by the power of rhythm in some way or other. This idea opens
to the thinker a means for a still deeper study of life.
Rhythm in every guise, be it called game, play, amusement,
poetry, music or dance, is the very nature of man's whole constitution.
When the entire mechanism of his body is working in a rhythm,
the beat of the pulse, of the heart, of the head, the circulation
of the blood, hunger and thirst, all show rhythm, and it is
the breaking of rhythm that is called disease. When the child
is crying and the mother does not know what ails it, she holds
it in her arms and pats it on the back. This sets the circulation
of the blood, the pulsation's and the whole mechanism of the
body in rhythm; in other words sets the body in order, and soothes
the child. The nursery rhyme 'Pat-a-cake', which is known all
the world over in some form or other, cures a child of fretfulness
by setting its whole being in rhythm.
Therefore physicians depend more upon the examination of
the pulse than on anything else in discovering the true nature
of disease, together with the examination of the beat of the
heart and the movement of the lungs in the chest and back.
Rhythm plays a most important part not only in the body,
but in the mind also; the change from joy to sorrow, the rising
and fall of thoughts and the whole working of the mind show
rhythm, and all confusion and despair seem to be accounted for
by the lack of rhythm in mind.
In ancient times healers in the East, and especially those
in India, when healing a patient of any complaint of a psychological
character, known either as an obsession or an effect of magic,
excited the emotional nature of the patient by the emphatic
rhythm of their drum and song, at the same time making the patient
swing his head up and down in time to the music. This aroused
his emotions and prompted him to tell the secret of his complaint
which hitherto had been hidden under the cover of fear, convention,
and forms of society. The patient confessed everything to the
healer under the spell produced by the rhythm and the healer
was enabled to discover the source of the malady.
The words 'thoughtful' and 'thoughtless' signify a rhythmic
or unrhythmic state of the mind; and balance, which is the only
upholding power in life, is kept by rhythm. Respiration, which
keeps mind and body connected and which links the mind and soul,
consists in keeping rhythm every moment when awake or asleep;
inhaling and exhaling may be likened to the moving and swinging
of the pendulum of a clock. As all strength and energy is maintained
by breath, and as breath is the sign of life, and its nature
is to flow alternately on the right and left side, all this
proves rhythm to be of the greatest significance in life.
As rhythm is innate in man and maintains his health, so upon
rhythm depend all a man's affairs in life; his success, his
failure, his right acts and his wrong acts, all are accounted
for in some way or other by a change of rhythm. The instinct
of flying in the bird is a rhythmic movement of the wings; and
it is the same tendency of rhythmic contraction which makes
the fish swim and the snake glide.
A keen observation shows that the whole universe is a single
mechanism working by the law of rhythm; the rise and fall of
the waves, the ebb and flow of the tide, the waxing and waning
of the moon, the sunrise and the sunset, the change of the seasons,
the moving of the earth and of the planets, the whole cosmic
system and the constitution of the entire universe are working
under the law of rhythm. Cycles of rhythm, with major and minor
cycles interpenetrating, uphold the whole creation in their
swing. This demonstrates the origin of manifestation: that motion
has sprung from the motionless life, and that every motion must
necessarily result in a dual aspect. As soon as you move a stick,
the single movement will make two points, the one where it starts
and the other where it ends, the one strong and the other weak;
to these a music conductor will count 'one, two,' 'one,
two,' a strong accent and a weak accent: one motion with two
effects, each distinct and different from the other. It is this
mystery that lies hidden under the dual aspect of all phases
and forms of life; and the reason, cause, and significance of
all life is found in rhythm.
There is a psychological conception of rhythms used in poetry
or music which may be explained thus: every rhythm has a certain
effect, not only upon the physical and mental bodies of the
poet, on him for whom the poetry is written, on the musician,
or on him to whom the song is sung, but even upon their life's
affairs. The belief is that it can bring good or bad luck to
the poet and musician or to the one who listens. The idea is
that rhythm is hidden under the root of every activity, constructive
or destructive, so that on the rhythm of every activity the
fate of the affair depends. Expressions used in everyday speech
such as, 'he was too late', or, 'it was done too soon', or 'that
was done in time', all show the influence of rhythm upon the
affair. Events such as the sinking of the Titanic, and the amazing
changes that took place during the late war, if keenly studied
can be accounted for by rhythm working in both mental and physical
There is a superstition among Indians that when somebody
yawns, someone else who is present must either snap his fingers
or clap his hands. The hidden meaning of this is that a yawn
is significant of the slowing down of the rhythm, and that by
clicking the fingers or clapping the hands one is supposed to
bring the rhythm back to the original state. A Muslim child
when reading the Quran moves his head backwards and forwards;
this is popularly supposed to be a respectful bow to the sacred
words that he reads; but psychologically speaking it helps him
to memorize the Quran by regulating the circulation and making
the brain a receptive vehicle, as when filling a bottle one
sometimes shakes it in order to make more room. This also may
be seen when a person nods the head in accepting an idea or
shakes it when he cannot take it in.
The mechanism of every kind of machinery that works by itself
is arranged and kept going by the law of rhythm; and this is
another proof of the fact that the whole mechanism of the universe
is based on the law of rhythm.