Devotional Music



Spiritualism has been the key content of Carnatic music. The beautiful interweaving of the devotional element and aesthetics have made it ethereal and eternal. The basic idea behind compositions has been to see and seek God. In fact, it has been said that the easiest way to attain salvation is to sing the greatness of the Almighty.

The saints, seers and composers of classical music have basically composed songs only as a means of expressing their devout feelings and also to communicate with the ‘self’ and ‘soul’. Music, when presented to God as an offering, inspires the person and the devotional excitement therein, gives rise to a torrent of tuneful outpourings. Singing in praise of God awakens the singer’s consciousness of the Divine and makes him / her sensitive to the divine message. Songs, therefore, establish a direct contact between the divine and human spheres, between the spiritual and phenomenal realms. Song is the element of motion that brings forth the desired union. This vital element and the vocalized glorification of God in the tradition of devotional religion indicate that the Indian Bhakti movement must have been initiated and advanced by poet-singers rather than theoreticians.

Music and singing in particular, is the most spontaneous form of human expression. The words of a song represent its rational basis, while the melody brings forth the sentiments concealed in poetry. The poet-saints of Bhakti never composed their devotional verses as merely literary artifacts but clad them in melody and sang them before the chosen deity. The fundamental corollary to elucidate, present and advance this spiritual urge and carry the masses too along the chartered route, was the need for a pliable effective instrument. The effectiveness of the spiritual exercise and the sure attainment of the goal rested on the selection of that specific instrument which would produce the expected results and could also be handled with ease and certainty by the initiated, connoisseur and the lay. Easy accessibility, ready availability and the communicative potential of this means were the primary criteria for selection. And music has been tested and found the most satisfactory tool as it attracts, enchants, enthralls and easily appeals to all segments of the society.

In Hindu mythology, music and God have always been potrayed together. Many deities are assigned their own instruments and are all hailed as music lovers. Lord Siva is believed to be the embodiment of Nada. Lord Krishna, the foremost of flautists, indicates his musical inclinations by assessing that he is Sama Veda among the Vedas. While Lord Siva is the embodiment of Nada and Tandava (cosmic dance), Goddess Parvati is hailed as the embodiment of Lasya. Goddess Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning is always associated with the Vina (known as Vipanchi). Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth is believed to revel in music while Lord Vishnu, her consort, plays on the percussion. Among the saints, Narada and Tumburu are hailed as Vainika-Gayaka (experts in music and Vina). Nandi, the bull, is the master of Laya. The separate set of demi-Gods like Yaksha, Kinnara and Gandharva are all believed to be proficient in music and musical instruments. In fact, music is known as Gandharva Vidya. Hanuman was proficient in what is called the Hanumad Vina and this is the predecessor of the present day Chitravina.

In fact, where there is a perfect union of Nada and Paramatma (Super power), one finds Nadopasana (transcendental bliss). It is very amazing to note that many Westerners also believe in this theory. Paul Brunton says, "Who can respond to the genius of Bach’s Saint Mathew passion unless some awakening of spirituality is in him!" Brahms himself has said that, "When I reach my best in the task of composition, I feel a higher power working through me!" There are many more instances of great saints of music having been in communion with God when beautiful music flows out. Such is the divine power of music!

The earliest composers of Bhakti or devotional music could be traced back to the Tevaram Trinity and the Azhwars. In North India, one sees the emergence of devotional outpourings from Gorakhnath, Meerabai and so on. This dates back to 3rd to 10th century. The Tevaram Trinity and the Alwars have composed beautiful songs, which have both literary and melodic beauty. Their total surrender to God has come in the form of Tevarams and Pasurams, regally clothed in Panns.

Meantime, Jayadeva of Orissa (12th century), Tallapakkam Annamacharya (1408 –1503), Kabir and many other seers from other parts of India were propagating devotion through music. The saint singers of Maharashtra and the Dasakutas of Karnataka have made a great contribution towards spreading music and devotion.

The traditions in vogue then were Bhajana, Keertana (Nama keertana), Ashtapadi, Tevaram and Pasuram. The Pancha Maha Purushas (Five great men) of the Bhajana style are Sadasiva Bramhendra, Sadguru Bodhendra Swami, Sridhara Venkatesa Arya, Narayana Teertha and Marudanallur Sadguru Swami. Kshetragna’s padams have also enriched music and devotion.

This tradition was carried on by composers like Tyagaraja, Dikshitar, Syama Sastri, Tamil Trinity, Swati Tirunal and others. It is difficult to gather a full impression of India without its temples, spiritual endeavors and music, which combine to make devotional music the summom bonum of Indian life. Devotion is the Indian way of life. The intensity may vary but the lifeline shall never be absent. It may be expressive and explosive or subtle and symbolic.


Sloka Bank

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