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- Dr. V Raghavan

According to Indian thought, all arts are oriented towards the religious or spiritual goal. The arts are aids for communion with God or self. There are two ways in which they play this role or fulfil this purpose - first, their theme or subject matter is of a religious or spiritual character; and secondly, as an aesthetic experience, they bear a direct relationship with religious or spiritual organization. In the first, they help to sublimate the human emotions by giving them a divine object; in the latter, in the experience of the beauty and the bliss engendered thereby, they give a glimpse, a taste of the ineffable repose that belongs enduringly to the summum bonum. Therefore, all art is 'sacred'.

This philosophy of art, so far as music is concerned, starts with the very beginning, the Sama Veda, which is said to be the source of music. The hymns of the Rig Veda are praises of the Gods, but the Gods are more pleased when the same rik-s are sung in Saman. The Chandogya Upanishad says that Rik or the hymn is the essence of speech (Vak) and that, of the Rik the essence is song (Saman). That even without the physical performance of the various rites and rituals at which the Saman-s are to be sung either by voice or with Vina, their mere singing itself brings forth all the blessings that the rites and rituals are intended to produce. Among the spiritual benefits mentioned in Vedic literature is the  final liberation from the cycle of birth and death. This idea that music bestows both bhukti and mukti, persists to the times of the great Carnatic composers, one of whom, Tyagaraja, repeats it in several of his songs.

The same Chandogya declares that it is the supreme being of whom they sing on the Vina; and Sankara adds in his Bhashya, that this is so not only in Vaidika-gana, but all laukika-gana too. This can be so only if the Supreme Lord is the object of the singing; and what else could the theme of good music be? Has not the Gita said that whatever is great, good, beautiful and enduring is but an aspect of the Lord?. 

Parallel to the Saman-s there was a body of ancient songs on Siva composed by Brahma and hence called Brahma-gita, and having a notation as immutable as the swaras of the Rik or Sama Vedas , whose singing with instruments and rendering in dance were deemed to produce non-worldly merit, Adrishta-phala. These songs comprised different forms and bore different names, Rik, Gatha, Panika, Aparanta, Ullopya, Madraka and so on. The classical pronouncement on music of voice, of instruments like the Vina, on the mastery of sruti-s, swaras and the various rhythmic measures, is in the Smriti of Yajnavalkya who is esteemed as a Yogin. He says that the practice of music leads one to moksha, or liberation without strain i.e. without going through the rigors of yogic discipline or of the path or jnana: "One should clear one's mind of other ideas and with the mind and faculties in concentration, contemplate on one's Self, shining like a lamp within oneself. By singing the Saman-s in the proper manner, without interruption and with concentration, one attains by practice the Supreme Being. Aparantaka, Ullopya, Madraka, Prakari, Ovenaka, Rovinda, Rik, Gatha, Panika composed by Daksha, the Gita-s composed by Brahma, must be sung; by constantly doing so, one attains moksha without strain". (Yaj, Smriti, 111.5). In our temples of South India, there is now the image of Yoga Dakshinamoorti teaching jnana, but in earlier temples it is Siva as Vinadhara, playing on the Vina, that is found in that place, emphasizing thereby what Yajnavalkya said about music being a means of liberation. All this is condensed by Tyagaraja in his songs Vararagalayajnulu in Chenchukambhoj and Mokshamu galada in Saramati.

The practice of music, involving as it does the control of breath and mental absorption, partakes of the character of Yoga. In Yoga and Agama-Tantra, Nada represents a stage nearest to the Supreme Being. The seven notes are emanations of the pranava or mystic syllable Om, which is the symbol of Brahman. Brahman has two aspects, both of which have to be known, Para Brahman and Sabda Brahman, it is one established in the latter that reaches the former. The Nadanta is the Supreme One. "By singing or by listening or the sound of the Vina one gets absorbed, tanmaya, in Nada and by constantly practicing this absorption of one's mind in the sweet sound of music and prolonging it, one gets released from obsessions of the mind and becomes one, as it were, with the limitless other" says the Vijnanabhairava Tantra.

Like the Yanjnavalkya Smriti, the Sangeeta Ratnakara of Sarngadeva, forming a bridge as it were between the ancient and later music and enjoying a high position in the history of music, enunciates in its opening chapter all aspects of this sacred, divine and spiritual character of music. Sarngadeva says, "Siva is the embodiment of Nada" (I.i.1) - Nadatanu. "Music is the sadhana which gives all the four purushartha-s" (I.i.30). "It is consciousness (chaitanya) that takes the form of the universe and is itself the Nada Brahman and Ananda; by adoring Nada, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva are adored, because they are of the very form of Nada" (I.iii. 1-2). All these ideas are embodied by Tyagaraja, mostly in the very words of Sarngadeva in his kritis like Nadatanum (Chittaranjani).

To be continued


Posted on February 18, 2002


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