SPIRITUAL SIGNIFICANCE OF MUSIC - PART 1
- 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?.
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