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- Dr. V Raghavan


The purana-s stress further this divine origin, basis and purpose of music. The Vishnu purana says that poetry and music are aspects of the Lord in his form as sound. The Linga purana narrates the story, found also in the Adbbuta Ramayana, of a musician-devotee of the Lord refusing to sing of any one other than God and the local king victimizing him for that. The story exemplifies the idea that music should not be abused by employing it for nara-stuti, an idea which Tyagaraja, Dikshitar and Syama Sastri have celebrated in their songs and also demonstrated in their own lives (Nidhitsala, Hiranmayim and O Jagadamba). Somesvara, a music authority, says in his Manasollasa, "One should sing of the manifestations of God like Vishnu and Siva. Out of desire for wealth or honour, one should sing of ordinary mortals; if he sings of them, he is to be condemned."

This high esteem in which music is held has been sustained by sacred associations. Not only is Nada the body of the Supreme Being; but the various aspects of the art are believed to have been promulgated by Gods and Goddesses and semi-divine beings and by sages and seers. The seven swaras emanate from the five faces of Siva (Nada-tanum, Tyagaraja); Siva is the author of the Tandava dance and Parvati of the Lasya dance. Devi is forever playing on the Vina (Manikya-vallakidharini, Dikshitar). In Siva's Tandava, Vishnu with his four hands plays the three-faced Pushkara drum and Brahma keeps time (Tala-dhara). Siva's chamberlain Nandi is the exemplar of Mridanga playing. Kambala and Asvatara are two Naga-s, adorning Siva with their songs called Kapala. The Goddess of speech and learning, Saraswati, is also the deity of music and the arts, and in her hands holds the vina called Kacchapi. The different types of Vina have each its sanctity and aura; Ravana-hastaka was the Vina with which Narada roams the world singing the glory of the Lord, and so on. No one can think of the flute without recalling the image of Krishna. All the early texts of music and dance are attributed to different Gods, Goddesses and sages.

Not only is Nada the primary and vital energy created in the physical system by the interplay of the forces of breath and fire (Prana and Agni) at the navel region and the basic plexus (mooladhara) (Sangeeta Ratnakara, I.iii and Tyagaraja, Swararagasudharasa, Mokshamu galada etc.); the seven swaras are seven resplendent goddesses of surpassing beauty (Sobhillu saptaswarasundarula - Tyagaraja); swara, which is pranava and the heart of the great Gayatri (Sripapriya) is so called because it is self-luminous (Svato-rajate), that is, each one is a flash of the soul's own immortal light and also the source of ineffable delight (Sarvato ranjayati), a peep while revealing the great expanse. One will have this thrill when the suswara of a musician touches one's inner chord and immediately lifts him out of the world. The outward involuntary sign of this is horripilation, a tear or a mild moan! Each Raga is a celestial damsel, vibrant and dancing, whose limbs get mutilated when it is not correctly evoked, says the story of Narada, the Ragas and Lord Krishna (Tyagaraja, Sripapriya, Atana).

Who are our greatest composers? Brahma at their head; nearer history, the Nayanmar-s, Alwar-s and Siddha-s; the saint-singers of still later times, and even recently great bhakta-s and sanyasins. To them song was an aid to devotion. Narada was their exemplar. With chipla in one hand and the Tambura on the other, Purandara or Tyagaraja went about on their unchavritti or following the procession of the deity of the  temple, doing bhajana and sankeertana, alone or with a following. What a 'far cry' from today's kutcheri platform! The Srimad Bhagavata says that singing and dancing before the Lord should be done daily like the other nitya-karma of the Brahmana-s. It is in this tradition that the Bhagavata and Bhajana Sampradaya-s had grown and flourished and it is that tradition that put forth flowers like Tyagaraja. Their songs are not only expressions of their own faith and longing, but veritable treatises on the twin paths of bhakti and jnana. They embody in the very words of the Upanishad-s the essence of bhakti and vairagya (Sogasuga, Sriranjani and Ragartnamalikache, Reetigowla - Tyagaraja).

To Dikshitar also, Godhead is embodied as Nada or music, with its swaras and sruti-s (Dvavimsati sruti swara swaroopini), delighting in bhava, raga and tala; he also disdained the mortal patron (Himranmayim and Vinapustakadharinim) and offered all the sweet nectar of his songs to Guruguha sitting in the thousand-petalled lotus in his head. But it is Tyagaraja who brought into his songs the whole body of ideas set forth above. His many songs on the art of music are the latest and most homely presentation of the philosophy of music, of its role as both a sadhana and the summum bonum itself. 'The mere knowledge of music, void of devotion, will not lead to good path' (Sangeeta jnanamu, Dhanyasi). 'Devotion mingled with the ambrosia of swara and raga and the knowledge of the places in ones body wherefrom the seven glorious swaras manifest themselves, bestow heaven and liberation; the Nada that emanates from the mooladhara is itself bliss and salvation; one attains moksha through knowledge after innumerable births, but he who has the twin endowments of bhakti and ragajnana is a liberated soul' (Swararagasudharasa, Sankarabharanam). 'One  who has this 'music realisation' is a jivanmukta' (Seetavara, Mokshamugalada). 'Music gives one the bliss of oneness with God' (Sangeeta sastrajnanamu, Mukhari). 'Nada and swara form the bejeweled pedestal on which you worship the Supreme being with the flowers of his names; if you do so, this human birth is itself the best' (Namakusumamulache, Sriragam). 'One who delights in music delights in the bliss of the Brahman' (Nadaloludai, Kalyanavasantam). 'If one does not float on the billows of the bliss of musical realisation, one's body is a burden to earth' (Anandasagara, Garudadhwani). 'Drink the ambrosia of raga and delight; he who knows the swara, Omkara and Nada is a jivanmukta' (Ragasudharasa, Andolika).

Music is there before us, open like a full blown lotus, the very embodiment of Brahmananda; let us revel in its delight like Narada, the bee in the lotus of Nada! (Sri Narada nada sarasiruha bhringa); purity of mind (Suddhamaina manasuche) is as necessary as the purity of the notes (swara suddhamuto). Let us not be content with our 'reserved seats', like the crane or frog near the Lotus of the supreme beatitude that is music (Parama nandamane Kamalamupai baka bhekamu).


Posted on March 1, 2002


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