"After our youngest son had seen Star Wars for the twelfth or thirteenth time, I said, "Why do you go so often?" He said, "For the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all of your life." He was in a new world of myth." Bill Moyers, interview with Joseph Campbell













PRABUDDHA BHARATAPrabuddha Bharata | October 2010  





              Music: A Direct Means to the Highest



                        Swami Sattwasthananda






    All the spiritual personalities that India has produced unanimously agree that the goal of human life is Self­realization.



    Sri Ramakrishna also holds God­realization to be the goal of human life. Swami Vivekananda put the same idea in a different language when he said that each soul is potentially divine and the goal of human life is to manifest this inner divinity. Indian culture posits this ideal as the highest through its art, literature, music, customs, and mythology. It emphasizes that all our endeavours to attain wealth and enjoyment, artha and kama, should not be in­ dependent self­sufficient goals. Rather, they ought to be closely related to and governed by moral prin­ ciples, dharma. This is to be done to prepare oneself for attaining liberation, moksha, or manifesting the divinity already in us. (1)



    Music is a fine art which excels in many respects the arts of architecture, sculpture, and painting. It appeals to and attracts all living beings. Music is a collection of sweet and soothing sounds vibrating and creating an aesthetic feeling that overpowers the feelings for the other beauties of nature. That is why it is recognized as the greatest and finest art that brings peace and solace to all humans. (2) Indian music has a character of its own. It is a synthesis of countless forms bonded through spiritual fervour. It encompasses spirit and matter, the human and divine realms. It paves a path that connects human beings with God. It gives a subjective knowledge of the Supreme. Swami Prajnanananda observes:



    Music in India is a superb creative art, infused with a religious feeling. Music is a spiritual sadhana that uplifts the consciousness of man to the high­ est. It is not just a subtle fabric of tones and tunes, of fancy and dream, but is a dynamic spiritual ex­ pression. The ancient seers saw in their ecstatic vi­ sion the divine forms of the ragas, realized them, and transmitted them to humanity. They realized the ragas as both objective and subjective - material and spiritual ones, and not merely as the inert structures of tones and tunes. So a raga is a psycho­material object that spiritualizes both the body and the mind, and helps men to transcend both matter and mind so as to get the luminous apperception of the Absolute.(3)



    Music is part and parcel of our daily lives. Though we may live amidst music, most of us might not have understood its true significance. Since a clearer and deeper understanding of music will help us progress towards the goal of life, a modest attempt has been made here to show how this great art can take us to the highest.



    Origin of Music



    Indians believe, from time immemorial, that music, the language of emotions, has a divine origin. The infinite Brahman manifests itself as this universe. This concept has been elegantly expressed in Indian music and literature. (4) Swami Prajnanananda elabor­ ates on the process of creation of sound and music:



In ancient Greece, the musicians, and the music­ ologists, and also the philosophers used to believe that music exists eternally in the ethereal space in the form of vibrations of the cosmic energy. The ancient musicians and the musicologists of India similarly believed that real music exists in the depths of the subconscious mind, in the form of divine energy, kundalini, in an unmanifested form, and when it is manifested, it is transformed into tones and tunes, tinged with the colour of aesthetic sentiments and moods. (5)



    Sharngadeva says:



    Caitanyam sarva-bhutanam vivṛtam jagadatmana; Nada-brahma tadanandam- advitiyam-upasmahe. Nakaram praṇa-namanam dakaram-analam viduḥ; Jataḥ praṇagni samyogat-tena nadabhidhiyate.



    I meditate on Brahman as nada [the uncreated primal sound], the non­dual blissful Conscious­ ness underlying all of Creation that is manifest as the universe. The letter na is known to represent praṇa, the vital force, and da represents agni, fire [the will to create]; as it [the primal sound] is born of the conjunction of the vital force and fire, it is called nada.



    This verse suggests that the primal creative will is the source of the universe, a view attested by the Upa­ nishads; and music is a product of this primal will:



    Everything has been evolved first in the causal un­ manifested form, and then in the manifested form. The form remains the same, but its degrees of mani­ festation differ, and this difference brings the idea of change, i.e. creation or projection. The musical treatises of India admit this theory of evolution.
They say that music evolves first in an avyakta or unmanifested form, and then in a vyakta or manifested form, which is known either as noise or as sweet music (8).



    In India, nada, sound, has been recognised as the prime source of the grand structure of music, con­ taining tonal and microtonal elements; murcchana, elaboration of tones; articulation of tones through varṇa, verbal elements; alamkara, embellishments; and many other components that make of music such a rich art.



    Music as Spiritual Aid



    There is something wonderful in music. Charles Kingsley says:



    Words are wonderful enough but music is more wonderful. It appeals not to our thoughts as words do, it speaks straight to our hearts and spirits, to the very core and root of our souls. Music soothes us, stirs us up; it puts noble feelings into us; it melts us to tears, we know not how; it is a language by itself just as perfect in its way as speech, as words; just as divine, just as blessed. Music has been called the speech of angels; it is the speech of God itself. (6)



    The Haridasas used music as a medium for con­ veying to the masses the sublime message of the Vedas and the Upanishads: ‘It was their firm con­ viction that God would manifest Himself when the soul craved His company through music and dance. Of all modes of apprehension of God, music was the most effective and powerful, and when employed would persuade the Remote and the Transcendental God to bless [the devotees] with His living presence". (ibid.). Of the various spiritual disciplines described in the scriptures as means to moksha, bhakti is the easiest and the most efficacious. The Bhagavata, the great bhakti scripture, describes bhakti to be of nine types: Listening to the names and glories of Bhagavan, singing the same, remembering him, serv­ ing his feet, offering ritualistic worship, obeisance to him, having the attitude of a servant or a friend of God, and total dedication to him.7 Out of these nine moods, it is only kirtan, singing the praises of Bhagavan, that easily captivates all minds, as it is in the form of music.8 To the Haridasas, sañgita, music, and sahitya, poetry, had the same origin and were inseparable.9 Sripadaraja says in one of his ugabhoga compositions: ‘Dhyana in Krita [Satya] Yuga, yajna and yajana [oblations] in Treta Yuga, worship in Dwapara, and gana [singing] in Kali Yuga are the forms of devotion to Keshava.’ The same idea is echoed by Purandaradasa: ‘Dhyana, yajna and arcana [worship] and kirtan are the forms through which Purandara Vitthala bestows moksha on de­ votee.’ 



    Rightly has it been stated that



    The philosophy of Haridasas was the realization of Paramatman through music and poetry, for the Lord is the Samagana Priya [lover of the singing of the Sama Veda] and both music and poetry are the Sadhana of Adhyatma Vikasa [spiritual growth]. The Lord says ‘Mad Bhakta Yatra Gayanti tatra Tishthami’ [I reside where my devotees sing my praise]. The Haridasas sing the praises of Hari. Bhakti was enshrined in poetry and transmuted into living excellence by music, for poetry and music were both dear to the Lord. Every Hari­ dasa was a composer, a poet and a devotee with soulful music (ibid.).



    Vyasaraja, Vadiraja, and Purandaradasa experi­ enced the love of God through the sadhana of music and preached this path to humanity. They empha­ sized the use of the common language in bridging social divides and attaining personal purity. These saints stressed the use of music as a link between the mundane and the transcendent. They believed that music could be a means to embellish one’s life both here and in the hereafter. The Haridasa saints con­ sidered language and music to be pivotal in chan­ nelling the unstable mind to realize the Divine. (10) Basaveshwara says: ‘The mind of man like a monkey flies from branch to branch.’ Purandaradasa adds:



    ‘The mind is like a monkey and it is difficult to regu­ late, control, and direct it to the Divine. Sri Hari is a gānalola [one moved by music], gānavinodī [a lover of music], and gāna is the quintessence of all the Vedas. So, Sri Vyasaraja says, “let your mind be­ come the strings to vibrate to celestial music and let your hands join to keep time in harmony with that music so that the Lord might listen you.” (11)



    Purandaradasa, considered the founder of Car­ natic music, composed songs that ‘range from the most homely to the most philosophical’:



    His songs are so emotional that anyone can be moved to tears. ... It is in suspended states of ani­ mation which music inspires, that [the] Bhakta sees the pillars of the forest, pyramidal mountains, columnar cliffs, as the images of a divine Archi­ tect. ... It is the function of music to idealise not only the divine nature but [also] human life. It compresses into [a] brief compass, an ideal of the moral life of man and conveys some idea of the unity, the harmony and the moral significance of the whole. Music gives the capacity not simply to reflect on what lies on the surface, but to see under it and to get at the heart of life’s mystery (127–8).



    The vast corpus of kirtans composed by these saints have ‘become models of modern Kannada prose and poetry’.



    At the same time, since the sixteenth century, it has been the tradition of these saints to sing these kirtanas to the delectation of the people, walk­ ing from place to place on foot with tambura in hand, despising suffering, hardship and poverty, and exhorting the people to live a life of truth, vir­ tue, and devotion to God. At the same time, they conveyed the difficult thoughts of the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita in simple mellifluous and melodious prose which had a direct appeal to the human heart. The Haridasas, who like the Maha­ rashtra saints, believed in the divineness of music, as a sadhana of self­realisation, and regarded their own kirtanas and Music as twin­born—with the result that all the Haridasas turned out to be pro­ ficient in raga, tala [time and tempo], and sruti [tone] to make themselves eligible for the love of God; and they preached the doctrine that a Soul without music in his soul, the language of divinity, would not be able to attain salvation (98–9).



    After the fall of the Vijayanagara Empire in the sixteenth century the political life of South India disintegrated. As in other fields, decline in arts like painting and sculpture led to the loss of a valuable tradition. However, all was not bleak. Even in this period of decline, music and spirituality continued to flower, mutually enriching each other, and saints like Purandaradasa and Tyagaraja touched the hearts of people with their exquisite devotional music. Tyagaraja is credited with reaffirming gāna mārga, music as a means to liberation:



    Tyagaraja was one who underwent a poignant life of devotional and spiritual striving and by the meaning and message packed in the passages of his songs, he takes his place among the musician­ saints of our country, like Kabir, and Purandara­ dasa. ... Among the music composers of his time, Tyagaraja was a poet, preacher and philosopher. Those that have heard his songs again and again and have been carried away by their music, have no suspicion of the wealth of idea[s] that lies under­ neath, like gems within the ocean. ... The gusto with which he preached and the volume of valu­ able wisdom and experience he impounded in his songs place him among the saints whom we revere for the service they performed by periodic spir­ itual rehabilitation of our land. Tyagaraja’s songs will therefore be not only a huge dam storing for us our precious musical heritage, but one more of the bibles which our saints have given to the com­ munity at large for their spiritual salvation. (12)



    In one of his songs, Tyagaraja says: ‘Come one and all and sing the hundreds of gem­like melo­ dies which Tyagaraja composed for the salvation of humanity; songs which contain the essence of the Vedas, the six Sastras, Puranas, and Agamas, which the Bhagavatas congregate and sing forth and which show the right path to attain the bliss realised by the Yogins!’ (35).



    He affirms that it was due to sweet music that he could realize the Divine: Susvarapu nāda pha- lamo. Summing up, as it were, the fruits of spiritual music, he says in his song ‘Sangita Jnanamu’ that the knowledge of musical lore ‘would confer on one wealth, fame, good conduct, grace of the Lord, love for good men, devotion and love, and above all the bliss of oneness with the Lord’ (50). In his song



     Svara Raga Sudha Rasa’ he says that bhakti associ­ ated with the ambrosia of svara [tone and accent] and raga is verily paradise and salvation. To know and realize the nature of nada, originating from the muladhara, is itself bliss and salvation. According to Advaita Vedanta, one attains salvation through brahma-jñana, knowledge of Brahman, which may take several births. But he who has the knowledge of ragas along with natural devotion is indeed a lib­ erated soul. In his song ‘Mokshamu Sada’, he asserts that music in itself can secure one jivanmukti, liberation in life. In numerous other songs too we find Tyagaraja glorifying music as a path to the highest goal of human life (50–2).



    There is a wonderful galaxy of Indian mystics whose approach to the Divine found expression and consummation in music. Let us now briefly see how Ramprasad, the melodious mystic of Ben­ gal, reached the highest goal through this path. Sri Ramakrishna says: ‘Ramprasad achieved perfection through singing. One obtains the vision of God if one sings with yearning heart.’13 Ramprasad’s legacy of songs, bhajans, and kirtans is a veritable spiritual treasure:



    Just as Tyagaraja’s bhajans move the hearts of hundreds and thousands of devotees in the South India, Tukaram’s in the West, and Mira’s in the North India, likewise Ramprasad’s songs enkindle the hearts of hundreds and thousands of devotees in Bengal. As long as there would be worship­ pers of Sri Rama, Vithoba and ‘Nandadulala’ in those parts of the country, Tyagaraja’s, Tukaram’s and Mira’s songs would be sung; as long as Shakti­ worship continues in Bengal, Ramprasad’s songs will be sung. (14)



    Ramprasad is particularly known for his songs to Mother Kali. These are not mere poetry. They display the yearning for Kali expressed in music.
They are the manifestation of Kali in sound. The vibrant presence of Kali in these songs is authen­ ticated by Sri Ramakrishna, who constantly sang them. Ramprasad asserts his devotion and protests against Divine Mother’s silence. We find him ‘in the mood of a sadhaka, a desperate seeker, pining for the vision of the Mother. He is convinced that the Mother is - there is never any doubt about that fundamental position - and therefore the agony is all the more acute. In a frontal manner he asks the Mother a question:



O Mother, how long would you 

make me go about
Like the bull with blinkers on 

Round and round the oil-­press?

Tying me down to the trunk of this world 

You are incessantly making me
go round and round 

Due to what offence, may I ask 

Have you made me a slave to the six oilmen? 

Births countless of beasts and birds and so forth
I have seen through, 

Yet the cessation of this suffering is not in sight. 

The word ‘Mother’ is soaked in affection, 

The way of the world is that 

When the child weeps the Mother
takes it on her lap, 

Am I outside the world? 

Countless sinners got delivered 

By just chanting ‘Durga, Durga, Durga’; 

O Mother, for just once, remove
the blinkers from my eyes 

So that I may behold your fearless feet. 

Wicked sons there are, ever so many,
but never a wicked Mother. 

(Keep Prasad, your wicked son,
bent at your feet.) 

O Mother, Ramprasad hopes to stay
at Your feet in the end (70–1).



    Ramprasad saw the Mother as the only cause of the universe, and his songs faithfully reflect this vi­ sion. While frantically searching for God Sri Rama­ krishna would cry before the image of Kali saying:



    ‘You revealed yourself to Ramprasad, Mother; then why not to me? I don’t want wealth, friends, rela­ tives, enjoyments of pleasure, and so on. Reveal yourself to me’ (69). And Mother did reveal her­ self to Sri Ramakrishna as she did to Ramprasad:



    ‘Today we have Ramprasad’s testimony reinforced by the life of Sri Ramakrishna. If the Mother is hid­ den from us, it is because we have not sufficiently pressed our claim and thrown ourselves whole­ heartedly at her feet’ (90).



    Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, and Music



    Music is inseparable from Sri Ramakrishna’s life and it has added to his charm. This becomes very clear as we go through the pages of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna, says Swami Vivekananda in his famous ‘Khandana­bhava­bandhana’ stotra, was ‘bhasvara-bhava-sagara; ocean of re­splendent emotions’. Sri Ramakrishna used this powerful medium of music for various purposes: i) as an earnest aspirant longing for the vision of the Divine Mother, ii) as an aspirant singing in great joy after having the vision of the Mother, iii) as a spir­ itual teacher instructing his disciples and devotees.
Let us now see some of the sayings of Sri Ramakrishna, which are not mere words but his actual experiences, that clearly show how music can take a true spiritual aspirant to the highest goal of human life:



    ‘If a person excels in singing, music, dancing, or any other art, he can also quickly realize God pro­ vided he strives sincerely. ’(15) Sri Ramakrishna said to a singer: ‘You are ferrying many people across the ocean of the world. How many hearts are illumined by hearing your music!’ (600). At another time he said: ‘One should listen to singing to awaken the inner spirit’ (695). He also said: ‘In the Kaliyuga the best way is bhaktiyoga, the path of devotion - singing the praises of the Lord, and prayer’ (143).



As in the life of Sri Ramakrishna, in Swami Vivekananda’s life also music had played a very im­portant role, which is clearly reflected in several of his sayings:



    The greatest aid to this practice of keeping God in memory is, perhaps, music. The Lord says to Narada, the great teacher of Bhakti, ‘I do not live in heaven, nor do I live in the heart of the Yogi, but where My devotees sing My praise, there am I’. Music has such tremendous power over the human mind; it brings it to concentration in a moment. You will find the dull, ignorant, low, brute­like human beings, who never steady their mind for a moment at other times, when they hear attractive music, immediately become charmed and concentrated. Even the minds of animals, such as dogs, lions, cats, and serpents, become charmed with music.(16)



    Further: ‘Music is the highest art and, to those who understand, is the highest worship’(5.125). ‘Drama and music are by themselves religion; any song, love song or any song, never mind; if one’s whole soul is in that song, he attains salvation, just by that; nothing else he has to do; if a man’s whole soul is in that, his soul gets salvation. They say it leads to the same goal’ (6.102).





    Towards the Goal of Life



    It has been pointed out that ‘the realization of the immortal soul of music’ is its philosophical foun­ dation. Therefore, we ought to educate ourselves about this soul of music. Proper training and edu­ cation alone can ‘harmonize the chords of the phe­ nomenal music with those of the transcendental’. Musicians should develop themselves and their music to attain the highest level of spirituality. They need to keep in mind ‘the grand truth or phil­ osophy of India that man can see God face to face, can get an immediate awareness of the Absolute, as the task of philosophy of India is to solve the riddle of the universe and to discover the ways and means to man’s perfection in life’.(17)



    Sage Yajnavalkya, the great Smriti authority, says:



Yatha-vidhanena paṭhan sama-gayam-avicyutam;
Savadhanas-tad-abhyasat param brahmadhigacchati.
Viṇa-vadana-tattvajñaḥ śruti-jati-viśaradaḥ;
Talajñaś-caprayasena mokṣa-margam niyacchati.



    Intoning the sama songs in proper manner and without break, and practising them with care, one at­ tains the supreme Brahman. One thoroughly conver­ sant with the principles of playing on the vina, and an expert in matters of intonation, melody, and time, attains without exertion the way to liberation.(18)



    Purandaradasa says: ‘God will listen to you sit­ ting if you sing from a lying posture; He will stand to listen, if you sing sitting. He will open the gates of heaven for you, if you sing standing and dancing in raptures of joy.’ Moreover, ‘He who plays the strings to music, crosses the ocean of births and deaths; he who listens to music joins the category of the angels; he who sings in praise of You, experiences the Vision of the Transcendental.’ Vadiraja observes: ‘Blessed are they who sing the praises of the Lord, for they belong to the camp of the immortals.’ (19) Here we are reminded of Sri Ramakrishna: ‘One obtains the vision of God if one sings with yearning heart.’(20)



    The main object of Indian music is to attain spiritual illumination. Indian music has preserved that solemn tradition and ideal all through the ages, so the authors of music have laid the greatest em­ phasis upon its spiritual side and said that practice of music is a sadhana which unfolds the grand mys­ tery of human life. Music is recognized as ‘spiritual food and divine blessing to men and women, and by its practice they attain immortality even while they live in mortal frames. The human soul finds in it the goal of [a] seemingly unending journey, and gets tranquillity and everlasting bliss.’ (21) Music is one of the best means to the highest good; adopted, nurtured, and nourished with care, and followed with concentrated attention and effort, it will help
us reach the goal of life.


International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015







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