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Music has always been linked to the emotional context, and as such has a profound influence on the listener. Undoubtedly an intangible and wonderful gift from one human being to another, music is rightfully considered the language of the gods. Even otherwise, a transition from the relative silence of unformed speech to 'spontaneous sound' (in melodic form) is a very powerful journey. Who would doubt the power of sound? There is precious little else that can course along with the blood in our systems while simultaneously lifting the mind and the spirits. It provides both roots and wings, if one may borrow the phrase. An awareness of the world around as the listener succumbs to the physical experience of sound; an awareness too of the other-worldliness of the experience for it cannot be held. We have to let go for the moment, and relish the experience

another time, because sound returns. We know now that sound remains in the ether surrounding the planet; that sound does not die out; that ancient sounds can be accessed through highly sophisticated scientific instruments. Ancient melodies return, new ones are born. Classical music of all cultures carries this sublime quality of music through centuries and generations.

In ancient Indian thought, music as an esoteric experience was integral to human existence. In its role as spiritual link, music needed to be more than just uplifting. It needed to be vimuktida i.e. of such stature that it could liberate the listener from the birth-death-reincarnation cycle.

This towering quality was and is best illustrated by OM, the syllable that is believed to represent Lord Shiva himself (and is therefore, a means to salvation). OM is positioned in Indian philosophical and religions thought as being one with the rhythms of the universe. The correct rendition of it requires a particular breath-process, and as such is believed to clear the system and the karmic cycle.

The Vedas, a vital source of philosophy and information, refer to sound as physical phenomenon and as an abstract supra-physical entity, i. e. Nad. The thirteenth century text Sangita Ratnakar by Sharangadev discusses sound in its most profound context. To quote, "This prana (life-force) then, stirred by the fires of the body, goes gradually upwards and produces an extremely subtle sound in the navel, a subtle sound in the heart, a strong sound in the throat, a weak sound in the head, and in the mouth a sound with the qualities of art." On its path upward, prana passes through the mystical powers of the chakras. The sixteen-petalled lotus of the visuddhacakra in the throat is the center of speech. This of course is manifest sound ahatanada and its counterpart is anahatanada, unmanifest sound i.e. OM, the syllable that is present in the twelve-pettaled lotus of the chakra of the heart, anahatacakra.

And the Natyashastra (a drama text) by Bharatmuni illustrates the musical experience as only the Natyashastra can. The (physical) causes or the reasons for a particular experience - vibhava - lead to the experience - anubhava. The experience (anubhava) gives rise to an emotional connection or experience (mood), ephemeral in nature - bhava. This ephemeral experience in turn leads to the aesthetic experience (some may refer to it as a psychological state of mind) - rasa.

Human experience according to the all-seeing, even all-knowing Natyashastra is comprised of eight sentiments, and the text demands that the music be capable of evoking these in the listener. These eight are: shringara rasa (romantic, erotic), hasya rasa (comic), karuna rasa (sympathetic), raudra rasa (anger/wrath), vira rasa (heroic), bhayanak rasa (terrifying), bibhatsa rasa (unpleasant, odious), abdhuta rasa (wonderous). Some feel that these eight are not conclusive: they recommend the inclusion of shanta rasa (peaceful). Many others opine that five sentiments are sufficient to encompass all human emotion! The text seeks, too, to connect notes with moods. For example - Sa (the first of the seven notes) with the heroic mood (vira); Re (the second note) with anger/wrath (raudra); Ma (the fourth note) with humour (hasya); Pa (the fifth note) with the erotic or romantic (shringara).Mus

Nonetheless, it must be kept in the mind that the Natyashastra was a dramatic text, and these emotions were sought to be expressed and evoked through dramatic action as well. This need for a visual (or physical) representation of music was met by the ragamala and dhyan paintings of the sixteenth century and onwards. Ragas (male) and their softer derivatives raginis (female) thus grew into important features of art as well.

Indian classical music has its roots in the above - mentioned beliefs and an amalgamation with other systems has not erased this source. Careful intonation has always been at the core of Indian classical music. The chanting of sacred words and phrases required total precision because these chants were part of what it took to maintain the order of the universe (i.e. the power and the eternity of sound). In testimony is the Rkpratisakhya, a text on religious chanting - even older than the Natyashastra of and born of an oral tradition that dates back another thousand years at least.


NAD: Understanding Raga Music by Sandeep Bagchee, The New Oxford History of Music, vol. 1.

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