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Sound & Human Nature: Understanding Ragas, Mantras & KIrtans

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

The Sama Veda contains some of the earliest writings on musical science. In india, Music, painting and drama are considered divine arts. Brhama, Visnou and Shiva, the eternal trinity, were considered the first musicians. Shiva, in his aspect of Nava raja, the cosmic dancer, is scripturally represented as having worked out the invite motor rhythm in the processes of universal creation, preservation and destruction. Brahma and Vishnu accentuated the time beats.

Saraswati, Goddess of wisdom, is symbolised as performing on the Veena, mother of all stringed instruments while Krishna (an incarnation of Vishnu) is shown in Hindu art with a flute. He plays the enrapturing song that recalls to their true home the human souls captured in Maya delusion (Maya is the visible reality we can grasp, yet, not the true reality).

The foundation stones of Hindu music are Ragas or fixed melodic scales. The 6 basic ragas branch out into 126 derivative raginis (wives) and pujas (sons). Each raga has a maximum of 5 notes. A leading note, Vadi, or King; a secondary note: Samavadi or Prime-minister, helping notes: Anuvadi (attendants) and a dissonant note, Vivadi (the enemy).

Each of the 6 basic ragas, has a natural correspondance with a specific time of the day, season of the year, and a presiding deity who bestows a particular potency.

For instance, The Hindolam Raga is only heard at dawn in the spring to evoke the mood of Universal Love.

2) The second one , the Deepaka raga is played in the evenings in the summer, to arouse compassion.

3) The Megha Raga is a melody for mid day in rainy season to summon courage.

4) Bhairava is played in the mornings of August, September and October to achieve tranquility.

5) Sri Raga is reserved for Autumn twilights to attain pure Love

6) Malkunsa Raga is heart at Midnight in winter for valour.

The ancient rishis discovered these laws of sound alliance between Nature and Man. Because Nature is an objectification of OM, the primal sound or vibratory word. Man can obtain control over all manifestations through the use of certain Mantras, or chants. Historical documents tell of the remarkable powers possessed by Mian Tansen, the 16th century court musician for the Mughal Emperor Akbar. Commanded by the emperor to sing a night Raga when the sun was overhead, Tansen intoned a mantra that caused the whole palace to be plunged in darkness.

Indian Music divides the octave into 22 Srutis, or Demi-tones semi-tones (also called Overtones). These microtonal intervals create fine shades of musical expressions unattainable by the western chromatic scale made of 12 semi tones.

Each of the basic 7 notes of the Octave is associated in Hindu Mythology with a colour and a beast.

  • Do (Sa) with Green and the peacock.

  • Re (Re) with Red and the skylark

  • Mi (Ga) with the Gold and the goat

  • Fa (Ma) with yellowish white and the heron

  • Sol (Pa) with Black and the nightingale

  • La (Dha) with Yellow and the Horse

  • Si (Ni) with all colours and the elephant

Indian Music outlines 72 scales. A musician has endless scope for improvisation around the fixed traditional melody or Raga. He concentrates on the sentiment or definitive mood around the structural theme and embroiders it to the limit of his own originality. The Hindu musician doesn't read a set of notes but looks into the microtonal possibilities within the structure.

There are 120 "Talas" or time measures in sanskrit litterature. The origin of talas, or movement, is originated in human moves: the double time of walking and the triple time of one of breathing and sleep (when inhalation is twice the length of exhalation).

Indian music culture recognises the human voice as the most perfect instrument of sound. Hindu music therefore largely concentrates on the 3 octaves voice range. For the same reason, melody, the relation of successive notes is stressed rather than harmony (the relation of simultaneous notes).

Hindu music is a subjective spiritual and individualistic art, aiming not at some phonic brilliance but at personal harmony with the Over Soul. The sanskrit name for "musician" is Bhagavatar: "He who sings the praises of God". The Kirtans, or musical gatherings, are an effective form of Yoga or spiritual discipline that requires a tremendous amount of concentration and absorption in the seed thought and sound. Because Man himself is an expression of the Creative Word, Sound exercises on him a potent and immediate effect. Great religious music of East and West causes joy in Man because it creates a temporary awakening of the spinal centre. In those blissful moment, Man recognises his divine origin.

From "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Yogananda


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