Primitive man cultivated the practice of prayer - initially to an elder, gradually to a hero or leader of the departed soul of an ancestor and finally, to God-initially for protection and ultimately for preservation. The prayer, which was mental at the beginning, became verbal when man acquired the faculty of speech. But coming out of fear, his prayers were uttered with great alertness or utmost attention. Naturally, for a long time, it was mono-tonic-repeated at the same level or frequency or, in musical terminology, sruti. When prayers became long and repetitive, the monotonic rendering resulted in monotony. Accidentally the ancient man slipped into a lower pitch out of laryngeal discomfort or because of an unexpected insect-bite. This slip into a different pitch became the first musical expression. The second pitch thus discovered was initially adopted at the end of each passage and successively, some of the last syllables of longer consonants were rendered in the newly found level or srutis were discovered and adopted. The earlier portions of the Vedas illustrate how prayers were first monotonic, then dia-tonic, and so on and in Sama Veda, a full septa-tonic scale resulted.
Thus, music originated in prayer, in other words, in a holistic pursuit.
VEDIC CHANTS INTO WESTERN EARS
Role of music in spiritual growth and healing
The sacred Vedic (associated with the Vedas, ancient Hindu scriptures) sounds are healing music to our ears.
The fast pace of contemporary life has attempted to turn humans into creatures of habits, and fashionable trends - which have even invaded the fine arts, such as music. For conforming or not conforming to the superficial social graces and artificial responsibilities of the present times, we are either in or out of synchronization. Such gross devaluation of the term synchronization which, loftily considered, is true harmony of the body, mind and soul. In fact, the most important and only sync should be the attuning of our lower self with our Higher Self and the Higher Self with the Divine. One of the ways to open and maintain this link is with genuine music; the other is meditation or prayer, and service. It has taken many trials and years for mankind to open up to this beautiful realization but, finally, we are enjoying and growing with the arrival of the exotic sounds from ancient India and its incorporation into our music.
Vedic chants, sounded to me like angelical hymns. I was attending the first Yoga Teachers Conference in Paradise Island, thirty years ago. I looked around for the source of the charming voice and found a small group of yoginis (female spiritual practitioners) in the lotus position with their eyes closed, emitting the most extraordinary sequence of Aumkaras (Om sounds). A never-ending thirst for deeper experience of Om was ignited in my heart. Similarly, millions of others were also fascinated by the wonderful potential of Om. Many of them were accomplished musicians and their work has become well known in the New Age and World Music scene. This is the healing music for the third millennium.
In the years that followed, although the Beatles included Indian sounds in their most popular songs, concerts of Vedic music were few and far apart. Master Ravi Shankar became famous and rock groups incorporated some Indian notes into their repertoire. It was a slow march but it became steady. More and more adepts in music, in search of notes for spiritual growth became fascinated by Indian chants.
In my personal story, I had turned to Hatha Yoga for healing, at the Sivananda Yoga Center, in Washington, D.C. My heart rejoiced when each session closed with the sacred Om.
In search for enlightening musical sounds, composers have turned inward and attempted to replicate the human voice with their instruments. Some of them have accomplished delightful tunes. Steven Halpern is one of them. He is a recording artist and educator who has received international acclaim for the pioneering work of using music to support programmes of personal and spiritual growth. He says, "Early in my musical training, I learned about the ancient traditions of an artist calling upon his or her Muse for inspiration, and I was blessed with the first of a series of peak experiences that demonstrated to me that this tradition was a present-day reality - not just a metaphor." He says that before each musical session he meditates and prays for guidance and inspiration.
But there is no sound more wonderful than the human voice. Its healing power can be best appreciated when a mother sings to her newborn, or when spiritual aspirants doing certain practices which take them into spiritual ecstasy, bring out subtle delightful sound vibrations, which are the echoes of life itself. For life is sound and our body is like a musical scale. When properly tuned we have a sense of well-being and perfect self-expression. In healing music, composers searching for innovative ways to bring in the traditions of the world and develop unique music styles are turning to Vedic sounds.
In a the most recent selection of healing music, produced by Russell Charno, for The Relaxation Company, in New York, the featured artists composers claim that "healing through music is to employ the body/minds own wisdom and genetically programmed ability to heal itself by presenting it with the proper vibrations."
One of the most outstanding featured artists is Amit Chatterjee. "Hindu philosophy teaches that the physical principles that govern sound are a direct reflection of the natural laws of the universe. Music composed in accordance with these laws bypasses the intellect and the minds conscious barriers, allowing a personal experience of the harmony and order of the universe. The ancient sages, who first explored this relationship, passed on through their disciples a method by which music could be used to promote physical and emotional balance and healing," says the artist. He explains that for thousand of years, traditional Indian healers have been using Ragas (special tunes), therapeutically, helping their patients into a harmonious state that encourages healing.
In my heart, my romance with Vedic sounds returned to my life twenty years after my first encounter with the mantra Om. I was in India, when I heard the Gayatri Mantra sung by Bhagawan Sathya Sai Baba. From then on, His Divine Voice starts my day and I hope It will guide me back into Light.