|THE MUSIC OF DEVOTION - Dr. Sandipan Chatterji|
The path of good music has always been through the heart. Antiquity proves that music had a divine origin and great music is always divine in its essence. Music has the power to cause emotions to well up within us and these emotions, if properly channelised, can touch the essence of our being. As a listener or as a performer, an ardent advocate of music actually meditates.
The concept of harmony in western music and bhava (proper emotion), raga (deep tune), and tala (beat), in Indian music help to attain that meditative stage. It helps to complete a unique aesthetic experience that stills the mind, soothes the senses and makes one intuitively aware of the vibrations it creates. At one level, it has a healing and therapeutic effect, on another; it raises the consciousness of the individual.
For centuries, mans communion with the Divine has been music-aided. Whether it is in the Saamagaana of Vedic chants, the Kritis of the Carnatic musicians, the bhajans of the travelling singers of North India-the devotional fervour of the music is unmistakable. Attend a church choir, tune yourself to Gospel singing or even lend your ear to the muezzin calling to prayer, the experience is yet the same.
Renowned Indian musician, Kishori Amolkar has this to say, "To me, music is a sadhana. To me, it is a dialogue with the divine, this intense focussed communication with the ultimate other."
Bhagawan Sri Krishna declares in the Bhagawad Gita, "Among all Vedas, I am the Saama Veda (the Vedas of music)." Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba also attaches tremendous importance to devotional music. He says that God is Gaana Priya - the lover of music.
Bhagawan Baba blends the traditions of the North and the South of India and even the western world and encourages an all-embracing type of bhajan singing. It combines in itself, the essence of Kirthana of South India, the spirit of the Bhakti Movement that swept through North India two centuries ago, and the lively rhythm and cadence of western music. Based on the traditional Naamasankirthana, Sai bhajans are the simplest media for spiritual seekers to evolve themselves on the path of Bhakti.
Bhagawan Baba says, "Songs that glorify the Supreme, form the sum and substance of bhajans. Naturally, therefore, the spiritual vibrations produced by bhajans confer great joy both on those who sing them and on those who hear the songs. Bhajans remove all negative thoughts, soothe the nerves, purify the mind and fill the body and the heart with a sweet love. As one sings bhajans, the mind gets saturated with God-consciousness and a great ecstasy wells up from within. No mental or intellectual effort is called for, as there is no need to understand anything while uttering the holy names of God and singing His glory. The singing and the atmosphere created by bhajans take one beyond the realm of the body, mind and intellect and help to establish communion with the Higher Self (consciousness) within. Therefore, singing bhajans becomes a beautiful and blissful experience. Many great composers and musicians like Thyagaraja established communion with God through devotional music.
Yet, more effective is the concept of community bhajans singing - Sankirthana. It evokes vibrations that sanctify the entire atmosphere. "Community singing promotes unity which leads to purity and divinity."
The great exponents of devotional music have always lived exemplary lives. Muthuswami Dikshitar of South India gifted away his small piece of land to avoid the village headman calling upon him for payment of land revenue. Purandaradasa gifted each bit of his rich possession to avoid any attachment other than to God. Thyagaraja thwarted the offer of King Sarfoji and preferred Ramas Sannidhi (proximity) to any other nidhi (wealth). Meera Bai left her palace to sing the glory of Krishna in temples and in the streets of Mathura.
Songs have survived long after their composers have gone. They have the capacity to secure Gods grace for attaining Moksha (deliverance) - the final Purushartha (goal of life). Dana (charity), yagna (ritualistic sacrifices) and tapas (penance) help in procuring the other three Purusharthas-Dharma (righteous conduct), artha (wealth) and kama (desire). The Lord has so often declared, "I always stay where My devotees sing of Me."
The only real requirement for devotional music is a sincere feeling from the heart. Bhagawan Baba says, "I do not need songs glorifying God which like gramophone records, reproduce songs and strings of Gods names without any feeling or yearning while singing. Hours of shouting do not count; a moment of concentrated prayer from the heart is enough, to melt and move God."
Of the nine types of devotion listed in the Narada Bhakti Sutra, Shravanam (hearing the name of God), Kirthanam (chanting the name of God) and Vishnusmaranam (remembering the name of Lord) are the foremost. All of them pertain to the realm of devotional music.
We should make music a part of our lives. Such music rendered with devotion will help us cut the Gordian knot of the painful strife of worldly living and bring us face to face with our divine Self.
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.