Celebrating Music: Coming To Terms With A Day Of Indian Classical Tradition

The events of the last few days have been both heady and even macabre: the departure of a young, brilliant and talented actor with an envious dream for the future that burst like a bubble fleeting on the surface of life to the ignominy of what man can do to man in the equally mortifying departure of 20 of our brave hearts on the border at the hands of a cowardly enemy unheard in the annals of martyrdom; had left me numb and remorseful (especially having donned the uniform and faced similar ‘eye-ball to eye-ball’ situations). I was looking for a way out to come out of the ennui and my diary was kind enough to nudge me in reminding the advent of the World Music Day and I surmised that nothing could be better to cross the shoreline onto terra firma than embrace music, as Victor Hugo whispered, “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words, and that which cannot remain silent.”

Still in a state of drift as I was looking for an early return to the means of music that I invariably started my day with, as a source of solace, reassurance, the gathering of emotions and a return to composure and sanity of sorts to overcome the insanity of the recent days gone by; my musically-inclined and sensitive son, who himself was overtaken with the sad departure of the late actor, perhaps sensed it all and sent me a link today to his own piano-covered composition of a song from the film “MS Dhoni: The Untold Story”, dedicated to the late actor:

While I heard and reminisced, I put down a few words in agreement to the melody; rhythm and harmony of the notes played in the comments section and resurrected myself from the slumber with a thank you to my son.

Why Music, you may ask! Thomas Carlyle said, “Music is well said to be the speech of angels.”

Music helps us to find ourselves. It can reach our feelings and even change them. It can enrich our experiences and lace it with a gossamer fabric of reflective outpourings. Music can help to reach the deepest spots in our minds, our memories, emotions, predicaments, past regrets and future fears. It can elevate us with the flow of dopamine to a level of ecstasy and delirium, as though of “hemlock I have drunk”. Music at once composes poetry and prose in our mind’s eye and helps us to gather our thoughts to become, as it softly floats fast us in its ethereal majesty of sonorous sounds.

Music is an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and sentiments in significant forms through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony and colour; sounded or to be sounded by one or more voices or instruments, or both. Music is music, and though we may speak or write a million words about it, nothing will change the fact that in the long run it must stand or fall by its ability to move us, to stimulate us, to entertain, to bore, to perplex, to illuminate, to delight, to arouse hostility or to enlarge our capacity for spiritual experience.

A recent study was carried out by researchers from the University of California (UC), Berkeley in the US, and the scientists based on their analysis said that the subjective experience of music across cultures can be mapped within at least 13 overarching feelings: amusement, joy, eroticism, beauty, relaxation, sadness, dreaminess, triumph, anxiety, scariness, annoyance, defiance and feelings pumped up. They even went on to translate the survey data into an interactive audio map, which comes alive as a listener moves his cursor to listen to any of the thousands of songs. That raises the debate of comparing live music with the streamed digital ones that are easily available these days, and the listener is spoilt for choice: Gaana, Spotify, YouTube, JioSaavn, Google Play, Apple Music, Amazon Prime Music, Pandora, Xbox Music, Sound Cloud, My Space and many more….but any day, I will settle for foraging live into (as I often do) the abode of the divine flute and the serene surroundings of Vrindaban Gurukul near Bhubaneswar, conceived and mentored by my own-city-born maestro Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia; listen live and watch the doyen on his divine flute along with his blessed disciples rendering an invocative dhun in Raag Meghamalhar with an overcast sky….it can melt you away into a deluge of raindrops in waiting:

(A rendition of Raag Bhupali invoking the Bhakti Rasa of Krishna Lila by the students of Vrindaban Gurukul)

I must reiterate to my readers that one does not have to be a good musician adept at creating music to relish music; it is as ambiguous to say that one must be a good artist to admire Mona Lisa. However, a little background on the traditions of the two largely dominant and simplified broad genres of music to the informed listener, the Indian and Western (there is much more in detail and are vast in concept but I will restrict myself to the Indian style only) will help a discerning music lover to relish fully the nuances and beauty of both the schools of music to be able to derive the maximum to one’s delight; as I lead you to some examples of the exalted forms of Indian Classical musical experiences that have had a salubrious effect on me over the years.

In the Indian Classical tradition, which is a relic of the world’s oldest music, there are laid out tenets and protocols that are closely associated with the human mind as the notes caress our nerves to crate magic. Leaving aside the technicalities, the effect of a particular raag on a listener is enhanced when played at a particular time of the day. The emotions associated with the time of the day are assumed to be as follows:

Dawn: Fresh feeling, pleasant mood

Morning: Enthusiasm and eagerness

Afternoon: Heat and brightness

Evening: Pensive, contemplative mindset

Dusk: Wistful yearning feeling

Night: Romantic and erotic sentiments

Let us journey together encompassing a day of Indian Classical Music.

To welcome the break of dawn, the stir of the living as they come alive to the divine comprehension of the “Brahma Muhurta”, the Raag Bhairav resonates in the air with an anticipation of the darkness giving way to light. Here is a rendition of the Raag Bhairav by the maestro vocalist Pandit Ajay Chakraborty:

As the dawn gives way to the morning with its rising sun, the movement of life taking form and shape, sizes and colour of nature around abounds in its plentiful play of light and shade; a vibrant rendering of Raag Todi can add vigour to the new day. Listen to the favourite Raag Todi of Miyan Tansen (1493-1586), a Nava Ratna and recreate the durbar of Akbar in your minds:

The morning brightens to the afternoon as the Sun climbs over the horizon, stirring life into its pace of daily routine and the gathering of light and power, to a crescendo of Nature’s iridescent visual beauty in full view of its beings. Listen to the lilting voice of the young and talented Kaushiki Chakraborty rendering the ornaments of the romantic afternoon Raag Bhimpalasi:

The bright and romantic afternoon wanes into the cool evening, the birds return to their nests, the cycle of life takes recourse to a hushed silence and the passions of the masculine desires rises above the receding din like a Shiva in conversation. Listen to the genius of the rising percussionist, Niladri Kumar on his Sitar, his magical fingers weaving the finale to Raag Shree that is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is a part the Guru Granth Sahib:

The evening gives way to dusk, silence descends to replace the weariness of activity and exuberance into a submissive state of contentment and contemplation. This is the hour for the mind to gather its wares into a composition of times past and anticipation for the stillness of the approaching night. This is my favourite hour and my favourite Raag Yaman that to me seems like the necklace of pearls bequeathed by the lover that adores the beloved, and my mind croons in silence the words of pang: “Eri Yali Piya Bina…” and takes me astray to those young days when I was being tutored to play the violin and was in love! I invite you to listen to those same words, in Raag Yaman, though combining with a Jazz fusion beat to cockle your passions:

The alchemy of the day amalgamates to the filtrate of night and this is when the powers of prayer and soul-searching begin to take shape in the opaqueness of our visions. To express and identify with this sombre and moonlit desires, Raag Malkauns is the nearest to the untainted appeal of shaking off the ego, arrogance and expresses the ultimate humility. One can completely surrender one’s soul to the ultimate, through immersing in the ecstatic melody of Raag Malkauns. If that be so, there could not be anyone better to exemplify it then the impeccable Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismilla Khan on his magical Shehnai to mesmerize us with his ethereal rendition of Raag Malkauns:

As the day closes in on me and I too have to retire with my rendezvous with a day mindful of Indian Classical oeuvre, with a salute to the doyens of an envious practiced tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation irrespective the divides that beset the Indian mind, there are many experiences in my musical journey to recall. I would like to count one of them:  my frantic search and discovery of the narrow lane leading to Ustad Bismilla Khan’s dilapidated Haveli in Banaras in a dusty evening of a warm summer in 1970 (attending my Service Selection Board interview as a young and aspiring cadet to join the armed forces), when he not just received me but played his shehnai accompanied with unforgettable stories of his relation with Maa Ganga (as he recalled), Sankat Mochan Temple, the Dashashamedha Ghat with its Balaji Mandir and the summation of his life as his pan-chewing face radiated in a smile of contentment and happiness, complimenting the symbiosis of Man, Music and the Place. Music indeed transcends beyond the realms of wisdom and living.

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