Music : How did it all begin?

How did the Indian music begin? As with everything, it was a gift from Ishwara. Here is what the ancient Natyashastra says:

Once, a long time ago (told at the onset of Tretayuga), it so happened that people got addicted to base sentiments, were ruled by lust and greed, experienced less happiness and more sorrow, behaved in angry and jealous ways, with each other and not only gods but demons, evil spirits, yakshas and such like others swarmed over the earth. Seeing this plight, Indra and other gods approached Brahma and requested him to give the people a mean of entertainment (Kridaniyaka), but one which would not only be seen but heard and this should turn out to be a diversion (so that people gave up their bad ways).

Till then, sangeet had been something only the devas enjoyed. A suitable human had to be found who was capable of receiving this gift-a truly great man. A gandharva or man of superior spiritual ability was required to convey this knowledge of the gods to the world of man. So, Brahma instructed Bharata in the Nāṭyaveda and gave the responsibility to him and his hundred sons to propagate and practice the same. The eternal gandharva sage Narada is to be thanked for the classical music we have today.

Since our music has a background in dharma, the teaching methods are very similar to dharmic-vedic education.  It is the tradition of guru-shishya parampara, that has been part of Indian culture or humility – the willingness to learn. He must also have the quality of sadhana or dedication. Only through constant sadhana can a shishya become a true master of music. It is the best principle to teach our children, even today.

In the beginning: the music of Vedas

So much for the legends. How about formal beginnings! As in so many other fields, so also in music, India has one of the most ancient traditions in the world. At a time when Western civilisation was barbaric and crude, thousands of years before the rise of the Greeks and the Romans we already had a complex and sophisticated music tradition.

As with much else, our music began in the age of the vedas. The vedic period saw the beginning of what is today known as sama music or the Saman the musical way of rendering Sama Veda.

Sama music was very simple, starting with one note, then two, then three, up to seven. In each round of chanting, one note was added. The notes started high and, and went down gradually.

Music of India is a composite art comprising Gita (singing), Vadya (instruments) and Nrtya (limb movements) –

Gita, Vadya, Nrtyam trayam Natyam Tauratrikam ca tat Samgitam || (Hemachandra)

Our vedic ancestors used four kinds of instruments:

Tata : Stringed instruments, like the Veena

Avanaddha : Hollow things to beat like drums

Ghana : Solid things to beat, like gongs

Sushira : Things to blow on, like flutes.

Narad muni works gave the gatra veena, which has clear instruments on how to use fingers, hands and head with different notes and words.

What were the words? Mostly from the Rigveda. Everything was not religious in nature. Sama music was for rituals, but early music scholars also mention narashamshi gathas – songs of the common man. SO we’ve been a democratic nation for a pretty long time too – even when it comes to music !

जग्राह पाठ्यमृग्वेदात्सामभ्यो गीतमेव च। यजुर्वेदादभिनयान् रसानाथर्वणादपि ॥


He took the lyrics (पाठ्य) from the Ṛgveda, the music (गीत) from the Sāmaveda, the language of gestures (अभिनय) from the Yajurveda and the aesthetic experience (रस) from Atharvaveda

The journey continues


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