Originating in the Vedic period, when great emphasis was placed on musical notation and sound in reciting the Vedas, especially the musical Sama Veda, Indian classical music has evolved over the centuries, to attain the grandeur, depth and expanse of an ocean. Ragas — the basic unit of classical music — are truly oceanic in nature — however deep you go into a raga, there is still scope to dive deeper — an exploration that elevates the soul and suffuses it with deep joy.
Different forms of raga-sangeet like dhrupad, dhamar, khayal, tappa, thumri, and ghazal, budded and blossomed in different periods of history and in different regions of the country, in sync with changing human needs. Also, old film music, mainly Hindi film music, was firmly moored in ragas. Great music composers like Naushad, S D Burman, Anil Biswas, C Ramachandra, Jaidev, Roshan, and Kalyanji-Anandji, who were cognisant of Indian ragas and taals, used this knowledge judiciously to compose melodious songs, which continue to resonate in public consciousness to date and raise spirits. Gems like Chandan sa badan, Khilte hain gul yahan, Pyaar kiya to darn kiya, Laga chunri mein daag, Hamein tumse pyaar kitna, Prabhu tero naam. Thus, everyone from a serious music student/artiste to the common man can enjoy this music in at least one of its different forms, and benefit from the association.
For the benefits of classical music, which was originally conceived by our ancient rishis as a way to access the supreme godhead or the universal self, are many and profound. Raga-sangeet prepares you for life, as it reflects its nature. A raga offers you a definite musical framework (built with musical phrases) within which you are free to create infinite melodic patterns. Thus, this music both disciplines you and allows your creativity to flourish.
Also, “structurally, a recital has two parts”, explains music composer and sitarist Tushar Bhatia. “The first is arhythmic, individualistic, in which an artiste unfolds a raga as per his/her imagination freely, alone. In the second part, the artiste develops the raga in tandem with the percussionist, who maintains the taal (a cycle of beats). So you learn both to follow your own unique path in life, and also to engage with the world harmoniously,” he adds.
Says renowned tabla and sitar player Nayan Ghosh, currently Director of the leading music academy Sangit Mahabharati in Mumbai, “Good musical training or knowledge helps in creating much refined humans with high levels of sensitivity; builds emotional and spiritual strength; assures peace of mind and equilibrium in times of social, political, climatic, pandemic and other forms of distress.”
These gains hold good for Indian classical dance as well. For ‘music’ in Indian terminology encompasses vocal, instrumental and dance. Distinguished Kathak exponent Vaibhav Joshi puts it succinctly, “When you learn a classical art form, you learn discipline, dedication, devotion and determination. Practising daily makes you patient and also increases your concentration. Dance in addition is a great form of exercise that boosts stamina, makes one happy, and keeps out negativity.”
To lay listeners, classical music offers peace. It calms the agitation of the senses and induces deep contemplation and clarity about oneself. “Indian classical music is in every way a medicine for the mind and herb for the heart,” affirms Mumbai-based life coach and counsellor Dr Punit Patel. Brought up in the States, Patel discovered these wonderful powers of Indian music, when he came to India to do research, as a part of his doctorate studies in Medical Ethics, about a decade ago. And he never went back to the States. Dr Patel reveals how his counselling sessions shrunk from four hours to just 45 minutes, since he started using classical music as a part of his therapy. “As I play a piece of classical music, depending on what vibes with a patient, I find patients easing; their ego melts and receptivity rises instantly. And once they begin to share their truth, it is a hundred times clearer, concise, and quite honestly, correct. They are able to perceive themselves neutrally and accept life. Today, my sessions comprise 15 minutes of listening to music and 30 minutes of talking.”
Not just listening to classical music, even talking about ragas yields a certain joy and raises the spirit, shares civil lawyer Ratna Bhatt, who learns sitar as a hobby. It’s a time she truly cherishes as do all students of different classical musical forms. Vaibhav Joshi reveals how many senior women who have been learning dance online from him through the lockdown, claim this one class has propped up their spirits through the pandemic, giving them something to look forward to, all week.
Indian classical music has been proven to provide relief in all stress-related disorders, from migraine to schizophrenia. It relieves nervous tension and strengthens the nervous system. “Each note has a certain impact on the brain, sending signals of peace, tranquillity, and grounding leading one to inner and outer stability,” vouches Dr Patel.
Indeed, these factors qualify classical music for inclusion in the Indian government’s Swashth Bharat Abhiyaan, argues poet, singer and composer Shurjo Bhattacharya. “Government promotion of yoga made it popular successful because people realised that it could keep them healthy. So, classical music has to be promoted as the best way to relieve stress, which it is. We must encourage listening to classical music in different spaces, and definitely in hospitals, as is being done abroad because of the therapeutic value of Indian classical music.” Till then, it’s up to each individual to tap this civilisational legacy, to stay rooted and healthy.
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