Breaking the Barriers

for Joy of the Sculpted Sounds

In my leisurely hours I have often ventured to locate something about myself which is not utterly commonplace and can be linked to me as the signature tune of my personality - a habit, a bias, a slant in my interest. I am a music addict, an avid listener, my appetite never satiated. Every time the humdrum calls of daily living stifle the music and oblige me to turn around to the sawdust demands of domesticity. How often have I dreamt of retiring to the peaceful confines of a little room, completely shut away from the dins and bustle of the outer world for an uninterrupted period of not less than seven days at one go and remain under the unbroken spell of blissful, pure music! Like most dreams not coming true, this too has remained unfulfilled, beckoning me like a mirage.

I know that this will cause eyebrows to be raised quite sky-high because there have been and are music addicts galore the world over at any given point of time-- and I am no match even for the 'Bauls' of Bengal who take to the roads for the love of music, sacrificing everything worldly except their saffron clothes and the single-stringed 'Ektara'. To my mind, the Roman emperor 'Nero', denounced down the ages, has been more sinned against than singing, not getting due recognition for the loftiest example he set in history of meditative calm. This he could have cultivated only through what but music and displayed it in the moment of extreme crisis when his capital was engulfed in flames? Knowing that the fire was un-extinguishable, he realized it was best to resign to what fate had ordained, by invoking the grace of the gods through music! Some scholar ought to research on this and rehabilitate the extraordinary ruler for the sake of justice and the glory of music. This apart, think of the musicians on the deck in the last moments as 'Titanic' was sinking and the Band Played On! It is music alone that can work this wonder and I have not the ghost of a chance to come within miles of their likes.

But what is perhaps not so common about me is my equal weakness for both Indian and Western classical music. I as carried away by the duets in Sindhu Bhairavi on Sarod and Sitar by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Pt. Ravi Shankar as I am flown to the threshold of a world of celestial bliss when I listen to Viotti's violin concerto No.22 in A Minor or Concerto for violin in D Major Op.61 by Beethoven, or the constant chart-buster even after two hundred years Mozart's Symphony No.40 in G Minor. I have known not too many persons as yet who go West, mad after Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Hydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Sibelius or Rachmaninov and also East for Darbari Kanada, Jayjayanti, Bilaskhani Todi, Bhimpalasi or Marwa. But I have known persons who can perhaps barter their life's entire savings to collect a gramophone record of the 4th symphony by Bruckner or to grab the full set of Puccini's La Boheme or Verdi's La Traviata.

The same person will not waste a second glance on the vinyl record of a recording of a concert abroad in Raga Sindhu Bhairavi on side one and Pilu on the other by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, with his photograph on the cover when he was only 33, with his elder son Dhyanesh, yet to grow even a moustache, meekly seated behind him playing the Tambura. The record begins with the mellifluous voice of the all time great violinist Yehudi Menuhin introducing the musicians, the instruments and the compositions to be played, in a brief but very poignant lecture-demonstration session. As there should always be the other face of the same coin, connoisseurs of Indian Classical music are not at all a rarity who will die for a record of Hirabai Borodekar in Raga Yaman or by Dr. Chittibabu on Vichitra Vina in Raga Kapi (Kafi in Hindustani catalogue) or a duet recording in Raga Sangeeta on Violin and Sarod by Pt.T.N. Krishnan and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan but will be as little interested in a CD or a cassette of Romeo & Juliette by Prokofiev or Tchaikovsky or Midsummer Night's Dream by Menddelssohn or Les Parisienne by Offenbach, as in a remix of the Hindi film hit Kaho Na Pyar Hai or the Indipop Lift Kara De by Adnan Sani.

I have often wondered why this cleavage in interest has continued to possess so many over the ages for the two separate but essentially the same-in-roots kinds of music, both heavenly, surviving and flourishing equally through many ordeals of socio-economic, political and religious changes and even through rough weathers of major global crises affecting both the hemispheres from time immemorial. Both use the same musical notes for ascension and descension up and down the same twelve note scales, calling them Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa in the Indian subcontinent and Do Re Mi La Sol Fa Si Do in the West. If it was the Vedic Sama chants that are the origin of our sublime music of today, gradually taking the shape of Dhrupad and Dhamar and subsequently the varying shapes of Khayal, Thumri or of Kajri, Dadra, Chaiti of the widely popular light classical character, through evolution and by adapting to tastes and demands of the changed times, it was the Georgian chants sung before the altar of the churches which zygoted what we know as the classical music in the West today. Western classical music had also to walk through phases of evolutionary changes, the pure and sweet melody of an impersonal and universal character of the Pre-Baroque and Baroque age compositions of Monteverdi, Telleman, Bach and Handel changing into musical matrices of personal, romantic and intellectual dimensions in the classical and romantic ages of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninov and further tending to be surrealistic in the hands of Bartok, Stravinsky and their likes.

As I have understood by my humble and simplistic approach, the essential difference between the character patterns of Western Classical Music and the Indian lies in the characteristic trends in conceptualization and the style of communication, by the manner how or by whom they were created. While the Western is impressionistic in approach, distinctly bearing a touch of the mind and character of the composer, the latter is expressionistic as if selecting to communicate with the universal frame of the mind of the listener that is thrilled with the pure beauty of the breaking of dawn, is simultaneously saddened and awed with joy looking at the transient glory of a setting sun and merges with the consciousness of the Eternal in the mystic silence of the midnight. So, while the beauty of the music of the West is angelic, as if an angel were carrying the listener through the ecstasies of sound along a chosen path, the joy of Indian classical music is divine pouring down perpetually for all alike, as if from a spontaneous and perennial source like the rippling of a rivulet, just soliciting an attentive listening and no austere preparedness.

In our Indian mythology it is said that when nothing existed, not even what we know as Time, once the utterance 'AUM' emitted from the Creator and all subsequent creations followed from that primal sound. According to our ancestral belief, music is equated to the language of the gods and the synchronized tonal imageries woven through the selective use of musical notes by way of inclusion and exclusion are known as Ragas which are believed to be without a temporal origin having been born spontaneously in the likeness of the cosmic creations. So we have no knowledge of any particular composer, unlike the Symphonies, Concertos or Sonatas of the West which are invariably identifiable with the names of their creators. Of the fundamental six ragas, viz., Bhairav, Malkauns, Hindol, Dipak, Megh and Shree which in turn begot the thirty raginis (thirty-six according to some) which are, simplistically speaking, offshoots of these six ragas, but with distinct characters of their own. These again got multiplied down the ages into a formidable number of approximately seventy five thousand as of today. Many of these compositions, which are also referred as ragas when played or sung, have passed into virtual extinction or at least oblivion by non-use or by very close proximity to the character of another popular composition known by a separate name. As the names would suggest, if one Raga like Malkauns is associated with the place of its origin, others are associated with the moods of their tonal characters, time sequences, both the time for the day and time for the year in particular. Thus Bhairav is indicative of the stoicism and masculine grandeur of the lord Shiva; Hindol is reminiscent of the color, romance and variety of the Spring; Dipak symbolizes the formidability and power of fire; Megh meaning cloud in the literal sense celebrates and invokes the rains; Shree portrays the serenity and pathos associated with the dying moments of a passing day.

To be precise, therefore, Indian Classical music is expressionistic and impersonal in character while the Classical music of the West is personal and impressionistic in style. And here, perhaps, lies the answer to my riddle why the population of listeners eager both for the Indian and the Western classical music has remained at this amazingly slender proportion over the centuries. Impressionistic art forms being determinedly personal, demand an initiated approach and are, if I may be pardoned for taking the liberty, essentially elitist in character. The compositions reflect the mind and personality of their creators and do not instantly open up the treasure trove of joy to the seeker. So to reach the full depth of understanding and joy from a session of the great Erotica Symphony of Beethoven, not only has one to know the contemporary developments of history of the time, he has also to know, the gothic strength of the mind of the composer, the promethean spirit which will not settle terms with anything abhorred and unwarranted. Likewise, the Requiem by Mozart is not merely a funeral song written on commission in memory of the death of an obscure Count. It is a formidable document signifying the piercingly tragic feelings and melancholia of the composer who was destined to die young at the age of 35 through extreme misery of ill health, poverty and neglect in his last days.

The major Indian ragas, on the other hand, born through evolutionary process and not being created by any particular persons, are like huge dimensional pictures on large canvases, symbolizing the myriad colors of the sun rays and echo the universal spirit and psyche of Nature and mankind as a whole. The creations are of all conceivable variety-- sad, serene, joyful, passionate, emotive, sensual and even grotesque and bizarre, but all on the purely non-personal plane. They are everybody's song and are not anybody's signature tune. Hence, they can be approached and enjoyed by all alike with a little bit of devotion, needing no prior preparations or chiseling of the mind. Optimally perfected, they are capable of bringing rains in Summer, Spring in the Winter, can create the ambience of dawn in the dead of night and can even bring back the departed soul to its earthly abode for some moments. We have the well known story of Bilas Khan, the illustrious son of the legendary Mia Tansen, who created and played a new Raga, now known as Bilaskhani Todi, as a tribute to his father, sitting by the side of his corpse in the cremation ground just before the burial. The right hand of the dead body, the story goes, rose for a few seconds in a gesture of blessing and consolation for the bereaved son who was late to join the funeral procession having arrived late from the distant ashram of his guru where he was camping for years for training.

Salieri is a contemporary of our beloved Amadeus Mozart. He was a composer himself and, as the record goes, of no insignificant merit either. But history has unfortunately chosen to drop his name as a composer and he is hardly ever played or heard, as has happened to Raga Dipak because of its proverbial but ill fated association with an incident in the life of Mia Tansen who nearly burnt himself to death singing the Raga in its purest form to light up lamps at the request of Emperor Akbar. Similarly, though not remembered as a composer, the name of Salieri remains noted in history because of the dubious distinction of his reported attempt to poison Mozart out of jealousy. Whether he really plotted or was merely instrumental in causing the untimely death for Mozart is a matter of research and not our concern. What is vital and relevant for us is a remark of Salieri about Mozart decidedly made out of low self-esteem and a sense of hostility. But what he said about Mozart is incidentally the most fitting tribute to the prodigious composer, the archangel of music from the West and the truest of all assessment of Mozart's creations in the most precise form. Salieri said that Mozart, while composing, had nothing much to do as he took dictations directly from God. True. How else could a man who lived only 35 years write so many heavenly compositions beginning when he was just a toddler! Leaving aside concertos for a wide range of instruments, vocal compositions, arias, sonatas and other forms of music, the total number of Symphonies created by Mozart, as known till now, is 41 where Beethoven?s is only 9. If we are fortunate and research continues in the right direction, more symphonies composed by Mozart and hitherto unknown to us are likely to come to light. It is said and not unjustly that it is not possible for a person to listen to all the compositions of Mozart in one lifetime.

If what Salieri remarked about Mozart is true, it is true also about all pure forms of music world over that have withstood the test of time and have continued to thrill the sensitive mind in any part of the globe. They are God's creations revealed through mortals, born out of the primal sound AUM, unfailingly benign to all alike from time immemorial - the worlds of man, animal and plant too, as recent scientific research has conclusively proved.

But, after all is said and done, music is music, the revels and wonders of the sculptured sounds that will surpass all relativities of time, space and action and will continue to soothe bruised hearts through the ages with its imperishable beauty. So all barriers to the blessings of a pure joy should be uprooted and overthrown. So let Mozart shower his heavenly murmurs from the abundance of his symphonies, concertos, sonatas and sinfonias in my left ear and may Bhairavi, Malkauns, Lalit and Kannadas pour down their ecstasies into my right ear endlessly till the last moment of my merging into the bliss of eternity. Let all living on earth be so blessed and marvel at the glory and profundity of God's creations. Let the child who was born this moment and the child who sees the light of the Universe the next moment be bathed with music, be fed with music and be cradled and rocked with music and grow into their man or womanhood with the musical wonders of Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and other all time greats of Western classical music and simultaneously be adorned with the garlands of innumerable Ragas and Raginis, the timeless creations of exquisite beauty of our homeland. Let all inhibitions be gone, let all chains of mind melt away. Thus the dream era of universal love and brotherhood transcending all borders of separation -- social, economical, political or ideological and hindrances of color, creed and customs -- will dawn on our earth for the newborn and all alike. Catch them young and guide them through the glory of all glories, awakening them to the truth of their existence that they are Children of Immortality: Srinantu vishve, Amritasya Putrah.

Ananda Loke, Mangolaloke,
Viraja, Satya Sundara.


More by :  Gautam Sengupta

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