Music- A Path to Wholeness

Discourses on Music -1

Prateeksha Sharma


The author practicing on the Veena

Music is the essence of life, spirit and creation. To understand our musical selves is the beginging of our journey to becoming whole from the disjointed, often scattered selves we become as a result of socialisation and accularization. When we turn to music we unknowingly turn to mother nature who coded music into us even while we were being formed from the various elements, and in this turning we connect ourselves to our inner deeper selves- sometimes which does not reveal itself to us in our mechanisitic daily survival rigmarole. Wordsworth, in his autobiographical poem, The Prelude, in a reflective passage of Book 1 says,

Dust as we are,

the immortal spirit grows

Like harmony in music

-William Wordsworth

Though we come from the five elements and return back to them, the spirit creates newer vistas for itself and continues to scale heights that the body alone cannot scale. The spirit grows while the body withers. Such is nature’s playground. And the more the spirit grows, greater is the harmony it produces- within itself and with the world around. Such is music; such is life. Music is a reflection that mirrors every aspect of life, within its infinite folds, shades, hues and contours.

According to Yaksa, who codified the explanations for the word sangīta, around 500 B.C. the word sangita is explained by its symbolic substitute word bharata: bha from bhava (emotion), ra from raga (the modal-scalar framework for melody), and ta from tala (the rhythmic and metric structure). The specific Bharata invoked in the definition of sangita is the legendary sage who is said to be the author of the Natyashastra, the most important early treatise on music and theatre[i]. This explanation of music clearly portrays how from time immemorial the Indians have known about the inextricable link between emotions, melody and rhythm.

The word ‘music’ etymylogically comes from the  ‘muses’- Greek goddesses who inspired poets, painters, musicians etc. The word traces its history via Old French musique and Latin musica, to Greek mousike, a noun use of mousikos ‘of the muses’, an adjective derived from mousa ‘muse’- John Ayto[ii] aptly comments :

“the specialisation of the word’s  meaning began in Greek- first to ‘poetry sung to music,’and subsequently to ‘music’ alone.

According to the Greeks, Apollo was the patron god of music, dance and poetry. He earned the epithet of ‘musagetes’ –the leader of the muses[iii]. Interestingly Apollo was also the patron god of the healing arts, medicine and archery (Recall the number of hospitals and clinics named after him) Thus, music became synonymous with healing from the dawn of time

....To be continued ....

[i] Rowell, Lewis (1992)  first Indian edition 1998. Music and Musical Thought in Early India. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt.Ltd.

[ii] Ayto, John (1997), Bloomsbury Dictionary of Word Origins, Delhi: GOYLSaaB 

[iii] Mythology: myths, legends and fantasies, (2003) UK: Grange Books


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