A young and brilliant court musician was taking a stroll around the gardens of Akbar’s palace one cloudy evening four hundred years ago. It was a day that not only foretold the monsoons but also a beautiful milestone that was to come in classical music. The sky was pregnant and dark grey. It was then that the musician Ramtanu heard the sound of a unique bird. The sound oscillated between what would later be named Komal and Shuddh Nishad in Hindustani Classical music. Seduced and drawn to this sound, Ramtanu went into a deeply meditative state and emerged within minutes having composed what is now known as Raag Miyan Malhar. This raag to this day is sung during monsoons. Miyan stands for ‘Miyan Tansen’ – the name Akbar anointed on Ramtanu when he became one of the Ratnas or jewels of Akbar’s court. This anecdote is one among so many that confirm the connection between nature and music. There are instances recorded in history where a thousand lamps got lit automatically after Tansen sang Raag Deepak.
Raagam Amridavarshini of Carnatic music connotes rain and is believed to have been used during drought to summon the rains. Raag Sarang of Hindustani music came from the searing deserts of Rajasthan and is still sung in the afternoon or in the summertime. Bhoopalam of South Indian classical music, with its heavy and weighty notes, evokes the mood of the wee hours of dawn when the sky and nature await the sunrise with heavy longing. Raagas like Bhairav, Aahir Bhairav and Vibhaas of Hindustani Classical music sungbin North India do the same.
Raagas like Puriya Dhanashree and Puriya Kalyan come to life in the ‘sayankaleen sandhiprakadh’ or the evening twilight where the mix of the various flat and sharp notes of the octave reflect the merging of the hues of day and night that twilight symbolises.
Other connections that classical music has with nature are the seven notes of the Indian music scale Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni which are believed to have originated from the sounds of different animals and birds like elephants, peacocks, the cuckoo, the goat and so on. Music and nature have even more profound connections. The Vedas which is the birthplace of Indian classical music were chants that were originally composed as odes to the awesome life forces of nature like the Sun, the Moon and the Stars. They were also sung as a gesture of gratitude to the elements that our earth and therefore our physical bodies are composed of – Fire, Earth, Air and Water. The evolution of Indian musical scales from the Samveda is testified by historical texts.
This is important for us to appreciate and understand because, from time immemorial, nature has been the richest reservoir of elements that can enable physical and mental healing. Anyone in a stressful state of mind who has had the experience of walking on fresh grass with the backdrop of mountains and valleys of flowers a d fruits will tell you that when in the presence of the grand beauty of nature, no stress and no anxiety can exist. Even physical ailments abate and sometimes vanish. When we start to experience Indian classical music not just as music but as a way to connect deeply and spiritually to nature and by extension to God, we can begin to appreciate the depth of this art-form truly. And then the process of spiritual and physical healing can begin in such a natural and organic way that we will not even realise it is happening.
Let us begin to immerse ourselves in the sea of music and feel the steady beat of a taal like the beat of our mother’s heart when we were in her womb. Let us enjoy the refreshing breeze of taanas and kalpana swaras of Hindustani and Carnatic music and the solid and secure grounding that the Swara ‘Sa’ gives at the end of a performance. This is the magic we have been looking for all along. It is here and ready to heal and soothe our souls. Just as nature always has been.