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THE SPIRITUAL JOURNEY OF MUSIC

Nithya Rajendran

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During my schooldays, I once boarded a train in Chennai and was headed to Delhi for a music competition. This was way back in the nineties, an age where there were no cell phones and no social media chatter. My vivid memories of that trip are not of the competition or the stay at Delhi, but rather of the two-day journey with my fellow musicians and classmates. The laughter, the charade games and hopping between the three tiers in the second-class compartment with the crowning glory being the Antakshari games with percussion being played on the drop-down plastic table or plastic bottles.

This memory came to my mind recently as I was ruminating on how life today has become so rushed, so infused with virtual social chatter and noise. Gratification today is easy, with everything available literally on our finger tips. The word waiting has no meaning anymore. Words like effort, persistence and patience seem like mere platitudes that dress up the dictionary like lipstick on a pig, having no practical relevance anymore. The current generation struggles with understanding these concepts from yesteryears, which seem to be coming dangerously close to extinction.

A redeeming fact, however, is that art forms like Indian Classical music and dance still retain their allegiance to these values. The pursuit of Sur, through Riyaaz of Sa or the first note Shadaj, is a case in point. Classical music goads even early learners to understand being and staying in key, which in turn requires persistence patience and submission, effectively urging the learner to give up a goal and gratification-oriented approach. The focus is on the journey and the process, with the gratification coming from the process and the submission. The goal is learning to stay with the note and allowing time to stop there. Gratification happens when, in the middle of Shadaj Riyaaz, a musician experiences stillness in a blissful experience of the present. It is a deeply spiritual experience, a microcosmic experience of how life should be experienced as a whole.

When I strongly endorse classical music learning to children and even adults today, it is more than just to just uphold reverence for tradition and culture. It is also to propagate the spiritual attributes that music can inculcate in the learner. In classical music the end and means merge. So do effort and reward. In the means lies the end; in the effort lies the reward. In my personal experience of pursuing music both in my learning days as a student, and now as a professional, the rewards have been immensely gratifying, irrespective of whether there is an audience in front of me and irrespective of any commercial gain.

I am happy to see this phenomenon increasingly play out when I observe students of my music academy Music Vruksh, engaging in learning, and experiencing a sense of happiness and fulfilment in the presence of music. It is so lovely to see an otherwise restless adult or child calm down while learning a Raaga or a classical music Bandish. It is a pleasing contrast to scenes we otherwise see, of people buried in their phone screens and looking for the instant but transient high of Facebook and Instagram likes and followers. When learning or singing classical music, the learner is totally engaged with the music. Being able to fully commit to the moment and enjoy being in the sound of the present – isn›t this a worthy goal? I would say so. Not only for children, but for people of all ages and stages of life.

Journeys are important. The journey towards somewhere or something is sometimes more important than the destination. Because it is during journeys that one genuinely learns the true nature of oneself and his or her relationship with the universe and fellow humans. It is in experiencing the journey of life that the spirit grows. Like seasoned wood or polished diamond and like the divine sound of the unison of Shadaj with the tanpura, it is in this experience that our spirit will shine. 

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