OUR INDIAN MUSIC : STORIES AND ANECDOTES

Posted by Vartika Kumari at September 12, 2021

Music has always had the power to stir our emotions deeply. The
best performances given by most of our truly great musician have
been those when they have sung or played spontaneously. Urged by
an inner need to pour out their music. Here is a story about one of
our greatest musicians, which underlines this point.
The history of Indian Music is brimming with stories and anecdotes.
Why, the very origin of music and other fine arts is in itself a story.
The creator, Brahma, made this universe. He created a variety of
wonderfully beautiful and enchanting things. He created the majestic
mountain ranges, the thundering waterfalls peacock and the
exquisite flowers. He filled his creation with beauty, charm and
splendour. But he was sad. His consort Saraswati asked him the
reason for his sadness.
Brahma said, “It is true I have created all this wonder and charm and
showered beauty everywhere. But what is the use? My children, the
human souls, simply pass them by; they do not seem to be sensitive
to the beauty around. It seems to have been wasted on them; this
creation seems to be purposeless.”
Sarswati understood his feelings and told him, “Well, let me do my
share in the great work. You have created all this beauty and
splendour; I shall create in our children the power to respond, to
appreciate and be uplifted by them. I shall give them music and
other arts which will draw out form deep within them the capacity to
respond to the majestic splendour and exquisite charm and
wondrous beauty of all creations,”

The great muse then gave us music and the other fine arts, in the
hope that through them man would understand something of the
Divine in his manifestation. A strange story? Yes, but it has a great
moral.
One of the basic truths on which all Indian art is developed is that
true art is never made to order; it comes as a result of an irresistible
inner urge. We listen a song of Thyagaraja and are enthralled; we see
a majestic temple tower and gaze on it with wonder; we see some of
our ancient sculptures and feel thrilled. Why? Behind all such works
of art is a great spiritual urge. The artists who gave them to us
poured their devotion into the shape of such exquisite works of art;
it was an act of self-effecting dedication.
A story is told of Tansen, the great bard of Akbar’s court, which
illustrates this point vividly. Tansen was a great musician and Akbar
was very fond of his music. One day one when Tansen was in
particularly good form Akbar went into ecstasy and asked him,
“What is the secret of this sweet concord of notes which takes me
out of this world and transports me to Divine regions ? I have not
heard anyone else who can thus cast aspell of magic and make a
slave of our hearts. You are really wonderful, Tansen,”
The great bard replied, “Sir, I am only a humble pupil of my master,
Swami Hari Das; I have not mastered even a fraction of the master’s
technique grace and charm. What am I beside him whose music is a
rhythmic flow of Divine Harmony, beauty and charm in sound ?”
“What !” the emperor cried, “Is there one who can sing better than
you ? Is your master such a great expert?”
“I am but a pigmy by my master’s side, “said Tansen.

Akbar was greatly intrigued; he wanted to here Hari Das but,
emperor though he was, he could not get Hari Das to his court. So he
and Tansen went to the Himalayas where in his ashrama dwelt the
Swami. Tansen had already warned Akbar that the Swami would sing
only if he wanted to. Several days day stayed at the ashrama; but the
Swami did not sing. Then, one day Tansen sang one of the songs
taught by the Swami and deliberately introduced a false note. It had
almost an electric effect on the saint; his aesthetic nature received a
rude shock. He turned to Tansen and rebuked him, saying, “What has
happened to you, Tansen, that you, a pupil of mine, should commit
such a gross blunder?”
He then started singing the piece correctly; the mood came upon
him and enveloped him, and he forgot himself in the music, which
filled the earth and heaven. Akbar and Tansen forgot themselves in
the sheer melody and charm of the music.
It was a unique experience. When the music stopped, Akbar turned
to Tansen and said, “ You say you learnt music form this saint and yet
you seem to have missed the living charm of it all. Yours seems to be
but chaff beside this soul-stirring music.”
“It is true, Sir,” said Tansen. “It is true that my music is wooden and
lifeless by the side of the living harmony and melody of the master.
But then there is this difference- I sing to the emperor’s bidding, but
my master sings to no man’s bidding but only when the prompting
comes form his innermost self. That makes all the difference.”
-R.SRINIVASAN


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