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Monday, August 26, 2013

Every word, every sound is an epithet of GOD.

Well, this is where the beauty of vEdic philosophy gets revealed. It is in fact one of the practical demonstrations to the words of the vEdAs and shrI madhwAchArya that "every word, every sound is an epithet of GOD". GOD is known by infinite names. He is also sarvanAdapratipAdya. The literary meanings of nAda is 'vibration', 'sound', etc. This is one of the most practical and 'scientific' words actually. Temperature is the degree of hotness of something which exists, in that it is an indication of the degree of vibrations of individual atoms that the body is composed of. If there were nothing, and if the whole world is an illusion, then there would be no 'real' heat energy and hence there would be no temperature, in other words, there is zero degree Kelvin temperature. But, it is a proven fact that there is no such thing as zero degree Kelvin and in fact it is unattainable in practice according to the fundamental laws of thermodynamics, by which the universe is governed. Hence, in the word nAda, there is an inherent expression of the fact that - "the world is not an illusion and is real". Even if we were to stop the motions of atoms even for an infinitesimally small amount of time, it would result in two things: i) the very act of trying to make it come to stand still, would increase the entropy of the universe an amount proportional to the energy that would otherwise be contained in the atom if were to be left undisturbed !. That is, that portion of the nAda which would have been represented by that particular atom, is now represented by other atoms, on its behalf !!. ii) Even though, if were to make it stop vibrating, we would still not succeed in the mission because, the individual electrons and individual protrons and neutrons and their various interactions, still go on. If these go on, it means that there is subatomic vibration but we are not able to perceive the atomic level vibrations. Hence, the word nAda is also imperative of the fact that - "energy cannot be destroyed !! but can only be transferred", which is exactly the law of conservation of energy and hence also the first law of thermodynamics !!. Why i highlight these points is that we have to know the greatness of the word nAda. The individual swarAs of a language (be it saMskrit, or music, or kannaDa etc.) are multi-faceted expressions of the underlying nAda. Hence, every swara represents nAda. Understanding a swara leads us to the path of that underlying nAda. This inturn leads us to GOD; how does it do so--> janmAdyasya yataH. When something as fundamental as nAda (let alone physical matter) exists, it needs a source, which is vishNu or GOD, who is in turn his own source. These arguments are in essence a logical and scientific proof of Shri madhwAchAryA's sentence: "Every sound is an epithet of GOD".

- Sunil Anandatheertha

Friday, August 9, 2013

Why did shrI puraMdara dAsa introduce rAga mAyAmALavagowLa for the lessons and learning methodologies that he designed in karnATic classical music.

This post is my humble attempt in trying to find out as to why dAsashrEShTa shrI puraMdara dAsa chose the rAga mAyAmALavagowLa for the lessons and learning methodologies he designed in karnATic classical music.

[ While reading this, you might want to consider listening to these peaceful stotras: 

  1. There is an uncommonly popular, (which sounds obvious to an artist and musicologist; and experienced rasikAs/listeners/admirers) notion, that he chose this raaga because of the very well placed swara positions (sa-r1-ga3-ma1-pa-dha1-ni3). Here, if the student can get at ga3 correctly during aarOhaNa then ma1 is just one swara higher and same concept applies for the avarOhaNa too. That is the next swarAs scoffold on the previous swarAs. Also, this is a sampUrNa rAga (it is mELakarta rAga in todays system of classification of rAgAs) that is, has all the seven swarAs in it.
  2. The above point is no doubt true and accurate, but, there are other rAgAs where this nature of scaffolding of swarAs occur. So why did he not choose them and instead choose mAyAmALavagowLa only (there is kalyAni, there is pantuvarALi, there is shaMkarAbharaNa, there is chArukEshi, etc..).
    1. mAyAmALavagowLa is a very auspicious and divine rAga capable of evoking the divinity and spirituality within the artist and as well as the listener. As mentioned in the page about karnATic classical music, spirituality and seeing divinity is the backbone and nerve center of karnATic classical music, and while learning this music system, one should be able to feel the divinity while trying to learn. Hence, a rAga which has this capability is chosen and one of such a rAga happens to be mAyAmALavagowLa. But still why did he choose this rAga? There are other rAgAs like nAdanAmakriye which seems soo tailor made only for devOtional aspects.
      • When some of the swarAs goes missing or absent, the part of the devotional aspect (or the particular rAga bhAva) which would have been otherwise brought out by these swarA(s) (that is if they were present, as in the case of its parent rAga) is also now absent, and hence lacks the effectiveness of the parent raaga, mAyAmALavagowLa, in bringing out the full scale of that particular devotional bhAva that was intended by Shri. Purandara dAsa. 
      • Hence, on one hand choosing a asampUrNa krama rAga does not serve the purpose well (like rEvagupti/bowLi) and neither does choosing a sampUrNa akrama rAga like nAdanAmakriye serve the purpose well, because in the case of sampUrNa akrama rAga, it is difficult to learn in the very intial/beginning stages. 
      • Taking the mAyAmALavagowLa and lets say, we introduce sarwaswrakampita gamaka. In this case, mAyAmALavagowLa becomes akin to the hindustAni rAga "bhairav" which also is a morning rAga. Though this rAga is devotionally very rich, it is too deep and very mature and too heavy. This primarily poses three problems
        • Many of the beginners are kids (even of just 2 to 4 yrs of age, kids come with no experience in life whatsoever. Such a deep strong emotion will be difficult for them to handle and might even have an impact on their coming understanding of the world. This rAga is klishTa in order to be practiced at the beginning stages. (i am not talking of prodigies like Chitraveena Ravikiran, they are have completely different and advanced karnATic mindset, gifTed by GOD)).
        • In mAyAmALavagowLa, the madhyama takes hardly any gamaka, hence, it acts as a kind of possible resting place for a learner, especially in the vocal stream. Also, there is an excellent opportunity to learn the art of learning to know intuitively, which swara recieves a gamaka and which does not, in a particular rAga which is actually very important factor because, there are numerous rAgAs, haveing the same swaras but different gamakaprayOgas, in the karnATic classical music itself.
        • It needs time to develop strength, voice culture and stamina (and even finger dexterity if learning on an instrument) to do sarvaswara gamaka prayOgas, in order to effectively bring out the heavy rAga such as bhairav, which young kids and most later stage learners lack to some extent, either small or large. 
    2. mAyAmALavagowLa is a morning rAga, that is a rAga effective when sung or played in morning. This rAga is a parent for the rAga malahari (meaning destroyer of all malina (or mala or impurities/adulterations) - basically in the mind and heart). Hence, in a way, the purifying nature of the rAga malahari is inherently present in this rAga (but this nature of purifying quality gets amplified in malahari to a greater extent than in mAyAmALavagowLa, but it is present). Hence, it cleanses the mind, of impurities and evil thoughts when sung (or even practiced in the beginning stages). Also, this rAga is the parent of rAgas called boWLi and rEvagupti, two very near rAgas, both know for their divine aspects. Hence, all these rAgA bhAvas are to a great extent inherent in mAyAmALavagowLa. 
 For all the above reasons (many more might be there!!), I believe Shri. Purandara dAsa chose the wonderful rAga mAyAmALavagowLa for composing beginner lessons for students in karnATaka shAstrIya saMgIta
-Sunil Anandatheertha 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Importance of veena in spiritual journey

It is needless to say that whenever we do anything pertaining with someone or something, either consciously or subconsciously, we first assess the qualities of that someone or something. If we get to know that the who or what we are dealing with is great, we then proceed to assess the greatness of that someone or something. With this said, the context of this post is on vINa and when we are dealing with it, we first make an assessment of the vINa. 

[ While reading this, you might want to play these peaceful stOtras: 

In the process of our assessment of the vINa, lets look at which hands play the vINa. The following appear first to any common man's mind.
  • saraswati: vInApAni, vainikOllAsini, vainikOdhAriNi, kachapIvINApAni
  • shiva: vInAdhara
  • nArada muni: holds EkataMtIya vINa and is also a veenApAni
  • riShi's and muni's: used to play the shatataMtri vINa (the ancient version of today's saMtoor) along with reciting the vEda
  • kaliyuga kalpataru shrI guru rAghavEMdra swAmy: he used to play the saraswati vINa and bAla krishNa used to dance for him when he played it
  • puraMdara dAsa: he used the tambUri, which also is a form of vINa while he used to compose and sing songs in devotion to vishnu and his avatAras, shiva, saraswati, lakShmi, durga..
  • mIrA bAi: she also used to use the tambUri and used it while composing and singing on GOD.
Though the above hands are enough to make one recognize the greatness of the vINa, one can also recognize the magnitude of spiritual greatness of the vINa by paying due attention to the following words spoken by the great sage yAjnavalkya:
वीणावादन तत्वग्नः श्रुतिजातिविशारदः |
(vINAvAdana tatvajnaH shruthijAtivishArada)
ताळग्नश्च अप्रयासॆन मॊक्षमार्गम् स गच्चति ||
(tALajnaShca aprayAsEna mOkShamArgaM sa gacchati)

meaning: वीणावादन तत्वग्नः (the one who is skilled in art of playing vINa) श्रुतिजातिविशारदः (one who is aware of the intricacies of the various shruthis and their positions) ताळग्नश्च (and one who is proficient in the various tALas (that is beat systems) of music) अप्रयासॆन (without difficulty or much effort) मॊक्षमार्गम् स गच्चति (he goes in the way leading to mOkSha (that is liberation) )

After having recognized the greatness of the vINa, the task at hand is attempting to understanding it. There is only one way to understand its greatness. This way is the way of experiencing its greatness by actual practice and playing and involvement and not by reading or learning about it. But, this act of understanding the greatness of the vINa, in itself is a task both impossible and possible. It is impossible to be understood in the fullest extent and possible to be understood in the least extent, well atleast for lesser souls like those of myself. On the other hand, it is fully possible for the divine such as, dEvi saraswati, rudra dEva, braHma dEva, vAyu dEva, and dEvi lakShmi.

dEvi Saraswati, the very embodiment of knowledge, art, expression, creativity and music has that unimaginably great capability of seeing lord vishNu in every nAda, and in every sound. We can only wonder in joy and amazement at this capability of hers, left alone understand it. We are like the frogs in the deep well located on an infinite shore. What horizons that lie beyond those infinite shores, knows not does this frog, even if it jumps out of its well. Such pitiful is the analogy between present day man and that frog in the well... Anyways, coming back to the point, when dEvi saraswati uses the method of using nAda to see vishNu, it is both imperative and conclusive that nAda indeed is very very very important tool which can be used to see the divine lord VishNu. This conclusion about such importance of nAda, is indeed extremely important and useful. This also makes us aware of the greatness of the vINa which is the source of nAda. Such great is the meaning of the symbolism of the vINa in the hands of dEvi saraswati commonly depicted in paintings and idols.

To actually try to understand and experience the greatness of the vINa, I am afraid this post would be of no much value since, words cannot describe it (Why ?.... Because, words only describe what is already known and finite). Nevertheless, any effort in this direction in trying to express through words about the greatness of experiencing the greatness of vINa, would indeed be immeasurably useful for both me (the blogger.. :P) and the interested readers such as yourselves :). 

I now provide below, in order of their increasing maturity and heavy'ing weight, four points. Each point discusses on the reasons to experience the greatness of vINa and also the fruits of experiencing it. I am hoping that the following points (assimilated here from both acquired and realized knowledge) would prove to be valuable (but definitely not invaluable) in trying to make one understand the greatness of the vINa even if to the least possible extent.

  1. Health point of view Practicing veena can be beneficial from the following standpoints: it improves the muscle reflexes of the hands, it brings in better hand-eye and hand-ear co-ordination. It would be worthwhile looking at this point too (I take delight in also elaborating it here): There is a certain term in the physics of vibrations, which is 'natural frequency'. The vINa being made of 24 frets (and also containing 4 pitches and each pitch ranging 2 octaves), is synonymous with the 24 individual segments of the human spinal cord [REF: The human spinal column consists of 24 movable segments called vertebra -- http://www.upright-health.com/spine.html]. All in all we can get 24 * 4 *2 = 192 discrete frequencies on the saraswati vINa. The ball of the game while playing the vINa jumps between individual discretely - continuous 192 frequencies and in the process tries to match the individual natural frequencies of the individual segments of the spinal cord. When the natural frequency of that segment of the spinal cord matches with the frequency of the nAda coming out of the vINa at that very instant, a natural phenomenon called resonance occurs. When this occurs, that particular segment of the spinal cord vibrates in coherence with the frequency of the nAda emanating from the vINa at that instant. This process continues and different spinal cord segments get excited at particular instants of time. This sets the human spinal vertebra vibrating in coherence with the nAda of the vINa. In this state the vINa of the human body, comprising of the spinal vertebra becomes tuned to the nAda of the vINa being played and hence a physical relationship gets established between the two (this physical relationship is quintessential thing, because it is the one which helps us hear sound, because, the ear drum vibrates in cohesion with the external sound impinging upon it !!). As this conscious process becomes more and more well tuned, the bond of this physical relationship becomes ever the more stronger. When the vertebral column starts vibrating, it inturn excites the huge density of nerves which pass through it. This inturn is believed to improve the nerve efficiency in transferring the brain signals all the way to the concerned locations of the body. Moreover, it has a direct effect on the chakrAs of the human body in make it more and more awake. All this will work only with very well tuned vINa
  2. Phsycological point of view A century or a half in the past, it was the matter of debate among the western thinkers, scientists, and musicians over the topic "Whether of not music influences the mind positively or negatively". Later they tested that beethoven's music actually promoted healthier growth of grape plants and concluded that good music not only has a positive influence on the mind of animals but also on plants having no mind. Nevertheless, we knew of this fact centuries prior to the discovery date by western scientists. The adhyAtmic scientists of bhArata had stated and even demonstrated this fact many centuries before itself. For example, madhwAchArya (1238 A.D) has stated the power of music and even demonstrated it by singing to accelerate the growth of a plant. There even exists a rAga called udaya rAga, in the karnATic music system, which when played in morning in front of a cow, makes it easy for the cow to allow milk to flow easily through her breasts, and this is because the udaya rAga influences the mind the cow !!. vINa is the very embodiment of music, in that it is its source. Have you ever seen a child go to sleep by screaming in front of it? or by making noise in front o it?... But I am sure you have seen a child go to sleep by listening to sweet lullaby sung by its mother.. Why is it?.. Its because the music allows the child's mind to get a fixation and allow it to respond to the immediate change in the sleep hormone melatonin. Not only this, how many of you (if not you , have friends) who study well by listening to music ?.. Why is it.. its because, music helps a mind to achieve better concentration because, what is music?; music is in the most broad terminologies, order. When they switch on the music, there is more order in the thoughts, but when they switch it off, there is increased disorder in the thoughts. If just listening to good music has such a great effect on the mind, think of what impact it might have on the mind which actually produces it, whether by singing or by the use of external instruments. The following are some of the readily recognizable aspects of the mind which are directly influenced by playing vINa (I hope i need not write exclusively on each of the below, but nevertheless, I would do so, if you wish to read it through my words.):
    1. memory
    2. mental quickness
    3. ability to converge on a thought
    4. imagination
    5. creativity
    6. confidence
  3. Devotional and Spiritual point of view A quintessential requirement for making the devotional and spiritual journey of every man more efficient is control over ones thoughts. To inturn gain better control over our thoughts, we need a whole list of increased efficiency of the both the tools and their usage, these tools being memory, analytical capability, creativity, imagination, confidence, stability of thought,... All these is easily achievable through the practice of vINa. Also, it is very important to notice that the 24 individual segments of the vertibral column of the human body, is synonymous, [A] with 24 frets of the saraswati vINa, [B] with 24 individual syllables of the gAyatri maMtra, [C] with the 24 (i.e., chaturviMshati) rUpA's of vishNu (that is 4! = 4x3x2x1 = 24).
  4. Higher point of view More than everything, we overselves are basically a form of vIna in the hands of dEvi saraswati, in the hands of shiva, in the hands of vAyu, in the hands of lakshMi, and finally in the hands of GOD vishNu. With dEvi saraswati playing our vINa of speech, divine knowledge, the vINa of bhakti, with rudra dEva playing the vINa of our mind and thoughts (he is the abhimAna dEvate for mind and hence also called as manOniyAmaka dEva) and also health (rujam drAvayatEti rudra - one who cures ill health is rudra), also the vINa of bhakti (also without shiva the body is shava (that is a dead body)), with vAyu dEva playing the vINa of prANa shaktI (life force), with aksharE dEvi lakshMi playing the vINa of existence of everything material, and vishNu playing the vINa of existence of time, existence of everything material and non-material. Upon realizing this, we can see how important is it to let ourselves to be played by these divine hands instead of those unsteady impure imperfect limited hands of ours. We as mortals and ignorant, have to ask them to tune 'this' vINa however they wish and to whatever extent is best for us and play. One this vINa starts making their melody, then our purpose will be satisfied. 

- Sunil Anandatheertha