Music and myth
Music is an important element in Sanatan Hinduism. It (music) is an inseparable part of prayer in this ancient religion. Music, musicians and different types of musical instruments have a great influence on the devotees and believers of all sects of Hindu religion. If we go through some Hindu mythological stories and facts, we can easily realize why and how music has played a vital role in this religion for ages.
To discuss about the influence of music on Hinduism, I would like to give first the example of a Sanatan sacred scripture named the Samveda. It is one of four Vedas. Actually the Samveda is a collection of hymns and other ancient religious texts written in India between about 1500 and 1000 BCE. It is the best example of Sanatan Hindu musical way of prayer. It is the Veda of melodies and chants. The Samveda is the best document of musical way of devotion in Hinduism.
Musical instruments can also prove the close link of music with Hinduism. In this regard, I would like to mention the names of three well known musical instruments – the Damru (a small two-headed drum) of Lord Shiva, the Bansuri ( a side blown flute produced from bamboo) of Lord Krishna and the Veena (a plucked string instrument) of Saraswati. Many devotees and researchers think that most of the musical instruments of this planet have been made from the basic ideas of these three musical instruments. The significance of Shiva’s Damru symbolizes Nada, the cosmic sound of OM. When Shiva started beating Damru, Sri Yantra and Om came into existence. As per Hindu mythology, Natya Shastra, the science of music, dance and drama, was created by Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. The love of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati for each other gave birth to nine Rasa (emotions), different Raagas (melodic frameworks) and art of drama and dance. Rudra Veena was the first musical instrument and it was created by Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Their love was the source of happiness which originated the music and dance. They created various Raagas (melodic frameworks), dances and dramas to please each other. Besides, the ‘Nataraja’ form of Shiva is very significant in Hinduism. ‘Nataraja’ means ‘the king of dancers’. The cosmic dance of Nataraja is called ‘Anandatandava’ which means the Bliss of Dance. It symbolizes the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction as well as the daily rhythm of birth and death. Saraswati, another Hindu goddess of learning, wisdom, music and aesthetics, is worshipped since the Vedic period of Hinduism. In Rigveda she is given much importance. She is one of the Trinity or Tridevi (Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati). Lord Krishna is the incarnation of Vishnu or Narayana. In most of the picture or Hindu sculpture, He is depicted with His Bansuri (flute). He has preached love through his flute. He has created this world out of the sound of Omkara that emanates from His Bansuri (flute). The sweet sound from the Bansuri (flute) of Krishna resonated all over the land of Vrindavana. It created a divine air in the atmosphere. Hearing the music, all the activities that all living beings were engaged in came to a standstill. In Indian literature, music and all branches of arts, Krishna’s Bansuri (flute) has a great importance. Krishna’s Bansuri (flute) has an special attraction to the Vaishnava sect of Hinduism.
Besides gods and goddesses, Gandharvas (celestial beings and great entertainers with skills in music), Apsaras (the celestial singers and dancers who together with the Gandharvas, or celestial musicians, inhabit the heaven of the god Indra, the lord of the heavens), Kinnars (celestial musicians), ancient sages and spiritual leaders have enriched the musical atmosphere of Hinduism. In the Sanatan Hindu texts, the Rig Veda and the Mahabharata, the stories of Apsaras were told. The character of Kinnars are clarified in the Adi parva of the Mahabharata. Gandharvas and their myths are mentioned in the Rig Veda and Vishnu Purana. In Vishnu Purana, Gandharvas are described as the sons of Lord Brahma. Tumburu, the son of sage Kahyapa and his wife Pradha is described as the best and mighty musician among Gandharvas. In the Ramayana, Rama, the Avatar of Lord Vishnu, and his brother Lakshmana encountered a demon called Viradha while in exile in the forest. This demon was the cursed Tumburu. Rama liberated him from the curse and Tumburu returned to his home of Gandharvas. In Mahabharata, we meet an interesting musical character named Brihannala. Actually Arjuna, one of the prominent characters in the Mahabharata, assumed this name. He spent one year of his exile as Brihannala in King Virata’s Matsya Kingdom. Arjuna taught song and dance to the princess Uttara.
Since the ancient Hindu sages and devotees gave importance on music as a way of chant and prayer to Almighty, many spiritual leaders, poets and lyricists of this religion of the sub-continent followed this tradition. Some spiritual leaders, poets and lyricists are still well known not only for their devotion but also for their own poetical and musical talent. Some of them are Jaydev (a Sanskrit poet during the 12th century), Vidyapati (a Maithili poet during the 14th century), Chandidas (a Medieval poet of Bengal), Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (one of the prominent Hindu saints of the 15th century who played a significant role in propagating Shri Khol or Mridangam, one of the most favourite musical instruments in Bengal and its use), Ramprasad Sen ( a Shakta poet and saint of the 18th century Bengal whose devotional songs, known as ‘Ramprasadi’ are still popular in Bangalee Hindu devotees), Kamalakanta Bhattacharya ( an Indian Shakta poet, lyricist and yogi of late 18th century who followed the life style of Sadhak Ramprasad Sen), Swami Vivekanand ( a 19th century Indian monk and chief disciple of Ramkrishna who introduced the Indian philosophy of Vedanta and Yoga to the Western world) and Meera Bai (a prominent devotee of Vaishnava Sanatan Hindu Sect who wrote some 1300 pads or poems commonly known as bhajans or sacred songs). Some renowned poets and lyricists are also mentionable in the field of musical creation. In Bengal, Panchakabi (five great poets named Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, DL Roy, Atul Prasad and Rajanikanta Sen) are very famous for their devotional songs.
Sanatan Hinduism has given a great importance on music. The followers of this religion believe that this sacred thing (music) came from Heaven and so it (music) should be a way of their devotional prayer. Different myths and stories discussed above bear the testimony of this truth.