|The Chembur Fine
Arts Society, one of the foremost cultural organisations in Mumbai, is going places with
its innovative and pioneering efforts in promoting and propagating Indian music and dance.
The recent thematic annual conferences on Carnatic music have certainly caught the
imagination of the music-loving public. The last three years have witnessed detailed
discussions and demonstrations on the Musical instsruments of Carnatic music. The first
conference, on String instruments, was held in February 1999. Spread over two days, it
highlighted in detail the various stringed instruments used in Carnatic music. Whereas the
first day was dedicated to string instruments of Indian origin, like the Vina, Chitravina
etc, the second day covered instruments of western origin that have been successfully
adopted in Carnatic music (Violin, Guitar, Mandolin etc). The participants included
top-notch instrumentalists. Wherever possible, different schools and styles were also
featured. The conferences in 2000 and 2001 covered Wind instruments and Percussion
In the coming weeks, Carnatica will bring you the papers presented by the participants at these Conferences.
STRING INSTRUMENTS - 1999
|VINA: ITS EXALTED STATUS IN CARNATIC MUSIC - PART 1
- By E Gaayathri
The greatest western thinker who related to the art of music is Sir Herbert Reads. He observed, "All art, sculpting, painting, music, acting, etc. are meant to convey the artistes experience to the people through their particular medium of art. It is therefore necessary for the artiste to have a deep and intense feeling to be conveyed through his or her art." Art therefore is the language of the artiste. An artiste must have a core or bhava and work out his theme through his medium.
What Herbert Reads meant is that of all forms of art, music is the most powerful medium capable of conveying the artistes feeling to the listener. The origin of music therefore is feeling, musically termed as manodharma or bhava. Every bhava has a rasa in it.
Rasa is the experience that arises in the emotional core of a listener as he registers the bhava conveyed by the artiste. Therfore from the rasa and bhava of the artiste, music flows and ends up in the same rasa and bhava of the listener. This is the ideal of music. If that bhava and rasa of the artiste are ennobling, his or her music can certainly elevate the listeners consciousness to heights. For this reason alone great devotees like Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar, Syama Sastri, known as the music Trinity, and many other great devotees whose hearts were filled with love of God, chose music to reach the feet of their chosen deity.
The bhava or the thought in praise of God is the lyric or sahitya and the music on which the sahitya is based is the rasa. The core of devotion has found expression through lyric in thought and through music in experience. Raga and rasa being identical, the Indian science of music developed a language of its own to express any emotion or rasa in music.
The human being is inseparable from his surroundings. At times it happens that the day, the night, the morning, the evening, the season, the nature, the cloud, the thunder, the lightening, the twilight, the moon and the like exercise an influence on the conciousness of the man and take him into a mood. This mood gives rise to a rasa. Every possible kind of rasa in relation to these circumstantial surroundings has been found to be conveyed through a raga. So, the world of ragas has all the variety of life and experience. This is most true about Indian music.
Vina is a very ancient instrument dating back to Vedic times. This instrument is in the hands of Saraswati, the consort of our creator, who therefore is our Mother. While the Vedas, the storehouse of our knowledge have come out of the faces of Brahma, the creator, all emotions, feelings, experiences called the rasa-s have emanted from this instrument in the hands of Goddess Saraswati. This instrument is therefore of divine origin and fills our emotional lives. If our emotions are noble and satvic in nature, they find expresion in music played particularly on Vina.
In Hindu astronomy, Tula Rasi (Libra in the western zodiac system) contains the star Swati. This constellation is also described as Alpha Cygnus indicating Hamsa (swan), which is the seat of Saraswati. The constellations name Swati forms the major part of the Goddesss name Saraswati, as Saraswati means white swan. Swati also indicates sweta (white colour), and according to our ancient scriptures the Goddess is always adorned in white garments. Venus, the lord of Libra or Tula Rasi, is again astrologically indicated through the colour white. Also, this constellation, Swati presents the picture of a lyre or Vina. Many decades ago, scientists and philosophers discovered a cosmic hiss emanting from this constellation. This is the nada, the musical resonance that pervades the Universe. It pervades the human body also, only to be discovered by one within oneself. This nada is the mother of all ragas which are expressions of emotions. Nada in all ragas therefore is like gold in all ornaments. The instrument Vina finds description in Vedic literature as well as epic literature.
Atha Khalviyam deivi Vina Bhavati tadanukriti rasau maanushi vina bhavati ||
The above quote from Aithreya Brahmana mentions Vina as of two kinds, Deive (divine) and Manushi (human).
The human body created by God is the Deiva vina. The vina made out of wood by the human being is Manushi vina. The divine vina obviously expresses the emotions of the immortals in the higher worlds. The human vina expresses the emotions of the mortals. Man was also known as Gatra vina. Gatra means human body and not human voices. The vina played by him was known as Daru Vina (wood vina).
A sloka in the Sama Veda says:
Daaruvee gaatra vina
satve vina ga na jaatishu |
Meaning, the body known as Gatra vina and vina made of tree known as Daru vina are meant for divine music.
There are innumerable references in our scriptures to show that the human body and the vina are similarly patterned. Since the vina resembles the Brahmadi Danu responsible for Vishnu Gana, the Manushya vina and Deiva vina are equal or analogous to each other. The deiva or gatra vina which is the human body, is permeated with nada (musical resonance). Deiva vina contains dhwani and nada. Like the head of the body, vina also has a siras or head (kudam in Tamil). Like mans udara, vina also has a udara. Like the human fingers, vina has strings. Sa-Pa and Sa-Ma swaras permeate both the human body and the vina. If you closely examine the human body and the vina, you will come to know this.
The backbone of a human being has 24 important centres on the spinal column. The vina has four main or melody strings made of steel, of which two are coiled with copper to facilitate the playing of a chromatic scale exending over two octaves. These strings are mounted on a base of hard wax to which resin and lamp soot have been added. This feature accounts for the characterisetic sound of the vina. The frets need to be reset from time to time by an expert as a result of the vigorous movements that are performed whenever embellishments of notes are produced on a particular fret, or between two frets.
The Vina has a tonal range convering three and a half octaves. Three secondary strings, also made of steel, are fitted on the side. This serves the function of keeping the time cycles (tala) of a song, to articulate phrases, and to provide the basic note (drone). Similarly, the human body has a head above its spinal cord. The mans head is analogous to the kudam of the vina. The human being attains poornatva or mukti with the help of seven dhatu-s namely skin, bone, brain, flesh, blood, semen and shonita of the female. Similarly the distance between the bridge and the beginning of the eyebrows to the nucleus and mooladhara of a man is 48 inches. Like the human vertebrae in the ascending order become narrow and narrower, the swarasthanas from the fret to the bridge of the vina get reduced in geometric progression. As the space between the frets gets narrowed down from the first fret towards the bridge, the nada get progressively enchanced. The music gushes forth in the merusthan (bridge) and consequently, the prana floating and touching the mooladhara lingers at a particular distance and only from this the music originates. This phenomenon of music originating from prana is described in Silappadikaram.
The centre of the human body is prescribed as the place two inches above the mooladhara. The vina resembles the human body both in the sthoola form and in the subtle nada form. The prana in human body flows in the upper six and lower six, that is in 12 sthana-s (regions) and explains breath. Similarly, nada in vina flows in the upper six and the lower six sthana-s and produces Raga moorchana-s. The human body is divided into moolasthana-s, swargam, martyam and patalam. Similarly in vina there are three sthayis (ranges or octaves) - Mandra, Madhya and Tara. All these similarities created by God are striking evidences that vina is a divine instrument to be used by human being for the liberetion of soul and to detach himself from the unending cycle of births and deaths.
Vina playing as the highest form of yoga brings about the merging of jeevatma and paramatma only when the vina player handles the vina through the sheer force and power of his prana or kundalini sakti, aising from the mooladhara and not merely by moving his fingers across the frets and strings. The nada of the vina and the kundalini prana of the vina player enter together like passionate lovers seeking union to become one. As they unite, they take the shape of the finest thread and make contact with the fingertips of the vina player that are already moving across the frets and strings of the vina. Now the vina player is a full-fledged yogi, rendering divine music on the veena and in kumbhakam (neither inhaling not exhaling - in other words, retention of breath) without effort or consciousness. If the artiste is able to develop and improvise along these lines, at some point it will become possible for him to have the vision of God and to merge with him.
tatvagnyana, Sruti Jaati Visaradaha |
The artiste who knows the science behind vina playing, who can play vina by tuning the instrument and maintaining it perfectly, and has superb rhythmic control without any effort can attain salvation or mukti.
The movement of prana in the human body and the flow of sound, nada, in the vina is similarly patterned. According to Maitrayaniya Upanishad, prana circulates in the human body on a single day and night for 21,600 breaths. According to our ancestors, the Sun revolves around the Mahameru 21,600 times in a single day. A day in the life of a man is known as one revolution of the earth and one breath of sun. 21,600 days constitute 60 years in a mans life time which is known as parivriti. Two parivriti-s constitute a kalacharam. This is also known as Purush Ayushu consisting of 120 years in astrology. This constitutes two days in the life of Sun. A drop of blood as it circulates within a human body takes along with it one breath of the human being. This drop of blood along with one breath of the human being takes nearly 7 nimisha to circulate within the human body. Similarly, when the vina string is plucked once, the nada wave emanating from it takes nearly 7 nimisha to travel back and forth between the bridges of the vina to the beginning frets of the vina.
A man who reciets Gayatri mantra 100 times is absolutely elevated. He reduces 21,600 breaths to 108 breaths per day through pranayama. Hence he enhances one year of life span to 200 years of life span. The vina yogi, by meditating on the Tara sthayi Shadja within the lotus of his heart is able to reduce the 21,600 breaths. He reduces the same to 1,080 breaths by meditating on Madhya sthayi Shadja and to 540 breaths by meditating on the Adhara Shadja. Therefore the yogic power of the longevity of man to make good use of life towards realizing God. Incidentally the hridayakamalam, the lotus of the heart, has 12 petals bearing beejakshara-s ka, kha, ga gha nga cha chcha ja jha gnya ta and tha.
The first, eighth and eleventh petals, ka, ja and ta are beejakshara-s to be meditated upon to unravel the secrets and mysteries of all fine arts towards cosmic truth. Muthuswami Dikshitars kritis Kanja Dalayatakshi in Kamalamanohari has been composed in the beginning of the kritis itself. It is also interesting to note that Tyagaraja composed Sobhillu Saptaswara with the seven aksharas of the Taraka Mantra, Sri Rama Rama in mind and not Sa ri ga ma pa da ni as misunderstood by many. Tyagaraja, overjoyed by the vision of Lord Rama sang in praise of the Taraka Mantara that granted him the vision.
The yogis who practiced Vasi yoga played the yazh or vina when heat was generated due to yoga sadhana. Jatis are rendered in seven swaras with Arohana and Kumbhakam (retention of breath) is made possible beyond the proportions of nature. Conversely speaking the right kind of raga on vina can create the satvic and noble rasa and bhava in human beings. The human being needs to be elevated from the mundane, materialistic and ignoble thoughts and feelings of his material life to noble and satvic feelings and consciousness. The nada of vina is much more perfect than the human voice itself, capable of creating a satvic peace in the human heart and elevate him to superhuman or divine plane of consciousness. This infact is the avowed purpose of Indian music. The rajas and tamas are sought to be subdued and satva guna aroused. Music in general, related to other cultures, seeks only to entertain the man or to whip up the animal instincts in him. Vina playing through the yogic method is meant to subdue these passions.
It is no wonder that this vina is held in the hands of Lord Dakshinamurti, the God who confers pure gnana or knowledge to release the soul from its bondage. In Pallava and Chola temples of the South, Lord Dakshinamurti is worshiped with a vina in his hands. Lord Siva was known as Vina Gana Priya, i.e. as one who enjoyed vina music. In Tiruvilayadal Puranam, Lord Siva takes the form of woodcutter and playes yazh for the sake of his disciple, Panipatiran. The Lord stated that yazh or vina is an instrument bubbling with life because kuril and nedil i.e., consonants and gamaka-s can be played in it without interruption.
Even Tyagaraja in his kriti Mokshamu galada in raga Saramati says:
Vina Vadana Loludou Sivamano Vidhamerugaru
Liberation is difficult for people who do not understand the mind of Lord Siva, who enjoys playing his vina in tune to the universal nada. Attuning oneself to the divine mind of Siva is moksha itself. Dakshinamurti therefore conveys such ultimate gnana through vina. The great sage, Narada did Nadopasana by tuning his consciousness to the vina. The saint of recent times Raghavendra Swami of Mantralaya was engaged in the contemplation of his soul while playing divine music on his vina. Paramacharya Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam has started in his Deivattin Kural that japam, dhyanam, pooja and other rituals are not necessary for a real vina artiste to achieve divine glory.
Not only Goddess Saraswati, but Goddess Parasakti also has a vina in her hand. This is told by Kalidasa in the Navaratnamala stotra. He says that the Goddess Parasakti plays vina with her finger-tips and glows in the musical splendour created by the chaturya of Saptaswaras.
Sarigamapadani rathaan tam Vina Sankraata Kanta Hastaan taam ||
Goddess Rajamatangi is the most important deity for vina. She has to be worshipped fervently to understand the divine nuances of vina.
Vina is the only instrument prescribed by divine scriptures as an instrument containing many universal code secrets to help reveal the ultimate truth to human being. That is why vina has been given an exalted status in Carnatic music.
To be continued
Yazh to Guitar - Prof. V V