Healing Melodies

The difference between life and drama is measured by how quickly life can turn on its head and amaze you. In medieval India, such was the miracle of music, that sometimes, life was stranger than fiction. Legend has it that Tansen, Mughal Emperor Akbar’s court musician was once asked to sing Raga Deepak, and so skillful was his rendition, that he lit the surrounding lamps through his melody, subsequently setting them ablaze. As the heat grew intensity, Tansen’s body became so hot that he had to cool off in a nearby river. But even the river, it is said, began to dry off and it was then that Tansen asked the two sisters Riri and Tana to sing Raga Malhar, as an invocation to the skies to bring rain and save him. The sisters acquiesced, and the great Tansen survived.

From its origins in the Vedic tradition, Indian Classical music as we know it today is seen in two broad classifications: Hindustani, mostly in North India and Carnatic in the south. Across the board, all music in the tradition is based on ragas — basic melodic modes consisting of a set of notes.  When performed with diligence, without compromising the notational integrity of the raga, a distinct mood and spirit is said to emerge with every raga, in pursuit of which each raga is prescribed to be performed at a distinct time of day. It is then not surprising that the Sikh holy scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib is composed in and divided by 31 ragas, each depicting the sentiment of the relevant text.

So promising is the power of classical music, that even modern-day science confirms its healing properties. Studies have shown that classical music has proven to help keep depression and anxiety at bay, in contemporary times when stress is the silent killer. Not only does classical music calm nerves, but it is also known to boost immunity, ease muscle tension and prevent strokes. Specifically, Darbari Kanhada, Kamaj and Pooriya ragas help in defusing mental tension, especially in cases of hysteria. For hypertension, ragas such as Ahirbhairav, Pooriya and Todi are prescribed.Proponents of modern music therapy have shown that disciplined, sustained and active listening of these rags helps fight illness.

Who would have thought a dedicated listen to the passing old tune could have such magical effects?

– by Aarti Jesrani

photocourtesy: wichaar.com, darbar.org, wikimedia.org