An article I wrote recently for my friend Niharika, who edits a new wellness magazine called Ashvarttha — this appears in their current issue (Oct-Nov ’10); do check out the mag.
A crowded room in Botswana, where a number of enthusiastic Indian families have gathered for an evening of bhajans, a rare treat for them this far from their homeland. Even when I’m not officially on tour, I usually carry a guitar with me, and often these spontaneously arranged soirées have as much energy as sold-out concerts — I love’em!
I’m almost halfway through, by which time most of them are immersed in the Sanskrit chants, eyes closed and swaying, when my friend’s three year old son suddenly enters the room, walks straight up to me and reaches out a hand as if to touch my guitar. He seems at peace and unlikely to disturb the microphone or other gadgetry, and as I continue to sing a prayer to Durga Maa — he stands transfixed. As the song ends, he seems to snap out of his reverie and runs out to join his playmates.
It’s only when we get home that his mother, a dear friend, recalls that when she was in the hospital before delivering him, we had talked on the phone, and I had pulled out my guitar half a world away and sung to my soon to be born nephew, as she held the phone to her tummy. It was the same song! Somehow he remembered, even if unconsciously, and was inexorably drawn back to it that night.
A miniature ocean of amniotic fluid becomes a home for new life to grow. A foetus is but the marriage of two cells to begin with, then just a shapeless lump of tissue. As it grows, the magic of creation stirs life into it, and it begins to sense its own existence, and then the space around. It pulses with the mother’s rhythm at first, and then drums out its own, responding to unseen external stimuli with a vibration that only the mother feels but cannot express, except by the glow on her face.
The heartbeat becomes our first expression of music, our primal rhythm, and we find echoes of it in everything from African talking drums to the pakhawaj, and from raucous roadside pandaals to hip clubs playing trance, techno and house!
Trees and streams sing melodies, and as we sleep, waves lap shores at the exact same rate as that of our breathing. The entire universe is a grand, incredible symphony — sounds layering over each other to reach a mighty crescendo, and suddenly dissolving into utter stillness — notes that no instrument can reproduce fade into a silence that is almost deafening. Poets have sung of this, and saints have experienced epiphanies where they were engulfed by “the music of the spheres”. Human beings yearn for music; the greatest musicians long to touch that one note or chord that would leave them stupefied in silence; while angels and gods too are moved and propitiated by songs of devotion.
The divine has written a soundtrack to our lives, and it is up to us to listen. When the mind is stressed, agitated, negative, even your favourite music can grate and jar; but when the mind is serene and total, even a traffic jam drums out a soothing beat as we simply relax and smile.
The converse is also true. When the mind is disturbed, music can help reduce stress, decrease cortisol levels, ease muscle tension and insomnia and control blood pressure.
Vedic chants, Sanskrit mahamantras, Indian classical music, have all been designed to fulfill this very basic requirement of the human mind — to dissolve into its own innate silence.
It’s up to us to ensure that through our actions, words and presence, we aim to spread harmony and peace, not cacophony and strife.
The body has been described as a bamboo flute, with seven chakras or energy centres denoting the seven holes. When the small mind is silenced through meditation, awareness or bhakti, the reed is hollow and empty, allowing the divine to make you His instrument, and turning your life into a glorious song.
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