Origin of Music

“The music is all around US, all you have to do is listen.”

This quote from August Rush movie, very beautifully describes the existence of music in every aspect of nature. The birds chirping in the morning, the wind, water splashing against the shore, call of the animals, cracking of the dry leaves and so on. This exquisite beauty of nature has the potential to sooth mind and can invoke a certain sense of inner peace.

The basic origin of music is hence regarded to be from nature.

Early man had used stones, seeds, woods, shells, bones, horns, whistles, flutes, trumpets, reeds, rhombuses, bows, animal skin, and leaves etc. in order to create sounds. To be able to grab attention while hunting, alerting for danger, socializing, conveying messages and so on.

Musical instruments are constructed in a broad array of styles and shapes, using many different materials. Early musical instruments were made from “found objects” such as shells and plant parts.As instruments evolved, so did the selection and quality of materials. Virtually every material in nature has been used by at least one culture to make musical instruments.

The Indus Valley Civilization, also known as Harappan culture, is among the world’s earliest civilizations, contemporary to the Bronze Age civilizations of Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. Excavations at these sites have provided evidence for existence of musical instruments. These were mainly made of bamboo, bone and animal skin and they have striking similarity to today’s Veena and Mridangum.

Dancing lady in Bronze

Many Buddhist sculptures dated back from 5th century to 2nd century AD also depict a wealth of string, wind and percussion instruments.

In a much deeper sense, Hindu mythology gives away references which make understanding the basic origin of music, relatable.

OM- the divine eternal sound is the most basic and primordial mantra in Hinduism, with its origins in Sanskrit. The Mandukya Upanishad suggests that, “Om is the one eternal syllable of which all that exists is but the development. The past, the present, and the future are all included in this one sound, and all that exists beyond the three forms of time is also implied in it”.  Om is not only a word but rather an intonation, which, like music, transcends the barriers of age, race, culture and even species. It is made up of three Sanskrit letters, aa, au and ma which, when combined together, make the sound Aum or Om. It is believed to be the basic sound of the world and to contain all other sounds.

OM

Om is not only concentrated to religion, mantras and meditation but it holds in true sense the existence of any sound in the world.

Another interesting reference is found in the Vedas. There are four Vedas, the Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. The Vedas are the primary and also the oldest texts of Hinduism, which can be regarded to be formed in the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age. Samaveda, or Veda of Holy Songs, third in the usual order of enumeration of the three Vedas, ranks next in sanctity and liturgical importance to the Rigveda or Veda of Recited praise.

Sama Veda

Its Sanhita, or metrical portion, consists chiefly of hymns to be chanted by the Udgatar priests at the performance of important sacrifices. The Collection is made up of hymns, portions of hymns, and detached verses, taken mainly from the Rigveda, transposed and re-arranged, without reference to their original order, to suit the religious ceremonies in which they were to be employed. In these compiled hymns there are frequent variations, of more or less importance, from the text of the Rigveda as we now possess it which variations, although in some cases they are apparently explanatory, seem in others to be older and more original than the readings of the Rigveda. In singing, the verses are still further altered by prolongation, repetition and insertion of syllables, and various modulations, rests, and other modifications prescribed, for the guidance of the officiating priests, in the Ganas or Song-books.

Since ages people have been referring to the Vedas and in true sense they are like an encyclopedia of knowledge about various topics.

In India, music, dance, painting and drama has always been considered divine. Bhrama-Vishnu-Mahesh, the eternal trinities were the first musicians. The Divine Dancer Shiva is scripturally represented as having worked out the infinite modes of rhythm in His cosmic dance of universal creation, preservation, and dissolution, while Brahma accentuated the time-beat with the clanging cymbals, and Vishnu sounded the holy mridanga or drum.  Indian gods and goddesses are always seen with a musical instrument. Lord Brahma’s companion, Goddesses Saraswati is seen playing Veena, Lord Vishnu holds shankh or conch, Lord Shiva possesses damaru, Lord Krishna (incarnation of Lord Vishnu) has bansuri or flute, Nandi (Lord Shiva’s disciple) plays mathalam, Narad Muni is seen playing mahati (twenty one stringed Veena).

In the sacred texts of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata have several mentions of musical instruments.

According to a mythological story, Lord Brahma taught Bharata Muni about music and he wrote a book with that knowledge and hence spread the learnings to the masses.

 “Geet vaadhum taatha nytryum treyum saangeetmuchate

Nytrey vaadhanug proktum vaadh geetanuvartich”

This Dohaa or phrase by Pt. Sharangdev expresses the relationship of music, vocals and dance. This explains that music has three elements; vocals, instrumental and dance. Vocals are considered ahead of the other two, because dance is dependent on vocals and vocals are according to beats.

In earlier days, music was largely considered to be a part of dance/theatre. A 5th century text book about classical, Natya Shashtra, written by Bharata Muni, had a special mention of elements and principles of music in the ending six chapters.

Later on, it was realized that each has its own identity and can be developed independently as well.

India is a religious country and since beginning music has been connected with the worship and the practice of god. Traditionally the Bhajjans, Kirtans, Aartis, Mantras, Shlokas etc have been in practice of praising the lord by the people.

The foundation stone of Hindustani music is the ragas, or fixed melodic scales. Ancient rishis discovered sound alliance between nature and man. They said nature is an objectification of Aum, the vibratory word; man can obtain control over all natural manifestations by the use of certain techniques and combinations. Sanskrit literature describes 120 talas or time measurers. Bharata Muni is said to have isolated 32 kinds of tala in the song of lark. Human voice has always been recognized as the most perfect instrument of sound. The deeper aim of rishi-musicians was to blend the singer with the cosmic song which can be heard through awakening of man’s occult spinal centers. Indian music is a subjective, spiritual, and individualistic art, aiming not at symphonic brilliance but a personal harmony with the soul. The Sanskrit word for musician is- Bhagavathar, which means he who sings the praises of god. The satsangs and kirtans are an effective form of yoga or spiritual discipline, necessitating deep concentration, intense absorption in the seed thought and sound.

Tribals all over are known to have developed sound rituals for rain and wind.

Gradually as the kingdoms became prominent, there was seen a shift of music being devotional to being a way of entertaining the king.

Music was promoted under various rules. Majorly dancers and musicians were appointed in the kingdom to entertain the king and his disciples.

During the Gupta empire from A.D. 320 to about A.D. 500, Music and dance developed the complex forms that formed the basis of classical Indian music and dance. Samudragupta’s personal skill was exceptional especially in music and song. He was also well known for his poetry and had composed many works which had a reputation of a professional author.

Tansen is regarded as the Navratna in the court of Emperor Akbar, of Mughal rule, and the Guru of all Gurus in the Indian classical music that dominates the entire North India. Among the legends about Tansen are stories of his bringing down the rains with Raga Megh Malhar and starting fires with the legendary raga Deepak. Other legends tell of his ability to bring wild animals to listen with attention (or to talk their language). Once, a wild white elephant was captured, but it was fierce and could not be tamed. Finally, Tansen sang to the elephant that calmed down and the emperor was able to ride him. Such was the power of his music that when he used to sing in the court of Akbar, it is said that candles used to light up automatically.

Tansen playing in the court of king Akbar

During Auragzeb, music and all other forms of art were highly discouraged. Following to this British East India Company started spreading its control in the country and music was damaged and suffered a setback. It was folk music that people used to entertain self and forget their misery and sufferings.

Music picked up pace again during the struggle for independence. Music and other forms of art were used to bring people at a common platform. Songs like Vande Matram were instrumental in uniting the masses. Post-independence songs such as Mile Sur Mera Tumhara, Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Saathiyo have been responsible for consolidating feelings of national integration and unity in diversity.

International influences are very visible into Indian music.

Music follows a system of guru-shishya in passing on of the skills. There has not been a dearth of teachers in music, but finding detailed books had been a task. People associated with art always used to feel that music is something difficult to be written down on a piece of paper.

The music of India is said to be one of the oldest unbroken musical traditions in the world. It includes multiple varieties of folk, popular, pop, classical music and R&B. Indian music is respected all over.