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Music and Enrichment of Life

by Mohan Nadkarni
October 1, 1978

In this broadcast from All India Radio, Bombay, on the occasion of International Music Day on October 1, 1978, Mohan Nadkarni, a noted musicologist and critic, says that the real problem facing our music today is to preserve its traditional values ans yet create new forms of expression which would emerge as an organic growth from the past and still be nearer to the idiom of contemporary life.

Music is one of the earliest forms of non-verbal communication. Its power on the human mind has always been acknowledged to be very great. It is music which nurses the soul even as the first traces of life begin to stir.

Music has its genesis in prehistoric times; and it has evolved through countless processes. It has taken different forms in different, climes, and at different times. But the basic impulse that has inspired man to sing is the same everywhere: an instinctive effort to express the emotional urges of the soul. Even the primitive man sang and danced when he felt something that he needed to express. Singing and dancing were thus spontaneous outbursts of his emotions and feelings.

Product of Ages

Probably in no country is music so delicately interwoven with the fabric of life as in India. Her devotion to her music. and her efforts to develop and enrich it, go back to times immemorial. The music of India is a product of the ages and a revelation of centuries of culture and civilization.

The history of its evolution, from the sacred hymns of the Veda to the modern romantic thumri, is one of assimilation, adaptation and creation, with its roots in the past. The fine variety of its ragas, the subtle complexity of its talas, the rich overtones of its myriad instruments are not just marvels in Musical experimentation. They are a tribute to the Musical intuition and creative talent of its makers. And it is the evolutionary character that has enabled our music to survive through the ravages of time and history as an unbroken tradition.

The original musical scale in India consisted of twenty-two microtones, known as shrutis. The musical observers of antiquity, with their extensive observation and uncanny sense of hearing, ascertained the different gradations of musical sound from the call of birds and cry of animals, and grouped them under twelve notes. This scale of twelve notes, recognized by our music and known as swaras, also, incidentally, forms the international basis of the music of the East and the West.

At this stage, it will not be wide of the, mark to refer to the observations of Swami Prajnananda, the eminent musical historian and musicologist, in his monumental work `Music of the Nations'. He convincingly puts forward the view that the music of different nations has been enriched by the importation of foreign elements; that the principles of rhythm and tempo act as the controlling and balancing factor; that religion, magic and music went hand in hand in primitive societies; and that hymns of early civilized nation, are almost identical, revealing a surprising affinity of tune, melody and rhythm.

In course of time, however, while the West evolved its system on harmonic lines, music in India has evolved as an essentially melodic or homo-tonic tradition.


With all its record of achievement over so many centuries, the extent of neglect our music suffered under the alien rule was quite appalling, while popular patronage, too, languished away because of the economic and social backwardness of society.

The process of revival started in the early years of this century with the missionary movement pioneered by visionaries like Vishnu Digambar Paluskar and Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande. Their endeavor to popularize traditional music through the medium of mass education received fresh impetus in the set-up of things following the attainment of political freedom. It has helped, in no small measure, to educate the public taste for good music and bring forth appreciative connoisseurs. It has also encouraged many an educated youngster to take to music as a serious life-work rather than a mereside activity.

Side by side with the disappearance of the princely order and the last vestiges of private patronage, the professional musician came out of his self-imposed isolation to seek his living through public patronage. The institution of the President's Award to our eminent musicians, in token of Government's appreciation of their life-long devotion to the cause of their Muse, represents a welcome break from the unenviable past when many a notable artiste died unwept, unhonored and unsung.

Creation of Academies

The creation of music and dance academies also symbolizes the importance of development and encouragement of music in the renascent India. The semblance of general renaissance in the country is also reflected in the artistic activity sponsored by organizations and institutions through regular sangeet sabhas and sangeet sammelans.

India's entry into UNESCO, soon after independence, opened new avenues for the expression and contribution of Indian music to the world at large. Over the years, Western interest in Indian music has also steadily grown from discerning appreciation to cautious participation, thanks to our cultural ambassadors whose concert tours abroad have made this largely possible.

impact of Western Music

Conversely, the impact of Western music on us is no less discernible. The contribution of maestros like Mehli Mehta and his son, Zubin Mehta, to the enrichment of Western music is such as would make every one of us proud. Besides, we have a number of talented performers in Western music with a large following in India.

The impact of Western music in our country is particularly evident ill our commercial films and time alone will tell whether it is desirable or not. But it is equally true that our film industry has afforded much scope for gainful employment to a large number of musicians, music arrangers and music directors trained in Western music.

We live, so to speak, in an era of internationalism. In the welter of confusion caused by conflicting art-theories and art-forms. We also hear a few voices clamoring for expanding Indian music by making it international. And the potent way to internationalize it, we are told, is through orchestration and choral singing to make it acceptable to Western cars.

The fundamental point sought to be conveniently overlooked here is that internationalism implies free intercourse of art between different countries which, incidentally, is already there. Introduction of harmony, as understood in the West. will, divest our music of its most unique feature.

No doubt, Indian music has an unlimited potential for development along orchestra and choral lines. But melody must always remain a dominant factor in these media of expression. They should by all means be allowed to grow along with our traditional vogues and not displace them. Fundamentally, I believe that the Western system is not suitable for Indian orchestration as it cannot register shruti relationship with the tonic.

Real Problem

The real problem facing our music today is to preserve its traditional values and yet create new forms of expression which would emerge as an organic growth from the past and still be nearer to the idiom of contemporary life. The problem, by and large, involves the stupendous task of making Indian music strong and dynamic to meet the exigencies of modern times.

What is needed today is a free and unbiased understanding of the art of music in the context of Indian life and thought. A happy synthesis of the music of the past with the music of the present will be possible only with a appreciation of its past achievements and an equally dispassionate assessment of its future possibilities.

Meanwhile, on this International Music Day, let us not forget the fact that heritage of world music is marvelously varied, that its different aspects can speak to us at different times in our lives if only we open our hearts and minds to listen. Music, to Shelley, was ``A tone of some world far from ours, where music and moonlight and feeling are one". To him it was music again which ``when soft voices die, vibrated in the memory" Congreve was even more rhetorical when he said: ``Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast to soften rocks or bend a knotted oak". Dryden, on the other hand, declaimed: ``What passion cannot music raise and quell?"

Indeed, in this age of speed and hurry, and din and fury, it is music and music alone that can make people mellower and gentler, enrich them emotionally, spiritually and intellectually, and thus add to the sum-total of their pleasure in living.

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