music for liberation

The Sangeet Ratnakar is a valuable treatise in classical Sanskrit on Music. The author Sarangadev, a 13th century musicologist, explains the basis of Indian classical music and eloquently elaborates on the connection between singing and liberation. The translator of this particular version, R. K. Shringy, had the good fortune to be supervised by the late Dr. Prem Lata Sharma. She was also guide and mentor to my teacher, Prof. Ritwick Sanyal. In his notes on the opening verses of the treatise he explains the author’s intention of the work and I have copied it for you here to read: [note the fist couple of paragraphs are heavy…if you have a low attention span read the last four paragraphs first].

“The purport of the author seems to point out that the physical body is so full of impurities and is a breeding ground for disease and decay, yet intelligent people do not discard it on that account; the wise do not, due to the imperfections of the body, hate it and grow indifferent to its proper upkeep and care; on the contrary, they find in it a suitable means not only for enjoying life in this world, but also for saving their souls in the other world as well, i.e., for gaining immortality, the final beatitude.

The author further makes it clear that Life or Divinity may be conceived either as manifest and conditioned from the individual viewpoint, i.e., delimited in time-space, or as absolute, non-dual reality from the universal point of view.

He further informs that the individual’s point of view, delimited in time-space as it is, leads to worldly enjoyment. The word ‘enjoyment’, i.e., bhukti is neutral and comprehends both pleasure and pain, delight and sorrow, all the pairs of opposites in feeling, knowing and willing; bhukti  in fact is experience. This he calls the pursuit of the manifest, i.e., conditioned reality which impllies the unmanifest, the unconditioned. Meditation of the unconditioned, the unmanifest, Brahman without attributes, without any specific conditions leads to freedom, to perfection, to spiritual emancipation.

A reference may, in this context, be invited to Bhatta Nayaka’s concept of bhoga,  explaining aesthetic experience being subjectively as well as objectively true and yet free from the limitations of inidviduality. Thus, in his view, the effective operation of the media lies in their efficiency to liberate the subjective self well as the object presented from the limitaions of personality. From this point of view music being an auditory art, has greater advantages than other art media. Music is truly a universal language and therefore is capable of being used as a medium not only of aesthetic experience but also of spiritual experience. Indeed music has been used as a powerful instrument for spiritual and religious awakening, specially in India. The author is expressing the point…that even though all human endeavour may culminate in the awakening of the unmanifest (anahata) nada within, i.e., through the cultivation of musical arts which cater to the individual, the social and the spiritual good of humanity at the material and the spiritual levels at the same time.

…Devotion to the manifestation of deity or the manifest deity leads to worldly experience, while one-pointed attention fixed upon the unmanifest, attributeless, unconditioned Brahman leads to final emancipation. With regard to worldly experience as well, the goal ultimately is to rise above the need for further experience and be free from limitaions of every sort. The intelligent people as it has been said, make use of the body as a means of gaining experience as well as salvation. Experiencing the sense objects and their pursuit is open to all and is also within the reach of almost all human beings, but salvation is attained, as far as our text is concerned, by contemplating the formless, the limitless reality; and that is not approachable by all, even though that is the accepted goal of all human existence. It is not possible for everybody to meditate upon the attributeless Brahman, because it requires one-pointed concentration of mind to be held without the aid of a visible object. It requires a code of self-discipline without any external stimulus or any other source of inspiration.

Considering these difficulties, the sages have discovered a technique of attaining liberation through the meditation of the unmanifest nada, i.e., the primordial sound which is heard inside the head if carefully listened to with an  unburdened mind. This sound is produced without any contant (sic.) of matter, i.e., without any friction; it is natural and spontaneous and that is why it is called anahata (unstruck).

But even this is to be found of little interest to the common people because this sound is pure and untinged by emotional colour and therefore uninteresting to them. That is precisely why music becomes  more useful and a treatise on the science of music necessary, so that people can easily cultivate both ends of life, viz., experience of the world and salvation from its limitations through a pleasant and a convenient means like music which is universally approved and considered attractive.

(There are) insurmountable difficulties in approaching the formless absolute reality by one-pointed concentration of attention; and also in worshipping the unmanifest nada by the technique of nadanusandhana (investigation into sound). Therefore, the utility of music as a mass-entertainer of the people and as a means of salvation approachable by the common folks without effort is brought out by the author as the prominent characteristic feature of the manifest sound, i.e., ahata nada; it serves as a means of enjoyment in this world and of liberation from the limitations of worldly existence which is burdened with limitations of personality  and the interplay  of the opposites. In short, that is how the author introduces the subject proper and justifies his attempt at expounding the science of music.”


The clip below was shot in the home of my other teachers Pt. Rajan & Pt. Sajan Mishra. This is their music room and mandir in which i have had the privilege of practising my yoga and my singing. When you have a place used for such practises the energy accumulates and it takes very little to enter a state of mind conducive for sadhana. Extra points for those who can make out some of the notes in the raga :)