Sachi R

Obiter dicta on music, men and matters

Raga is melted grace from God!

Posted by rsachi on January 4, 2010

I am listening to some wonderful Sankarabharanam thanks to this blog from Parvathi, Mysore. I am discussing the grandeur of a well-presented raga with my wife. She then narrates something she read in the Hindu.

I love this story so much I reproduce the portion here:

The Puranas present the Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Godavari, Narmada, Sindhu and Cauvery as the most sacred of rivers. Indisputably foremost among them is the Ganga. The myth concerning the genesis of the Ganga in heaven and the legend of its descent on earth, prominently highlight both the roles the sacred water is expected to play in the life of man – as the giver of life and remover of sin or curse.

While the legend of the descent of the Ganga in response to prayers of Prince Bhagiratha, whose ancestors had been reduced to ashes by Sage Kapila, and the sublime flow resurrecting the dead is popular, the mystery of the Ganga possessing that power may not be that widely known. Once while returning to the heavens after one of his trips to earth, the sage Narada saw a group of beautiful beings in a hidden Himalayan valley. His closer observation showed that every member of that group had lost a limb or bore some other mark of torment. At the sage’s repeated request the supernatural beings narrated their woes. They were ragas and raginis, the spirits behind the musical modes. Every time a musician sang with vanity or twisted the modes, the concerned being received a blow. Thus had they been maimed by generations of musicians. Narada – embarrassed because he was a musician himself – asked them what could undo the wrong they had suffered. if only they could have an opportunity to listen to the perfect musician, they said. Who was the perfect musician? None but Lord Shiva, the source of music. At Narada’s appeal, the God agreed to perform, but on condition that he must have at least one perfect listener in his audience. Who were the perfect listeners? There were only two of them – Brahma and Vishnu and both were only too happy to report at Kailash along with the ragas and raginis.

As Shiva began to sing – no words can ever describe the vibrations his song created – something unexpected happened. Vishnu became so thoroughly identified with that flow of that music that if not his body, his aura began to melt down. Brahma captured it in his Kamandalu and preserved it. That is the divine stuff that became the celestial river and later flowed down to earth, once again Shiva playing a unique role in the process as the first absorber of the shock of that mighty descent.

This is the myth that justifies the dead returning to life, figuratively establishing that nothing was impossible for the Grace flowing from the Divine, that death could be vanquished only by that supreme power.

Raga is a man-made concept. It exists in some form or other in every type of classical music, albeit it may be not so well structured as in Carnatic music.

In a lighter vein: some creative artistes would like to break free from the fetters of ragas. They even want to create or re-name MODERN ragas. All this is no doubt by divine design or inspiration. I think this is what is meant by the words Raaga Swarupa Paashaadyaa in Lalithaasahasranaama. On the other hand, the prayer also calls Lalitha as Sarva-anullanghyashaasanaa! That means she takes the form of the bondage called raga, but she is also the one who makes the rules that are absolutely inviolable!

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