Music, when soft voices die, Vibrates in the memory – Shelley

True. When sound stops, a palpable stillness plays prelude to the ensuing silence when, even the batting of an eyelid is cruelly jarring. It is this indescribable moment, when our very being trembles gingerly, that is regarded as the manifesting point of music.

Silence is not absence of noise; it is absence of mind. Music, is not about sounds. It is the expression of the silence ‘heard inside'. Few have experienced the noiseless loudness of silence. Indeed, this is the core of every soul, each being. Once heard, or experienced inside, it bursts forth in different directions. It alone decides the avenues. From the rustle of a dry leaf along the path to the rumblings of distant hills during monsoon, nature is replete with musical rhapsody. Yes, it is impossible to separate light from sound. So is the case with music and colour or raag and rang.

To call music an art or sound could seem childish to the Seers — men and women of remarkable prowess and civility, who ‘saw' music when their beings were as still as stillness could be.

Their spontaneous outpourings were unconscious efforts to record and present to humanity, their inner experience. Their success lay in their repeated failures to describe the indescribable. The first song was about dawn and till the end, they could not describe the beauty of what they beheld. Art and science of music came much later. Early man's experience of music was original; ours is cultured.

Music from nature

It is no surprise that the saptaswaras were conceptualised out of the music heard from nature — the sounds of animals. Thus sa came from the peacock, ri from ox, ga from goat, ma from the krouncha bird, pa from the cuckoo, dha from horse and ni from the elephant.

Subramanya Bharati listens to the music all around him, “from the brisk chirping of the singing bird, the sound that the wind produces while funnelling through groves, the sound of the waterfalls that is distinctly different from that of the river, the relentless wailing of the vast blue sea, the song when water is hauled, the noise the enchanting women make when they pound the paddy or lime or while working in the fields, or when those damsels gather as a group and sing, letting their dazzling bangles accompany their song, the flute, the lute, the melody flowing from the bosom of an inspired singer, in the bustle of the city, in the stillness of the jungle, Ah! How helplessly I have lost my heart to music!”

The pertinent statement, ‘All art tend to music,' hails from the realisation that whatever is perceived and understood as manifested creation, resulted from the primordial sound, which is the direct voice of silence. Sure, when the legendary M.S. Subbulakshmi sings or when Pandit Jasraj's entire being gesticulates in a seizure of agonising ecstasy, we are taken off this incarcerating earth, thrown into the sky and suddenly dipped into a raging Ganga. But then, the singer never wavers, even for a trice, from the sruti on which his or her attention is totally pegged.

Thus, tambura represents that stillness, the origin of music! It is by remaining wedded to it that the artiste regales a willing audience.

Connoisseur never complains

The music festival and Chennai are as together as sruti and laya should be in music. The discerning observers feel that the sabhas in Chennai are numerous and are growing illogically and unreasonably. But, the connoisseur would never complain that there is an overdose of music. Nor would he about the growing crowd in the canteens at every venue that try to match the variety of the music being dished out in the auditorium.

Those rasikas, who sit still throughout a concert, not like stones but as gentle flowers, would not be noticed at all, as they do not join the banter or indulge in slapping their thighs to display their knowledge of tala. Equally unnoticed would be the talent of a really good artiste. He may not get a chance to sing at all. Or, she may not get an audience while pouring her heart out during a slot, so guilefully designed. Sometimes, good things do happen, in spite of us and our system. The silent rasika hopes for it and the new talents yearn for it.

‘Music is the direct route to God, though not the exclusive one.' It is called divine because it hails from divinity. Indian music is not for titillation. Primarily, it distils the emotions that run riot in our heart and slowly, through a magical process of sublimation, emotion becomes devotion. It is our consistent prayer that our singers must remember this when they, in the name of technicality of music, play havoc with lyrics of the great composers, born out of deep longing and divine experience. If the singer does not take care to match the disarming humility of the composer or understand the mystical and metaphysical statements, their singing will be completely devoid of the bhava that the composers felt when the song happened to them. May our artistes sing loftily to discover the divinity inside our hearts. That is why Shelly sang, “I slept on a poet's lips.” After a long period of incessant vaana mazhai, it is time for Chennai rasikas to put away the umbrellas and get ready to be drenched in gaana mazhai.

(Ramanan is a Tamil poet, composer, singer, speaker, photographer and pilgrim. — tavenkateswaran@gmail.com)