Meet Carnatic music therapist Rajam Shanker who helps children and adults overcome developmental and neurological problems through calibrated raga therapy

A couple of years ago, 18-year-old Ram couldn’t communicate and was even incapable of making eye contact. Now, after many sessions of Carnatic music therapy, this boy with autism shows expressions on his face and is able to speak a little. Fifteen-year-old Tejas has got over her stammer, while 50-year-old Lalitha has gone back to her cheerful self after undergoing depression following menopause.

This transformation was brought about by Carnatic musician and music therapist Rajam Shanker, who works with various medical and rehabilitation professionals and organisations in India and abroad. A member of the World Federation of Music Therapy, Life Member of NADA Centre for Music Therapy and Research and other organisations, Rajam has made presentations on therapeutic aspects of Carnatic music at prestigious forums such as the European Music Therapy Congress at Cadiz, Spain, and the World Congress of Music Therapy at Seoul, South Korea.

Says Rajam, “At these conferences, I am invariably asked, why has Carnatic music not been systematised as standard therapy in its country of origin, despite its tremendous potential?” She adds, “I am willing to train those who are willing to to become music therapists, particularly if they have had training in music.”

Carnatic music has always been acknowledged as a structured art form with a fantastic repertoire of ragas, swaras, shruti and talas. “This structured framework allows for calibrated delivery of music therapy. Its potential for infinite improvisations also allows it to be tailored to suit different individuals, making Carnatic music an effective tool for therapy. Besides, Indian classical music has a spiritual connect,” says Rajam, who uses Carnatic music to treat autistic children and adults, slow learners, those with neurological problems, and those undergoing depression. Based on an individual’s age, health and emotional status, work schedule, colour and food choices, body constitution, etc, Rajam arrives at the precise raga and the right pitch which would help in treatment.

She starts by making the person listen to the raga. Those undergoing treatment are gradually made to sing if they can. While singing is more potent, it is not an absolute necessity; lyrics of the song are not sacrosanct; and musical training or knowledge is not a prerequisite either. Rajam employs nada anusandana, the ancient tradition of evoking sound from the body’s energy centres. She explains, “The human body responds to physical and neural communication, and music, deployed in a calibrated dosage evokes a positive response.”