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“Music reduces suffering”

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Sumathy Sundar
Sumathy Sundar

S. Aishwarya

TIRUCHI: “Music therapy (‘raga chikitsa’) is not just about raga, it’s about music of all kinds and languages,” says Sumathy Sundar, a Carnatic vocalist, who pursues research in this field.

Her research in altering the consciousness in cancer patients through music has revealed a lot more about music. Seers, she notes, have been seeking health through music, by way of ‘namasankeerthanas.’

Despite scores of historical and anecdotal evidences of music being used as a therapy to alleviate pains, India lacks any significant scientific endorsement. While the western countries have realised the potential of music and devised a well-developed discipline for music therapy, India hasn’t developed much in this field scientifically, she says.

Her research at the University of Madras deals with the effect of music on cancer patients. “Music is not a cure for any disease,” she clarifies. “It alters one’s state of consciousness, thereby reducing the suffering.”

At the Adyar Cancer Research Institute, Chennai, she pursued her research by playing music to the patients. “Chemotherapy is painful and side effects are unbearable for patients with chronic cancer. Music helps the patients assuage the pain. Though momentary, it means a lot of relief for them,” she explains.

Does music therapy have a set of ragas for treatment? “That is a myth. There is no tailor-made music that helps in curing ailments. While there are some ragas that bring certain positive effect to the listeners, they can’t be applicable to all,” she says.

As music is subjective, it varies from person to person. “Some kind of music that had appealed to one earlier might no longer be so appealing now. It depends on the geographical location, individual taste and environment.”

During her research at the Institute, she has found that the attention span varies with individual. “Some patients can listen to music only for minutes every night. It improves their quality of sleep. Some desperately want it to continue for hours.”

Ms. Sundar strongly believes that music therapy needs a psychological backup to treat patients according to their needs.

“Most disorders are directly related to psychological health. Music enhances the mood and takes the patient to a trans-state. When the mind becomes healthier, chances are the severity of the disease might come down.”

Now currently off to Netherlands to present a paper on ‘natopasana,’ Ms. Sundar hopes that Indian Universities formulate a programme on music therapy.

The syllabus, she suggests, should be a confluence of psychology and music for better results.

Funds should be made available for research in music and medical fraternity should join hands with trained musicians to integrate science and tradition by way of organising conferences and hiring music therapists in hospitals.

What role does instrumental music play in the therapy? “For many people without music knowledge, music sans lyrics is not appealing. Instrumental music can be soothing only to those who are familiar with that school of music.”

But she has a word of caution: “Music is only a complementary therapy. It should be combined with medical treatment for results.”

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