Colours of Earth History & Culture

The Mahatma and music

Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba at a reception given by Poet Rabindranath Tagore at the mango grove in Santiniketan during their visit on February 17, 1940.   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archive

‘Mamava Pattabhirama…’ the Dikshitar kriti in Manirangu was sung by a young girl. Mahatma Gandhi was very pleased. Leela Sekar was a volunteer at the Hindi Prachar Sabha in Madras’s T. Nagar when the Mahatma visited in 1946. He made her sing it again when she went to Sevagram in Wardha. He said he loved the slow pace of the song and the raga that dripped sweetness.

In 1947, just a few months after Independence, M.S.Subbulakshmi was given a message by someone that Mahatma Gandhi wanted her to record his favourite bhajan ‘Hari tum haro’ and send it to Delhi. Sadasivam replied that they were unfamiliar with the bhajan and would not be able to do justice, and could perhaps get another singer to render it. They promptly got a call back from Gandhiji, who said he would rather have Subbulakshmi speak the bhajan than have anyone else sing it. So overnight MS recorded ‘Hari tum haro’ and sent it to him. A few months after that, in the new year, while listening to All India Radio news, as she did all her life, MS heard the announcement of Gandhiji's assassination, after which she heard her own voice and the bhajan ‘Hari tum haro’ — distraught she fainted.

Because of his excess focus on work, some had once asked Gandhiji if he had no liking for music. His answer was, “If there was no music and no laughter in me, I would have died of this crushing burden of my work.”

In a letter to Ravindranath Tagore, he had suggested to give both Hindustani as well as Western music their due place at Santiniketan along with Bengali music. It shows that he had a good knowledge of different streams of music.

Calming effect

In his speech at Second Gujarat Educational Conference at Broach, on October 20, 1917, he said, “At times, we find restlessness in a large gathering. This can be arrested and calmed if all sing a national song. We have an example of the power of music in the fact that boatman and other labourers raise, in unison, the cry of ‘Harahar’ and ‘Allebeli’ and this helps them in their work. Music must get a place in our efforts at popular awakening.”

He continued, “Music means rhythm, order. Its effect is electrical and soothing. But unfortunately, we have neglected music. If I had any influence with volunteers by scouts and seva samiti organisations, I would make compulsory a proper singing in company of national songs. And to that end I should have great musicians attending every Congress or Conference and teaching mass music.”

When Gandhi was in South Africa he had started evening prayers in the ashram. That collection of bhajans was published under the name, ‘Nitivam Kavyo’.

His idea of music was also connected to spirituality. In this context he wrote a letter to Pt. Narayan Moreshwar Khare (The Music Teacher in the Satyagraha Ashram, Sabarmati) on October 7, 1924. “I have gradually come to look upon music as a means of spiritual development. Please try your best to see that all of us sing our bhajans with a correct understanding of the sense. I cannot describe the joy I feel: Music is a constructive activity, which uplifts the soul.”

At Ahmedabad, in his address to Young India, on April 15, 1926 he had stated, “If we use a broad interpretation on music, i.e., if we mean by it union, concord, mutual help, it may be said that in no department of life we can dispense with it. So if many more people send their children to the music class it will be part of their contribution to national uplift.”

According to the Mahatma, in true music there is no place for communal differences and hostility. Music was a great example of national integration because only there we see Hindu and Muslim musicians sitting together and partaking in concerts.

He often said, “We shall consider music in a narrow sense to mean the ability to sing and play an instrument well, but, in its wider sense, true music is created only when life is attuned to a single tune and a single time beat. Music is born only where the strings of the heart are not out of tune.” He felt that true music was implicit in khadi and the spinning wheel.

(The writer is a cultural activist and a Gandhian scholar)


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Printable version | Oct 26, 2021 4:08:43 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/the-mahatma-and-music/article25122493.ece

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