Contributions of Saints & Seers to The Music of India (Set of 2 Volumes)

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Item Code: NAL174
Author: Shantsheela Sathianathan
Publisher: Kanishka Publishers
Language: Hindi and English
Edition: 1996
ISBN: 817391100X
Pages: 616 (6 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 10 inch x 7.5 inch
Weight 1.40 kg
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Book Description
About the Book

It is a work undertaken to establish that music and especially formalised music of India initiated, developed and progressed through the devotional hymns of devotees of God.

Whether they were the Aryan Rishi-po-ets cum singers, Budhist or Jain monks or Alwar and Nayanmar Saints of South or Sufi Saints or Saint Singers like Kabir, Sur, Meera, Nanak of the North or devotees of Vitthal of Maharashtra or Chaitanya Mahaprabhu:, Chandidas and others from Bengal or Shankar Dev and Madhav Dev of Assam all of them sang their devotional hymns as a part of formalished music of India.

“Seem-gayan” of Vedic-reshis is supposed to be the first stage of formalished music of our country and the author has tried to establish that this music developed into a system of scale and Murchchanas as the “Seem-gayan” also developed and progressed.

Thus, in the present work, it has been stressed that the trend of rendering devotional hymns, as a part of formalished music was set centuries ago because the rishi-singers believed that “Swaras” of Indian music were not merely a collection of notes but they were founded on microtones known as “Shrutis” which could bring the human-mind to meditation leading to the attainment of God consciousness.

Hence, the main theme of the book is that the different mile-stones in the development of the formalised or classicalised music of India-viz. Introduction of “Gandharva” and “Desi” systems of music, replacement of “Jati-Gayan” by “Raga-Gayan” as well as evolution of the kinds of “Gitis”i.e. from “Richas” to “Gathas” to “Mangal-Gitis”, “Charya” and “Vajra Gitis”, “Nathgitis”, “Prabandhas”, “Shabads”, “Padas” to “Vishnu-Padas” are due to the contribution of Rishi-Muni singers of India.

Besides this, the author has tried to establish that during the dark ages in the history of India music it was preserved and kept alive by the saint-singers of our nation, e.g. there is no evidence of any kind where our music was after Amir-Khusro and before Sultan Hussein Sharki of Jaunpur who hailed in the later part of the 15th Century.

About the Author

Dr. Smt. Shantsheela Sathianathan was born on 6th May 1924, in a renowned family of freedom fighters of Vidarbha. She started having regular lessons in classical music from Pt. Shankarrao Sapre of Nagpur. Under his guidance she graduated with music from Nagpur University and also took the diploma of Bachelor of Music from Marri’s Music College, Lucknow. After graduation Mrs. Sathianathan joined Madhav Music College of Gwalior and had special training in “Kheyal-Gayan” of “Gwalior-Gharan” from Sri. Narayanrao Guney a noted disciple of Rajabhaiyya Poochhwale. She was one of the first students to receive the degree of “Master of Music” from this prestigious College. While at Gwalior she broadcast classical music regularly from Delhi Station of All India Radio. She also broadcast from Nagpur and Calicut and performed in all India Conferences of Music one of which was “Jashna-e”-Jomhooriat” held at Red Fort Delhi, to celebrate the first Republic Day.

After her marriage to Sri. M. A. Sathianathan she joined the Sevagram Ashram where she was in charge of conducting the daily Ashram-prayers. Under the able guidance of Dr. Smt. Ashadevi Aryanayakam she learnt Bhajans of different languages of saints all over India. This enlightening experience gave her the inspiration to undertake the present work for which she has been awarded the degree of “Doctor of Music” by Indira Kala Sangeet Vishwavidyalaya, Khairagarh.

She taught music in well-known institutions like Scindia Kanya Vidyalaya, Gwalior, Rural University of Nai Talim, sevagram, and in 1984 retired as the Head of the Department of Music of Yeshwant Art’s College, Wardha.

She has presented many papers in the All India Seminars of Music and is at Present Directress of “P.K. Salve Research Institute of Folk &Fine Arts” , Nagpur.


The very title “Contribution of Saints and Seers To the Music of India” speaks of the contents of the book that ‘Music of India’ and especially the Formalised Music of. India was initiated, enriched and developed into a scientific system of music through the devotional-hymns of Sages, Seers and Saint-Singer of our nation.

This statement sounds incredible in the present context of the purpose of our classicalised (formalised) as well as non-formalised music because as chance would have it the legacy of our music has been inherited by us from the musicians who had to make their living by becoming performing-artistes. Hence it is quite an uphill task to convince the readers of the present era that the important mile-stones of progress of our music are due to the valuable contribution of such composers cum singers who employed “Ragdari-Sangeet” for rendering their devotional hymns only to please Gods.

Fortunately for me, it will not be an exaggeration if I say that “ I was born with devotional-hymns in my mouth”. This does not mean that I was born in musicians’ family. On the contrary my father was a leading lawyer but both my parents loved classical music above everything.

As far as my memory goes back I can not recollect a single evening without the family prapyer followed by an hour long session of singing Bhajans.

Much before I could formally learn Ragas like Darbari-Kanada, Bageshri, Des, Bhairavi and even Jounpuri I was singing Bhajans of different language and religions composed in these Ragas.

Thus I grew up with a confirmed faith that a small stream of music known as “ Sam-Gayan” which was initially being sung only with three notes could not develop into a full- fledged system of music of scale of seven notes and melodies known as ‘Murchchanas’ or ‘Jatis’ or ‘Ragas’ if our music had remained only in the tonal abstract form. It had to be supported with ‘the Sahitya’.

Even Pandit Bhatkhande has stated that he could improvise the Ragas into tonal-forms or the “Swaravistaras” contained in the six parts if his book on the basis of “Bandishes” collected by him from the musicians of different “Gharanas”.

Centuries ago Bharat Muni and thereafter Matang Muni had asserted that “Ragas” were nourished and enriched through ‘Gitis’ like ‘Mangal-Gitis’, ‘Dhruva’, ‘Brahma’, Kapala’, Kambala’ and ‘Magadhi’etc. These were the names of the sacred songs of their eras.

Still it is a well known fact that the music that has come down to us is not the same as it was in Bharat Muni’s or even Pt. Sharang Deva’s time. History of music tells us how the neo ideas which enriched the treasure of ‘Shastric’ or classicalised music and therefore the external form of this music kept changing from time to time. But the basic fundamental principles remained the same and more than that the spiritual character of the ‘Swaras’ of our music continued to lead the listeners to the depth of God-consciousness.

Narad Muni in his valuable treatise ‘Naradiya-Shiksha’ has mentioned that ten ‘Gunavrittis’ like ‘Raktam’, ‘Alankritam’, ‘Purnam’, ‘Sukamaram’, ‘Vistrutam’, ‘Madhuram’ etc. embellish the ‘Sahitya’ as well as the melodies (Ragas) of the song.

Hence even when religious ideas changed, language changed and kinds of compositions also changed the link between the tonal-form of the melodies and the words (Sahitya) of the song continued and our ‘Shastric’ music came down from generation to generation with the comments and expansions in the guilds of the compositions the ancient sages and medieval saints.

This is the reason why no one questions who was the ‘Guru’ of the author of the immortal work ‘Geet-Govind’ because the answer is contained in the tradition of oral transmission of religious philosophies and the faith in the appeal of ‘Swaras’ of our music to the human soul.

Had this not been true we could not explain the fact that the names of ‘Ragas’ are mentioned for the ‘Charya’ and ‘Vajra’ Gitis of Buddist Siddhacharya of 7th to 11th A.D. as well as for the ‘Prabandhas’ of Kavi Jayadeva or Padas of Namdeva, Kabir and Surdas and also for the ‘Shabads’ of Guru Nanak who hailed around 16th Century A.D. Therefore, I have made a special mention of a chapter from ‘Adi-Grantha’ Which has given a list of Ragas selected by the saints of different eras to express the similar ideas.

Such similarities should not surprise us if we bear in mind that these saint-singers, though they belonged to different eras, were the divinely-inspired citizens of the spiritual world which does not believe in the narrow barriers of caste, creed, religion or time.

I am one of those fortunate persons for whom this could become a personal experience because when I was maturing in my thinking I had the good chance of leading the daily evening prayer on the prayer-grounds of Gandhiji’s Ashram at Sevagram, Sitting in front of Bapu’s seat when at the end of the prayer I sang a Bhajan of Saints of India I realised that the attributes of a true devotee of God described by Narsimha Mehta were exactly the same as described by Saint Tukaram in his Marathi ‘Abhanga’ or by Guru Nanak in his ‘Shabad’ in Gurumukhi language. Herein lay the importance of Gandhiji’s movement of ‘Sarva-Dharma’ prayer because it helped to bring into high-light the devotional-hymns of our saints which unfortunately had been thrown into oblivion under the domination of foreign-rule causing disregard for our heritage.

Many well wisher were apprehensive about the vastness of my study but with my background I could not stop my urge of bringing into highlight the contribution of at least some selected saints of each region of our country. God almighty helped and of course I can not ignore the encouragement received from the two learned musicologists—late Dr. Sharadchandra Paranjape and Dr. Arun Kumar Sen of Raipur and of course my late husband.

I have been anxious to share whatever little knowledge I had gained during my long study of ten years and it is my good fortune that the authorities of ‘Kanishka Publishers’ have undertaken to bring out my efforts in a book-form. I hope that readers will enjoy reading this book.


We do not know exactly, when music first began. It is very difficult to know the time and form of primordial man, and it is equally so to trace the origin of this great art called ‘music’. It is too remote in time to be determined accurately as to when and how music came into existence. Music being in born in man, it is not baseless to say that ‘History of Man’ is ‘History of Music”.

Because of the dearth of records and chronicles, the origin of this divine art has become a matter of controversy and many discussions have taken place on this subject. Yet before the theory of evolution was propounded by Darwin and historians of music had started looking for scientific explanations, myths and legends had existed, in most of the countries all over the world, which show that ancient people of many countries, believed music to be a gift of God, like sunshine, wind or moonlight. All these subjects made man happy and so, naturally, he not only considered them to be divine gifts but also considered their sources, e.g. Sun or Moon, to be deities themselves.

There are legends current in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Israel, Ireland, China, Japan and India, which abound in evidence as to the primitive attitudes and beliefs of mankind and tell us of their gods and goddesses of music. These tales reflect the belief that music was practised in heaven by gods, before it come down to the earth. A study of the myths and legends of these countries convinces us that these countries believed in a divine patron of this art, and that this art of science of pleasing, expressive or intelligible combination of tones, having all the features of rhythm, melody or consonance, was propagated on this earth either by its ‘divine patron’ or an agent of the divinities. Thus through the ages, music has been closely connected with divinity and divine worship. In religious worship, music is either itself an act of worship or an accompaniment to such acts.

Babylonia and Assyria

According to the Babylonians and Assyrians, besides Istar, the chief patron of their music was the God Ea, a water divinity and the giver of Arts and Science, who figures in the lists as the creator of all things. (This idea is similar to the Vedic description of Apsaras mentioned in ‘Atharva-Veda’, that the abode of Gandharvas and Aspsaras used to be in water and trees, away from the human habitation).

This was before the appearance of Meradoch, as the father of the gods. Written with the sign for singers (ndru) he bore the name ‘Ounga’ and with the harp (Balag) he was called ‘Lumba’. Besides being a singer, the ‘ndru’ was probably a player of the Lyre of Chithara. His name in this connection is given as ‘Lubalag-ga’, Semitic Muselu, which perhaps means a harpist.


Some historians like Diodorus have made the mistake of calling Egyptians an unmusical race and have said that Egyptians did not practice music because they considered it to be effeminate and undesirable. Yet there is abundant evidence of the important place which music held in Egyptian, religious and secular life. Plato has said that Greek poets and musicians visited Egypt to improve their art. Strabo, also, has said that the children of the Egyptians were taught letters, the songs appointed by law and a certain kind of music, established by the Government, to the exclusion of every other; and further, that vocal and instrumental music was usually admitted in the worship in the god, especially at the commencement of the services, except in the temple of Osiris, where neither singers nor players on flutes were allowed to perform. After the establishment of kingdoms a similar system like ‘Devdasis’ also seems to have existed in Egypt in the days of Pharaoh, who had to perform the most important ceremonies of the year, in the temple. Since he could not officiate every day at every temple of the land, he was represented by a high priest. Priestesses also served in the temples by dancing and making music for the entertainment if the god. The priestesses were deemed to be god’s concubines in the temples of gods associated with fertility especially those of Amon-Ra, where the Divine consort was often a royal princess.

Like, many other nations, Egyptians also ascribe the origin of this great art of divinity. Sometimes to Isis when she was identified with Hathor and more particularly to Thoth or Tehuti.

Unlike the Greeks and Romans the Egyptians myths cannot be considered as fixed stories. According to Egyptians religion the function of these myths was to provide a notation of symbols to express ideas, therefore, because of the constant search for new symbols that was going on, each one was considered to represent one facet of the truth and did not necessarily reject the previously held concept.

Isis maintained her cult over almost all periods of Egypt. She was worshipped as goddess of fertility. While Osiris represented Nile floods. Isis symbolised the rich land of Egypt which had to be protected from Set, the desert. As a sort of mother goddess she absorbed the attributes of Hathor who was goddess of music and dance and the mother of Ihy, God of music. There are statues of Isis, which show her with the child, Horus and on her head a disc between the horns of a cow representing the Sistrum, a musical instrument usually carried by Hathor : we find following reference about Hathor in Egyptian Mythology by Veronica Ions : “Hathor was considered the goddess of music and dancing. In this aspect her emblem was the sistrum the instrument carried by her son Ihy.

According to Osirian legends, Thoth was supposed to be the Scribe of Osiris, the vegetation god and son of earth-god Geb. Osiris is supposed to have instructed the barbarian Egyptians on how to raise crops. Osiris taught them how to worship and draw up laws for them. In this task he was helped by Thoth ‘who invented Arts and Sciences’. Among the two books attributed to Thoth are two ‘Books of Singers’. It is also mentioned that when the he (Osiris) set out for this mission he was accompanied by ‘many musicians’ and only through argument and hymn singing he taught the Egyptians to cultivate and build cities.


II.Development of Devotional Music in India in Ancient Times15-85
III.Place of Sufism in the Development of Indian Devotional Music87-132
IV.Saints of South India133-227
V.The Influence of Shankara and Ramanuja on Hindu Revival in the North and thei Impact on Devotional Music229- 244
VI.Saints of North India245-387
VIII.Saints of Eastern Regions463-504
IX.The Contribution of the Reform-Movements to Religious Revival and Congregational Worship in India505- 533

Sample Pages

Volume I

Volume II

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