Ramayana and Indian Classical Music are both indelible imprints on Indian consciousness and identity; and both may be traced to the original poet, Adi kavi, Valmiki.
Present within the Ramayana narration, Valmiki initiates Lava and Kusa (sons of principal characters Rama and Sita), to render musically the Ramayana itself, in the ‘Marga style’, the canonical approach of Indian Classical Music. This is the first-ever reference to the pre-eminent musical tradition of the Indian civilization.
Numerous other allusions recording values, principles, techniques, instruments, many of them valid and operational today, abound in the narrative.
Dr. Subhadra Desai, vocalist of India Classical Music and Sanskrit scholar, shares in the present monograph the insights of her stimulating research of the musical heritage of Valmiki’s Ramayana, explored and documented for the first time, from dual perspectives of Musician and Academic.
The literary and cultural heritage of the Ramayana and Indian Classical Music are both living traditions and key constituents of the Indian identity. It is indeed impossible to imagine an India, of the past, present or future, without either. Reference to this musical tradition in the Ramayana, the earliest literary work in classical Sanskrit, is therefore a propitious context in which a composite legacy of Music-Literature may be examined.
Ramayana has a fundamental association with music. The poet Valmiki is himself present as a protagonist within the Ramayana narration, and initiates Lava and Kusa to render the Ramayana musically. Their music follows the tried and tested ‘Marga style’, the canonical approach of Indian Classical Music; its earliest references appear first in this first and definitive epic of India.
The musical heritage of Valmiki’s Ramayana is being explored and documented in the present monograph for the first time by Dr. Subhadra Desai, a vocalist of Indian Classical Music and Sanskrit scholar.
Subhadra’s research records references in Ramayana of technical terms of music and its principles and its principles and practices that apply to Indian Classical Music even today. The allusions to Gandharva, Marga, Sruti, Svara, Sthana, Murchana, Jati, Karana. Tala, Laya in the Ramayana establish the salient features of music of the epic-era, and relate it to musical traditions of the present time.
Valmiki does not confine himself to merely musical terms, he also ascribes value: of discipline, improvisation and emotion, in the preparation for the performance of Music.
In addition, many other references, such as the music intrinsic in nature, use and significance of a range of musical instruments, and also detailed accounts of interface of music and society, constitute the musical world of Valmiki.
Dr Subhadra Desai is a vocalist of Indian Classical Music whose performances have drawn attention for their contemplative character in music festivals and other for a in India and abroad. She is also a Sanskrit scholar and has taught at the Delhi University as visiting faculty.
Subhadra is an empanelled artist with Indian Council for Cultural Relations, and has often conducted lecture-demonstrations and workshops at the Centre for Cultural Resources and Training, Delhi.
As a student of Sanskrit, Subhadra draws close to the wellsprings of Indian tradition. This invests her rendering of devotional music with an intensity that moves her listeners.
Subhadra has composed presentations on selections of ancient texts in Sanskrit and Pali in classical Ragas as theme-based recitals, some of which are:
Advaita: The India philosophy of non-dualism or oneness of God and Creation
Astapadis from Gita Govindam.
Maha Mamgala Sutta, Ratana Sutta and other Buddhist texts.
Sanatana Vivaha mantra: Sacred hymns on Hindu marriage from Rgveda and Yajurveda.
Women Seers and Sages of India: Hymns from Rgveda, and songs of devotion by women poets of medieval India.
Subhadra’s dual interests of Music and Sanskrit resonate an affiliation that already exists in Classical Literature of India.
This study is a result of an academic project for a PhD thesis submitted to the Delhi University. An intellectual curiosity to acquire first hand knowledge of this great piece of literary work first drew me to the Valmiki-Ramayana. As a professional vocalist of Indian music, I was instinctively attracted to the references of musical techniques recorded in it and was fascinated by the manner in which they were used.
In my first readings I found that there were not only technical references to music in the epic, but it was itself intended by the poet to be sung. This dimension added a new delight to my study and led me to view it from a fresh new perspective.
The Ramayana is the earliest literary work in classical Sanskrit and an opportunity to investigate its musical heritage was a privilege as well as an immense responsibility. A few years elapsed in just reading it again and again. I tried to concentrate on only the musical references but was overwhelmed by the immensity of scale of the Ramayana. Surely this extraordinary experience is familiar to all who read it.
It is extremely difficult to reconstruct the nature of music of any given period in time without musical reference resources such as audio recordings or notation systems. However, in the course of my study I discovered that the Ramayana records technical terms of music, its principles and practices, theoretical concepts and their use, that apply to Indian classical music even today. The musical heritage of the Ramayana is thus not amorphous or ambiguous, but precise and meticulous, and ‘Marga Samgita’ or Indian classical music is indeed an unbroken tradition of Indian culture.
The final outcome of my research work owes a lot to assistance extended to me by many people to whom I will be always indebted. I record here my deep gratitude to all of them.
Dr. Sushma Kulshreshtha, my supervisor, and Professor Dipti Tripathy of the Department of Sanskrit, Delhi University guided me to study the subject from different perspectives. Professor Vedagya Arya, Department of Sanskrit and Hindi, St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, offered motivation, warm advice and instructions: any formal expression of thanks to him is inadequate. Dr. Vasanti Krishnarao, Faculty of Music, Delhi University, and Padmashri Leela Samson, distinguished exponent of Bharatanatyam, have enlightened me on the musical traditions of the Ramayana in South India. Professor Ramanath Tripathy, a renowned expert of Ramayana-literature whose work is an inspiration for all students of the subject, referred me to ‘Ramakatha: Vividha Ayama’, from which I received insight in addition to comprehensive information about studies on the Ramayana in various Indian and foreign languages, and its influence on their respective cultures. Shri Amolak Chand Jain, Librarian, Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, extended ready and kind help in accessing academic resources.
Dr Gauri Dharmapal, Department of Sanskrit, Lady Brabourne College, Kolkata, I consider my guru in Sanskrit: hers is the abiding inspiration to all my academic effort; in a way this work forms a guru-daksina to her.
A special thanks is due to my music guru, Pandit Madhup Mudgal, from whom I have imbibed an enduring love for Hindustani Classical Music, which has helped in sure and certain ways to understand the inherent musicality of the Ramayana.
I am indebted to Shri Vinay Jain, who kindly agreed to design the cover of this book, and this adds great value to it.
I am also grateful to the National Museum, Delhi, for allowing me to access and incorporate a selection of precious manuscripts and paintings of the Ramayana.
The family’s support is important for all endeavour, and my deep involvement in the study over long periods would not have been possible without it. My parents Shri Amal and Smt. Manju Mitra’s faith in me and my projects, and my parents-in-law Shri Ramendra and Smt. Madhuri Desai’s care and support, were essential ingredients in the fulfillment of this mission. My young son Nandit and my husband Neerav helped me with the computer, and provided every technical and logistic facility so that I could work from home. My brother Siddhartha constantly guided me in my study with editorial inputs and suggested directions for critical approach and analysis.
I hope this research generates interest, and helps in some measure for more research studies on Sanskrit literature on related issues.
'Samgitavatasahityam sarasvatyah netradvayam'
'Music and literature are the two eyes of Goddess Sarasvati',
This age- old Indian saying that connects the two disciplines of literature and music intimately to each other and to
the Hindu deity of culture and scholarship, expresses a relationship that has existed in all human civilizations
across space and time.
From time immemorial, literature and music have flourished in tandem, complementing each other. Both draw from
the innermost recesses of human experience, communicating thought and feeling.
One of the earliest instances of the synthesis of literature and music are the Vedic hymns, dating to the Vedic period
of Indian history. These were chanted in Vedic accents/ notes, 'Udatta, Anudatta and Svarita'. These fundamental
notes later developed into seven notes of Indian music, the svaras. The svara is critically important, as the meaning
of a 'mantra' changes with any incorrect use. As an example, if chanted in the designated svara, 'Indrasatruh'
means 'Indrah satruh yasya sah' or 'Indra, the slayer or the enemy', and with the use of a wrong svara, the
meaning changes to 'Indrasya satruh'or 'the slayer or the enemy of Indra'!
Saint-poets of medieval India adopted music as a medium of expression for their personal devotion as well as their
deepest realization of Truth. The lyrical compositions of Meerabai, Surdas, Tulsidas, Kabir, Machhinder Pratap,
Gorakhnath, Akka Mahadevi and others were a new literary form bearing penetrative insights on life and society,
and indeed also reflected the wonderful lives of their authors. Thus they have become a timeless heritage of Indian
music, literature and culture. In modem times, Rabindra- samgita, Tagore's poetry set to music by the poet himself,
is a live and vibrant musical art form and has proved its enduring vitality through the last century. It has thus been
a common feature in Indian tradition through history that great music coincided with great poetry.
Valmlki's Ramayana, bearing a sacred/ moral- ethical dimension has deeply moved humanity across time, and
constitutes an overwhelming influence on Indian culture and civilization. It is the first poetic creation written in
laukika Sanskrit, the so- called 'Sanskrit of the Common Man' that followed the earlier Vedic Sanskrit of the Vedas
in the post-Vedic period, and is regarded as the "Adikavya" or the primordial poetry. In time and context it follows
the "Apauruseya" Vedas, to which no formal authorship or point of time is ascribed. The verses of the Rgveda are
'Mantra', considered as 'discovered' by seers in meditation, and therefore distinct from poetry or literature in the
general sense, despite their masterly use of language, metres, alamkara and choice of subject.
The Ramayana has a fundamental association with music. Within the Ramayana narration, Valmiki the poet himself
is present as a protagonist, and it includes his role as an initiator to Lava and Kusa's musical rendition of the
Ramayana in the presence of ascetics. The oral musical tradition of the Ramayana thus belongs to the narrative
itself. Valmiki further emphasizes the musicality of his own present work by qualifying the language as lyrical and
dulcet.' Lava and Kusa's musical offering is made with great absorption.' In all these references, Valmlki's clear
motive of creating a composition that can be read as well as sung is discerned. Finally the outcome is a beautiful
amalgamation of . Pathya' - that which is read, and . Geya' - that which is sung.
The Valmlki- Ramayana establishes direct references to music within the narrative in different ways. It is shown as
being sung to the accompaniment of Tantri, a string instrument. Different characteristic features of Indian music,
the physical nuances of vocal music,' the compositional elements of classical music," even the particular evaluation
of musicians' abilities are designated.' (For details refer to 'Music in the Ramayana", Chapter 1)
The Ramayana is composed in 'Anustup' metre, a new metre that is somewhat different from the Vedic Anustup,
The poet's grief on witnessing a bird lose its mate to the hunter's arrow fmds expression as a song, created in
Anustup . The verse contains four lines, each of which has eight equal syllables, and can be sung with the
accompaniment of 'Tantri', a string instrument!
In the narration, tracing the source of this original metre, a magnificent sequence of events unfolds, where finally
Brahma, the Creator appears, and assures the poet that it is only through His will and inspiration that this verse is
uttered. Thus the foundation is laid for the creation of the first poetry in classical Sanskrit! -
Macchandadeva te brahman pravrtteyam sarasvati.
Bhavabhuti in his Uttara Ramacaritam states that Valmiki is the first poet to compose in a laukika metre that is
somewhat different from its Vedic counterpart -
He also addresses Valmlki as the 'first poet' of laukika Sanskrit.
Tadbruhi ramacaritam adyan kavirasi.
The role of the new 'Anustup' of the Ramayana is of great significance, as it has an inherent musical quality,
evident in its rhythm. The Valmlki- Ramayana is composed chiefly in 'Pathya: metre, an ancient form of Anustup,
Anustup consists of 32 syllables, which are equally interspersed in its four lines. Thus, the pronunciation of the
verse is simple and effortless as the syllables are not unnecessarily prolonged, which also results in an inherent
In the present study, I have tried to investigate and analyse the intrinsic musicality of Valmlki's Ramayana and the
development of music with reference to its grammar, musical instruments and its relevance to everyday life as
depicted in the Ramayana.
Since this study deals with music, it may be appropriate to give an account of the fundamental technical tenets of
Indian music, some of which (such as Gandharva, Marga, Svara, Sthana, Murchana, Karana, Tala, Laya, etc) are
mentioned in the Ramayana. These references are extremely significant to the search for the salient features of
music of the epic era.
Being a practical art form, music is subject to constant change/ evolution. The system of archiving/ preserving
music by techniques such as audio recording and notation systems are also new. Therefore, to trace and reconstruct
the music of the Ramayana, which dates back to a few thousand years, one has to rely on the internal evidences
available in the body of the literature. The present study is therefore based on evidences available within the epic
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