Hindu superiority: An Attempt to Determine the Position of the Hindu Race in the Scale of Nations By Har Bilas Sarda, B. A., F. R. S. L

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Music exalts each joy, allays each grief. Expels diseases, softens every pain. Subdues the rage of poison and the plague, And hence the wise of ancient days adored One power of physic, melody and song.


Music is the natural expression of a man’s feelings. It comes naturally to man, woman and child in all conditions, at all times and in all countries. “ The very fact of musical utterance,” says Sir Hubert Parry, “ implies a genuine expansion of the nature of the human being, and is in a varying degree a trustworthy revelation of the particular likings, tastes and sensibilities of the being that gives vent to it.”

The Chinese emphasise its importance by calling it “ the science of sciences.”

“An eminently poetical people,” as the ancient Hindus were, could not but have been eminently musical also. Anne C. Wilson, in what is perhaps the latest attempt on the part of a European to understand Hindu music, says: “The people of India are essentially a musical race To such an extent is music an accompaniment of existence in India, that every hour of the day and season of the year has its own melody.”‘

Mr. Coleman says: “Of the Hindu system of music the excellent writer whom I have before mentioned ( Sir W. Jones), has expressed his belief that it has been formed on better principles than our own.”2

1A Short Account of the Hindu System of Music, by Anne C. Wilson (1904), p. 5. 2Coleman’s Hindu Mythology, Preface, p. ix.

Colonel Tod says: “An account of the state of musical science amongst the Hindus of early ages and a comparison between it and that of Europe is yet a desideratum in Oriental literature. From what we already know of the science, it appears to have attained a theoretical precision yet unknown to Europe, and that at a period when even Greece was little removed from barbarism.” The antiquity of this most delightful art is the same as the antiquity of the Sanskrit literature itself. Anne C. Wilson says: “It must, therefore, be a secret source of pride to them to know that their system of music, as a written science, is the oldest in the world. Its principal features were given long ago in Vedic writings Its principles were accepted by the Mohamedan portion of the population in the days of their pre-eminence, and are still in use in their original construction at the present day.”‘

Music has been a great favourite2 with the Hindus from the earliest times. Even the Vedas (e.g., Sam Veda) treat of this divine art. The enormous extent3 to which the Hindus have cultivated this science is proved by their attainments in it. But, unhappily, the masterpiece on this “Science and Art combined,” the Gandharva Veda, is lost, and references to it in Sanskrit works alone remain to point to the high principles on which the Hindu science of music was based.

A Short Account of the Hindu System of Music by A. C. Wilson, p.9.

2Shakespeare says: “The man that hath no music in himself

Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds

Is fit for treason, stratagems and spoils ;

Let no such man be trusted.”

The Hindu system of music is minutely explained in a great number of Sanskrit books.”—Sir W, Jones.

Even at the present day the Rtzgs and Ragnis of the Hindus are innumerable, and the majority of them differ so minutely from each other that even the “cultivated ear of the musical Europeans” cannot fully understand and follow them.

Sir W. W. Hunter says: “Not content with the tones and semitones, the Indian musicians employed a more minute subdivison, together with a number of sonal modifications which the Western ear neither recognises nor enjoys. Thus, they divide the octave into 22 subtones instead of 12 semitones of the European scale. The Indian musician declines altogether to be judged by the few simple Hindu airs which the English ear can appreciate.”‘

Anne C. Wilson says: “Every village player knows about time, and marks it by beating time on the ground, while the audience clap their hands along with him. He has the most subtle ear for time, and a more delicate perception ‘of shades of difference than the generality of English people can acquire, an acuteness of musical hearing which also makes it possible for him to recognise and reproduce quarter and half tones, when singing or playing

Nor are Europeans able to imitate Hindu music. Mr. Arthur Whitten says: “But I have yet to observe that while our system of notation admits of no sound of less than half a tone, the Hindus have quarter tones, thus rendering it most difficult of imitation by Europeans. The execution of their music, I hold to be impossible to all except those who commence its practice from a very early age.” 3

lImperial Gazetteer, “ India,” p. 224. 2Anne C. Wilson’s Hindu System of Music. 3 The Music; of the Ancients,. p. 22.

He also observes: “Few of the ancient Hindu airs are known to Europeans, and it has been found impossible to set them to music according to the modern system of notation, as we have neither staves nor musical characters whereby the sounds may be accurately expressed.”‘

Professor Wilson says: “That music was cultivated on scientific principles is evident from the accounts given by Sir W. JOnes and Mr. Colebrooke, from which it appears that the Hindus had a knowledge of the garnet, of the mode of notation, of measurement, of time, and of a division of the notes of a more minute description than has been found convenient in Europe.”2 “ We understand,” says Mrs. Manning, “ that the Hindu musicians have not only the Chromatic but also the Enharmonic genus.” 3

The Oriental Quarterly Review says: “We may add that the only native singers and players whom Europeans are in the way of hearing in most parts of India, are reported by their scientific brethren in much the same light as a ballad singer at the corner of the street by the prime soprans of the Italian opera.”4

Sir W. W. Hunter says: “And the contempt with which the Europeans in India regard it merely proves their ignorance of the system on which Hindu music is built up.”5 Professor Wilson says: “Europeans in

The Music of the Ancients, p. 21.

2 Mill’s India, Vol. II, p. 41.

3Ancient and Medimval India, Vol. II, p. 153.

4Quarterly Review for December 1825, p. 197.

3Imperial Gazetteer, “India,” p. 224. Mrs. Anne C. Wilson says: “Not many Europeans, I fancy, would boast of being even superficially acquainted with the Dhrupada style of song, the popular Tappas, the Thumri songs of the N.-W. P., the Kharkhas or war-songs

general know nothing of Indian music. They hear only the accompaniments to public processions, in which noise is the chief object to be attained, or the singing of the Mohamedans, which is Persian not Indian.”‘

There are six male rags, and associated with them are thirty-six female ragnees, which partake of the peculiar measure or quality of their males but in a softer and more feminine degree. From each of these 36 ragnees have been born three ragnees reproducing the special peculiarity of their original, and these have in their turn produced offsprings without number, each bearing a distinct individuality to the primary raga,or, to use the poetic Hindu expression, “they are as numerous and alike as the waves of the sea.” That the Hindus cultivated music on scientific principles is proved by the fact that, as Mr. Whitten says, these ragas were designed to move some passion or affection of the mind, and to each was assigned some particular season of the year, time of the day and night or special locality or district, and for a performer to sing a raga out of its

of the Rajputs, the .ifuttari chants, the nursery rhymes,, the wedding and cremation songs of Grtijrat, the Vernams, Pallam. Kirtans of Madras . . . Who amongst us know the lyric poetry of Vidyapati, of Chandidas, Jaideva or the well-known family of Ram Bhagan Butt, sometimes called the “nest of singing birds? “—p. 41.

India, Vol. II, p. 41. Professor Wilson adds: “The practice of art among them (Hindus) has declined in consequence probably of its suppression by the Mohamedans.” Sir W. W. Hunter says: “Hindu music after a period of excessive elaboration sank under .Mussalmans.”--Imperial Gazetteer; p. 223. “However, it still preserves, in a living state, some of the earlier forms, which puzzle the student of Greek music, side by side with the most complicated development.”—Sir W. W. linuter, p. 224.

appropriate season or district would make him, in the eyes of all Hindus, an ignorant pretender and unworthy-the character of a musician!’

The six principal ragas are the following :—.

(1) Hindau/. It is ‘played to produce on the mind of the hearers all the sweetness and freshness of spring; sweet as the honey of the bee and fragrant as the perfume of a thousand blossoms.

(2) Sri ‘ Raga. The quality of this rag is to affect the mind with the calmness and silence of declining day, to tinge the thoughts with a roseate hue, as clouds are gilded by the setting sun before. the approach of darkness and night.

(3) Miy This is descriptive of the effects

of an approaching thunder-storm and rain, having the power of influencing clouds in times of drought.

(4) Deepuck. This rag is extinct. No one could sing it and live; it has consequently fallen into disuse. Its effect is to light the lamps and to cause the body of the singer to produce flames,by which he dies.

(5) Bhairava. The effect of this rag is to inspire the mind with a feeling of approaching dawn, the caroling of birds, the sweetness of the perfume and air, the sparkling freshness of dew-dropping morn.

(6) Malkiis. The effects of this ittg are to produce on the mind.a feeling of gentle stimulation.

There is much that is common to both the. Hindu and European systems. Mr. Arthur Whitten says: “Their (Hindus) scale undoubtedly resembles our diatonic mode, and consists of seven sounds, which are extended to three octaves, that being the compass of the human voice. Their voices and music, like ours, are divided into three distinct classes. The bass, called odarah, or lowest notes; the tenor, called madurrah, or middle notes; the soprano, called the tarrah, or upper notes. The similarity of the formation of the ancient Hindu scale to our modern system is noteworthy. We name the sounds of our scales: Doh, Ray, Me, Fah, Sol, La, Te. That common in India is :Sa, Ray, Ga, Ma, Pa, DhaNe.’ The reason of this similarity is evident. Sir W. W. Hunter says: “A regular system of notation was worked out before the age of Panini, and seven notes were designated by their initial letters. This notation passed from the Brahmans through the Persians to Arabia, and was thence introduced into European music by Guido d’ Arezzo at the beginning of the eleventh century.” 2

Professor Weber says: “According to Von Bohlen and Benfey, this notation passed from the Hindus to the Persians,3 and from these again to the Arabs, and was introduced into European music by Guido d’ Arezzo at the beginning of the eleventh century.”‘

But the principles of Hindu music were imported into Europe much earlier than this.

The Music of the Ancients, pp. 21, 22.

2Indiau Gazetteer, p. 223. See Benfey’s Indien Ersch, p. 299, and Gruber’s Encyclopmdia, Vol. XVII1. “ Some suppose that our Modern word gamut comes from the Indian gama — a musical scale. Prakrit is gama, while its Sanskrit is grama.

3 Hindu musicians used to go to foreign countries to ,grace the courts of foreign kings. King Behram of Persia had many Hindu -musicians in his court,

4 Weber’s Indian Literature, p. 272.

Strabo says: “Some of the Greeks attribute to that country (India) the invention of nearly all the science of music. We perceive them sometimes describing the cittiara of the Asiatics and sometimes applying to flutes the ephithet Phrygian. The names of certain instruments, such as nabla and others, likewise are taken from barbarous tongues.” Colonel Tod says: “This nabla of Strabo is possible the tabld, the small tabor of India. If Strabo took his orthography from the Persian or Arabic, a single point would constitute the difference between the N (ni2a) and the T (te).”1 He adds: “We have every reason to believe—from the very elaborate character of their written music, which is painful and discordant to the ear, and from its minuteness of subdivision that they had also the Chromatic scale, said to have been invented by Timotheus in the time of Alexander, who might have carried it from the banks of the Indus.”2

Colonel Tod also says: “In the mystic dance, the s-Mandala, yet imitated on the festival sacred to the sun-god, Hari, he is represented with a radiant crown in a dancing attitude, playing on the flute to the nymphs encircling him, each holding a musical instrument . . . These nymphs are also called the nava-ragni, from raga, a mode of song over which each presides, and nava-rasa, or nine passions excited by the powers of harmony. May we not in this trace the origin of Apollo and the sacred Nine? “ Bharata, Iswara, Parana and Narada were among the great Hindu musicians of ancient India.3 In more

tTod’s Rajasthan, Vol. I, p. 569 (P. Edition).

Tod’s Rajasthan, Vol. I, p. 570. 8 Weber’s Indian Literature, p. 272.

recent times, however, Naik Gopal and Tansen have been the most celebrated ones. About Naik Gopal, Mr. Whitten says: “Of the magical effect produced by the singing of Gopal Naik and of the romantic termination to the career of this sage, it is said that he was commanded by Akbar to sing the raga deepack, mid he, obliged to obey, repaired to the river Jumna, in which he plunged up to his neck. As he warbled the wild and magical notes, flames burst from his body and consumed him to ashes.”‘ He adds: “It is recorded of Tarisen that he was also commanded by the Emperor Akbar to sing the sri, or night raga, at midday, and the power of the music was such that it instantly became night, and the darkness extended in a circle round the palace as far as his voice could be heard.” India, it seems, produced Orpheuses even so late as the 17th century A.D.

I Music of the Ancients, p. 21. Dr. Tennet says: “ If we are to judge merely from the number of instruments and the frequency with which they apply them, the Hindus might be regarded as considerable proficients in music.”

The instrument singa, or horn, is said to bare been played by Mahadee, who alone possessed the knowledge and power to make it speak. Singular stories are related of the wonders performed by this instrument.

The Beena is the principal stringed instrument of music amongst the Hindus at the present day.

“‘Although not ocean born, the tuneful Beena,

Is most assuredly a gem of Heaven—

Like a dear friend it cheers the lonely heart And leads new lustre to the social meeting ;

It lulls the pains that absent lovers feel,

And adds fresh impulse to the glow of passion.”

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