A publication of the Batish Institute of Indian Music and Fine Arts

History of Indian Music - Part 2

Pre-Vedic Period

byPandit Shiv Dayal Batish
Edited by Ashwin Batish

To gain some insight into this period, I am including some popular stories and anecdotes that have come down through the generations.

In India, it is believed that music was created by Brahmaa, the god of creation. Shivaa learned it from Brahmaa, who then passed on this knowledge to the goddess Saaraswati. Naarada learned it from Saaraswati, and he taught the Kinnaraas, the Gaandharvas, and other nymphs and fairies of paradise. Musicologists like Bharata, Naarada II, and Hanumaan learned the art there and projected it to the earth.

The early Aryans worshiped the trinity of gods:

  1. Brahmaa - the creator of the universe
  2. Vishnu -the manipulator
  3. Mahesha or Maahaadeva -the destroyer.

According to the Puraanaas, the conch shell in the hands of Vishnu was found at the time of the churning of the ocean. Maahaadeva, also called Shivaa, invented a musical instrument from the hunting bow, called Pinnaka, which is said to be the father of all string instruments. After killing the demon Tripuraa, Shivaa danced in happiness and, to accompany him, Brahmaa innovated the Damaru drum and gave it to Shivaa's son, Ganesha. (Sangeet Kaa Itihaas, Hindi, by Bhagwat Sharan Sharmaa).

In an ancient story, Sage Naarada did penances for years on end. This pleased Lord Shivaa, who then rewarded him with the knowledge of music. In another story, Lord Shivaa - romantically inspired by the beautiful figure of his wife Paarvati in a sleeping posture-imitated her limbs in the shape of the Rudra Veenaa, which is still played in South India. In yet another popular tale, it is said that from his five faces, Shivaa introduced the five major Raaga melodies, and the sixth Raaga was created from the mouth of Paarvati. From the Poorvamukha (the Eastern face of Shivaa) was created Raaga Bhairava; from Paschimmukha (the Western face) Raaga Hindola (the swing) was born; from Uttramukha (the Northern face) Raaga Megha (rain & cloud melody) was born; the Dakshinmukha (the Southern face) gave Raaga Dipak (light); the Akaashmukha (skyward face) gave Shri Raaga. The Raaga Kaushika was born from the face of Paarvati.

Another episode is found in a poem in praise of Shivaa called Shivaa Pradosh or Sompradosh, built around a traditional fast that is observed in honor of Shivaa. At the time of sunset when this fast was broken, Shivaa, in one of his pleasant moods, expressed a desire to dance. The other gods and goddesses were also pleased at the prospect and stood around him forming a circle and chanting praises in his honor. Saaraswati took her Veenaa and played, Indraa played on his flute, Brahmaa accompanied on his Khartaal, Lakshmi started singing, and Vishnu played on the drums. People who came to witness this ethereal music festival included the Gandharvas, Kinnaras, Yakshas, and others.

The book Adhbuta Raamaayanaa portrays how strongly ancient music was protected from disintegration or deterioration. Music was held in the highest esteem. Vedaas (books of complete knowledge) were written in ancient times. The Saam Veda dealt in particular with various aspects of music. With religious control over musical thought, it produced some very obedient musicians who believed that if they broke the rules they might suffer the wrath of God.

The moral of all this is that the observance or neglect of the rules for rendering a Raaga or Raagini can make or mar its melodic image (swaroopa). There is a popular story on this topic. Once upon a time sage Naarada, thinking that he had thoroughly mastered the art and science of music, went with Lord Vishnu, who took him to the abode of the gods. On the way they passed a gathering of women whom they found weeping and lamenting over the broken limbs of their bodies. When Lord Vishnu enquired how such a misfortune had befallen them, they told him that they were Raaga and Raagini creations of the god Shiva Mahaaadeva and that the unskilled and neglectful musical renditions by sage Naarada had distorted their features. Unless they heard these Raagas and Raaginis sung properly by either Shivaa himself or some other equally skilled musician, there was no hope of their ever being restored to their original form. Naarada became ashamed, kneeled down at the feet of Lord Vishnu, and begged forgiveness.

Continued in the Next Issue

This is an excerpt from the Work " Rasik Raga Lakshan Manjari, volume 1, History and Theory of Indian Music, by Pt. Shiv Dayal Batish, Publisher - Batish Publications, 1310 Mission Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA.

Special thanks to Dr. Ralph Abraham for proof reading this article.


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