Indian classical music is as ancient as the human race itself. How fortunate is he or she who loves to sing or play an instrument! Indian classical music is deep, profound, and melodious. It draws upon the rhythms of nature that resonate in the human heart. Everyone can respond to it . . . Singing, playing instruments, dancing, painting, and composing poetry are all various ways of expressing human emotions is a creative manner . . . Music is the highest way of expressing emotions . . . When I observe the effect of music on students, it is evident that those who acquire the taste for singing or playing music are happier than those who do not.
One of the greatest masters of the 20th century, Swami Rama is the founder of the Himalayan Institute. Born in the Himalayas, he studied in both India and Europe, and received his spiritual training in the Himalayan cave monasteries and in Tibet. His best known work, Living with the Himalayan Masters, reveals the many facets of this singular adept and demonstrates his embodiment of the living Himalayan Tradition.
Some ten years ago, while visiting Boulder, Colorado, I suffered a serious injury to my head. I was diagnosed by experts in the United States as suffering from an indefinable internal hemorrhage, for which there was neither medicine nor curative treatment. A complication of the injury was that I lost a good part of my ability to speak. No one could understand my words.
Those whose voice has been damaged or who have difficulty speaking know that one prescription for this problem is speech therapy. The methods used in speech therapy train and strengthen one's voice and make it melodious. In ancient India, the science of speech therapy was part of the discipline of music, and anyone needing voice training might well have been sent to a vocal teacher. Speech therapy as a separate science did not really exist. It was only more recently in the West that the science of speech therapy was thoroughly researched and expanded into a clinical discipline. Now, there are numerous books on the subject, and this science has become a very systematic collection of methods for culturing and training the human voice.
Following my injury, I followed a very rigorous schedule, which included both changes in my diet and the practice of special breathing exercises. These exercises, particularly the pranayama practices, helped me to recover from the constant bleeding problem. But my voice still remained distorted and difficult to understand. It was then that I visited many speech therapy clinics in America and Europe.
During that time, I found that certain vocal exercises taken from the musical tradition of India were very therapeutic for me. I practiced singing the vowels of the alphabet, being my practice at four o’clock in the morning. I used various Indian melodies, such as the well-known Bhairav, Jogiya, and Bhairavi raags. I sang no words to the music but used only vowel sounds to produce the notes. It took me six months to recover the ability to speak and lecture again, but during that time I was certainly impressed by the versatility and power of these ancient Indian musical techniques.
Actually, I had first learned the techniques of Indian vocal music in my youth, during the time in which I lived in the cave monasteries of the Himalayas. There, I used to practice six to seven hours a day to learn the various vocal exercises that make up the Indian tradition of voice culture. One day, the monks with whom I lived began to question me. They were surprised and shocked that I was singing "love songs" (in my language called "thumri") in the monastery. They reminded me that I was a renunciate and that such songs should not be sung by someone like me. After much discussion, I was instructed by my master to completely stop my singing, and to begin meditating and contemplating instead. He asked me not to sing or practice Indian classical music again until at least 1985.
I followed my master's orders and put the desire for classical music in the bed of my unconscious mind. I followed his instructions literally. Thus, it was only recently, when I visited India, that I looked into my old diaries and again began following the method of musical voice culture. This method had been given to me by Chand Khansahab. I also met Pandit Jonwari Kar of Poona, a disciple of Shri Aman All Khan, a great singer and composer of his time. I started practicing the subtle methods of Indian vocalization taught by Aman Ali Khan, which are called Khanda Gayaki. His method teaches how to use a particular note in various ways without distorting it. His techniques helped me so much that I can sing once again the melodies that I used to sing in my youth.
Indian classical music is as ancient as the human race itself. Among the Vedas, the most ancient scriptures in the library of man, the Sama Veda is devoted to the art of music. How fortunate is he or she who loves to sing or play an instrument! Indian classical music is deep, profound, and melodious. It draws upon the rhythms of nature that resonate in the human heart. Everyone can respond to it.
In fact, a life without art is vacant. Singing, playing instruments, dancing, painting, and composing poetry are all various methods of expressing human emotions in a creative way. If these emotions are not expressed and directed in pleasant ways, they can cause psychosomatic diseases. Recently, scientists have begun to realize that numerous diseases actually have their origins in human thought and emotion, and are merely reflected in the body and in human behavior. Music, being the highest method of expressing emotions, can be useful as a therapy for certain problems.
Permit me to say that the many diseases of man are being researched here, there, and everywhere, but nowhere is there a research center helping people to rid themselves of the great inborn disease of human beings-loneliness. Every human being is lonely. Loneliness is actually the leading cause of death-only then followed by strokes, heart disease, and cancer-and it may even have a role in their development as well. Music, if used as either a preventive therapy or as a cure, can be a wonderful and powerful method of removing that great killer called loneliness.
Among the different forms of music, singing is the first and most powerful. Next in order of importance comes the ability to produce music by playing instruments. At our Institute we are conducting experiments by teaching people to learn to sing and to play various instruments. When I observe the effects of music on these students, it is evident that those who acquire the taste for singing or playing instruments are happier than those who do not. Surely, if music is properly taught, it can help many. Its importance is overlooked and underestimated. Understanding Indian music may seem difficult at first to the Western listener. To the Western ear, it seems that there is something hauntingly beautiful, yet exotic and foreign about the melodies, rhythms, and timbres of Indian classical music. It is as if a lovely musical image is being whispered to the Western listener, but in a language that he or she does not quite understand. The Westerner may wonder what gives Indian music its special qualities. How is the voice taught to sing, and the ear taught to hear and understand, the language that this music uses so adeptly? These are the questions that this book is intended to answer.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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