Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Is Music a Vidya or a Kala

Hari Nagabhushanam

Is Music a Vidya or a Kala?

Western theorists have styled music as a fine art. At the same time, some among them treat it as a science. Now, the questions arise what science is and what art is. Phenomenal conceptions such as Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Zoology, etc., come under the category of sciences, whereas others such as music, painting, sculpture, etc., go by the name of arts. The only other possible group of human pursuits is comprised in the category of crafts–according to western notions.

Broadly speaking, sciences are codes of phenomenal observations, governed by certain natural laws, each pertaining to a particular branch of study. Arts are aesthetic reproductions of nature appealing to intellect or intuition. Crafts are other human avocations which fetch man his living or his luxuries. All human aspirations are comprised within one or another of these three conceptions according to Occidentalists. Now, coming to our Oriental lore, we find that all human knowledge or culture is summarised in a two-fold classification of Vidyas and Kalas. The Vidyas are fourteen and the Kalas sixty-four in number. The fourteen Vidyas are as follows: The four Vedas, with their adjuncts the four Upavedas, form this main group; the six Angas of Siksha, Vyakarana, Chandas, Nirukti, Jyotisham, and Kalpam make the secondary group. The four Upangas of Purana, Nyaya, Mimamsa and Dharmasastras make up the list as their auxiliaries. The sixty-four Kalas are enumerated in Saiva-Thantras, and comprise several departments of human activities such as music in its four aspects of Githam, Vadyam, Nrithyam and Natyam; poetry, painting, sculpture, magic, gambling, cookery, needle-work, robbery, Engineering, Zoology, Biology, etc.

The question then arises as to what is meant by Vidya and what is meant by Kala. Generally speaking, they are identical terms, meaning learning. The terms ‘Vidyasala’ and ‘Kalasala,’ meaning school or college, and the expressions ‘Vidyavan’ and ‘Kalavan,’ meaning a scholar, illustrate the above observation. Nevertheless, they seem to convey different ideas as well. The idea of the Vidyas as fourteen and of the Kalas as sixty-four affords illustration for the foregoing observation. The sixty-four Kalas are spoken of as sixty-four Vidyas as well, especially in Telugu literature, by interchange of words, but the fourteen Vidyas are never styled as fourteen Kalas by a similar verbal interposition. This fact is proof enough that the two terms are not always synonymous in their usage. If so, let us see what each term denotes in its exclusive sense, and reconcile the apparent incongruities.

The derivative meaning of the word Vidya is Gnanam, and Gnanam in its turn means knowledge in its literal sense. But a student of Vedantic philosophy is aware that these two terms have been set down as meaning Brahma-Vidya or Brahma-Gnanam (divine consciousness) in their ‘mukhyartha’ or primary sense. In their ‘lakshanartha’ or secondary sense, they mean Vidya-Sthanas or works constituting seats of knowledge such as the Vedas, etc., already enumerated, on the one hand, and the several Vidya Sadhanas or Upasanas i.e., media of divine communion on the other, both the works and the media leading to the above mentioned divine consciousness. As such, the fourteen Vidyas enumerated above refer to the fourteen Vidya-Sthanas or seats of divine lore, each consisting of a group of literary works, explaining and expatiating upon the media or the means of attaining divine bliss. Of these Vidya-Sthanas, the Upanishads constitute the parent stem of spiritual felicity, while Uttara-Mimamsa Sastram, and Githa-Sastram, its main off-shoots, abundantly amplify and elucidate its implications with a clear perspective. Consequently these three works are termed ‘Prasthana-Thraya ‘ or the three superior seats of divine wisdom.

The four Upavedas of Dhanurveda (archery), Ayurveda (medicine), Gandharvaveda, (music), and Arthasastra (Politics and Economics, etc.,) are included in Vedic lore proper. With these separately enumerated, the Vidya-Sthanas become eighteen in number and are known as eighteen Vidyas.

Now coming to Kalas, they are sixty-four in number, as already adverted to, and you may bear in mind that music and poetry are two of them. They include on the one hand magic and jugglery, arts which pass one’s ordinary powers of scrutiny and imagination, and on the other, arts of gambling and stealing which are forbidden in law, not to speak of diverse sciences, arts and crafts, such as Biology, Geology, horse-breeding, cookery, needle-work, etc. Thus they comprehend within their scope almost all phases of human intellectuality, some of them being implied in the conception of Vidyas as well. Hence it may be postulated without fear of contradiction that Kalas pertain to intellectual or aesthetic achievements as distinct from intuitional or spiritual attainments, the former conducing to the acquisition of human happiness, and the latter to the realisation of divine blissfulness.

Now you can realise that the Oriental conception of Vidyas and Kalas is more comprehensive than the Occidental conception of arts, sciences and crafts, in that the former is based upon the sublime idea of divine consciousness as the be-all and end-all of all human aspirations and attainments, whereas the latter division of human achievements aims at a visualization of nature’s forces and their application to human needs for mundane aggrandisement. The easterners’ edifice of intuitional elevation is an eternal, invulnerable, all-perfect, all-comprehensive structure, and the westerners’ achievement is an ever expanding, never-ending product of human ideology. Nature’s hidden treasures only multiply with man’s desire to discover, and the end thereof is perceived only when one attains divine consciousness. This is the dictum of Vedantic philosophy.

With this little apparent digression, if any, let us pass on to the matter in issue. You have seen in the foregoing paragraphs that music styled as Gandharvaveda is treated as a Vidya on the one hand, and also as a Kala on the other, being enumerated in the category of Kalas. The question may now arise as to how these two ideas can be reconciled. The answer becomes patent if one calls to mind the definition of Vidya and Kala in the light of the above comments. Music as Gandharvaveda is thus described in Sri Madhusudana Saraswati’s ‘Prasthana-Bheda’: Gandharvaveda Sastram is systematised by Bhagavan Bharata (Maharshi); it serves manifold purposes in its varied forms of Githam (vocal music), Vadyam (instrumental music), and Nrithyam (dance-music); its goal is the attainment of Savikalpa and Nirvikalpa Samadhi (qualified and unqualified God-consciousness) through divine worship or communion. Maharshi Yagnavalkya and others of his type have delineated music in similar terms in their ‘Smrithis.’ Sangitha-Ratnakara and allied authors have laid down that music consists of vocal music as the principal item, aided and accompanied by instrumental music in the main, and by dance-music as an optional adjunct–all of them properly attuned and symphonised leading to spiritual blissfulness. Following these dicta, Sri Thyagaraja, Purandaradas, and other great masters of our age have propounded music as Nada-Vidya or Nadopasana, and elaborated and perfected the idea by means of their immortal musical improvisations. Accordingly music, sung or played with one’s mind steeped in Bhakti or love of the Lord, becomes Nada-Vidya or Nadopasana, and leads to eternal spiritual bliss. Thus viewed, it is a Vidya–a medium of divine communion and God-consciousness.

Secondly, Madhusudana Saraswathi says thus in his ‘Prasthana-Bheda’ about the Upaveda of Arthasastram: "Arthasastra presents a variety of ideas such as Nithi-Sastri (State-craft), Aswasastra (horse-breeding)–and the sixty-four Kalas; they are all the works of different sages; the purpose is their attainment of manifold mundane pleasures." You have already seen that music in its various aspects finds mention in the list of sixty-four Kalas. Consequently it may be asserted that music being transposed to this Upaveda of Arthasastra, and Arthasastra being a collection of arts, sciences and crafts affording human happiness, it fulfils itself as a Kala, if it can induce intellectual sport or sensuous delight. Hence music without Bhakti or love of the Almighty is merely a Kala, and in this aspect it has only to appeal to one’s aesthetic tastes, accepted ethical standards not being infringed in the least. When music degenerates into a vulgar appeal paying no heed to moral decency, it is styled Gramya-Ganam or base country music, not worthy of any respectable denomination.

It may be well in this connections to advert to Ratnakara’s classification of musicians. Pre-eminent among them stands one in the role of Vaggeyakaras. A Vaggeyakara is an enviable personage indeed, with his versatile accomplishments in the two main branches of Githa and Vadya, Nrithyam not being excepted if possible, with his cultural equipment in the several spheres of literature, and with his intuitional devotion to God and Duty. Infused with over-flowing love of the Lord, he sings and plays melodies in soulful ecstasy, and realises Samadhi or God-consciousness. Narada and Tumburu, Hanuman and Arjuna, of great antiquity, Thyagaraja and Purandaradas, Dikshitar and Sama Sastry of the modern age, afford some of the best instances of Vaggeyakaras. Musicians who wish to follow in their footsteps are also Vaggeyakaras, but of a lower order. Thus Vaggeyakaras are Nadopasakas or Vidwans–God-infused musicians, in short.

Coming to vocal musicians, properly so called, they are of five different types–Sikshakara, Anukara, Rasika, Ranjaka and Bhavuka. The terms themselves connote their virtues. Sikshakara is one who can teach worthy music. Anukara is a successful imitator of other masters; Rasika sings soulful melodies imbued with a heart effulgent with emotional blissfulness; Ranjaka sings for others for their sensuous delight; Bhavuka renders music presenting his erudition and emotion. Hence it follows that a Rasika is a Nada-Vidya-marmagna, the best of the category. Bhavuka comes next to him with almost equal claims. Rasika and Ranjaka are more artists trying to tickle the audience with imitation or pleasantries. Sikshakara is only a musician in name, not being able himself to sing and please; but as one who is an adept at teaching, thus contributing to the creation of master-musicians, he is worthy of no mean reverence.

The present article may be summed up as follows: Music as a Vidya is a sacred science or art, its goal being God-consciousness; it sanctifies both the singer and the hearer. Music as a Kala is a fine art, its aim being sensuous delight; it has its satisfaction in popular applause and monetary gain. Music of the vulgar type is neither an art nor a science, its purpose being lewd sensory excitement; it takes both the musician and the hearer to the level of the beasts.

Finally, the Hindu conception of music is something unique, transcending the western conception that music is a fine art or, according to popular belief, a science.

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