“If God has a form,? says Vivekananda, ?it is better if it is that of a man, and not that of an animal.? And if God is like a man, I say, it is better if he has senses like a man. We do not want a God who is deaf and blind.
And I say again: if God has senses, let us try to please Him, for that is the best way to please our Gods. Thus, if He has ears, let us delight Him with the sweetest of sounds. And if He has eyes, let us delight Him with the sweetest of sights. Which is why we Hindus have devoted a whole Veda (Saama) to the art of chanting Vedic hymns. It is unprecedented in the history of man.
The Hindus have worshipped their Gods for more years than anyone else in the world. They know how it is to please their Gods. Music is part of their worship. And so is dance. They try to please all the senses of their Gods.
But not all men can produce sweet sounds. Which is why there was a bitter rivalry between the Vasishta and Viswamitra clans during the Vedic age. The contest was: who could sing the Vedic hymns more melodiously? But that is another story.
The Greeks and Romans too had their chants to propitiate their Gods. And they had their harp to accompany their chants.
The Jews had perhaps one of the oldest traditions in music. David, their king, used to compose psalms and sing them too. One of his psalms says: ?Come, let us sing to the Lord? Let us joyfully sing to Him.? And his God Yahweh was mighty pleased with him, for He says: ?Assuredly, we gave David grace from us.? And Yahweh goes on to tell the hills and the birds, to ?echo? the songs of David. ?O Ye hills and birds, echo his psalm?. of praise,? exhorts Yahweh.
Music was basic to the life of the Persians, too. The Zoroastrians used to sing the gathas. What is more, the Zoroastrian heaven was conceived as the ?abode of music.?
Jesus himself sang with his disciples. Christians gave great importance to the use of music in their prayer. It is said of Handel's?Messiah? that it could make a hardened criminal weep. Music is a therapy to the soul. It is said to soothe the savage'sbreast.
Surely, the Quran is not prose. It is music. It, too, is sung. Muslims revel in who can ?sing? better. And they have carried this art to the call of the Muezzin.
It is said that music disturbs the peace of a prayer. That is, if the prayer is silent, if it is meditation. Which is why meditation has such a hoary tradition among Hindus. Our rishis went into mediation (tapas) for years. They chose forests to meditate. It has been propularised by the late Mahesh Yogi. But Mahesh Yogi did not call for a ban on music. How could he? Sound is God in Hinduism. Nada is Brahma!
The entire Bhakti movement (as also Sufi mysticism) is built around music. Is there any wonder if Sufism has found its true home in India?
In his book The Religion of Islam, Maulana Mohammed Ali says; ?The prayer is thus an undisturbed mediation on the divine and it is for this reason that in Islam, it is not accompanied by music.?
This may well be so, though to the rest of the world music helps?not ?disturbs??to compose the mind. Which is why even Muslims have taken to quwwalis and ghazals. Why then was music banned in Islam?
Prof. P.K. Hitti says tin his book History of the Arabs, that the Prophet is said to have declared the musical instrument as ?devil'smuezzin?. Which is why Aurangzeb had the houses of people searched in order to destroy them.
Of course, Muslims are at liberty to do what they want. But they have no right to impose their views on the world. They played havoc in India, a country known for its Bhakti cult. Had it not been for the patronage of some of the Mughal emperors, India would have lost for ever all its artistic traditions.
Habib Tanvir, the famous theatre person, writes that Islamists were opposed to Muslims taking part in most of the arts. And yet Muslims have come to play an important role in the revival of some of the arts, of music and dance in particular.
What is the lesson for us? Only this that great errors have been committed in the past. We must be honest enough to admit them and make amends. And let us not decide what is good for the world. Let us leave it to the world.