Sound has fascinated the Hindus from times we know.
Sound is the child of space and space is the Ultimate Reality in the Universe. And space is God?Shiva. He is worshipped as Infinite Space at Chitambaram, the seat of the Nataraja.
Such is the hoary antiquity of our concern for sound. No wonder, the Aryans devoted a whole Veda (Sama) for the study of sound and the perfection of the art of chanting hymns.
Chanting hymns was the way to please the gods. And the more pleasing the chant, the more one was likely to please the gods.
The Buddha, although opposed to the Vedas, was so charmed by the Sama Veda that he had disciples who would chant the Sama to him.
Mastery of sound was, therefore, one of the main objectives of the Hindus. A pleasing sound in both speech and chanting was an accomplishment of great merit.
The Vasishtas (an Aryan tribe) who sang the heroics of Sudas, an Aryan chief, and hero in the Rig Veda, received as their reward 2000 cows, two chariots, four horses with gold trappings. The rewards were indeed fabulous.
Sound had other aspects. For example, if violence was to be avoided in day-to-day human relations, there was only one way open to Hindus: they had to rely on the power of speech to persuade the minds of those who did not agree with them. This is still the fact.
The Greeks chose the power of reasoning to persuade. So they developed oratory (rhetoric). The Hindus chose the power of sound?pleasing sound?to propitiate their gods. So they developed the science of language (Grammar). But do you know, good reader, what we called this science? We called it ?sabda vidhya? (the science of sound). It was a major subject taught at Nalanda University. It was all about sound.
The Hindus gave the greatest importance to sound. The sound reflected the character of the speaker or singer. Thus, Rama spoke softly, Ravana spoke harshly.
The Aryans were a sensual people. They enjoyed singing and dancing. They drank Soma, wanted to live long and believed in the forces of nature. They held sacrifices to propitiate their gods. They composed hymns and sang them. And the Aryan chiefs went out of their way to encourage the priests to master chanting. Which explains how the Hindus developed the greatest music system known to man, and how Panini'sgrammar was devoted to help the composer and singer.
Not that alone. Shiva came to be identified with music and dance. It is said that Ravana sang the whole of the Sama Veda before Shiva to please him!
Thus, the swara Ri-ga represents Shiva'sfunctions ?Shrishti (creation), Ma Samhara (destruction) Pa (Maya), dha (Anugrpha) and Ni?all five functions. The Nataraja temple at Chitambaram (Chit + ambaram) thus became the centre of music and dance, and the centre of the universe.
There is so much emphasis on the ?pleasing sound? that a professional class arose to chant the hymn. The invocation must be pleasing to the gods. The priest, who could chant most pleasingly, came to be highly esteemed by Arayans. There was this great rivalry between the clans of Vasishtas and Viswamitras, the two dominant clans, which emerged in the Vedic period, which shaped the events of the Vedic Age.
The Mimamsa thinkers developed the idea of sound being the ultimate reality. However, the Monotheists did not agree with this. Which is why attention was shifted from chanting to the use of sound in music, dance and drama. (A Belgian lady who came to India in search of a person who could chant the old hymns in Sanskrit in the same way it was done millennia ago, found to her chagrin that there was none in Northern India. She ultimately found some in Kerala).
Of late, sound has been used in the most effective way in music and dance as also in drama. The theatre has drawn up the sounds appropriate to each human personality.
Dear Reader, there is no such thing parallel to this in the world. True, the Christians and Muslims wanted to ?sing? their gospels and the Quran. But the effort has never been very successful.
From this great height to which we had risen, we are now fallen to the abomination of kettle-drums and cacophonies. The less said of these, the better.