Let there be light, and mu­sic too

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - Jawed Naqvi

Iwrite this on Di­wali day, just the wrong time to re­flect on mu­sic in re­li­gion. With my aver­sion to doc­tri­naire be­liefs I take com­fort from reli­gions that give space to mu­sic. That was my in­stinct even be­fore read­ing Ni­et­zsche. A play by Girish Kar­nad re­cently reaf­firmed my faith in the beauty of the azaan. Some­one has trans­lated his 1960s Kan­nada script on the foibles of Mo­hammed bin Tugh­laq into a high qual­ity Urdu spec­ta­cle.

Yash­pal Sharma bril­liantly played the crazy, con­niv­ing and visionary 13th-cen­tury ruler. I couldn't meet the man who de­liv­ered the lyri­cal azaan. The muezzins in my Niza­mud­din neigh­bour­hood of Delhi are mostly off key, a flaw com­pounded by poor main­te­nance of the loud­speak­ers. Amir Khusro re­lieved us of any resid­ual be­lief that Is­lam takes a hos­tile po­si­tion to­wards mu­sic. In fact, Mus­lim mu­si­cians de­fine an en­tire genre of In­dia's mu­si­cal lore as they do else­where (in Afghanistan, for ex­am­ple) with great credit.

My favourite part of Muhar­ram, only a few days away, is the sozkhwani, which could only be pos­si­ble with a high pre­mium put on singing by the Shia nawabs of In­dia. Sikh wor­ship is in­com­plete with­out the gur­bani. This mu­si­cal wor­ship por­trays philo­soph­i­cal po­etry and ex­is­ten­tial ideas to in­vite stray lis­ten­ers to the new path. Ar­rival of the colourful Holi sea­son marks the end of win­ter in North In­dia. Many cel­e­brate it as a fes­ti­val of har­vest. To me it brings the gen­tle strains of Kafi, Khamaaj and Piloo raags, al­though Lord Kr­ishna's frolic with the milk­maids of Mathura, which the oc­ca­sion cel­e­brates, can be ren­dered in a few other raags as well. Some­one sang a lovely trib­ute to Kr­ishna re­cently in Raag Ti­lak Kamod very un­usual. I can feel the on­set of Holi in my pores be­cause of mu­sic.

Sim­i­larly you can smell Christ­mas in the air, and it was not un­usual for col­leagues from dif­fer­ent faiths a few decades ago in a Dubai news­pa­per to hum a poor im­i­ta­tion of Nat King Cole's carols with the be­gin­ning of De­cem­ber.

The sea­son is in­fused with mem­o­ries of Jim Reeves, Pat Boone, Ella Fitzger­ald, Ma­halia Jack­son and Frank Si­na­tra, par­tic­u­larly his ver­sion of Noel. Elvis Pres­ley's Christ­mas carols were too much like his other songs.

They say that In­dian mu­sic orig­i­nates from the anahad naad, the ethe­real sound of Om, giv­ing it a spir­i­tual con­text. The Vedic chants are con­sid­ered the other pro­gen­i­tors of In­dian mu­sic.

If there is any his­tor­i­cal merit in the claims it is not as­cer­tained by aca­demic author­ity. But it sounds like a great idea and for that rea­son alone I wish it were true. A more ra­tio­nal ex­pla­na­tion may be that it is an amal­gam of evolv­ing an­cient folk mu­sic blended with for­eign in­flu­ences. We are more cer­tain of the ori­gins of western mu­sic, which came from the chants of the early Chris­tian church. Aes­thetic progress from Christ­mas carols to an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Gre­go­rian chants is not too for­bid­ding if you hap­pened to be a visi­tor to the chapel in your school days.

I can't think of my prox­im­ity with the Yule­tide spirit with­out the im­print on my mem­ory of the 18th-cen­tury chapel at La Mar­tiniere Col­lege in Lucknow.

That mem­ory of mu­sic spurred me to dis­cover a match­less reper­tory of Gre­go­rian chants some years ago. They are ren­dered by the Bene­dic­tine Monks Of St Wan­drille De Fon­tonelle. Two tra­di­tional com­po­si­tions No­lite Timere and Regem Cui Omnia Vivunt stand out for their ex­cep­tional spir­i­tual aura.

As I write this, deaf­en­ing fire­crack­ers are ex­plod­ing all around the house. It is a cruel mo­ment for most pets, par­tic­u­larly for sev­eral breeds of dogs.

This year's Di­wali prom­ises to be mel­low though.

An of­fi­cial ap­peal by the gov­ern­ment has urged cit­i­zens to not worsen a bad haze en­gulf­ing Delhi for days. An epi­demic-like spread of dengue fever and many al­ler­gies now arrive with the sea­son. To­day's Di­wali un­for­tu­nately adds to the pol­lu­tion.

Sev­eral le­gends are as­so­ci­ated with Di­wali, or Deep­awali as purists call the fes­ti­val. The lights are a sym­bolic wel­come to Ram and his consort Sita from 14 years of ex­ile in the forests, dur­ing which he fought and de­feated de­mon king Ra­van.

A more ma­te­ri­al­ist tradition uses the lights to in­vite Lak­shmi, the god­dess of wealth, into the homes of her seek­ers. But

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