Harmony, Myriad Shades of Passion and Religion of Man: a tagore symphony

Harmony, Myriad Shades of Passion and Religion of Man A Tagore Symphony

The Abstract

I. Aesthetics: The classical approach

Aesthetics, the word has been derived from the Greek word Aistheticos, meaning ‘esthetic, sensitive, and sentient’, which in turn was derived from Aisthanomai, meaning ‘I perceive, feel, and sense. Greek philosophers  initially felt that aesthetically appealing objects were beautiful in and of themselves. According to Plato, beautiful objects incorporated proportion, harmony, and unity among their parts. Aristotle, the dear disciple of Plato, whom Plato himself called the Mind of the school, in the Metaphysics, found that the universal elements of beauty were order, symmetry, and definiteness.

Harmony or proportion

“The proportions that govern the dimensions of Greek temples, the intervals between the columns or the relationships between the various parts of the façade, correspond to the same ratios that govern musical intervals” (Eco, 2004, 64). The same principles of harmony and proportion applied to all the arts, although there were differences to the way they were applied.  The numerical ratios, however, were the same, because mathematical values are immutable.

The Pythagoreans are credited as being the first to study the relationships between the numbers and sounds. They discovered certain pitches and proportions to be more pleasing to people than others, and these discoveries were propagated in the middle ages. Boethius, a 5th century Roman philosopher, influenced by the Greek stalwarts like Plato, Aristotle, or the ancient Roman philosopher Cicero, writes in De Musica, “ Nothing is more proper to human nature than to abandon oneself to sweet modes and to be vexed by modes that are not”. Harmony has its origin in God; and therefore, music designed to bring one closer to God must be harmonious. The psychological effect of various musical modes was an important part of the theories of music. For example, some rhythms were considered to lead people more easily into lustful sins, while other rhythms were deemed proper for the education of young people. The earliest example of the effects of music was the story of Pythagoras allegedly calming a drunk adolescent simply by making the youth listen to a certain melody. Music could influence the soul of human beings; therefore, the type of music people could hear had to be the sort that would positively influence them.

Light and Color

Medieval scientists, like Robert Grosseteste, were interested in knowing the nature of light. Grosseteste’s treatise, On Light, blends Neo-Platonist theories of emanation and aspects of Aristotle’s cosmology. The effects of light became more important to the medieval artisans, particularly in architecture, and they often associated light with their theories of color. Light and color affected the thoughts of medieval thinkers on certain characteristics of beauty, such as radiance clarity.

The medieval philosophers believed, somehow, that God is Light; and this was one of the motivations for them to pursue the notion of light. The incorporeal light, for the believers in the Christianity, is God’s light and gives splendor to the of creation. Light is what allows the beauty of objects, especially their color, to become illuminated, to display their beauty to the fullest. Pseudo-Dionysius then came up, as a follow-up on this thought, saying, “And what of the sun’s rays? Light comes from the Good, and light is an image of this archetypal Good. Thus the Good is also praised by the name ‘Light’, just as an archetype is revealed in its image.” (Pseudo-Dionysius). The light of the Sun is a mere reflection, and is the symbol of the Divine Light.

Aristotle, his Poetics and Metaphysics

A very important concept relevant for medieval aesthetics is found in the Metaphysics (sec III.3), where Aristotle presented the foundation for the medieval notion of transcendentals. He specifically highlighted the interchangeable relationship between ‘being’ and ‘one’. Though Aristotle never called them transcendentals, he  prompted this conception by claiming that the notions ‘being’ and ‘one’ are the same. “[Being and Unity] are implied in one another as principle and cause are.”(metaphysics).

Aristotle’s Poetics also contains several ideas that were important for medieval aesthetics. Aristotle emphasized some characteristics that art requires to be good. Order concerns the relationship of the parts with each other and with the whole, which was very important to medieval philosophers and artisans.


II. Myriad Shades of Passion and Religion of Man: Tagore’s approach

Tagore and Einstein met at the latter’s residence in the suburbs of Berlin, on July 14, 1930. The conversation between them was recorded, and was originally published in the Religion of Man (George, Allen& Unwin, Ltd., London), Appendix II, pp. 222-225.

The relevant excerpt from the discussion:

Tagore: …the new mathematical discoveries which tell us that in the realm of infinitesimal atoms, chance has  its play; the drama of existence is not absolutely predestined in character.

Einstein:….One tries to understand in the higher plane how the order is. The order is there, where the big elements combine and guide existence, but in the minute elements this order is not perceptible.

Tagore: Thus duality is in the depths of existence, the contradiction of free impulse and the directive will which works upon it and evolves an orderly scheme of things.

Einstein: Modern physics would not say they are contradictory. Clouds look as one from a distance, but if you see them nearby, they show themselves as disorderly drops of water.

Tagore: I find a parallel in human psychology. Our passion and desires are unruly, but our character subdues these elements into a harmonious whole. Does something similar to this happen in the physical world? Are the elements rebellious, dynamic with individual impulse? And is there a principle in the physical world which dominates them  and puts them into an orderly organization?

Einstein: Even the elements are not without statistical order; elements of Radium will always maintain their specific order, now and even on, just as they have done all along.there is then, a statistical order in the elements.

Tagore: Otherwise, the drama of existence would to desultory. It is the constant harmony of chance and determination which makes it eternally new and living…………………


III. A Tagore Symphony

The culmination of all these facades, i.e.,  the Aestheticism, the myriad shades of passions, the harmonization of these passions to form the religion of man, is perhaps the pronunciation of the great mystic poet. Rabindranath Tagore, the poet of the Upanishads, is acclaimed throughout the world for his mystic poetry. Evelyn Underhill, the mystic writer who was present in the poetry reading session at the residence of W.B. Yeats, the session where Tagore read out his Gitanjali for the first ever time, found a resonance of feeling that Rumi’s poetry could offer her with. Jelaluddin Rumi was the pioneering mystic poet of Persia. Now, this has been the wonderful experience to unfold his unique pattern of making music for the much acclaimed lyrics. His compositions reflected perhaps the panorama of world mystic music pattern,  that, in course of time, if I am allowed to say so, glided smoothly to the path of World Music.




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