Rumi, Rabindranath and a few ancient dialogues..


Rabindranath Tagore meets members of Iran's pa...

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Tagore (center, at right) visits with academic...
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The World Of Mysticism and Rabindranath Tagore

The world of mysticism- the Kabbalah in Judaism, or Gnosticism with Christianity, or Sufism in Islam, or, else, Vedanta with Hinduism, or so on- is so varied, and yet emanating perhaps the same spirit- yearning to be re-united with the Ultimate Reality through the path of love and devotion.

Rabindranath Tagore has well been acclaimed throughout the world as a mystical poet. And it has been a 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 migrating music, or, world music.

Tagore, while visiting Persia, came to acknowledge that their music had an eerie resemblance with the music of our country. And this has been a wonderful personal experience for me from the other end. The pioneering Persian mystical poet Jellal-ud-din Rumi is known worldwide as Mowlana, and his disciples are called Mevlevior the ‘Whirling Dervishes’.

 Once, a few years back, I had an opportunity to come across a compact disc- a compilation of Rumi’s poetry set in their traditional tune, sung by some Turkish artists accompanied by traditional instruments, like Nay or Aud. It was a male voice, and I was listening from a distance where only the tune could reach my ear, without making me much conscious about the Persian lyric, and letting me think at least for a while that I was listening to some Rabindrasangeet. I was confused; and I lent an eager ear only to discover something more. The prelude of one of the songs played on the Iranian flute Nay made me stand before one of Tagore’s composition from the segment called Prem,  which asks the Lord what else He demands from him when He Himself has become the Beggar, and turned the poet into one also.

(Demo-1: ogo kangal amare…………….)

Now that we introduced the subject directly almost, let us now focus on the perspective that could make these two great poets, composers, philosophers resonate each other.

Mystical order of the world, world of mystical music

 

If you could get rid of yourself

Just for once

The secret of secrets

Would open to you…

(Jalaluddin Rumi)

 

Apan hote bahir hoye

Baaire dara

Buker nafhhe bisvaloker

Pabi sara…

(Rabindranath tagore)

These two excerpts look almost like mirror reflections of each other. It has been only a situation of great wonder for me, for we get ample references of Hafiz in Tagore, but hardly any reference of Rumi in his works. It has been a journey for me through Tagore’s songs towards the world of mysticism. I tried to tread along the paths of the 5th century BC Greece to understand what actually spurred Alexander the Great to move this far with the entire panorama of Hellenic culture, and thereby to lay the foundation of the huge Hellenistic civilization.

Afterwards, these immensely rich, in every possible way, population, living in the areas which the great emperor traversed  and founded habitations in, including Persia, Turkey, and, of course, parts of Indian peninsula, became mere have-nots with only the glorious cultural heritage, and were commonly known as the Gypsies after their ever migrating character.

Toward the end of the 14th century, and early into the 15th century, Taimur’s conquest resulted in immense destruction and loss of life in Persia, and in India. And the poorest of the poor people of the areas, i.e., the Gypsies, were the worst sufferers. Many of these wanderers, or the Gypsies, headed west, and some of them finally ended up in the early 15th century in Spain, and, in particular, in Andalusia… And Federico Garcia Lorca had to pen his essay on the Andalusian Gypsy Music (Deep Song), and had to compose number of Gaceles (ghazals) as the outcome. This part of the world, the corridor of the Gypsies, incidentally, has been the cradle of mysticism. And it has been the same place where zero took its birth and shape.

 

Harmony or proportion- numbers, place value and zero

 

Now the philosophy or the vision of these three different ancient civilizations, the dialogues between them, the pattern of some sort of vague cohesion, the invisible, subtle thread that might have bound them, begin to occupy the main area of the search.

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. The same principles of harmony and proportion applied to all the arts, architecture, although there were differences to the way they were applied.  The numerical ratios, however, were the same, because mathematical values are immutable. This pure mathematics could create the magic for any of the art forms, whatever it was, providing it with an almost immortality or transcendentalism.

The Pythagoreans are credited as being the first to study the relationships between the numbers and sounds. Pythagoras, the 6th century Greek mathematician, mystic, philosopher and scientist has mainly been known to the world, till now, and will remain in the days to come even, for his theorems. However, the Pythagoreans discovered certain pitches and proportions to be more pleasing to people than others, and these discoveries were propagated in the middle ages.

Now this introduction of the relationship between numbers and sound perhaps did some wonder for music. As the sound was first associated with number, there could evolve a pattern in the form of music itself. A pattern is always associated with definite design and with the repetition of it. And there was cyclic order to represent the perfect form.

This order, this repetitive order, was wanting in the world of numbers itself, when the world was even more young. By the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, the Babylonian mathematics had a sophisticated sexagesimal positional numeral system. The lack of a place value, or zero, was indicated by a space between sexagesimal numerals. By 300 BC, a punctuation symbol was co-opted as a place-holder in the same Babylonian system. This Babylonian place-holder was not a true zero, because it was not used alone. The ancient Greece seemed to have been unsure about the status of zero as a number.

The concept of zero as a number, and not merely a symbol for separation was attributed to India. The Indian scholar Pingala (circa 5th– 2nd century BC) used binary numbers in the form of short and long syllables. He and his contemporary Indian scholars used the Sanskrit word Sunya to refer to zero or void. By 130 AD, Ptolemy, the Roman citizen of Egypt who wrote in Greek, was using a symbol for zero within that sexagesimal numeral system. In 498 AD, Indian mathematician and astronomer Aryabhatta initiated the origin of the modern decimal-based place value notation.

The Hindu-Arabic numerals and the positional number system were introduced around 500 AD; and in 825 Ad, it was introduced by a Persian scientist, Al-Khwarizmi, in his book on arithmetic, that synthesized Greek and Hindu knowledge and also contained his own fundamental contribution to mathematics and science including an explanation of the use of zero. It was only centuries later, in the 12th century precisely, that the Arabic numeral system was introduced to the Western world through Latin translation of his Arithmetic.

Now, the Western world perhaps was finding some difficulties in conceptualizing ‘nothing’ as ‘something’, hence took resort to the punctuation symbol for creating place value, or for the repetitive order in calculation, or, more precisely, for the cyclic order. In India, the concept of ‘sunya’, or void for that matter, was taking shape, visually as a parabola or circle, representing the order of repetition, or the cyclic order. And, The Upanishads were being composed here in India just after the 5th century BC, where one of the opening shlokas goes like this:

‘Om Puurnnam-Adah Puurnnam-Idam Puurnnaat-Purnnam-Udacyate
Puurnnashya Puurnnam-Aadaaya Puurnnam-Eva-Avashissyate
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih’
.

Literally it means:

Taking Fullness from Fullness, Fullness indeed remains.           That is Full, This also is Full, From Fullness comes that Fullness,
Om Peace, Peace, Peace.

So, perhaps, the concept of void, or nothingness, or sunya was taking more rounded shape with this concept of ‘Puurna’, or ‘Fullness’, or of the cosmos, or ‘Mahasunya’.

 

A Tagore Symphony

 

Now, Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel laureate poet from India, has been known to the world primarily as a poet, or as a poet-philosopher, though he was a ‘many sided genius- poet, fictionist, dramatist, painter, musician, essayist, educationist and philosopher’. An artist in the most comprehensive sense of the term and steeped in both ancient Indian and Western arts, literatures, and thoughts- he read carefully much of the old and new literatures, and came in contact with almost all the eminent thinkers, intellectuals and artists of his time, such as Henri Bergson, G B Shaw, Thomas Mann, Robert Frost, Einstein, H G Wells, Rolland, Gandhiji or others-, Tagore has undoubtedly given new dimensions to aesthetics.’

The Artist, in Tagore’s words, proclaims:

I believe the vision of paradise is to be seen in the sunlight and the green of the earth, in the beauty of the human face and the wealth of human life, even in objects that are seemingly insignificant and unprepossessing. Everywhere in this earth the spirit of paradise is awake and sending forth its voice. It tunes our harp of life which sends our aspiration in music beyond the finite, not only in prayers and hopes, but also in temples which are flames of fire In stone, in pictures which are dreams made everlasting, in the dance which is ecstatic meditation in the centre of movement(1).

 

 

 

………………………………………………………………………………………………

(1)The Religion of an Artist, ‘A Tagore Reader’- page 24

Tagore’s Music- Rabindrasangeet

 

As regards music, Rabindranath rightly holds that it is the purest of art forms. It embodies beauty most comprehensively, having remarkable oneness and utmost simplicity of form and spirit with least consideration for anything extraneous. “We seem to feel that the manifestation of the infinite in the finite forms of creation is music itself, silent and visible.”(2) No wonder great artists also endeavour to re-create the cosmos in terms of music. Also music is the most abstract of all arts, as Mathematics is in the realm of science. Music offers us ‘the pure essence of expressiveness in existence,’ since music made of sounds, and sound offers no resistance to expressiveness. Tagore has said in assertion, ‘In the pictorial, plastic and literary arts, the object and our feelings with regard to it are closely associated, like the rose and its perfumes. In music, the feeling distilled in sound becomes itself an independent object. It assumes a tune-form which is definite, but a meaning which is undefinable, and yet which grips our mind with a sense of absolute truth’ (3).

Tagore is of the view that the art of vocal music has its own peculiar features and functions. The principal end of vocal music is to show better what the words strive to express. Still, Tagore’s lyrics, rather than the poems, provided him with the world-wide recognition as a poet. Mary McClelland Lago, an authority on Tagore and a translator of a number of his works, pointed out that ‘unfortunately for both the West and for Tagore, many of his readers never knew- still do not know- that so many

………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

(2) The Realisation of Beauty, Sadhana, p. 142

(3) The Artist, ‘The Religion of Man’ p. 141

 

of his poems were written as words for music, with musical and verbal

imagery and rhythms designed to support and enhance each other.’ Tagore’s songs, known as Rabindrasangeet, a unique genre of Bengali, or, else, of Indian music, in Lago’s view, is ‘an important demonstration’ of Tagore’s ‘belief in the efficacy of cultural synthesis. He used all the musical materials that came to hand: the classical ragas, the boat songs of Bengal, Vaishnava kirtan (group chanting) and Baul devotional songs, village songs of festival and of mourning, even Western tunes picked up during his travels and subtly adapted to his own uses.’

Rabindranath was the youngest son of Maharshi Devendranath Tagore. Maharshi was one of the pioneers of the Brahmo Samaj, a new religious sect in the nineteenth-century Bengal identified with Unitarianism and organized itself as a Protestant-type church (a word used by the movement itself), and which attempted a revival of the ultimate monistic basis of Hinduism as laid down in the Upanishads. At the age of twelve Rabindranath accompanied his father to tour India for several months, visiting Santiniketan estate and Amritsar before reaching the Himalayan hjll station of Dalhousie. In this period of time, Tagore read biographies, studied history, astronomy, modern science, Sanskrit and classical literatures including the Upanishads, and also Persian literature, viz., Hafiz’s Deewans, under the guidance of his father. The impact of this span of time on Tagore’s mind and philosophy has perhaps been unfathomable.

Tagore started writing songs with the prayer-songs, or Brahmosangeet, for the Brahmo Samaj. As per the structure and philosophy of this religious sect, these prayer-songs naturally reflected a hymn-like somber pattern. At the tender age of 18 Tagore composed his first song. This was in praise of the God almighty who was being greeted and served by the whole cosmic world and the natural powers; and the tune on which he composed the song was of a Sikh Bhajan. (Demo: The song has been: “Gaganer thale Rabi Chandra Dipak jwale……….”)

While presenting Tagore with the Nobel Prize, Harold Hjame noted: “The Gitanjali is Mysticism, but not a mysticism that, relinquishing personality, seeks to become absorbed in the All to a point of Nothingness, but one that, with all the faculties of soul at highest pitch, eagerly sets forth to meet the Living Father of all creation.” In his volume My Religion, he observed that, “Man’s religion is his innermost truth. One’s religion is at the source of one’s being.” The idea of a direct, joyful, and totally fearless relationship with God can be found in many of Tagore’s writings, including the poems of Gitanjali.  And perhaps this awakening of the inner being, this understanding of the innermost truth of one’s soul, this idea of direct, joyful, totally fearless relationship with God made Tagore write so many numbers on Light. This invocation, celebration of Light is of course akin to the philosophy of the Vedas or the Upanishads, and sometimes reflecting the somber tone of Church music, guiding towards Buddhist Nirvana, and, of course, reflecting that ancient illuminated minds. (Demo:

“Alo je aj gan kore mor prane go……….”)

 

Myriad Shades of Passion, Religion of Man, and Tagore

 

Tagore’s religion of man is the awakening of the individual self’s ego-consciousness in the universal consciousness- a process of realizing the Infinite ‘I’ within the finite ‘I’, or a process of transcending the religious philosophy to the philosophy of life, and a process of bringing out the quintessence of the Upanishads- ‘Charoibeti’, to move on.

In his later days, we find Tagore almost as a pilgrim who moves around the world either in person or inertly to search for the universalism of humanity, or the wholeness of being. Much of what Tagore experienced in life has better been expressed in songs with musical and verbal imagery and rhythms designed to support and enhance each other.

In this light, the form of Tappa, a semi-classical genre of Hindustani music, that was introduced to Bengal music scenario in the 19th century through the compositions by Shorey Miah, and was used profusely by Tagore, took a newer dimension. Tappa originally has been the music of the camel-drivers in the desert area of Lahore, a place in the area where mysticism evolved. Eor a long period of time, the camel-drivers have to live away from home, away from theirown ones, under the open sky, sans the minimum amenities of life. This pain, this lamentation in the vast desert area, in the dusk of evening, shapes the form of Tappa.

 

(Demo: E parabase rabe ke)

 

 

 

 

Migrating music, urban folk song, ‘charoibeti’..

 

 

Movement of people is perhaps as old as the history of civilization itself. From the time immemorial people are walking down the paths of happenings, leaving or losing their home in search of a newer one, with their own desire and dreams, longing and desperation, music and amusement, and are interacting, creating, merging or emerging, in the course. This movement or migration has shown the path of unknown to the human race, though their elemental urge is to settle down. There is the fallacy. The reasons may be as different as natural, spatial, political, economical, social or racial, people have to move toward a newer horizon, but with an incessant quest for the root somewhere deep in the mind. This stretch of land, where mysticism evolved, has experienced wars, aggressions, migrations, and pangs for quite a long time. And from the later part of the 18th century, or from the very beginning of the 19th century, there emerged a number of musical forms which spelled out the agony of the suffering souls of the practitioners of these forms. All these forms were hybrid in nature that speaks of their pattern of birth and growth. They were formed in the process of searching for the identity of the respective people, and they were known as urban folk songs. There was Manele in Romania, Chalga in Bulgaria, Turbo Folk in Serbia, Rembetika in Greece, Rai in Algeria, or Fado in Portugal. Afterwards they have been known worldwide as World Music.

Fado has perhaps been the oldest of these forms. It is the music of Portugal; rather it is called the soul of Portugal. The meaning of the word ‘fado’ is close to the word Fate. The African Moors were brought to Portugal as slaves through the long journey by the sea. The tone of monotony, the oppressive mood of the Moors who had to leave their home to become slaves, the tune of port areas- all these elements mingled together to create Fado Music. Later Fado became the music of the urban folks it is sung in the cafes of Lisbon and other cities, and one of the major varieties of Fado is called Lisbon Fado. Traditionally the Fado artists come together at a café and begin singing, one followed by the next inspired one, with full throated ease, with only Portuguese guitar as accompaniment. 3That inspired soulful singing pattern, the flowing tunes with absolutely no bar ahead, the vibrant voices, made me think of some of Tagore’s compositions in tappa form. I could relate specially two of Tagore’s songs with this form of singing. These two songs are from his play Achalayatan, i.e., the immovable, sung by the character Panchak. Achalayatan was written in the year 1911-12, after the partition of Bengal in 1905. Rabindranath was suffering, and was wishing hard to take his countrymen out of this slavery, oppression and darkness of the reigning social atmosphere. While the pain is identical, perhaps the true expressions of it somehow reflect each other.

Here are the two songs: “Dure kothay dure dure..” and “Ja hobar ta hobe…”. The first one speaks of the wandering mind which pines for the path that goes beyond all lands, and merges into infinity. The second song is more desperate in approach. It does not care about what is there at the end. One who is making him cry will never be in oblivion of his being, and the One who has made him lose his way, will show him the right path Himself.

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 provide her with.

 

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