Artistic traditions stand as a crucial difference between the manifestations of a civilisation and Philistines. Bharat has a long tradition of art, music and drama going back at least five millennia
For any civilisation to survive on this planet, it has to be perfect. The word perfect here means the civilisation in question should think over human mind comprehensively. It has to think about the social mind. And our Indian civilisation passes all these tests absolutely. That is why Mohammad Iqbal said, “Greece, Egypt and Rome were wiped out of the earth. There is something in us that our existence is not wiped out.” This existence means our perfect lifestyle. We were ahead all fronts of life.
I will give a little example in passing. I went to US for the first time in 1994. I was not much amused by US as I had visited Japan and Europe before that. Yet, many things overwhelmed me. Fortunately, the person looking after me there was an Indian—a Bengali babu. Hence, he was showing me every novelty in US. He started showing me the amusement of ‘drive-in’—drive-in facility is available in US everywhere. You pay at McDonalds sitting in your car and take the food packet sitting there itself. He also showed me drive-in ATMs. I was impressed at least a bit.
Later I went to fort Raigad after five-six years. I saw the pedestals, as high as a man and placed in linear fashion, on the Holicha Mal. I asked the guide, “What is this? Why such high pedestals?”
The guide answered casually, “This is market. See, where would the horse-riders in those times leave their horses when they shopped? Hence, the Maharaj (Chhatrapati Shivaji) made arrangements where they could buy while riding their horses...” Frankly speaking, I got goosebumps! Who was modern? Was our king Shivaji modern, who created drive-in market for his people and soldiers 350 years ago or were the Americans modern who manoeuvred to have drive-ins during last 50-60 years?
Let us take our tradition of vocal recital and instruments. This is very ancient. Goddess Sarswati is deemed an ancient deity and Veena is visible in her hands. Sharadamba Temple built at Shringeri during the 9th century belongs to Sarswati only. The ancient temple of Sarswati in Gadag was built in the 11th century. Yet, idols of Sarswati are found more ancient than that. The oldest idol of Sarswati found was at Bharhun and it was from 1st century. Some nritya-sharada (dancing Sarswati) is also found, but most of idols are found with Veena in hand. Thus how old is Veena? At least some thousand years old! Thus, see, how old references to music are found in our country!
Bharat Muni And Natya Shastra
The speculation is that string instrument Veena, found in Sarswati’s hand is at least 4000 years old. It was single stringed Veena earlier. Bharat Muni has described two prominent veenas in his Natya Shastra—Chitra (with 7 strings) and Vipanchi (with 9 strings) while Ghosha, Kachchhabhi etc. were mentioned as secondary veenas.
However, we found references to music since Vedic times. Rigveda is believed to be oldest of them and it is 5000 thousand years old. There are references to music in Rigveda. There are references of playing instruments in 19th and 20th of 30th kanda of Yajurveda. Obviously, playing an instrument must be an art then. Besides stringed instruments like Vaan, Veena and Karkariya, there are references of Dudumbhi, Gargara in Avnaddha instruments and Bakur, Nadi, Tunav, Shankh etc. in Sushir instruments.
However, we found detailed description of music in Samveda. The swaras were called ‘yam’ during those times. The ‘sam’ in Samveda was instrinsically linked to music. A question is asked in Chhadogya Upanishad—‘Kam samno gatiriti? Swar iti hovach’ which means what is the speed of sam? The answer is—Swar.
During the Vedic era, recital of three swaras was called Samnik (present chorus?). Those swaras were—ga, re and sa. Later these became seven swaras. Later these were called ‘scale’ in the Europe. This means advanced music existed at least 3000 to 4000 years ago. Later we got the Natya Shastra of Bharat Muni and the antiqueness of our Indian music was confirmed.
The period of Bharat Muni is believed to be about 500 BCE, but it is bit controversial. Some say he was born in 100 BCE. Whatever it is, the Natya Shastra of Bharat Muni has achieved a big thing—it has proved with certainty that Indian arts existed in advanced form and in scientific manner. His book describes many other supportive arts along with Natya Shastra. It has detailed descriptions of music and songs too.
Unfortunately, old documents and other remains in India were destroyed during Muslim invasion. Hence, our definite history cannot be recounted. Yet, we found records of 2500 BCE and from them; it appears that the discovery of music or instruments is not a new thing. Those records are such as scripting a much developed art form.
Looking at the references in Rigveda and Samveda, our music must be 5000 years old. And interestingly enough, an advanced and mature musical system unfolds through sutras in Samveda.
The references to music, song and other arts are found in Upanishadas as well along with Vedas. Among the Shrot Sutras, one is Katyayana’s Shrot Sutra. Originally, it is a book describing Vedic rituals. Yet, it is full of songs and music that were sung and played at festivals. The period of this Shrot Sutra is believed to be 3000 years ago.