Sarvam Kalvidam Brahma–All this is, indeed, Brahman or the Supreme Reality–thus proclaims the gospel of Vedanta, the all-encompassing, eternal lore of the ancient Indian seers. Everything in this universe is pervaded by the Reality. Realization of this Reality is the goal of life. Different means lead to the same goal, as do all rivers to the ocean. All forms of art, in their pure aspects, are different means intended, ultimately, to enable one to realize the goal of life. Of all arts, the main five arts or the fine arts, have been evolved by the ancient seers of India, to particularly help us in this process.
Among the fine arts, music seems to exert a generally stirring influence on all. The five arts are painting, sculpture, dancing, literature and music. Their importance also is in the ascending order. How is it so? First, let us take painting. It shows a beautiful form or a landscape on a plain surface. Painting is an instrument of expression through an image on the canvas. In the second art, namely sculpture, which seems to be a further development on painting, we can see all the details of the contours or the shape of the form, from all sides. The nature of the form is now complete in all aspects.
But the form being static, there is a dearth of life in it, as it were. Movement is indicative of a form being really animate. For a graceful movement, there should be some regulation or discipline of motion, which is called rhythm. Dancing is thus a further development on sculpture. It is full of life with rhythmical movements of the limbs and expression of emotions in the face. At this stage ideas begin to crystallise in the mind. Then they seek their expression. Words flow out. But there should also be some regulation and aptness in the word-structure, in order to properly express one’s ideas. Only then will they be easily understood and appealing to the mind. Literature serves this purpose. Now ideas are expressed very well, so as to help the understanding of man, as well as provide an intellectual stimulus and entertainment.
A still further development is found in music. This is more vibrant, penetrating and could induce a universal response. If we repeat, “Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama Nama Tarakam”, we understand that the name of Rama enables one to cross the ocean of earthly existence, to the other shore of immortality. But it is a mental understanding. Whereas, if we set the same words in a tune and sing or hear them, there is an emotional experience of the depth of the meaning of these words. Not only does the mind understand them, but the heart vibrates with the feelings pertaining to them. Thus, music has more depth and profundity and is of the foremost importance. That is why it is said that music occupies the first place among all the arts. It is the easiest, surest, sweetest and the best means of God-realization.
Music gives enjoyment to the performer as well as to the listener. It gives a higher type of emotional enjoyment and infuses in all the ecstatic state of Bhava Samadhi or superconsciousness through dissolution in pure feeling. Music can be universally enjoyed. If a Japanese sings in his own language or plays an instrument of his country, the Englishman can enjoy the music without understanding a word of it or without being familiar with that instrument. A German can likewise enjoy the Indian music. Such is not the case with literature. It has its linguistic limitation. Only the English-knowing people can enjoy English literature; only the French-knowing people can enjoy French literature.
Music is Divine. It draws one nearer to God. It is God Himself. We call it Nada Brahman or the Reality that is symbolized in music. As a means, it is called Nada Upasana or spiritual practice through singing. Sarasvati, the Goddess of Learning, inclusive of music and the other fine arts, is represented with a musical instrument, called Veena, in Her hands. Veena symbolizes Nada or music. The eternal song of Om emanates from it. Lord Krishna also holds a flute in His hands. It is also symbolic in the sense that it produces the music of the soul. Many saints like Mira, Gauranga, Surdas, Kabirdas, Ramdas, Tukaram, Tyagaraja and others attained God-realization through music.
Music melts the hearts of all. It sets into motion the divine vibrations that gradually unite the individual soul with the Supreme Soul. This is the end and aim of all spiritual practices. The summum bonum of human existence is achieved through music very easily.
Singing the nectarine Names of the Lord and His glories, with proper accompaniments, if possible, will purify the heart, extinguish the fire of earthly suffering and free one from the cycle of births and deaths. It will lead one along the path of the Sreyas or that which is good, bring fulfilment to Vidya or knowledge, infuse grace and felicity in life, and enable the singer as well as the listener to commune with God.
It is in this light that His Holiness Swami Sivananda classifies music as a Yoga by itself. He encourages Bhajan and Sankirtan to serve as easy means to quick spiritual progress. The Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy has a Department of Music, where musically-inclined spiritual aspirants are helped and encouraged to learn this unique means of finding solace and inspiration in life. Many seekers from Eastern and Western countries have been trained here in classical music, vocal as well as instrumental.