Rishi Tradition in Music education

By Dr. Bageshri Joshi



Learning and teaching are intertwined like the vine and the wall it grows upon. The two co-exist; however the quality of their existence depends on the age. Forgetting our basic principles we have imported a system of knowledge in which we first create problems and then seek their solutions. We are forced to define the concepts of learning and teaching repeatedly, yet nowhere near do we reach the traditional order that we discarded in favor of modern definitions. Rather than do our own thinking, we are content to import ideas from elsewhere. This has resulted in dwarfing India's position from being teacher of the world to becoming beggar of the world. The reason is that we have forgotten our Rishi tradition. Our thought process has slowed down; our minds have lost their keenness, paralyzed by material pleasures.

We can now find in society a desire to regain the lost tradition. People now take pride in having learnt in Guru-Shishya system -- it is glorified as everything else, regardless of the fact that in truth it was a routine silent activity withdrawn from material world. Can we ever hope to reverse the clock, and if we do, would the Rishi tradition permit our entry?

Of the five ways of worship prescribed for person following Grihastha Ashram by scriptures, the grant of knowledge (Vidya Dan) is equated with grant of life (Pran Dan) and is held superior provided it has not been made to earn a reward. The core of learning-teaching is contained within this idea of Vidyadan. This concept of learning-teaching is first mentioned in Veda-s. The meaning of Veda itself is 'Knowledge' and 'Reason'.

To understand the idea of knowledge and reason, Riga-Veda further mentions three notions -- Shruti (that which is natural and self-evident) Agam (that received through inheritance) and Nigam (that which clearly and specifically provides solution to problems of life). Indian practice of fine arts, especially music follows these principles verbatim.

As art exists through expression it is self generated and self-evident. The performance of any art necessarily involves the practice and appreciation of tradition hence it reflects inheritance. That it clearly provides solution to immediate need is established by the possibility of attaining a state of ecstasy and bliss though art. Hence all the three Vedic concepts for teaching-learning process are still in practice. Apart from these three, there is a fourth concept dealing with dissemination and choice.

Dissemination implies that the knowledge should be made available for all sections of society declared eligible to receive it. But in the modern times our distribution system has become miserly. Our tradition of distributing single grain amongst seven recipients has now turned into "Seven to one; to six, none!". The highest characteristic of a noble teacher is equal distribution; he gives each a 'part' of himself. In the field of education the whole activity rests upon dissemination, but how much are we able to impart today?

Krishna in the age of Dwapar too was consumed by this challenge of equitable distribution. 1 He found a solution to this in the ancient tradition of Yajna. He expanded the definition of yajna to cover all facets of life thereby increasing its scope. He declared that when a rich man gives away his riches, the saint his wealth of piety, the Yogi his determination, and Guru his teachings then there is no ahuti (ritual feeding of the yajna fire) of a religious yajna greater than these. A direct beneficiary of Krishna's declaration is the Rishi-tradition and system of learning-teaching that we have inherited.

The prime goal of education is to stop faith, thought and reason from decaying into superstition. Faith and reason are two wheels that require an axle to keep life's motion in balance. This central axle is the activity of teaching.

Veda prohibits amassing and insists on dissemination in the process of education. Hence in the Rishi tradition there has been a free and open propagation of knowledge thereby creating the tradition of Shishya (pupil).

The Veda-s also stress the significance of listening in the education process. Truth is established through comprehension and unrestrained expression. Therefore it is said -- Avrittisakridupdeshaat. Repetition of the truth as laid in scriptures leads of consolidation of knowledge. Even today the music tradition of India has to rely on repeated listening for attaining a perfect note.

Further the education process is exhorted to run clear of Maya (denoting ignorance that offers misleading alternatives), accept possibility of change, inspire man to look within, facilitate transformation from soul to oversoul, and cooperate to establish order. The ignorance or maya ties a knot between the mind and intellect which Guru alone can open. A desire for change is vital to human intelligence. So long as food and shelter are available an animal does not desire to change its location, but soon as his physical hunger is satiated, man craves to satisfy his intellectual thirst. This thirst is satisfied by the food of thought through arts, science and literature. But as even this becomes monotonous sooner or later, a change is further required.

The process of education of education incorporates:

It is these three desires that propel the process of learning. Education is the ability to discern between knowledge, truth and impression. This becomes far more complex when applied to fine arts. To focus on primary subject is essential in fine arts but mostly the central theme is distributed and subtle so it is difficult to focus on it. In the shapeless domain of musical notes this endeavor becomes still more difficult. To determine even the subsidiary goal is difficult and becomes a mystery. To unravel the layers of this mystery is made possible through process of learning-teaching.

One should comprehend the difference between learning and teaching, specially today when more and more stress is being laid on learner-centric education. Swami Vivekanand says that difference between a mustard seed and mountain, a fire-fly and sun, and a rivulet and ocean is not as much as is learning situated from teaching. The writer of Mahabharata sage Veda Vyas ordains that teaching is not a commercial activity, but a planned process of building character, attainment of intent, solution and bliss.

The very thing that has been banished from the educational endeavor stands first and foremost today -- monetary reward. The commercialized education is gradually annihilating our traditional system. It is severing us off from our traditions. It makes us uncivilized and uncivil. if at all we have any love for our fine arts we shall have to resort to the Rishi tradition of learning-teaching else like other aspects of our culture our fine arts are sure sure to lose their depth and integrity, their existence.

The seven notes interact to create a melody unique for all individuals -- once the process of unraveling the mystery of their interaction is decimated by unseating them from their places through regimented sounds, as can be seen in synthetic music today, they shall cease to provide sense, solace, and rejuvenation to human spirit, bogging it down with hollow mechanical ecstasy resulting in debilitating dejection and fatigue. Eroding the spiritual for a insatiable material hunger is the product of commercialization of all human endeavors. Mahatma Gandhi had voiced the ancient truth -- one should reduce one's dependence on physical requirements by limiting one's needs. This truth, like the Rishi tradition of education was upturned by consumption directed development model. Now nature itself warns us through environmental changes like global warming that we should better take heed and consume only that much which is required for our survival, else man shall cease to survive. When eternal values are replaced by temporal ones, the learning-teaching system is no longer worthy of this epithet.

References :

1 Krishna, as also Guru Dronacharya, was perturbed by the limitation of a teacher entrusted with care of select pupils, who could not teach a deserving student outside the given set.

Mystery of Raga-s. an Article by Bageshri Joshi in Bharatiya Shastriya Sangeet: Shikshan, Shastra Va Prayog.




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