Sayings of a Paramahamsa

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

I learned music and dance at an early age. Music brought me to dance. I like dancing very much because Lord Shiva dances and Parvati also dances. Shiva is the father of all dancers, including Michael Jackson! He is the father of all the dance traditions: Odissi, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Kathakali, Mohiniattakam. Parvati perfected folk dance. We believe that dance is close to spiritual life and therefore you should teach your children to dance.

Dance is never vulgar, it is always pure. Music is always pure. Even if milk curdles it is still milk, it is not impure just because it is curdled. Similarly, dance is still dance no matter what form it takes and therefore it should not be condemned. Music should not be discouraged either, irrespective of its style and form. All music is essentially devotional. Even cinema music is devotional because the mind becomes immersed in it. The husk falls off and is discarded outside and the kernel remains intact within. Swami Niranjan knows all types of dance, modern as well as classical forms. Swami Satsangi has a collection of modern music, including Negro spirituals. So go ahead and listen to all kinds of music without any reservations.

All music is founded on the seven basic notes of sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni, sa. You should teach music and dance to your children. Whether they are rich or poor, Christian or Buddhist, makes no difference. Music will affect them positively. They will become beautiful, tender and sensitive and their mental frequencies will become very high. If you don't expose them to music, they will all end up being bookworms.

Spirituality of the arts

In South India, children in every home are given lessons in music and dance from a very early age. Unlike us, every child would have swara jnana, knowledge of the swara. Here our children start learning late, at the age of eight, ten or twelve. In South India, the mother gives her children lessons in music and dance while they are still quite young because people believe in it there. It is only now that people in the West are accepting the spirituality of the arts. Previously they thought that music and dance were the best means of entertainment. We do not think like this. We consider music and dance to be a means of worshipping and pleasing God. In the West, music and dance are seen as the best means of entertainment, and now this concept is invading India.

It is necessary to teach our children classical dance and music from childhood. If they are not given proper lessons in music and dance in their childhood, when they grow up they will take up that very music and dance which you disapprove of. But what is the use of approving or disapproving? There is no other alternative left. If you give them proper training and expose them to classical music and dance in childhood, then as they grow up no cultural current, no music of a lesser type can influence them. Any culture will have its impact on you only if you have a void in your life, otherwise it is not possible.

Music and dance are fine arts. Music has had its origin in the Sama Veda from time immemorial. By mistake Sama was spelt 'psalm', but it is still pronounced 'saam'. Sama means richa, or hymns. The Sama Veda contains hymns. The richas of the Rig Veda, when sung to a tune, become the Sama Veda. In English it is called psalm.

Language of dance

Dance has a primordial origin. Dance is Shiva himself. There are many books on dance in our classical literature, the most authentic being Bharatnatyam, the Natyashastra of Bharatji in the Sanskrit language. Dance is a language not of words but of mudras, or gestures. When I ask you, “Have you eaten?” you answer, “No.” This is the language of words, but the language of dance and music is symbolic. It is a codified language in which communication takes place through music and gestures, postures and mudras.

When language takes the form of dance, it becomes a mudra. Dance is a language without words. The performing artist conveys everything through dance, just as I am telling you now in words. Dance is a language not of words but of feeling and moods. It is the language of the heart, which man can grasp whole-heartedly with full concentration.

Many mudras are employed in dance. The way the dancers dress is not just putting on clothes, but a very methodical, meticulous ritual. There are certain rules prescribed for all this. The Kathakali dancers paint their faces according to the classical system and it takes them half a day to do it. I used to mix the paint for the Kathakali dance. Dressing for the dance is a ritual in itself. You don't just put on any old thing and start dancing. What particular attire has to be worn in which dance has been clearly enumerated in the books on Natyashastra. All the do's and don'ts are given in the classical texts.

Music – universal expression

The conditions and circumstances of your life fashion your emotions and those emotions are projected in music. Rich people sing differently because their emotions are different to those who are poor, who have difficulty in life, who are struggling and trying to assert themselves. In the music of poorer people there is no barrier; it is unsophisticated music. Sophistication in music is created by rich cultures where people have a lot of money, big houses, many comforts, good food to eat and maximum security.

Otherwise music is a natural expression of human beings. It is a natural expression of the universe. The birds sing, the trees sing and sometimes the wind sings so much that it becomes a cyclone! When simple people sing it touches the heart. When others sing it does not touch the heart, it touches the head. So it is said that music is born out of a person's circumstances in life. In some people's lives there is suffering and their music expresses this suffering. In some music there is artistry, in other music there is frivolity.

The music you hear today does not spring from a pure heart. When man's heart is innocent and childlike, whatever he sings is blessed. When Lord Krishna played his flute it disturbed the milkmaids' meditation. When these village women sing at night I listen and my meditation is disturbed. The village music is very melodious and meaningful.

Good samskaras abide

Culture depends upon a person's samskaras. Money comes and goes but good samskaras abide. Wherever there is power there is conceit; it cannot be avoided. And wherever there is wealth, addiction inevitably follows in tow. Addiction is inseparable from riches, whereas compassion is associated with good samskaras. Introversion, civility, viveka, a good sense of discrimination and the ability to make correct decisions, come with good samskaras. Kim kartavyam kim akartavyam – “What should be done and what should not be done is decided by one's samskaras.”

From the time of the Vedas to the present day, India has perfected only one thing and that is imbibing good samskaras. If good samskaras disappear from your family and from my family, then what is left? Will you cherish television? No, we want good samskaras. The progressive refinement of personality, stage by stage, is known as good samskara. These samskaras are based on religion, on the teachings of great souls, saints and sages, as well as on cultural traditions such as dance and fine arts.

—Rama Nama Aradhana, Rikhia, December 1996