Stories about the
Effects of the Ragas of India
by Don Robertson
High in the mountains of Northern
India, there lived an old musician who lived alone in a cave. Stories about the old man
and the great miracles that he could produce with his music had circulated all over India,
and these stories reached the ears of one of the younger musicians who considered himself
to be one of the very greatest musicians alive. This young musician set out to find the
old man. After many days of traveling, he reached the old mans cave, and there he
saw the old man playing his vina (an Indian stringed instrument). The old man played so
perfectly and so beautifully, that he had materialized seven little nymphs before him and
the nymphs danced to the music. Each nymph had been materialized by one of the seven notes
of the raga (scale and composition in Indian classical music) that the old man was
The young man was very impressed;
however, he thought that he himself should be able to do the same thing, as he was one of
the greatest musicians in India. He went forth and greeted the old man and the old man put
down his instrument. The nymphs continued to appear before the two men. The younger
musician asked the old man if he might play a little upon the old mans vina, and the
old man consented. The younger musician began to play the same raga that the older
musician had been playing, but after only a few seconds, he struck one of the notes of the
raga incorrectly, and one of the nymphs vanished into thin air. The young man, stunned,
quickly put down the instrument. The old man picked it back up, then clearly plucked the
correct note. The missing nymph reappeared. The young musician was so embarrassed, he
bowed his head in shame and left the company of the old man to return to his home. He
never felt the pride of his own greatness again.
There are many stories in India that
tell of the magical influences of music. Another story concerns the raga called dipak.
In Indian music, a raga is based on a set scale, or set of scales, and is a musical
formula on which compositions or improvisations can be based. Dipak is one of the ragas
from ancient times.
Raga dipak is not played by musicians
in India because it is the fire raga. It is said that if it is played, fire will be
invoked. There are many stories circulating in India that tell of fire breaking out when
the raga was played. One musician performed the raga in a shoulder-length depth of water,
hoping to avoid all of the possible consequences of his performance. However, the flames
soon began to rage all about him, and he supposedly boiled to death.
Our story tells of one of the great
kings in India who wanted to verify for himself that the stories about raga dipak were
true. He was the great King Akbar. He ordered his famous court musician, Tansen, to play
raga dipak for him. When Tansen began playing the raga, the palace around them began to
burst into flames. A young maiden happened to be walking by and saw what was taking place.
She quickly began singing raga mahlar, the raga that brings on the rains, and a
great storm appeared in the skies and extinguished the flames.