Bhava in music

Emotion or bhava in classical music transports an audience to another plane
Bhava in music
Shubha Mudgal in performance India Today

When a musician portrays a raga with bhava, he or she has the audience’s rapt attention. So what is bhava that mesmerizes not just the audience, but creates an emotional connect with the musician such that the audience become a life-long rasika, or an aesthete of Indian classical music.

It is said that

Japakoti gunamdhyanamdhyanakotigunolayaha

Layakotigunamganamganatparataram nalu

In the above sloka, ganam (the song) has been given the highest place above all including that of japa (or mantra recitation), dhyanam (meditation) to attain salvation. A ganam that has an intrinsic bhava connects with the consciousness and enables the fusion of Jeevatma with the Paramatma.

Isn’t it amazing how bhava can elevate a singer from a performer to a yogi? It is the same bhava that transports the listener to a world of bliss. Some get dissolved in the bhava of the presentation that gets the tears rolling down or creating an ethereal / surreal experience.

It is said Muthiswami Dikshitar– one of the trinities of the Carnatic classical tradition – had an emotional connect with his compositions that united him with the paramatma. The ‘Nava Varna Kirthis’ (which we will discuss in a later series) is one of the most celebrated series of Muthuswami Dikshitar. When rendered with bhava, laya and tala, the experience becomes surreal. His compositions are very many and each is a gem on its own. This episode is not enough to capture the bhava of this great composer. While rendering one of his compositions, along with his sishyas or disciples, “Meenakshi Memudham”, Dikshitar attained his union with Paramatma.

The bhava is facilitated when a musician absolves oneself of the reality and gets engrossed in the rendering. It is this emotional connect that raises the quality of a recital or performance to supercede excellence. Some well-known musicians have followers who are mesmerized from the beginning of the kutcheri or concert, that leaves them wanting for more when the performance ends.

Bhava is not restricted only to instrumental and vocal performances. Even in a dance recital or theatre performance, when the bhava is pronounced, it transports the audience experiencing a real life performance.

Without the emotional connect of oneself to the sapthaswaras, whether rhythmic or instrumental or vocal, the rendition just remains a performance.

In today’s narrative, recitals are limited to 60 minutes or maybe in some instances a wee bit more. The experience of bhava is left wanting as one is bound by time. In the days of yore, recitals would go well into the night and sometimes till the early hours of the morning. These were live concerts that brought an entire community together to soak in a bhava that cannot be explained in mere words.

So while shruti and raga forms the basis of a good concert, it is bhava that elevates it to an emotional experience.

The mulling continues…

Meenakshi Vijay is a communications specialist, and a music aficionado. Her bindass attitude has got her into some interesting projects and some sticky ones as well. She finds life a roller-coaster ride and enjoys the thrills and the learning. This is her second article on Music.

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