Music is a precious gift of God to the mankind. It is a celebration of life and an experience that has the ability to dissolve boundaries. I believe all the musicians in the world are like one family—the common link being the seven beautiful musical notes, Do Re Me Fa So La Ti in western notation and Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni in the Indian system. If we include the half tones that are the sharps and flats we get a total of 12 notes. Though music has been in practice for at least 5,000 years, we have not been able to discover a 13th note!
Very few people have the ability to understand music to the point where they can create their own music that is universally appealing. Fewer reach the stage of true greatness, where they are accepted by a nation or the world. My guru had said it did not matter however long one had practised, as achieving the goal is a gift from the Almighty.
Indian classical music is complex and highly technical. However, it is based on spirituality and faith. Traditionally, Indian classical musicians completely surrender to the guru, God and music. The surrender to God and the destiny is the only way to achieve the innermost depth and beauty of Indian classical music. All our great saint musicians, like Swami Haridas, Mian Tansen, Purandara Dasa, Muthuswami Dikshitar, Syama Shastri, Tyagaraja, Swati Thirunal and Baiju Bawra, have said that a musical note is a manifestation of God and every raga has a soul.
The only way for a young musician to achieve success is to work hard, practise rigorously and exercise discipline. This is not limited to music but should be extended to personal conduct. The technical aspects alone do not give colour and fragrance to the music you produce. For this reason, I cannot consider Indian classical music a profession—it is a way of life. The improvisation in classical music is based on freedom within the discipline of ascending and descending of the melody or raga.
We have many books on Indian classical music and its grammar and the technicalities. But no book has mentioned how to present Indian classical music. It is left to the ability and creativity of a musician to present the music. No one could guide the musicians how long or short to perform the raga.
My father often told me that I should never be a cause for humiliation of Indian classical music. According to him, a performing musician should bring honour and prestige to classical music. In India, the meaning of guru is far deeper as compared to teacher or mentor. Great musicians have been likened to priests who perform upasana. That is why we touch their feet. It is not an act of subservience, but one of liberation. It is a unique custom that belongs to our culture. It is understandable to adopt or adapt to a modern way of life and seek to achieve technical virtuosity, but it does not mean that we forget the most essential values of our culture.
My guru, while teaching, often talked about spirituality. He believed all of us, regardless of religion or descent, have a common God because we all come into this world in the same way and leave in the same way. He also believed in the message of Hinduism that God exists in each living soul. God is within us and around us.