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Raga Therapy: The Divine Healing Power of Indian Classical Music

- Reema Krishnan

18 February 2021

Music has the power to heal. Numerous studies have proved that music can change emotional states, physiology, perceptions and heighten spiritual awareness. Indian classical music, such as Carnatic and Hindustani music, are known to transform individual and collective consciousness into the heightened states of love, compassion, forgiveness, and physical healing.

Indian music is known to evoke specific feelings and moods within the mind, body, and soul of the listener. So, it doesn’t come as a surprise that this particular music has done well in therapeutic applications.

The literature of Indian classical music has stories that boast of its curative properties. However, there is a limited amount of scientific literature to prove the healing effect of Indian classical music on body, spirit and mind. Although the position of Indian classical music is proven through the ages in the genre of healing through music, it has not been thoroughly researched and applied on the scale it ought to be.

Ayurveda, the ancient medical science of India, has a branch detailing the effect of music in healing a variety of body and mind ailments. Several Indian classical musicians and scholars have dedicated their lives to research and practice this form of music therapy. Practitioners who use Raga therapy (music in therapeutic applications) have been successful in treating conditions like brain injury, stroke, autism, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and many others.

The primary proof of the efficacy of Raga therapy is the response of irritable infants and toddlers to the soothing tones and sounds of music. The efficacy of Raga therapy is further heightened for more mature adult perceptions.

The history behind raga therapy
The therapeutic effect of ragas in Hindustani and Carnatic music is a time-tested one. The ancient Indian classical music maestros, decades ago, affirmed that ragas greatly influence the emotions of humans by changing the resonance of the human body. The ancient system describes it as Nada Yoga. The vibrations that emanate from the sounds are channelized to heighten the level of a person's consciousness. Raga Chikitsa, an ancient manuscript in Tanjore's Saraswati Mahal Library built by Raja Serfoji, is a treasure house of ragas and defines their applications in fighting common ailments of mind and body.

How does Raga therapy work?
A Raga is a sequence of selected notes, also known as swaras. These notes lend a particular 'mood' or emotion in a selective combination. They are classified depending on the predominant rasa or emotion they evoke and the most appropriate time of the day it needs to be played.

 It is said that there is a link between certain frequencies of sounds and the seven chakras (seven energy sources) of our body. As with each raga, each chakra is associated with a specific color and attributes. These ragas are said to cleanse the chakras, thus aiding in the healing of physical and mental ailments. For example, the Nabhi chakra which governs the stomach area and the solar plexus is aided by Malkauns/Hindolam, Abhogi, and Bhimpalasi to improve digestion and bring about a change of attitudes and inner transformation.

It is said that Tansen, the great medieval composer could light lamps by playing the fire Raag Deepak and could invoke rainfall by playing Raag Miyan Ki Malhar. He even created Raag Darbari Kanada to soothe Emperor Akbar's stress in the evening.

Scientific research has produced some unusual findings into the effects of certain instruments on the environment. When Jagadish Chandra Bose investigated the effect of the conch shell (shankha) blown in temples and during religious ceremonies, he claimed that the sound penetrates the disease-causing bacteria and kills them. Some researchers have concluded that blowing the shankha is an inexpensive and effective way of treating physical complaints and help deal with other problems like hysteria, epilepsy, and leprosy.

Reema Krishnan is a content creator at Acharyanet platform for Carnatic music learners where they can learn music from gurus through 400+ video lessons. Being a music enthusiast and a history buff herself, she is able to provide value for her readers and her content is well-received by musicians, music lovers, and music learners of all ages and at all stages. She loves to volunteer with music therapy groups and bakes up a storm in her free time.

Related Links

How Hindustani classical ragas tickle our emotions
- Subhra Priyadarshini

Application of Music Therapy in Medicine
- National Center for Biotechnology Information

Raga therapy as an effective treatment for depression
- Journal of Psychology & Psychotherapy

Health benefits of blowing a shankh or a conch shell
- Tania Tarafdar
Conch blowing is a great exercise for the urinary tract, bladder, lower abdomen, diaphragm, chest and neck muscles.