Indian classical music is therapeutic: Vandana Jyotirmayee

Dr Vandana Jyotirmayee from Gaya is making waves through her music all over the globe. She sings various genres of Hindustani classical and light classical music such as the Sufi, thumri and ghazal. In an exclusive interview with, Vandana relives her musical journey. 

How did you start your musical journey?

I was initiated into music at the tender age of three. My mother, who was trained in Bharatnatyam and Kathak dance forms during the 1960s, also sings very well. I was introduced to the formal training of Indian classical music by famous thumri singer Kameshwar Pathak from Gaya Gharana. Later, I became the disciple of Pandit Shambhu Upadhyaya from Kirana Gharana. My grandfather was a professor of Hindi at Magadh University and their house is located in Professor’s Colony on West Church Road of Gaya. I owe a lot to Gaya as all the memories of my childhood are simply golden. I was brought up in a completely musical and poetical atmosphere. Poets like Janaki Vallabh Shastri and Mahadevi Verma would come and stay with us.

As I grew up, along with English Literature I studied music as well. I did my Master’s in English Literature and media management and later completed MPhil in Mass Communication. Later I shifted from Patna to Muscat in 1984 and from there, I began my musical concerts.

Thousands of miles away from India, working as a lecturer, you took up the additional challenge to sing in a foreign land?

My effort is to keep the culture and tradition of India alive wherever I go. After going to Muscat, I realised that there were many Indians who were longing to listen to classical music or anything that was Indian. When I did my first concert there, it was not just Indians who came for my show. Even local attended it in large numbers. Indian classical music is therapeutic. It leaves a positive impact on anyone who listens to it.

You said that music is therapeutic. Please elaborate it.

The greatness of Indian Classical music is that it offers different rasas or shades of human emotions and feelings. A raga can create a mood of romance to pain to spirituality. The classical compositions have always had a deep impact on mind and emotions. It has the vastness of the ocean and above all, it has been integral to Indian culture. The ancient Indian sages have recognised the immense potential of music. And they have devised several musical patterns from the ‘omkara’  for spiritual effect. Moreover, since the ancient times, music has been used as a therapeutic tool. People in the villages still believe in the charismatic power of music for curing certain diseases and correcting physical and mental disorders. The therapeutic values of music have been recognized and employed from a very early stage in the history of mankind and medicine. Thus, with pride, music therapy points to a tradition as old as mankind itself. When you go through the ancient texts, there are proofs of the combination of music and medicine to cure certain diseases and disorders.

Are there any specific ragas for curing diseases?

Music therapy is a vast science. Hindustani classical ragas suggested by our renowned musicologists in curing diseases are like raga Ahirbhairav is helpful in curing hypertension, raga Bageshri is used in curing Insomnia, raga Bhairavi is used in curing rheumatic arthritis, and cancer, raga Darbari Kanada is used in curing liver problems,raga Hindol for a backache, raga Jaunpuri  cures constipation, raga Kafi for sleeping disorders and so on. It is highly a scientific field and a number of experiments have been conducted on testing the effects of the ragas on particular diseases.  

What is your analogy of practice and sadhana?

While the former is about mugging things up ‘sadhana’ makes you see one step ahead and move further. You have to walk and run on your own. I believe in our ancient system of guru-shishya parampara.

What is your album which was launched in New Delhi ‘Ardas’ all about?

‘Ardaas’, is a collection of eight devotional songs, including bhajans in praise of Shirdi’s Sai Baba, penned and composed by me.

Who are your role models?

I grew up listening to the ghazals of Begum Akhtar, Jagjit Singh and Ghulam Ali. Farida Khanum and Asha Bhosle are my favourites when it comes to ghazal and I adore Abida Parween and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for Sufi music. Bhajans sung by Kumar Gandharva and Kishori Amonkar are very close to my heart. In Indian classical music, Parveen Sultana and Girija Devi are my favourites.

You love wearing silk sarees and jasmine flowers even abroad.

The saree is the best attire of our country. I am a great admirer of the Indian craftsmen who create such wonders using silk. I love to wear them as a mark of Indianness.