How the Wind and the Moon Can
Make an Orchestra of Bamboo Reeds
Helena P. Blavatsky
Bamboo reeds are part of the unlimited, often unheard, yet inspiring orchestra of Nature
A 2012 Editorial Note:
The following text constitutes most of Chapter
XXII in the volume “From the Caves and Jungles
of Hindostan”, by H. P. Blavatsky, T.P.H., USA.
It starts at p. 279 and concludes at p. 299.
The volume was edited by Boris de Zirkoff and
published in 1975. It presents texts first published in
Russian newspapers, in which the original teachings of
theosophy are presented with a good deal of dialogue
and in semi-fictionalized form, including real individuals
and situations. The Thâkur Gulâb-Singh, for instance,
represents HPB’s Master and the Colonel corresponds to
Henry S. Olcott. But no dialogue can be seen as literal.
The opening paragraphs of chapter XXII describe how HPB
and a few friends – including the Thâkur – arrive to a mysterious
island accompanied by a few “coolies” or servants. The main
purpose of the visit was to observe an orchestra of the nature.
HPB writes: “This island was a tiny one, and so overgrown
with tall grass that, from a distance, it looked like a pyramidal
basket of greenery floating in the midst of the blue lake. With
the exception of some spreading groups of shady mango and
fig trees, where a whole colony of monkeys were agitated at
our appearance, the place was evidently uninhabited. In this virgin
forest of thick grass, there was no trace of human footprint.” (p. 278)
In order to make the reading easier, we have
sometimes divided longer paragraphs into smaller ones.
(Carlos Cardoso Aveline)
While our coolies and servants were busy preparing supper for us, pitching the tents and clearing the road around them, we went to make the acquaintance of the monkeys.
We never saw anything funnier. Without exaggeration, there must have been some two hundred of them. Preparing to go to bed, the monkeys behaved very decently. Every family chose a separate branch and defended it from the intrusion of other tenants on the same tree, but did so without conflict, limiting themselves to threatening grimaces.
There were among them many mothers with babes in arms; some of them nursed the children tenderly and carefully, with all the earmarks of ordinary humans; others, after choosing a branch, jumped from one tree to another, with the child hanging on to the mother’s tail; yet others, on all fours, with their heirs clinging to their stomachs, fussed about something, chattering and stopping every now and then to scold each other – a true picture of chatty old gossips on market day, repeated in the animal kingdom. The bachelors were absorbed in their evening amusement – athletic exercises performed hanging from the branches mostly by the ends of their tails. We particularly noticed one of them who seemed to divide the game between sauts périlleux and teasing a respectable looking grandfather, who sat gravely under the tree hugging two little monkeys. Swinging back and forth, the bachelor flung himself against him with full force, made faces at him, and bit his ear playfully, chattering all the time.
We cautiously and quietly passed from one tree to another, afraid of frightening them away; but evidently the many years spent by them with the fakirs (who had left the island only a year ago) had accustomed them to people. They were sacred monkeys, as we learned, and did not show the slightest fear at our approach. They let us come quite close to them, and, having received our greeting, and some of them a piece of sugar cane, calmly looked us over from their branch-thrones, with affectedly folded hands and even with some degree of dignified contempt in their intelligent brown eyes.
Now the sun had set, and a hubbub arose in the trees. We were called to supper. The Bâbû, whose prevailing passion was (according to orthodox Hindus) a tendency to “blasphemy,” had climbed a tree where, imitating every gesture and pose of his neighbors, he countered all the threatening grimaces of the monkeys with even more ugly ones of his own, to the pious horror of our coolies. After a while, he jumped off his branch and hastened us “homeward.”
As the last golden ray vanished below the horizon, a transparent mist of pale lilac suddenly fell over the countryside. With every passing moment the tropical twilight dimmed, rapidly yet gradually losing its soft, velvet-like coloring, becoming darker and darker, as if an invisible painter spread one shade after another over the surrounding forests and water, quietly but steadily moving his gigantic brush across the wondrous background of our island… Feeble phosphorescent lights began to flare up around us; shining brightly against the dark trunks of the trees and of the stately bamboos, they vanished soon in the silvery, mother-of-pearl background of the opalescent evening sky… Another two or three minutes, and thousands of these fairylike living sparks, heralds of the Queen of Night, were playing around us, flaring up and going out again, pouring like a rain of fire over the trees, swirling in the air, over the grass and the darkening lake… And now, behold the Night herself! Silently descending upon the earth, she assumed her sovereign powers. At her approach, all things calmed themselves and fell asleep. Under her cool breath, the activities of day ceased to be. Like a tender mother, she sang a lullaby to nature, lovingly wrapping it in her soft dark mantle, and, having lulled the world into slumber, she guarded its tired and sleeping forces until the break of dawn…
All nature slept, man alone was awake at this solemn evening hour, nor did we go to sleep. Sitting around the fire, we talked almost in a whisper, as if afraid of waking nature. Mr. Y. and Miss B. had retired sometime before, and nobody sought to prevent them. But we six – the colonel, four Hindus and myself – snugly sheltered under the fifteen-foot “grass,” had no desire to miss this magnificent night by sleeping. Besides, we were waiting for the “concert” which the Thâkur had promised us.
“Be patient,” said he, “just before the moon rises, our musicians will appear.”
The moon rose late, almost at ten o’clock. Just before her appearance, when the water of the lake began to grow lighter on the opposite shore, and the horizon grew perceptibly brighter, gradually assuming a silvery, milky tint, a sudden wind arose.
The sleeping waves stirred again; they rustled at the feet of the bamboos, whose giant feathery heads swayed and murmured to each other as if passing on some instructions… Suddenly, in the general stillness, we heard again the same strange musical notes which we had noticed when first approaching the island on the ferryboat, as if all around us, and even above us, invisible wind instruments were being tuned, strings were being plucked, and flutes sounded. In about two minutes, just as another gust of wind forced its way through the bamboos, the whole island resounded with the strains of hundreds of Aeolian harps… And then suddenly, a wild, weird and unending symphony burst forth!
It resounded in the surrounding woods, filled the air with an indescribable melody which charmed even our spoiled European taste. Sad and solemn were its prolonged strains; now they sounded like the flowing measure of some funeral march, then, suddenly changing into a tremulous trill, they poured forth like the song of the nightingale, humming like the legendary self-playing zither , only to die away in a long sigh… At times they were like a long, drawn-out howl, heart-rending and woeful, as of a she-wolf deprived of her young; at times it rang out like Turkish bells, in a gay and rapid tarantella; then again was heard a sad song like that of a human voice, or the easy-flowing sound of the violoncello, ending in either a sob, or subdued laughter… And all of this was repeated in every direction by the mocking echo of the forest, as if hundreds of fabulous forest sprites awakened in their green bowers to answer the appeal of this wild musical revelry.
The Colonel and I glanced at each other, dumbfounded in our amazement. “How wonderful!” “What witchcraft!” we finally exclaimed, almost at the same time. The Hindus smiled and remained silent. The Thâkur smoked his gargarî as peacefully as if he had suddenly become deaf. After a short interval, during which our minds unconsciously formulated a question in regard to this being perhaps another feat of magic, the invisible orchestra burst forth again and swelled with even greater abandon, momentarily almost deafening us. The sound poured out and rolled through the air like irresistible waves, arresting our attention. Never had we heard anything like this – to us an inconceivable wonder… Hark! Like a storm on the open sea, the wind whistling through the rigging, the roar of the maddened waves tumbling over each other! Or a blizzard on the silent steppes with a gale blowing…
Like some animal it howls,
Like an infant it cries! 
And now it is the solemn strains of an organ… Its powerful notes blend together, now spread throughout space, now cease, intermingle, and become entangled like the fantastic melody of a delirious dream, like some musical phantasy formed of the howling and whistling of the wind in the open.
But a few moments later, these sounds, so glamorous at first, began to cut like knives through our brains. And it seemed to us as if the fingers of the invisible artists played no longer upon invisible strings, or blew into magic trumpets, but did so upon our nerves, straining our tendons and impeding our breath…
“For God’s sake, stop this, Thâkur! It’s quite enough!”… shouted the Colonel, covering his ears with his hands. “Gulâb-Singh, order them to put a stop to this!”
At these words, the three Hindus burst out laughing, and even the sphinx-like features of the Thâkur lit up with a merry smile…
“Upon my word,” said he laughingly, “you seem to take me very seriously, if not for the great Parabrahman, then at least for some sort of genii, for a Marut, the lord of the winds and the elements. Is it in my power to stop the wind or instantaneously to uproot all this forest of bamboos? Ask me something easier!…”
“What do you mean by stopping the wind? And what of the bamboos? Do we not hear all this under some kind of psychological influence?”
“You will soon become unbalanced on your psychology and electro-biology, my dear Colonel. There is no psychology of any kind in this; simply a natural law of acoustics… Each of these bamboos surrounding us – and there are thousands of them on the island – contains in itself a natural musical instrument, upon which the wind, the universal artist, comes to try out his artistry after sunset, and especially so during the last quarter of the moon.”
“Him! The wind!…” murmured our somewhat abashed president. “But it’s getting to be an awful noise… not particularly pleasant… Can anything be done about it?”
“I really don’t know… But it’s all right, in five minutes you’ll be quite used to it, and you’ll rest in the intervals when the wind momentarily falls…”
We were told that there are many such natural orchestras in India; they are well known to the Brâhmanas who call this wind the reeds vînâ-devas (the lute of the Gods) and, making capital of popular superstition, say that the sounds are divine oracles. The fakirs of the idol-worshipping sects have added their own art to this peculiarity of the reeds, and for this reason the island we were on is reckoned especially sacred.
“Tomorrow morning,” said the Thâkur, “I will show you with what consummate knowledge of all the laws of acoustics have the fakirs bored holes of varying size in these reeds. They enlarge the holes made by the beetles in any one section of the trunk, according to the size of the latter, shaping them into either a circle or an oval. This perfecting of a natural instrument can justly be looked upon as the finest example of the application of mechanics to acoustics. However, this is not to be wondered at. Our most ancient Sanskrit works on music minutely describe these laws and mention many musical instruments which are not only forgotten, but totally unknown at present… And now, if this too close proximity of the singing reeds disturbs your sensitive ears, I will take you to a meadow near the shore, some little distance from our orchestra. The wind dies down after midnight, and you will sleep undisturbed. In the meantime, let us go and see how the ‘sacred bonfires’ are being lighted. As soon as the neighboring people hear the distant voices of the ‘Gods’ in the reeds, they gather on the shore, whole villages of them, light fires, and perform a ‘pûja’ (adoration of the island).”
“Is it really possible that the Brâhmanas manage to keep up such an obvious deception?” asked the astonished Colonel. “Even the most stupid must eventually learn who made the holes in the reeds and what the real cause of the sound is!”
“Possibly so in America, but not in India. Show even a half-educated native how it is done; tell him all about it and explain it… He will tell you that he knows as well as you do that the holes are made by beetles and enlarged by the fakirs. But what of that? The beetle was no ordinary beetle, but one of the gods who incarnated in the insect for this special purpose and the fakir is a holy hermit who acted in this case by the order of this god. That will be all you will get out of him. Fanaticism and superstition, which for centuries have permeated the masses, have become a necessary part of their physiological needs. Uproot these, and the people will have their eyes opened and will see the truth, but not before. As to the Brâhmanas, India would have been very fortunate if these scoundrels had not done anything worse than that through the centuries… Let the people adore the music and the spirit of harmony; there is nothing to fear in that.”
The Bâbû then told us that in Dehra-Dûn this kind of bamboo has been planted on both sides of the central street which is more than a mile long. The buildings prevent the free action of the wind, and so the sounds are heard only when the wind blows from the east, which is very rare. A year ago, when Swâmi Dayânanda had arrived to camp there, and the crowd of followers gathered every evening around him, the bamboos decided to break into song, just as he finished his sermon in which he thundered against superstition.
Tired out by this long lecturing, and not feeling too well, the Swâmi sat down on his carpet and remained motionless with eyes closed. The crowd imagined at once that the soul of the Swâmi, leaving the body, entered the reeds and was now conversing with the Gods through them. Many people, anxious to express thereby their devotion to the teacher, and probably to show him how fully they had grasped his teaching, hastened to perform “pûja” before the singing reeds.
“And what about the Swâmi? What did he say to that?…”
“He said nothing… You evidently do not really know him. Without saying a word, he jumped on his feet, and uprooting the first bamboo cane he happened to reach on his way, gave such a lively ‘European bakhshîsh’ on the backs of the pûja-makers, that they instantly took to their heels. The Swâmi chased them for a whole mile, giving it hot and plenty to anyone in his way. He then spat and went on his way. He is an awfully strong man, our Swâmi, and not inclined to useless talk,” laughingly concluded the Bâbû.
“But in this way,” remarked the Colonel, “instead of leading them on the road to the truth, he merely dispersed the crowd!”
“That simply shows that you know our people as little as your ally the Swâmi… He had hardly reached Patna, a place some 35 or 40 miles from Dehra-Dûn, than a delegation from the latter town, some 500 strong, arrived posthaste to entreat him on their knees to return. Among the petitioners were some whose backs were black and blue. They brought the Swâmi back with no end of pomp and circumstance, mounting him on an elephant, and spreading flowers along the road. Then the Swâmi formed a samâja (society), and there are now two hundred members in the ‘Ârya-Samâja’ of Dehra-Dûn, who have forever renounced idol-worship and superstition.”
“I was present,” said Mûljî, “two years ago in Benares, when Dayânanda destroyed some one hundred idols and beat a Brâhmana with the same stick. He dragged him out of the hollow idol of Siva, where he was impersonating the god and begging money for a new suit of clothes for the idol.”
“And the Swâmi did not have to pay for that?”
“The Brâhmana hailed him into a court of law, but such a crowd of defenders and sympathizers turned up that the judge had to acquit the Swâmi, merely sentencing him to pay for the broken idols. Only one thing was not good: the Brâhmana died that very night of cholera, and the opponents of the Swâmi loudly proclaimed that he died as a result of the jâdû (sorcery) practiced by Dayânanda Sarasvatî.”
“And you, Nârâyana, what do you know about the Swâmijî?” I asked. “Do you regard him as your ‘guru’?”
“I have only one guru and only one God on earth, as in heaven,” answered Nârâyana somewhat unwillingly, “and I will never have another.”
“And who is this guru and this God?… It is a mystery?… ”
“Thâkur Sâhib, of course!…” burst out the Bâbû. “For him both of these are blended in one…”
“You talk nonsense, Bâbû,” coldly remarked Gulâb-Singh, “I do not consider myself worthy to be anyone’s guru, let alone a God. Please do not blaspheme. Here we are! Let’s sit on the shore,” he added, pointing to the carpets that had been brought and evidently anxious to change the subject.
We had arrived at a small clearing near the lake some two or three hundred feet from the bamboo forest. The sounds of the magic orchestra now only reached us from time to time and then softly. We sat to the windward of the reeds; their sound was like a harmonious whisper, reminding one of the quiet tones of an Aeolian harp and having nothing harsh or unpleasant in it any longer. On the contrary, it only added to the poetical beauty of this colorful scene.
We sat on the carpets that had been spread out, and, seeing that I had been on my feet since four in the morning, I felt quite sleepy. The men continued to talk of the Swâmi and the “pûja,” and I soon became so absorbed in thought that, as usually occurs, the conversation reached me only in fragments…
“Wake up!…” said the Colonel, giving me a little shake. “The Thâkur says you must not sleep in the moonlight…”
I was not asleep; I was simply thinking, though I felt groggy. I hardly replied, however, so drowsy can one become under such wondrous skies…
“Wake up, for heaven’s sake!” continued the Colonel, “Just look at this moon… and the landscape all around us. Have you ever seen anything more wonderful than this panorama? Look…”
I looked and the familiar verse of Pushkin, “now the golden moon has risen…” came to my mind. Indeed this was a “golden moon.” At this moment she poured forth a flood of golden light, showered it over the restless lake at our feet, and spread golden dust on every blade of grass, every pebble, everything around us, and into the far-off distance. Her silvery-yellow globe swiftly glided upwards into the dark blue sky, strewn with myriads of bright stars shinning over our heads. However many moonlit nights we may see in India, each time new and unexpected impressions will be found… Such sights cannot be described; they cannot be portrayed either on canvas or in mere words; they can only be felt. What an inexpressible grandeur and beauty!
In Europe, even in the south, the brightness of the full moon usually dulls the stars around to a considerable distance, so that even the largest among them are dimmed by her brilliance. Here it is quite the contrary: she looks like a large pearl surrounded with diamonds, rolling on the blue velvet of the heavenly vault. It is possible to read a letter written in small handwriting in her light and to perceive the various shadings of green in the surrounding vegetation – a thing unheard of in Europe. Cast a glance at the trees during full moon, at the stately palms with their fronds spreading outward like a fan!
From the moment the moon has risen, her rays begin to glide over every tree, like a shimmering silvery scale, descending from its crest, lower and lower, until the whole tree is bathed in a sea of light. Without metaphor, the surface of the leaves appears all night long to bathe in swirling, trembling waves of liquid silver, whereas underneath they look darker and softer than black velvet. But woe to the careless novice, woe to the mortal who gazes at the moon with his head uncovered. It is not only dangerous to sleep in moonlight, but even to gaze too long at the chaste Indian Diana. Epilepsy, madness and often death are the punishment wrought by her dangerous arrows on the modern Acteon who dares to contemplate the cruel daughter of Latona in all her beauty. That is why by day or night neither the Europeans nor the natives ever go out without a topi or a pagrî. Even our Bâbû, who spends whole days cooling himself bareheaded in the sun, wore a kind of white cap during moonlit nights.
As the Thâkur had told us beforehand, the fires were lighted one after another on the mainland, and the dark silhouettes of the worshippers swayed to and fro. Their primitive sacred songs and loud exclamations, “Hari, Hari, Mahâdeva,” reached us loudly and distinctly from the other shore. And the reeds, shaken by the wind, waving their slender stalks, answered with tender musical phrases… A vague uneasiness seemed to fill the soul, a strange intoxication could be sensed in these surroundings, and the idol-worship in these passionate deeply poetical souls, sunken in centuries-old ignorance, seemed less repulsive and more intelligible. A Hindu is a born mystic, and the glamorous nature of his land has made him a vehement pantheist.
Somewhere in the forest an algojâ, a kind of Indian reed-pipe with seven openings, was being played, and its sound startled a whole family of monkeys resting in the branches of a nearby tree. Two or three of them carefully slipped down and looked around as if waiting for something.
“Who is this Orpheus who is casting spells over the people?” we asked.
“Probably some fakir. The algojâ is generally used to invite the sacred monkeys to be fed. The community of fakirs, who once inhabited this island, has now moved to an old pagoda, not far from here in the forest. There they derive more profit from passers-by, and that’s why they left the island…”
“Possibly because they were getting deaf,” Miss B., who had just wakened and come toward us, ventured her innocent opinion.
“À propos of Orpheus,” asked the Thâkur, “do you know that the lyre of this Greek hero and demi-god was far from being the first with the capacity to cast spells over people, animals and even rivers? Kui,  a certain Chinese ‘musical artist’ who lived a thousand years before the era ascribed by the scholars to Orpheus, expressed himself in these words: ‘When I play my King, wild animals hasten to me, and range themselves into rows before me, spellbound by my melody…’ ”
“Where did you read that?”
“I could have read it in the words of your Western Orientalists, because this information can be found there. But I personally found it in an ancient Sanskrit manuscript (a translation from the Chinese) of the second century before your era. The original is in a very ancient work known as The Preserver of the Five Chief Virtues, a kind of chronicle or treatise on the development of music in China, written by the order of Emperor Huang-Ti many hundreds of years before your era.”
“Have the Chinese ever understood anything about music?” said the Colonel laughingly. “In California and other places I heard some travelling artists of the Celestial Empire… Their musical cacophony could drive anyone mad…”
“That is exactly what many of your Western musicians say on the subject of our ancient Âryan music, as well as our modern Hindu music. But, in the first instance, the idea of melody is entirely arbitrary and, in the second, there is a good deal of difference between the knowledge of musical technique, and the application of this knowledge to the development of melodies which can be appreciated by both the educated and the uneducated ear. A musical piece may be excellent from the technical standpoint, and yet the melody itself may be entirely beyond the understanding of an ear that is unaccustomed to it, and even be unpleasant. Your most renowned operas, for instance, sound to us Hindus like a wild chaos, a cascade of unpleasant, harsh and entangled sounds, in which we do not see any meaning at all, and which simply give us a headache. I have more than once visited both the London and the Paris operas; I have heard Rossini and Meyerbeer; I wanted to become aware of my own impressions, hence listened with the greatest attention. I confess that I prefer our simple national melodies to the productions of your best European composers. The former are intelligible to me, while the latter are incomprehensible, and they affect me just as little as our national tunes touch you. But leaving the ‘tunes’ aside, I can assure you that not only our ancestors but even those of the Chinese were not inferior to you Europeans, if not in technical instrumentation, at least in musical ‘technology,’ and especially in their abstract conceptions of music.”
“Maybe so with the Âryan sections of antiquity, but to concede the same in the case of the Turanians to which the Chinese belong, is a bit different,” argued our Colonel.
“The music of nature has been everywhere the first step to the music of art. We prefer the former, and so we have held to it for centuries. Our musical system is the greatest art, if – pardon this seeming paradox – we are to avoid everything that is artificial. It disregards in its melodies any sounds that are not part of the living voice of nature. The Chinese do not hold to this. The Chinese system, for instance, comprises eight chief tones, which serve as a tuning fork for all derivative tones, which are accordingly classified under the name of their originators. These eight sounds are: metal, stone, silk, bamboo, pumpkin, earthware, leather and wood. So that they have metallic sounds, wooden sounds, silk sounds, and so forth. Thus they cannot possibly produce any melody; the result is complete chaos, as their music consists of an entangled series of separate notes. Their imperial anthem, for instance, is a series of long drawn-out sounds produced in unison. With us, however, everything is original and unique. We owe our music to living nature alone, and in no wise to inanimate objects. We are pantheists, in the highest sense of the word, and our music is, so to speak, pantheistic. But it is also highly scientific. Coming from the cradle of humanity, the Âryan races, who were the first to attain manhood, began to listen to the voices of nature, and found that both melody and harmony are comingled only in our great common mother. She has no false and no artificial notes, and man, the crown of her creation, desired to imitate her sounds. In their collectivity, all of these sounds (according to the assertion of your own physicists) blend into one tone which we can hear, if we know how to listen, in the ceaseless rustle of the foliage of great forests, in the murmur of the water, in the roar of the ocean and the storm, and even in the distant rumble of a great city. This tone is the middle ‘F,’ the fundamental tone of the whole of nature. In our melodies it serves as the starting point, which is embodied in our keynote, and around which are grouped all the other sounds. Having noticed that the higher, middle and lower notes have their typical representative in the animal kingdom; that the goat, the peacock, the ox, the parrot, the frog, the tiger, the elephant, and so forth, have, each one of them, its special note, our ancestors have given an attentive ear to this and found that everyone of these notes corresponds to one of the seven chief notes. Thus was the octave discovered and established. As to the subdivisions and measures, they also found their basis in the complex sounds of the same animals.”
“Concerning your ancient music,” said the Colonel, “and whether your ancestors discovered anything about it, I know of course next to nothing, but I confess that, listening to the songs of your modern Hindus, I would not suspect that they knew anything about any kind of music.”
“That is because you have not yet heard a real singer. Go to Poona and visit the ‘Gâyana-Samâja’ and then we shall resume this conversation. Until then, there is no use arguing.”
“The music of the ancient Âryans,” suddenly interrupted the Bâbû for the sake of his country’s honor, “is an antediluvian plant which has almost entirely vanished from India, but it is nevertheless well worth consideration and study. This is definitely proved now by my compatriot Râjâ Surendronâth Tagore,who, according to the statements of the best musical critics in England, has firmly established the right of India to ‘be counted as the mother of musical science.’ Every school, whether Italian, German or ancient Âryan, arose in its own specific period, and has evolved in its own exclusive climate and in completely different circumstances. Everyone of these schools has its peculiarities and its charm for its followers, and our school is no exception. While you Europeans are used to the melodies of the West and are well acquainted with your own schools, our musical system, like many other things in India, is yet totally unknown to you. For this reason, I make bold to say, Colonel, that you have no right to judge it…”
“Don’t get so excited, Bâbû,” said the Thâkur, “Everyone has the right, if not to judge, then to ask questions about a subject unfamiliar to him, otherwise he would never get the truth… If Hindu music belonged (as the Bâbû has pointed out) to an epoch as recent as that of European music, and if, besides, it embodied, as does the latter, all the virtues achieved by various musical systems in different epochs, then perchance experts would understand it and would better appreciate it. But our music belongs to prehistoric times. With the possible exception of the ancient Egyptians, who, to judge by the twenty-string harp found by James Bruce  in one of the Theban tombs, were also initiated in the mysteries of musical harmony, we Hindus seem to have been the only people acquainted with music at a time when all the other nations of the globe were still struggling with the elements for the means of bare existence. We have hundreds of Sanskrit manuscripts about music which have never yet been translated even into present day vernaculars. Despite all the conclusions of your Orientalists to the contrary, we believe implicitly in the great antiquity of the treatises (from 4,000 to 8,000 years), and we will persist in this belief because we have read them and studied them, while the European scholars have not yet set eyes on them. There are many such musical treatises, written at different and very distant epochs, and they all agree in their evidence, showing very clearly that in India music was known and systematized in times when the modern civilized nations in the west of Europe still lived like savage tribes. However, all this does not give us the right to expect that you Europeans should like our music, as your ears are unaccustomed to it and you are unable to understand its spirit… To a certain extent we can explain its technique to you and give you some idea of it as a science but nobody can create in you that which Âryans called rakti, the capacity of the human soul to perceive and be moved by the combination of the various sounds of nature – the alpha and omega of our musical system – just as it is impossible to make us fall into raptures over the melodies of Bellini.”
“But why?” excitedly inquired the Colonel. “What is that mysterious force in your music that can be understood only by yourselves, Asiatics? Even if we differ from you in the color of our skin, our organic mechanism is one and the same. In other words, the physiological construction of bones, blood, nerves, sinews and muscles which from a Hindu has as many parts combined with each other, exactly after the same plan and model, as the living mechanism known under the name of American, Englishman or any other European. They come into the world from the same workshop of nature and have the same beginning and the same end. From the physiological standpoint we are duplicates of each other…”
“Physiologically yes, and even psychologically, if education did not interfere, which, when all is said, influences man’s nature in one or another direction, affecting not only his mental, but also his moral outlook; in some cases it entirely extinguishes his divine spark, while in others it fans it, transforming it into an inextinguishable beacon which serves as a lodestar for his mental capacity for life.”
“Right; still this can hardly have so strong an effect upon the physiology of the ear.”
“You are again mistaken. If, from the physical, or rather the physiological standpoint, the Hindu, viewed as a human machine, does not differ from a European, nevertheless as a result of an entirely unique education, mentally and psychically, especially the latter, the two differ diametrically from each other, being as it were, two different species in nature. Remember to what an extent complexion, bodily structure, capacity for reproduction, vital strength, and all the hereditary qualities of the purely physical functions alter with time as a result of climatic conditions, food and the everyday surroundings of man (the most recent scientific mask of your materialists, if I mistake not, intended conveniently to ignore the more abstract mysteries of being), and you will have answered your question. Apply the same law of gradual modification, instead of to the physical, to the purely psychic element in man, and you will observe the same results. Change the education of the soul, and you will change its capacity. In cases where formerly it found delight, experiencing something entirely inaccessible to another educated in a different manner, it finds now nought but boredom and confusion… For instance, you believe, and you do so on the basis of centuries-old evidence, that gymnastics, strengthening the muscles, not only develop the human body, but are capable of almost transforming it. We, Hindus, go one step further. We believe as a result of thousands of years of experimentation and objective demonstration, that there exist gymnastics for the soul, as well as for the body. This is our secret, the secret of the downtrodden Hindus enslaved by sheer animal force, and we do not allow anyone to penetrate this secret, except a handful of elect; but in due time, it may be demonstrated to you… What is it that gives to the sight of the sailor the quality of the eagle’s sight, that endows the acrobat with the skill and the agility of a monkey, and the wrestler with muscles of iron? Practice and habit, you will say. Then why not suppose the same capacity in the soul of man as well as in his body? Is it simply on the ground that modern science denies the existence of the soul and does not acknowledge in it an entity distinct from the body?…”
“That will do, Thâkur. You, for one, ought to know that I believe in the soul and its immortality…”
“We believe in the immortality of the spirit but not of the soul… However, this has nothing to do with our present subject. And so you must agree that every dormant capacity of the soul may be unfolded by practice to the highest degree of its strength and activity, and also that, as a result of disuse and lack of habit, every such capacity may become latent and even disappear altogether. Nature is so jealous of her gifts, that it is in our power systematically to develop or to destroy in our descendants – and this in the course of only a few generations – any physical or mental gifts, simply by practicing or by completely neglecting it…”
“Yes, but all this does not explain to me the secret charm of your national melodies.”
“What’s the use of going into details, when you can see that my explanation is a general clue to the solution of not only your problem, but of a host of others? Centuries have accustomed the Hindu ear’s receptivity to one particular type of combination of audio-waves or atmospheric vibrations, while the ear of the European has been accustomed to another type; because of this, the soul of the former will experience delight when the soul of the latter will feel nothing, while the ear may feel pain. I could end my explanation at this point, as it seems simple enough and understandable, but I am anxious to awaken in you something more than the feeling of satisfied curiosity. What I have pointed out explains the mystery from its physiological angle only. It is as easily understandable as, for instance, the fact that we Hindus habitually eat with impunity quantities of spices which, even in small quantities, could give you inflammation of the intestines. Our auditory nerves, which at the beginning were identical with yours with regard to their capability, have altered as a result of centuries of training and have become as distinct from yours as our complexion and our stomachs. Add to this the fact that the eyes of our Kashmîr weavers, both men and women, are known to be able to distinguish three hundred hues more than the eyes of a European, as shown by your own most scholarly physicists and by the manufacturers of Lyons, and it will be realized how simple is the explanation of the problem. Force of habit, the law of atavism, anything you like… But you, coming from America to study the Hindus and their religion, will never understand the latter if you do not realize from the outset how closely and well-nigh indissolubly all our sciences are related, not to modern orthodox and ignorant Brâhmanism, of course, but to the philosophy of our primitive Vedic religion.”
“But what, for instance, has music in common with the Vedas? . . .”
“A great deal – almost everything. As was the case with the ancient Egyptians and Chinese, so it is with us: all the sounds in nature, and consequently music itself, stood in direct relation to Astronomy and Mathematics, that is to say, to the planets, the signs of the zodiac, the solar and lunar currents and numbers; and especially to that, the existence of which your scientists have not yet fully ascertained: âkâsa or the ether of space. The doctrine of the ‘music of the spheres’ originated here, and not in Greece or Italy, whither it was brought by Pythagoras after he had completed his studies with the Gymnosophists of India. Most certainly this great philosopher, the only Western sage who revealed to the world the heliocentric system before Copernicus and Galileo, knew better than anyone, before or after him, how dependent is the least sound in nature on the âkâsa and its correlations. One of the four Vedas, namely the Sâma-Veda, consists entirely of hymns. It is a collection of mantras and incantations sung during the sacrifices to the ‘gods,’ that is to say, to the Powers of the Elements. Our ancient priests – even though their knowledge did not accord with the modern methods of chemistry and physics, knew a good deal that has not yet been uncovered by present day scientists. It is therefore understandable that these priests at times forced the ‘gods’ of the Elements or the blind forces of nature to answer their prayers by various portents. Every sound in these mantras, the slightest variation in each, has its meaning and is purposely where it should be; and, having a reason, it must of course have its effect. As has been said by Professor Lesly, ‘the science of sound is the most intangible, the most subtle, and the most complex of all the series of physical sciences.’ If ever this teaching were recognized in all its perfection, it was by our ancient Rishis, our philosophers and saints, who left us the Vedas…”
“Now I begin to understand the origin of the mythological fables of Greek antiquity,” thoughtfully remarked the Colonel, “the tales about the pipes of Pan, his pipe of seven reeds, the Fauns, the Satyrs, and even the lyre of Orpheus himself… I know that the ancient Greeks knew little of harmony and the rhythmical declamation of their dramas – which probably never reached the heights of even the simplest of modern recitals, sustained as they were by only a feeble lyre and the pipes of Pan – could hardly have suggested to them the idea of the all-enchanting lyre of Orpheus. I feel strongly inclined to the opinion of many of our well-known philologists and scholars. I suspect that Orpheus, whose very name , i.e., dark-skinned, suggests that even among the tawny-complexioned Greeks he must have been even darker, was an immigrant from India. This was the view of Lemprière and of several others…”
“Some day your suspicion may become a certainty. There is not the slightest doubt that the purest and highest musical forms of antiquity belong to India. All our legends ascribe magical powers to music, which was a gift and a science sent to earth by gods. And while we ascribe all our arts in general to divine revelation, music stands at the head of all else. The invention of the vînâ, a kind of lute, belongs to Nârada, the son of Brahmâ. You will probably laugh at me if I tell you that our ancient upgâtri (singing priests), whose duty it was to officiate during the yajña (sacrifice), knew certain secrets of being so well that they were able to produce by means of certain combinations, and, mark well, without any trickery, phenomena which were regarded by the ignorant as manifestations of supernatural powers. The phenomena produced by the upgâtri and the Râja-yogins are perfectly natural to the initiated, however miraculous they may seem to the uninitiated.”
 [ H.P.B. uses here the untranslatable Russian term “gusli-samogudi,” a compound term which refers to a legendary zither, dulcimer or psaltery, which in Russian folklore plays without anyone touching it. – Boris de Zirkoff. ]
[ From a poem of Alexander S. Pushkin entitled Winter Evening, written in 1825. – Boris de Zirkoff. ]
 This variety of bamboo is constantly attacked by a certain small beetle, which rapidly bores large holes in the hollow trunk of the reed, and the wind is caught therein. (H.P.B.)
 Beating with a cane is called here by the people “European bakhshîsh” or “Bamboo bakhshîsh”; this latter expression is used all over Asia. (H.P.B.)
 Hari is one of the names of Siva, and Mahâdeva means great god. (H.P.B.)
 What a curious coincidence! Cui is the name of a famous musician from St. Petersburg; but neither animals nor people dance at his music. (H.P.B.)
[H.P.B. refers to César Antonovich Cui (1835-1918), Russian composer, son of a French officer who had been left behind in the retreat from Moscow in 1812. Beside his outstanding musical work, he was also a distinguished military engineer. – Boris de Zirkoff. ]
 All over India musical societies are being organized for the restoration of the ancient national music. One of these is the Gâyana-Samâja in Poona. (H.P.B.)
Râjâ Surendronâth Tagore is a doctor of music and has a number of decorations, among them being those of the King of Portugal and the Emperor of Austria, for his work entitled On the Music of the Âryans. (H.P.B.)
[Râjâ Sir Saurindra Mohana Tagore (or Thâkura) (1840-1914) was a younger brother of Mahârâja Sir Jotindra Mohana Tagore. He was educated at the Hindu College and at sixteen began the study of music, English and Bengalî. Founded in 1881, the Bengal Academy of Music. He collected books and published a number of works on music and musical instruments. He became a Doctor of Music at Oxford, 1896, receiving later many titles of honor and being knighted. – Boris de Zirkoff.]
 [James Bruce (1730-1794) was a Scottish explorer in Africa. Educated at Harrow and Edinburgh University; examination of Oriental MSS. at the Escurial led him to the study of Arabic and determined his future career. Appointed as British consul at Algiers, with a commission to study ancient ruins. After some years of travel in the Middle East and in Abyssinia, he reached in 1770 the long-sought source of the Blue Nile, and also traced its course to its confluence with incredulity concerning the story of his explorations, and soon retired to his home at Kinnaird. Published in 1790 his Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile in the Years 1768-73, in five octavo volumes, lavishly illustrated. The best edition of this work is the third of 1813. – Boris de Zirkoff. ]
In September 2016, after a careful analysis of the state of the esoteric movement worldwide, a group of students decided to form the Independent Lodge of Theosophists, whose priorities include the building of a better future in the different dimensions of life.
E-Theosophy e-group offers a regular study of the classic, intercultural theosophy taught by Helena P. Blavatsky (photo).
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