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Mahatma Gandhi - A unique musician
By Dr. Namrata Mishra*
We all know him as 'Mahatma', a Seeker after truth and a humble explorer of the science of non-violence, as a saint, a barrister, a freedom fighter and of course, a divine soul having larger concerns for society, country and indeed, humanity. With globalization penetrating every sphere of life, Gandhi has become a global icon. Gandhi wrote a lot on the specific issues and problems he encountered. There is no department of life, which he left untouched. He was a thinker, synthesizer, creative genius, and Karmayogi in the true sense of the terms. Very few people know that Gandhi was extremely fond of Music and arts. Most of us have been all along under the impression that he was against all arts such as music. In fact, he was a great lover of music, though his philosophy of music was different. In his own words -
“Music does not proceed from the throat alone. There is music of mind, of the senses and of the heart.
Someone once asked the Mahatma“Mahatmaji don’t you have any liking for music?”
Gandhi replied, “If there was no music and no laughter in me, I would have died of this crushing burden of my work.”
In his letter to Ravindranath Tagore, written on December 22, 1945, he had suggested to the latter to give both Hindustani music as well as Western music their due place at Shantiniketan along with Bengali music. It shows that he had a good knowledge of different streams of music.
His idea of music was also connected to spirituality. In this context he wrote a letter to Pt. Narayan Moreshwar Khare (The Music Teacher in the Satyagraha Ashram, Sabarmati) on October 7, 1924. “I have gradually come to look upon music as a means of spiritual development. Please try your best to see that all of us sing our “Bhajans” with a correct understanding of the sense. I cannot describe the joy I feel: Music is a constructive activity, which uplifts the soul. He always tried to revive this art and patronize the school of music. At Ahmedabad, in his address to Young India, on april 15, 1926 he had stated, “If we use a broad interpretation on music, i.e., if we mean by it union, concord, mutual help, it may be said that in no department of life we can dispense with it. So if many more people send their children to the music class it will be part of their contribution to national uplift.” According to Mahatma "In true music there is no place for communal differences and hostility. Music was a great example of national integration becaus only there we see Hindu and Muslim musicians sitting together and partaking in musical concerts. He often said, ""We shall consider music in a narrow sense to mean the ability to sing and play an instrument well, but, in its wider sense, true music is created only when life is attuned to a single tune and a single time beat. Music is born only where the strings of the heart are not out of tune." He stated that true music was implicit in Khadi and the spinning wheel. The experiment with music would be regarded as a successful one when the crores of people in the entire country will start speaking with the same voice. By the sound of his music, songs of freedom sprouted from the dead soils. The condemned were enlightened, and the enlightened ones saw in him the fulfillment of enlightenment. Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite ragas were Satya and Ahimsa. The 'Thaats' he used were Swadeshi and Khadi. His Vadi and Samvadi, Swaras were Brahmacharya and selflessness. Asatya and Himsa were Varjit Swaras. He never missed his Riyaz with 'Charkha'.
Mahatma Gandhi defined music as a sacred and powerful ancient art which has capacity to change and control emotions. In his speech at Second Gujarat Educational Conference at Broach, on Oct. 20, 1917, he said, “At times, we find restlessness in a large gathering. This can be arrested and calmed if all sing a national song. We have an example of the power of music in the fact that boatman and other labourers raise, in unison, the cry of Harahar and Allebeli and this helps them in their work. Music must get a place in our efforts at popular awakening.
He continued, “Music means rhythm, order. Its effect is electrical and soothing. But unfortunately, we have neglected music. It has never become nationalized in the modern sense. If I had any influence with volunteers by scouts and Seva Samiti organizations, I would make compulsory a proper singing in company of national songs. And to that end I should have great musicians attending every Congress or Conference and teaching mass music.
When Gandhi Ji was in South Africa he had started evening prayers in the Ashram. That collection of bhajans was published under the name - 'Nitivam Kavyo'. In Satyagraha Ashram, Sabarmati, he had added “Raamdhun” as the daily prayer. The musicians of the Ashram were Pt. N. M. Khare, Mama Fadke, Sri Vinoba and Balkoba Bhave etc., who were great Indian classical musicians. In his ashram Bhajnawali, there were nodiscriminations of religion, caste, creed, region, languages etc. It was like a beautiful bouquet of flowers of variegated colours, having various fragrances, and separate features - all in the same bouquet of love, humanity and faith.
From the above we come to know the fact that Mahatma Gandhi had a natural ear for good homely music. There was a great influence of music on his life. Melodious recitation of the hymns of Geeta, Ramayana etc., which he had heard in his childhood, left on him an impression which years did not obliterated or weaken.
In one of his conversations with the youth of India he has said -“Our whole life should be sweet and musical like a song. It goes without saying that life cannot be made like that without the practice of virtues such as truth, honesty etc. To make life musical means to make it one with God, to merge it in Him. He who has not rid himself of Raga and Dwesha, i.e. likes and dislikes, who has not tasted of the joy of service, cannot have any understanding of celestial music. A study of music, which does not take account of this deeper aspect of this divine art, has no value for me”.
Gandhi lived and died for peace and harmony in the world. The greatest book that Mahatma wrote was about his own life so that he could say boldly "My Life is my message." His whole life was full of rhythm and harmony. He had a habit of starting and ending his day with some melodious Bhajans for the symphonies he has left behind, that despite terrible violence, the earth is still a musical place to live. In the present era, when the Gandhian way appears to be the only way for human survival and development, this search of Gandhi's philosophy of art and music for the betterment of human life will be definitely relevant for both the scholars of music and Gandhian studies.

  1. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 83, pg. 410.
  2. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 82, pg. 250-251.
  3. Young India, 1.04.1926: The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 30, pg. 160.
  4. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 21, pg. 30.
  5. Young India, 8.9.1920, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 18, pg. 241-242. Speaking on Democracy 'Versus' Mobocracy.
  6. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 37, pg. 3. Navajivan from Gujarat
Courtesy: This article has been reproduced from the ISBN Publication - Gandhi in the New Millennium - Issues and Challenges' published by Khandwala Publishing House.

* Dr. Namrata Mishra is Sr. Asst. Prof of Vocal Music, R.C.A. Girls P. G. College, Mathura, U.P. Email: