There is a limited amount of scientific literature on the idea behind Indian classical music as a healing therapy. Its position in the genre of healing through music, though proven through the ages, has not been researched and applied as thoroughly and on the scale that it ought to have been. Every parent knows that soothing tones and sounds pacify even the most irritable of babies. Therefore, the primary proof of the efficacy of music or Raga therapy is the lullabies we sing to infants and toddlers. This is later heightened into Raga therapy for more mature perceptions of adults and adolescents. Practitioners of music therapy have living proof of the effectiveness of music in therapeutic applications on a daily basis. They treat conditions like stroke, brain injury, depression, autism, Alzheimer’s disease and many others.
The therapeutic effect of ragas in Hindustani and Carnatic classical music is a time-tested one, described in the ancient system of Nada Yoga. It channelizes vibrations emanating from sounds to uplift the level of the patient’s consciousness. Raga Chikitsa, an ancient manuscript in Tanjore’s Saraswati Mahal Library built by Raja Serfoji, a Maratha king, contains a treasure on ragas and spells out their application and use in fighting common ailments and diseases.
How does the system of Raga therapy actually work? A Raga is the sequence of selected notes (swaras) that lend appropriate ‘mood’ or emotion in a selective combination. It’s a yoga system through the medium of sonorous sounds. Depending on its nature, a raga could induce or intensify joy or sorrow, violence or peace, and it is this quality which forms the basis for musical application. Thus, a whole range of emotions and their nuances could be captured and communicated within certain melodies. Playing, performing and even listening to appropriate ragas can work as a medicine.
To be rendered effective, Ragas are used in a combination with Ayurveda, the ancient science of Vedic healing. A Raga must be played or sung to a patient keeping in mind his/her physical nature of vata, pitta or kapha. The time assigned to the Raga during the day or night is also important. Moreover, it is to be seen whether the time of the day or night is naturally suited to vata, pitta and kapha.
Let’s take an example. Early morning is the natural kapha time for Ayurveda. A kapha-type person should be treated to an early morning Raga like Bhairav, to cure physical imbalances. The later part of the morning and afternoon is pitta time. Raga Bilawal can be used during these hours to treat patients. Late afternoon and evening is vata time, when Raga Pooriya Dhanashri and Marwa can be used as a cure. It is very important, however, that the Ayurvedic constitution of the patient be kept in mind – as to whether he or she is a vata, pitta or kapha person.
The people at the core of this treatment would be the music therapist, the client, the clinical facility whether at home or in a hospital, and music providers. Music therapists interact with their clients and the use of music. They assess their clients and create a clinical plan for treatment in coordination with the team and client goals. This is what determines the course of clinical sessions. A music therapist works within a client-centered, goal-directed framework.