COLOUR MUSIC IN THE NEW AGE:
De-mystifying De Clario.
1: ORIENTAL ORIGINS
1: ORIENTAL ORIGINS
2: CLASSIC CODES - music
3: CLASSIC CODES - colour
4: PSYCHIC SCIENCE, MYSTIC MUSIC
5: GURUS ALL
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THE ALCHEMY OF COLOUR-MUSIC-CHAKRA.
From April to October in 1995, late at night in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art at Heide, Domenic De Clario presented seven events under the title "Sevenness: Sublunar". On the two evenings I attended, the weather was fine and the moon full. Coloured lights accented features of the garden as well as various banal objects scattered about - an old car, a television aerial, table lamps. Ambient music was broadcast from a concealed keyboard, where De Clario improvised for several hours. The key of the music and colour of the lighting were changed each night, as explained in the copious program notes supplied. By these means, De Clario hoped to progressively affect my consciousness.
The musical key of C was used on the first night, D on the second, and so on up the white notes of the piano. The seventh and final performance used the key of B, almost completing the octave. Likewise, the colours of the lighting progressed through the spectral sequence of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet, ending with white on the seventh night. A colour-music code was formed where sound and light were paralleled, starting at their lower frequencies (with longest wavelengths) and moving each night to higher frequencies (of shorter wavelength). De Clario supposed the combination of their vibrations to have 'portal' effects on the human body. Seven specific points - the chakras - were targeted, starting at the coccyx on the first night, and moving up the spine to the crown of the head. This pathway through the body, familiar from kundalini yoga, is associated with increasing consciousness. Quoting writings that supported a relationship of colour-music-chakra, De Clario presented "Sevenness: Sublunar" as a way to enlightenment.
The literary sources De Clario used in the creation of "Sevenness: Sublunar", are succinctly described in Ruth Prawar Jhabvala's "Shards of Memory":
"...published by a press specializing in books of an occult nature and distributed by them through their own catalogues and through bookstores dealing with a mixture of mystical, mythical, theosophical, astrological, as well as classic theological and philosophical texts. These bookshops were usually small, quaint, overstocked, smelling of incense, and tucked away in unexpected corners; but they had their counterparts in many countries - though only in highly developed ones..."
In Australia, this trade is booming and the outlets are by no means so small and quaint - every suburban shopping strip seems to have a store marketing occult wares, to which the epithet 'New Age' might apply. In our liberal climate of disputed values and contending creeds, alternative religions have sprouted like hothouse flowers. A magpie collection of exotic and obscure beliefs is contained in the one loose but all-inclusive embrace of the New Age movement: the proliferation of bookshops, crystal suppliers, and alternative therapists is testimony to the considerable spending power of Australia's New Agers, who have created their own demand for unctions of the body and soul. Heide presented "Sevenness: Sublunar" as one more product in this spiritual supermarket where shoppers for enlightenment, inner peace and self-realisation can find the belief-systems and workshops to accommodate them.
While browsing in New Age bookshops, I have found that texts extolling music and colour, as aids to well-being, are enjoying special vogue. Evidently, De Clario's work originated in this subculture where different creeds abound. The texts variously invoke Greek philosophy, particle physics, the teachings of gurus or guidance from the spirit world in support of their claims. Many manuals on kundalini yoga - colour-coded chakras included - were on offer. Amongst these were imported texts that put aside the straightforward spectral colours and coded the chakras with more exotic hues: blacks, greys and purples were included, then modified by effects of luminescence, clarity and smokiness. The last suggests auspicious smoke from sacrificial fires, lit by Brahmins to honour the gods. In the Rig Veda, the oldest religious text of all, the fire god Agni is present among flames, bannered with smoke. Occasionally, authentic Tantric meditations place a smoky colour at a chakra, or other sacred site on the body.
Australian products on the market often use simple colour-codes, seeming to prefer the traditional rainbow - red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet (or ROY G BIV for short). This nomenclature originated with Sir Isaac Newton in the 18th century, who was the first to fully describe the artificial rainbow of the spectrum. Cutting it into seven sections to mirror the seven notes of a musical scale, he created the acronym ROY G BIV, which gained wide acceptance as a description of pure colour. As if by stealth, this colour-music code has permeated the cultures of the English-speaking world. Even Indian scientists have claimed to find evidence for Newton's spectral colours in the Vedas; in one reputable journal they were applied to seven horses that drew the chariot of Surya, the sun god. In fact, the Vedas are seldom so particular in the use of colour terms, and said horses appear to be mostly bright or clear, of yellow to light red.
Distinctly Western sciences, of optics and music, were merged with Eastern religious disciplines in one exceptional work - the 1927 tract on "The Chakras", by C W Leadbeater. He was one of the first to conjoin chakras, colour, and music, by using a most insidious method. In a poor parody of Newtonian optics, Leadbeater redefined prana - life force and vital breath - as a kind of white light, composed of seven globules or atoms, coloured rose, dark red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. The vital force was broken into its globules at the spleen, - a 'chakra' of Leadbeater's own invention - as if it were passing through a prism. Thence, colours were distributed to the appropriate chakras. Their torturous paths through the body resulted in divergences from the straight up-and-down spectrum of De Clario. Though Leadbeater's colours were close enough to ROYGBIV, the chakras formed a spectral sequence only from the neck up. Below it, yellow and green were transposed, to occupy heart and navel respectively. The red of the base chakra contained orange, brown and purple, as colours became mixed internally. And the unusual rose chakra, equivalent to De Clario's orange, was repositioned at the level of the navel, if not higher.
Illustration 1 : THE COLOURED RAYS OF THEOSOPHY.
In 1927, the Rev. Leadbeater reinterpreted Tantric yoga in his book of "The Chakras". Vital force was drawn from a higher world, to enter the body at the spleen. From there, a rose-red ray spread throughout the whole body, traveling along the nerves. Other rays coursed through the body in streams of colour, to lodge in the remaining six chakras. These were vortices of energy that, according to Leadbeater, were connected to nerves and bones. The life force flowed between the chakras and higher planes of awareness, connecting body, brain, and various subtle bodies. Chakras manifested on an etheric body, made of rare matter, that surrounded and interpenetrated the body of flesh. In colours were more spiritual than spectral, they were visible realities to any clairvoyant. For Indian yogis, the chakras were mental images, constructed in the course of meditation: according to Leadbeater, the ancient Egyptians, European mystics, and Freemasons were also aware of the chakras of kundalini yoga. So, apparently, are New Age believers, as illustrated by De Clario's version at the top of the page.
Leadbeater outlined the meaning of colours in "Thought Forms", co-authored in 1901 with Annie Besant. They postulated that thoughts, by their vibrations, formed shapes on the mental or astral planes. A chart of 25 swatches identified the emotions that coloured thought forms - blues usually denoted religious sentiment, bright yellows were intellectual, and reds often stood for the negative emotions of anger and avarice. When Leadbeater eventually applied colours to the chakras, they followed a similar heirarchy of emotions. It was a novel idea, and he quoted Madame Blavatsky, a founder of the Theosophical Society, in support of the new arrangement. She had apparently coded her Principles of Man according to the colours ROY G BIV. Red, the lower seat of animal life, evolved into the violet of the subtle body, or Etheric Double. The change was paralleled in states of matter, when ice melted into water, evaporated as vapour, and disappeared through air into ether. But elsewhere Blavatsky scoffed at science for dividing the spectrum into seven colours, "for every one knows there are in fact and nature, but one - the colourless white".
Relying on his own experience, the reports of sages, and comparative studies by unnamed Westerners, Leadbeater examined the appearance of the chakras in detail. The simple coloured ray that entered each was mixed with others - green at the navel, for example, was shot through with red. They formed mandalas, with radiating patterns like spokes of a wheel. Leadbeater acknowledged that yogis have equally complex visions. They might use elaborate imagery, where lotus flowers of white and red, or even blue, are favoured motifs. Their petals could number between two and many millions, sometimes with letters or prayers written on each. Different gods and their retinues can occupy the various chakras, along with their powers and attributes. The heart chakra of India is sometimes gold, like Leadbeater's, but more often emits a fiery red like the rising sun. In many Tantric texts, the chakras are incompletely coloured, if at all. Nor do any colours follow a logical sequence, let alone the spectrum.
Leadbeater's sojourns in India lent his account credibility, but he betrayed his Western approach by rationalizing the colours. He noted purple in the base chakra, as well as red and orange, "as though the spectrum bent round in a circle and the colours began over again at a lower octave". He could be paraphrasing Isaac Newton, who provided just such a circle in 1704. The colour gamut ran round the rim of Newton's disk, its red and violet ends joining in a non-spectral purple. He divided ROY G BIV like notes of a musical octave, so a complete circuit would indeed take one to the next octave, where the colours began again. For Newton, however, the spectrum was a physical reality, while only a clairvoyant could see the supernatural colours of Leadbeater's vital forces. As with many modern colour descriptions, Newton's indigo was jettisoned: Leadbeater replaced it with rose, while De Clario added white at the crown chakra, for a full complement of seven colours. Leadbeater was careful to explain that indigo was divided between the blue and violet rays. Both rose up from the light blue throat chakra. Their darker parts marked the brow a dark blue (equivalent to indigo), from whence the violet ascended further, to the crown chakra. Thus the two blues accommodated a Newtonian approach, as practised by traditional Theosophists. When the poet, W B Yeats, dared meddle with standard procedures, he was thrown out of the Society:
"Every organ of the body had its correspondence in the heavens, and the seven principles which made the human soul and body corresponded to the seven colours and the planets and the notes of the musical scale...Among the symbols of one of the seven principles was indigo, extracted from the plant in some particular way. I got with some trouble a bottle of this indigo and got various members to try experiments, fixing their minds upon the bottle and then to drift..."
When Leadbeater moved to Australia in 1915, he found fertile ground for the promotion of occult ideas. Very soon, Sydney became an international centre of Theosophy, rivalled only by the Society's establishments in India and Holland. Intellectuals, feminists, and artists, as well as spiritualists, joined the movement. The Manor, Leadbeater's residence in the Sydney suburb of Mosman, became "the greatest of occult forcing houses", and it was there that he trained future presidents of the Society. In 1924, he built a large amphitheatre on the foreshore at Balmoral Beach, to herald the arrival of Krishnamurti - the press hoped the new World Teacher would come walking across the waves. In 1927, "The Chakras" emerged as a statement on behalf of the Society, whose international influence ensured continuing pre-eminence for Leadbeater's colour-coded chakras. The book has sold more copies than any other Theosophical publication, and its importance to Australia is indicated by the fact that a first edition was locally printed.
Other experimenters were less concerned with occult relationships. A more scientific approach marked colour music events held in Sydney, around the time of the First World War. Alexander Hector demonstrated his colour organ at home, and held public recitals in the town hall. Brilliant electric lights flooded a carefully arranged set, with colours that fluctuated as music played. In 1919, the "Colour in Art" exhibition promoted the colour-music paintings of Roy De Maistre and Roland Wakelin. The artists theorized a colour-music code, as did Hector, where the rainbow colours were sequentially assigned to notes of a musical scale. De Maistre acknowledged that colour was, for some, "the spiritual speech of every living thing" - an idea that found resonance in the vital forces and coloured chakras of Theosophy. Though the mediums may differ, the various systems still bore a family resemblance. The more recent three-way code of De Clario's "Sevenness: Sublunar" simply supplied a more overt statement of the marriage of colour, music and spirituality.
In "Theosophia Practica", Georg Gichtel provided a general illustration of an Hermetic tradition. Certain ancient texts, concerning spiritual realities beyond normal experience, had proved pivotal to Renaissance humanism. They represented Graeco-Roman reverence for Egyptian wisdom, and contained tracts both popular - on alchemy and astrology - and learned - on divine revelation and redemption. Cosimo d'Medici mistakenly believed their author to be Hermes Trismegistus (aka the god Thoth, and acknowledged by St Augustine as an Egyptian magus): he ordered Marsilo Ficino to put aside Plato and translate the newly acquired Hermetic texts instead. They contained a creation myth, as described to Hermes by his teacher Poimandres, and employed the metaphor of a symbolic cosmos. Man was created by the supreme Mind, or Nous, and received the qualities of the seven planets to govern his destiny on earth. The Fall of Man was accomplished by his descent into the dark, material realm, subject to the powers of nature and governed by a destiny written in the stars. To escape the mortal coil, man had to "break through the circumference of the spheres". Only by recognizing that part of the divine Nous that each person contained, could fate be changed, suffering avoided and the immortal soul released.
Illustration 2 : "THE MAN OF DARKNESS (Infernal State)",|
from Georg Gichtel's "Theosophia Practica", c1690.
Georg Gichtel, a mystic and spiritual alchemist, located seven centres on the human torso (left). At first sight, they resemble the arrangement of chakras (right), and C W Leadbeater used Gichtel's diagram to justify his own setup. Despite appearances, the path of kundalini yoga is not outlined by Gichtel's illustration. Instead of chakras, the planetary system, from the moon to Saturn, was mapped upon the body. This is man the microcosm, containing within himself the greater macrocosm of the universe. The sun, the source of light, was placed at the heart, and connected by a spiral through all the planets to the moon. This, however, is not the solar system recently described by Copernicus, Kepler, and Newton. Instead, the outmoded Ptolemaic order was followed - a vertical sequence of heavenly bodies, in their supposed orbits above a stationary earth. Next to the figure, Gichtel listed some bodily organs - heart, liver, lungs and bladder - with a corresponding list of the four elements - fire, water, earth and air.
Gichtel's drawing has a physiological flavour, in the manner of medical diagrams of the day. He added a moral dimension, too, with labels for the sins of pride, envy, avarice and so on. This is man in his fallen state, trapped in darkness and in matter. To regain his original purity, he must regenerate, by perfecting the inner man. The divine wisdom could be perceived through power of will, when tempered by the fire of the soul. To show the desired outcome, Gichtel supplied further drawings of Regenerated man. The planets were gone, since "it is not good to be an Adept if you have not inwardly overcome the astral turbulence". The world of darkness shrunk to a circle centred on the groin, and five sacred sites rose above it. Where the sun once stood, light streamed forth from "our mercy-seat Jesus in the heart's heaven". Gichtel supplied a back view of the same figure, but it too reveals no planets (or other seven-fold division) that would suggest the chakras.
Closer to home, Gichtel was a follower of the Lutheran, Jacob Boehme, whose visionary writings he published and illustrated. In them, he discovered the seven traditional planets signified the forms or aspects of Nature, and that "the powers of heaven ever operate in images, growths and colours, in order to reveal the holy God". Black was not a colour, but the abode of all things in the abyss, and only the language of Nature could penetrate its veil of darkness. The real colours were blue, red, green, and yellow - a fairly conventional set - but a fifth colour, white, "belongs to God". It was the colour of a certain stone that resisted fire, which was compared to a fifth element, the Quintessence. This was the Philosophers' Stone, the goal of alchemy, which turned lead to gold and granted immortality. To describe his mystical experiences, Boehme borrowed the terminology of Paracelsus, a famed physician and alchemist of the 16th century. However, his purpose were otherworldly, a spiritual alchemy which led Gichtel to remark, "Our experience surpasses the philosopher's stone by far."
Boehme's obscure metaphysics might be summarized in seven simultaneous steps, whereby matter was raised from the abyss, and brought into a god-like state. Violent oppositions (analogous to the tastes sour, sweet, and bitter) characterized the first three stages. Equilibrium was struck in the middle, at the fire source. Its central heat was the Son, the heart of the Father, who was likened to the sun among the planets. A marriage of opposites took place here, in the hermetically sealed vessel of the heart. Its light was the fountain of nature, from which all sensual qualities sprung (including colour and sound). Above it, matter was sublimated in the paradisiacal realm of Love. The sixth stage belonged to Logos, the word and breath of God, and the eternal beginning of all things. Here, the signatures of forms emanated from Marcurius (the planet and god Mercury) by vibrations of sound - like the resonances of bells and lutes. In the final stage, the realm of Sophia or wisdom, all the signatures sounded in harmony to create the signature of divinity itself. Boehme glorified matter that was progressively transformed, until the divine will recognized itself in materialized form. Matter was neither transcended nor dismissed as an illusion, as in Oriental philosophies. On looking to the East for inspiration, the Theosophists had turned away from Boehme. Yet the trappings of Western materialism clung to them still, and their chakras were connected to glands and nerves. As receptors for globules of vital force, they were tuned (like transformers) to vibrations from different levels of consciousness.
The chakra (literally, 'wheel') was once an iron discus, used as a weapon in ancient India. Chakra symbolism is woven into myth and folklore and depictions of minor deities often show a chakra held in one of their many hands. It is often an attribute of Krishna, an aspect of his divine intelligence. In metaphysics, chakras take on an abstract significance, that depends on the ritual context as much as specific interpretations, provided by the guru for an acolyte. In yoga, chakras are esoteric structures, the main ones numbering four or more, to provide foci for the varying rites of meditation. They travelled as part of Tantric practices, as far as China. In Tibet, consciousness is refined in a downward path - starting from the head, rather than bottom up - and Vajrayana Buddhism acknowledges at least four main 'channel wheels', at head, throat, heart, and navel. Six or seven chakras are part of common practice, though the system of Goraksa Natha enumerated 26 of them in sequence. Yoga may include other acts, with or without the chakras, such as controlled breathing, chanting mantras, or visualizing yantras and mandalas. One esoteric technique requires meditation on the body as a Shiva lingam, while the simplest form of devotion is the Ajapa mantra, dedicated to the sun and the moon. We all practice it 21,600 times every day, in the act of breathing in and out.
The practise of the yogi requires expertise and dedication, and certain understanding of bodily controls that suspend the breath and slow the heartbeat. The highly refined techniques of kundalini meditation borrow from the rich tradition of Hathayoga, with its centuries of accumulated significance. It is said to have immense benefits for mental and physical health: a best result promises a permanent state marked by liberated powers and wonderful visions. Vedic upanishads and Forest Texts had described apparitions of stars, crystals and other beauties, as a sure sign one is on the right path to knowledge of Brahmin. The possibility of such outcomes has attracted millions worldwide to the practice of yoga. Meanwhile, scholars dissect the language of the Vedas, to rediscover any hallucinations caused by drinking soma juice. The brainwaves of meditating monks are plotted, and the coloured shapes they perceive are compared to the photisms that synaesthetes see. More casual users have grafted colours and notes to the chakras, as a facsimile of Eastern yoga. Colour-music-chakra codes are, at best, a matter of convenience and an aide-memoire.
To appropriate the chakra for Western use dislocates it from its native soil; joining it to disparate and alien Western science and music is bizarre. After all, the East has its own traditions - the Samaveda had defined a seven-note scale by 800 BC. Some time between the 2nd century BC and AD 200, Bharata's "Natya-sastra" had outlined a system uniting music to Tantric metaphysics and physiology. Sound was said to rise through the body to the heart where it became gross enough to detect. Here at the fourth chakra, the vibration of 22 fibres created 22 sruti, the smallest divisions of the octave. First in the chest, then rising through the throat to the head, sound resonated in the main body cavities familiar to singers. Bharata organized the sruti into melodic modes, of five, six, or seven notes, which "should be applied in the song with dance movements and gestures suitable to them".
Illustration 3 : VASANT RAGINI, ragamala miniature, Rajasthan, c1770.
The ragas are melodic modes of classical Indian music, named from the Sanskrit word ranga, meaning colour. The medieval writer Matanga, in the "Brihaddeshi", described them as "colorful or delightful to the minds of the people". They were differentiated by their moods, as much as their structures, and the ragas gained separate identities in transmission from teacher to student. Musicians of early medieval times would pray, to invoke the presiding deity or saint of a melody. Vasant ragini usually showed Krishna, the Lord of the Dance, celebrating the arrival of spring. It is the time of the Holi festival, still celebrated today, when crowds gather to throw brightly coloured powders over anything that moves. Krishna, it is said, had once reduced his cowgirls to tears by showering them with such colours. The god's antics are commemorated during Holi by special songs, in the fourteen-beat Dhamar style, while flute, drum and cymbals accompany his dance in this ragamala painting.
Dance was the central subject of Bharata's "Natya-sastra", and it covered virtually every aspect of stagecraft. As well as dance steps, makeup, and stage design, music was described in several chapters. Bharata's theories were so important that later texts deferred to them, no matter what the artform. A 7th century treatise on painting, in the third part of the "Vishnudharmottara", began with the assertion that "without a knowledge of the art of dancing, the rules of painting are very difficult to be understood". The rules of dance depended in turn on the rules of music and, ultimately, on those of singing. Dedication and purity of approach were as necessary to a great painter, as to a dancer or musician, so his art should be alive with rhythm and expression. The vital force was evident in painted "waves, flames, smoke and streamers fluttering in the air", as much as in delineation of the human figure. The best of painting styles was that "of the lute player", rich in gestures, but avoiding excess, and strictly proportioned. The mood of a piece was rendered within formally defined rasas. An abstraction of the emotional content, rasa gave the connoisseur a transcendental joy. It resulted from the sum of fleeting emotions in a situation, the way they are revealed, and the circumstances that allowed them.
Bharata listed eight rasas, each of them colour-coded and provided with a resident deity. Their colours were as follows - the erotic was light green, humour was white, pathos was grey, anger red, valour was pale yellow or orange, fear black, the wonderful was yellow, and the repulsive was blue. One treatise, the "Silparatna", defined pictures of the rasas as a distinct genre, painted in the designated colour, and quite different from works that reflected nature like a mirror. The "Vishnudharmottara" added a ninth rasa, the peaceful, and recommended suitable subjects for each rasa. Renderings of hunchbacks and dwarves, for example, expressed the humorous sentiment, and only humorous, erotic, and peaceful pictures should be hung in residences. No specific colours were assigned, but otherwise the "Vishnudharmottara" quoted directly from the "Natya-sastra", to recommend more useful paints. Five principle colours - such as white, red, yellow, black and green - could be mixed to produce innumerable others.
Colours were matched to notes of the musical scale in "Sangita Ratnakara", a musicological landmark of the 13th century. Its author, Sarangadeva, gave red, pale yellow, gold, white, black, yellow, and a variegated colour, to seven notes rising in an octave. (Several authors agreed with the colours sequence, though the second note could be given tawny, or 'parrot' colour, rather than cream.) The set is not complete - blue and green are missing - and it follows no logical order of colours or shades. Sarangadeva also attributed rasas to his coloured notes, often two or three at a time. His first and second notes could both evoke valour, wonder, and fear. But the colours Bharata would give their rasas - yellows and black - would be no match for Sarangadeva's first note - a shining red lotus. Some degree of mismatch is found between the colour of each note and that of its rasa, though I doubt a tidy comparison was intended. Just as note colours do not compare to rasa colours, neither do they follow any progression of coloured chakras that I have seen.
Saringadeva sought the origin of sound in the human body, partly because he came from a family of doctors, skilled in Ayurvedic medicine. Many musical ideas in his "Sangita Ratnakara" were given a physiological basis. For example, he agreed with the old notion that 22 was the maximum number of sounds the body could discern and articulate. Thus, the musical octave was divided into no more than 22 sruti. Other aspects of his book were influenced by the Tantrism of his native Kashmir, where kundalini yoga was practiced in the worship of Shiva. Saringadeva listed ten chakras, adding three (between throat and crown) to the usual seven. From the navel down, the powers of the physical body evolved. Above them, chakras were connected to the subtle body, which survived death, and was reincarnated at the next birth. The primordial sound, or nada, rose from the heart, doubling in pitch at the throat, and again in the head, so 22 sruti were created in each of three successive octaves. Nada was the cause of all things, and it created the elements according to Tantric beliefs. Its internal air and energy were the source of speech, and considered the essence of music since the 9th century. A yogi, in a purified state, could hear nada as the Anahata sound - a kind of background noise to nature. It was symbolized as Aum, the first syllable of Vedic chants and mantras, used to worship Shiva enthroned in the heart.
Saringadeva described the heart (or Anahata chakra) as a lotus, where musical proficiency was gained on some of its petals, though others destroyed it. The seven notes and seven syllables were to be meditated on at the throat, though the most excellent music was attained only at the crown chakra. All his chakras were lotuses, of four to a thousand petals, inscribed with letters to give the mantras to be chanted. They had many colour elements but (unfortunately for the colour-music analogy) Saringadeva decided not to go into details. In another work, "Brahmagranthi", he apparently gave locations in the body for seven notes, placing them roughly near the main chakras. His 13th-century schemes are a faint, fragmentary prefigurement of De Clario's colour-music-chakra code; he gave nothing so clearly defined as a spectrum, however, to climb the scale or ascend the kundalini path. Instead, like other Indian writers, Saringadeva relished the symbolic play of associations, to expand the meaning of music rather than confine it within definitions.
Within a hundred years, notes as well as ragas would take on the identity of gods, shapes, stars, and days of the week. The Jain scholar, Vacanacarya Sri Sudhakalasa, noted there were 16,000 ragas - as many as there were species of creatures. In "Sangitopanisat-saroddhara" of 1350, he isolated six of them as 'princes'. Sri raga, for example, was fair, with four faces and eight arms, and rode a swan. Each of the prince ragas had six consorts, or bhasas (later called raginis), distinguished by their clothes, their complexions, and a typical animal. They might be light or dark, with skin like a cloud or smoke, or shining like coral or gold; their garments were of yellow, red, blues or black. From the 15th to 19th centuries, patrons commissioned artists to tell their stories, in albums of paintings called ragamalas - 'garlands of musical modes'. Gods, saints, and ordinary people were shown in settings appropriate to the season and hour, best suited to the raga or ragini. The themes of ragamalas were often standardized, and described in verses attached to the paintings. The exquisite miniatures became vehicles for heightened poetic sentiments, though there is no evidence of colours determined by rasas, or notes. Nor could Klaus Ebeling, in his "Ragamala Painting", find geometrical or numerical patterns, to represent the structure of the music depicted.
Indian musical theories had become more complex and precise, perhaps too sophisticated for simple analogies of colour to note and mood. Music in the south took a mathematical direction in the 17th century, and abstract mela ragas were distinguished from musical ones. 72 melakartas were built on theoretical scales of seven notes, to form the basis of modern Carnatic music. A number of scales was also determined, that divided the octave into twelve or fourteen tones. The latter was simply a mathematical exercise, but the former was a practical method of tuning. It has some similarity to the Western octave, of twelve semitones, from which a scale of seven notes can be chosen. But "The Encyclopaedia of Indian Music" sees the resemblance as superficial, decrying the 12 equal intervals of the European tempered scale:
"The division cannot reproduce real music or give any idea of the minute differences of scale which distinguish the Indian ragas one from another."
Illustration 4 : TODI RAGINI, North India, late 18th century.
The Todi ragini (or Subha Panthuvarali in Carnatic nomenclature) is an early morning raga. All creatures are enchanted by its tender, loving melody when the lady plays it on her veena - a stringed instrument with gourd resonators. The raga was originally said to be a song of village girls, used to distract wild deer from feeding on the ripening fields.
The raga, described as a musical continuum to which the ideas of tune and scales only approximately apply, often employs a modal scale with different ascending and descending forms, as well as the flexible interval. In some cases the scale might be further reduced to the five or six intervals common in some regional traditions, such as the music of the Sherpas. The "Encyclopaedia" sees the only connection between the Indian and European musical traditions as lying in the distant past, in the racial link between the Aryans and the Greeks; the Indian system is supposed to have retained something of the original purity of the ancient styles but the West is seen to be in sad decline:
"European music is poorer than any other form of the art in variety of modes and intonation. At the birth of European music, the modes were reduced to two because the old Greek modes were forgotten and none knew how they should be harmonized. Musicians were clamouring for keyed instruments which were easy to play upon, and the public for music which was easy to understand, and which popular congregations could sing without special training."
Such chauvinism is understandable in the light of India's colonial past, as an attempt to maintain cultural integrity and even superiority in the face of Western domination. But it must be remembered that a chief purpose of our two modalities, major and minor, was to enable harmonies to be created. European music is unique, in simultaneously combining several melodies at different pitches. The transition, from old modes to the modern style, was long and difficult, with results as rich and rewarding as the linear and melodic music of India, China, and countries of the Middle East. In spite of all differences, cross-fertilization will occur, and many Westerners maintain a deep and abiding interest in Oriental cultures. Annie Besant, as president of the Theosophical Society, strove to protect what remained of local Hindu and Buddhist beliefs; she established the Central Hindu College at Varenasi, and campaigned for Indian home rule from 1916 until her death in 1933. Still, cavalier borrowing of Indian traditions of mysticism, so much in vogue in the West, could be interpreted as further acts of imperialism, squeezing the last drops of booty from the luckless subcontinent. Leadbeater's use of the chakras might be seen as tantamount to spiritual looting and his occult practices as a sacrilegious parody of Hindu beliefs.
When Buddhism entered Tibet from India, in the 7th century, followers of the local Bon religion set themselves a little apart. They traced descent from Tönpa Shenrab Miwoche, an enlightened being who predated the Gautama Buddha of India. He lived at the centre of the world, in the mysterious kingdom of Shambhala, over 18,000 years ago. By locating their origins a great distance away, in time and space, Bon people maintained a distinct identity within the Buddhist mainstream. In Christian Europe, Theosophists marked their presence in similar ways, claiming contact with exotic mystics who dwelt in caves in the Himalayas. Tibetan or Hindu wise men supposedly revealed their eternal truths to Madame Blavatsky and Alfred Percy Sinnet, by communicating on a psychic plane. In the West, the idea of a secret organization of enlightened masters originated with Karl von Eckartshausen. He wrote, in the late 18th century, of an 'invisible church' of adepts, both living and dead, who were devoted to the spiritual guidance of the human race. Leadbeater called them 'The Great White Brotherhood', while Alice Bailey, writing in the United States, knew them as the Seven Rays. Bailey gave names and geographical locations for seven adepts, and extended their powers over all of creation; a planet, a precious stone, a chakra, and a spectral colour became the special province of each.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, the number five takes precedence over seven: five senses, five colours, the head and four limbs, four compass points plus the centre, and so on, are all assigned to five Dhyani Buddhas. Revered from India to Japan, their colours are usually white, yellow, red, green and blue. They appear during the extremely advanced and difficult practice of dzogchen, focused on the moment between death and rebirth. Adepts can then assume a rainbow body, as visions of the five colours appear, accompanied by spontaneous sounds like thunder or echoes in the mountains. (Bon legends tell of the five elements melting away as the earthly body is cast aside, leaving only hair, nails, and clothing behind.) The same five Buddhas, and their colours, are incorporated in Kalachakra ceremonies, though another in black is often included. With coloured powders, monks draw a temporary mandala of the symbolic world, containing cycles of time and enlightenment. Attempts to modify these legitimate rituals are repugnant to purists: as heirs to an orientalizing theosophy, New Age ventures seem impoverished in structure, detail, and meaning. "Sevenness: Sublunar" appears a mechanism for enlightenment-made-easy. Compared to highly-evolved Eastern rituals, it replaced both mantra and mandala with a simplistic sound-and-light show. In particular, Tibetan Buddhist practices - once available only to initiates - are distorted by illegitimate Western use. The Dali Lama was recently compelled to visit Australia, hoping to salvage the Kalachakra meditation:
"It has already become an open secret with many misconceptions, and it is my responsibility to correct them. A profound explanation should be made available...because the severe misunderstandings that can arise are more harmful than a partial lifting of secrecy..."
Generally, the leaders of major religions, both eastern and western, look askance at such amalgams. The limits of orthodox beliefs and practices are more or less actively policed - Russian Orthodox priests in the 19th century had accused yogis (as well as Sufis) of plagiarism, of distorting the `heart method' of interior prayer which was part of their Hesychastic tradition. Even the last Pope belittled Buddhism as a mere philosophy, not a true religion (ensuring him a chilly reception from the monkish hierarchy on a trip to Sri Lanka). De Clario's subsequent crusade to locate "Sevenness: Sublunar" within a mainstream Christianity seemed doomed. At best, he might attract fringe dwellers and bottom feeders, hoping for some unforeseen result from the alchemy of colour-music-chakra. His hybrid theosophy fits more readily within the New Age framework. Administered in prescribed doses to passive audiences, it promised well-being and self-improvement on demand. Vague reference to bogus yoga and shonky science are enough to justify nebulous and unsubstantiated interpretations of many matters - personal, cultural or mystical. Some, such as the Cambridge philosopher Don Cupitt, see a more positive value in seeking faith abroad. He advocates, among other things, stealing attractive bits and pieces from other religions to compile a personalized, poetic theology. Describing himself as a Christian non-realist, Cupitt has attempted to justify the tendency for religious borrowing by the West:
"...everything nowadays is beginning to float on a global free market - not only money and prices, but also linguistic meanings, religious truths, and moral and aesthetic values."