Term Paper: Dante's Divine Comedy and Mehta's River Sutra

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Music: A Connection to the Divine

The written word can be thought of as the language that we use to describe our physical world, that which we see with our eyes and touch with our hands. However, music is the language for that which cannot be physically experienced. We use our ears to hear the notes and sounds, but music evokes emotion and responses that go beyond the five senses. We can describe the music in technical terms, but that is not to describe the music. That which we talk about using the language of music cannot be expressed with words.

The language used to describe the physical world cannot be used to describe that which exists beyond the world that we can see and touch. If this is true then we could say that the written and spoke word describe the foreseen and that music describes the unforeseen. This relationship between music and spirituality will be explored using two famous works. The first is from Western Culture, Dante's Paradise. The other is from Eastern culture, The River Sutra by Gita Mehta. Both of these works describe a spiritual journey into the unknown. Music is used to reference that which cannot be truly described using words alone. The following will support the thesis that music is used as a means to connect the reader to the spiritual world in these two works.

Dante and Signaling the Eternal

Dante uses music to announce a holy event of great importance. The appearance of The divine is often signaled by music. One might notice that it is never Dante himself who is singing or making music, although in the opening Canto he does refer to his work as his song. Song and music are used to signal the appearance of the divine. Dante uses the imagery of music sparingly. Only a few of the heavenly beings that he encounters are heralded by song.

Structurally, the appearance of music is carefully placed in such a way to give it an even greater meaning of importance. Paradise, like hell, is comprised of layers. Just as the layers in Hell become increasingly more evil, the three layers of heaven become more divine. One might notice that music is hardly mentioned in the first two Cantos, except when referring to his work as his song. When we examine the use of music in the remainder of the piece, this two may have been purposeful and an attempt to attach importance to the work itself.

The first mention of any significance involving music occurs in Canto III,

She ceas'd from further talk, and then began

Ave Maria' singing, and with that song

Vanish'd, as heavy substance through deep wave.

Mine eye, that far as it was capable,

Pursued her, when in dimness she was lost," (Paradiso, Canto III, Lines 411-415).

This reference of ethereal music accompanies a vision of the Virgin Mary. The song itself is a clue as to who the apparition is supposed to represent. This mention of the appearance of the Virgin Mary accompanied by song is brief, but it foreshadows future visions of heavenly beings.

In Canto XII we find a reference to song that reflects images found in Ezekiel I (17-21) where Ezekiel seese a vision of a wheel in the sky. Dante's Canto XII 1539-1546 seem to reflect this mysterious Bible passage.

Soon as its final word the blessed flame

Had rais'd for utterance, straight the holy mill

Began to wheel, nor yet had once revolv'd,

Or ere another, circling, compass'd it,

Motion to motion, song to song, conjoining,

Song, that as much our muses doth excel,

Our Sirens with their tuneful pipes, as ray

Of primal splendour doth its faint reflex." (Paradiso, Canto XII, 1539-1546).

The next mention of music or song of any significance other than passing occurd in Canto XIV. This time music is used to herald the appearance of Jesus Christ himself. Lines 1838 and 1939 tell the reader exactly who this entity is, "He, who lives ever, and for ever reigns. In mystic union of the Three in One." All of these phrases are typically used to refer to the holy trinity throughout Italian Renaissance Literature.

Each successive mention of music becomes more detailed. In this musical mention, we get more detail than the other two incidences. We get a description of the instruments used. In this passage we find a dulcimer and strings. The music is always described as sweet. In line 1928, Dante speaks of being "possessed" by the music. He talks about the "ecstasy" that he felt and the "sweet imprisonment." What makes this appearance of music different is that the observer does not simply hear the music, they experience it in a deep way. The listener participates with more than his sense of hearing. In this case the music represents deeply spiritual experience.

It is difficult to dissociate the symbolism of music with the divine and particularly with a spiritual experience. For the next 6 Cantos there a few passing mentions of song that herald an important figure. However, they are not as detailed as the music mentioned with the appearance of Christ. These mentions are brief and passing.

The next major appearance of music is in Canto XX in association with a pair of beings of light that are never clearly identified. However, we know that they are ethereal beings by the use of music to indicate skill and control.

Canto XXVI reflects that usage of music in the first Canto. In Canto XXVI music is heard at the end of the passage. This time the song sang, "Holy, holy, holy." This reference suggests that the work is much more than a piece of literature in the author's eyes.

A ended, and therewith a song most sweet

Rang through the spheres; and "Holy, holy, holy,"

Accordant with the rest my lady sang.(Paradiso, Canto

XII, 3574-3576).

The Boy Singer and the Path to Enlightenment

Chapter 3 of the River Sutra we find a much more mundane, but strange request by a man who gives a record to Tariq Mia. The man asks Tariq to bring the music to the grave of Amire Rumi. We find that to sing at the tomb was a dream of the boy on the recording. However, he did not get to because he was dead. The music in this chapter is a reminder of the after-life as the music was able to live on long after the artist was gone. The boy could still sing at the tomb even though he was no longer on earth.

As the story of the singer unfolds we find that he uses music as his only escape from an unsuccessful career and marriage. At a concert, he acquires a blind child who comes to live with him. He teaches the child to sing. The boy eventually gets a recording contract and the Master teacher shares in the wealth. The boy is taken by the wife to sing for the Sahib, who ultimately slits that boy's throat so that nobody else could enjoy something so beautiful. The master teacher throws himself in front of a train.

This story highlights the differences and conflict that existed between the various classes. The Sahib was never charged with murder because of his wealth. There is a significant story underlying the main story in this work. It contains complex layers. The story is significant because the narrator is aware that the path to enlightenment had nothing to do with a person's wealth or poverty. Singing is used as a part of the path to enlightenment. Song is representative of spirituality and a reminder of the eternal in the story.

The Musician's Story

Chapter 12 of the River Sutra is the introduction to the musician's story. The connection to spirituality is made through the mention by the woman that she is on a musician's journey and a pilgrimage to the River Narmada. Rivers play an important part in spiritual life of the Hindu. The Hindu use rivers to spiritually cleanse themselves and to purify themselves for their mission on earth. In Chapter 15 the spiritual significance of the River is clarified and the Narmada dips formal brothel girl into the Narmada River to cleanse and purify her.

Like the first story, the account is told in third person by a character that was close to the central character. This story tells of a father who taught his daughter the spiritual meaning of music and the connection between music and the goddess Shiva. He pushed her musical talents to perfection. Her mother did not feel that she was a talented as her father and tried to find her a husband.

The girl was ugly and could not find a husband. Her father made her a deal and said that he would only teach her if she married the Gods of music. The girl agreed. However, soon a man came along who wanted to learn music from her father and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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