Why would anyone learn Indian classical instrumental music in the 21st century?

If a musician who has spent his or her life playing selected ragas on a musical instrument leaves the planet without any valuable recordings or disciples, most of us may deem his or her life to be devoid of any contributions to the world. Only a few individuals who have directly received moments of joy from the artist’s efforts may appreciate his or her presence. Besides, in the field of music composing, synthesizers and software have partly replaced traditional instrumentalists. Moreover, success has become least correlated with formal training and loyalty to classical music, and only a few out of hundreds of trained musicians are able to gain money, respect, and fame. Under such an arrangement, why would anyone spend over a decade learning a skill that has a low success rate?

The answer to this question has been given again and again by many artists and even saints. Tulasidasa summarizes the reason for his writing the Ramacharitamanasa through a very simple phrase: swantah sukhaya, meaning “for the happiness of the self.” Music is learned solely for one’s own joy even though this understanding may be latent when a young pupil starts dedicating time to it. The production of marketable music under tight deadlines from the supervisor is never the dream of the true musician. Nor is it learned to exhibit one’s reasoning abilities to the world. On the other hand, if engagement in music does not trigger a simultaneous search for happiness, a connection to music has probably not been made. Without nurturing (or unveiling) of inner joy, what will one share with others?

Secondly, “contribution to the world” is a vague concept in the context of spirituality and the arts. While exertion in certain areas of expertise, say technology and economics, may be labeled “more significant” by the onlooker depending upon one’s liking (read bias), their results, including all products and most discoveries, are equally perishable in time. Alternatively, the propagation of positive vibrations through the universe may be a more real accomplishment.

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