Monday, March 10, 2014


On my bed sleep poets and saints; 
volumes of hardbound madness. 
There's a little space left -  just enough to make love.
Won't you come, my lover, and partake in this orgy? 
We'll lie among sheets of silk and paper, 
we'll talk through the chaos of geniuses.
Rumi can watch how you kiss me
And you can be witness to my love for Hafiz
Let's lock fingers, as if in prayer
even as obscenities stream out of our mouths
Sex toys and rosary beads in our sweaty palms
lines between the profound and profane erased
Jalaluddin cries out for his lover divine 
like you for me and I, for Khwaja Shams-ud-Din
Follow the poet's lead, and let your hands pleasure me
Make my head spin in ecstasy, like a whirling dervish 
Listen to what Shams says, 
"Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly".
Drop the sweet talk and an aashiq's tehzeeb
and fuck me while the saint-poets look on and sing.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

THE CHILDREN OF SATAN: Black Metal as the present day proliferator of Satanic, Pagan and ancient Germanic myths

A Daily Mail (UK) article published on their website on the 15th of January 2014


As recently as 16th January, 2014, this news piece about an obsessive fan killing a Black Metal musician for 'not being Satanic enough' made international headlines. It shocked the international music fraternity and harked back the early days of Black Metal in the 80s, which was characterised by a lot of violence.

Dark lyrics, an extreme subculture and violent imagery are among the hallmarks of Black Metal, which borrows heavily from the darker aspects of Heathen and Germanic in addition to Satanic mythology. Bloodlust, arson and murder characterised the second wave of Black Metal during the 90s, but things had somewhat sobered in the last couple of decades. The news of this murder reminded people how deep 'Satanic' influences still run in some parts of contemporary society, (no) thanks to the Black Metal scene.

This paper attempts to chronicle the influence of Satanic, Pagan, Heathen and Norse mythology on Black Metal music, the symbols associated with it, the evolution of these myths; and finally to understand how some ancient myths continue to influence popular culture and consequently our lives.


Before we move on to exploring the mythological connections of Black Metal, here are a few basic concepts explained, based mostly on Wikipedia.

Black Metal: Black metal is an extreme sub genre of heavy metal music, often having lyrics which deal with the Devil and the supernatural. Often synonymous with Satanic Metal, Black Metal has now incorporated more mythical elements (apart from Satan) into its fold. While some bands continue make pure 'Satanic or anti-Christian' music, some others have lyrics about heathen/pagan/Nordic characters like Odin, Thor, Prometheus, the Vikings, etc. These further derivatives, who often reject Satanism, go by the name of Viking Metal and War Metal.

Common traits of Black Metal music include fast tempos, shrieked vocals, highly distorted guitars played with tremolo picking, blast beat drumming, raw (lo-fi) recording and unconventional song structures.

White/ Unblack or Christian Metal bands borrow from Christian scriptures and imagery for album art 

Interestingly, there are completely oppposite sub genres called Unblack Metal and White/ Christian Metal too. These have the musical style and constructs like that of Black Metal, but are ideologically its diametric opposite, promoting Christianity and Christian imagery. 

Death Metal: Closely linked with Black Metal is Death Metal, which explores themes of violence and often elaborates on the details of extreme acts, including mutilation, dissection, torture, rape, cannibalism, and necrophilia. It sometimes employs Satanic imagery, thus overlapping in places with Black Metal. 

Death metal bands like The Intestinal from Sweden often use gory and violent imagery on their album covers, but Satanic motifs are also seen

Death Metal typically employs heavily distorted guitars, tremolo picking, deep growling vocals, blast beat drumming, minor keys or atonality, and complex song structures with multiple tempo changes. 
Other loosely related sub genres include Dark Metal, Doom Metal and Thrash Metal.

Satan: The concept of Satan comes from Abrahamic religions with references found in Jewish, Islamic and Christian texts. His primary traits are deceptive, tempting and evilness.  The word 'Satan' in Hebrew loosely translates to 'accuser' or 'adversary', but the character was developed into a full-blown evil one – the devil – subsequently. He is often identified with Lucifer, the fallen angel, who rebelled against God and became ruler of the netherworld.  

Gustave Dore's illustration of Satan from Milton's Paradise Lost
Satanism: The Satanism is a broad term referring to a group of Western religions comprising diverse ideological and philosophical beliefs. Their shared features include symbolic association with, or admiration for the character of Satan, and Prometheus, which are in their view, liberating figures. While it has been practised by underground groups in one form or another since the early days of Christianity, Satanism as we understand it today, caught on with the establishment of the Church of Satan in 1966 by Anton La Vey. 

Famous metal artiste, Marilyn Manson with Anton La Vey

There are two primary kinds of Satanism – theistic and atheistic. Theistic Satanism aka Traditional Satanism, Spiritual Satanism or Devil Worship believes in a deity of Satan and other magical and ritualistic practices. Atheistic Satanism, as perpetuated by La Vey is more philosophical in nature.  Its teachings are based on individualism, Epicureanism, and an "eye for an eye" morality. Unlike theistic Satanists, LaVeyan Satanists are atheists who regard Satan as a symbol of man's inherent nature. La Veyan Satanism was made popular with the publishing of The Satanic Bible in 1969.

Ásatrú: Ásatrú is an Icelandic (and equivalently Old Norse) term consisting of two parts. The first is Ása-, genitive of Áss, denoting one of the group of Norse gods called Æsir. The second part, trú, means "faith, word of honour; religious faith, belief". Thus, Ásatrú means the "faith/belief in the Æsir". Ásatrú is variously known as Heathenism, Paganism, Odinism,  Forn Siðr, Wotanism, Theodism, and other names, is the contemporary revival of historical polytheistic Germanic paganism. 

Prometheus:  In Greek mythology, Prometheus (which might mean 'foresight') is a Titan, culture hero, and trickster figure who is credited with the creation of man from clay, and who defies the gods and gives fire to humanity. Zeus, king of the Olympian gods, sentenced the Titan to eternal torment for his transgression. 

A classical painting depicting Prometheus being 'eaten alive' by Zeus' eagle.

The immortal Prometheus was bound to a rock, where each day an eagle, the emblem of Zeus, was sent to feed on his liver, which would then grow back to be eaten again the next day. Because Prometheus' gift of fire to mankind enabled progress and civilization, he is known as a champion of mankind.

The punishment of Prometheus as a consequence of the theft is a major theme of his mythology, and is a popular subject of both ancient and modern art. 

Odin/ Wodan/ Wotan: Odin is a major god in Norse mythology, the Allfather of the gods, and the ruler of Asgard. His name could mean 'fury', 'excitation', besides 'mind', or 'poetry'. His role, like that of many of the Norse gods, is complex. Odin is a principal member of the Æsir and is associated with war, battle, victory and death, but also wisdom, Shamanism, magic, poetry, prophecy, and the hunt. Odin has many sons, the most famous of whom is the thunder god Thor.

A modern graphic image of Odin

Thor: In Norse mythology, Thor is a hammer-wielding god associated with thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength, the protection of mankind, and also hallowing, healing and fertility. Thor's hammer and chariot pulled by two goats are important icons, adopted in the artistic tradition.

Thanks to Marvel comics and the recent Hollywood movies featuring Chris Hemsworth as Thor, this old Norse God has come back into the spotlight

Oskorei/ Wild Hunt: Both Odin and Thor, especially Odin, have been associated with the Wild Hunt or Oskorei. The Wild Hunt is an ancient folk myth prevalent across Northern, Western and Central Europe in which a phantasmal, spectral group of huntsmen with the accoutrements of hunting, with horses and hounds in mad pursuit across the skies or along the ground, or just above it. 

The myth of the Wild Hunt is often used to explain the phenomenon of thunderstorms. This illustration of an Oskorei was used as the cover art for Swedish band, Bathory's album - Blood Fire Death

The Vikings: The Vikings were seafaring north Germanic people who raided, traded, explored, and settled in wide areas of Europe, Asia, and the North Atlantic islands from the late 8th to the mid-11th centuries. A romanticised picture of Vikings as noble savages began to take root in the 18th century, and this developed and became widely propagated during the 19th-century Viking revival. The received views of the Vikings as violent brutes or intrepid adventurers owe much to the modern Viking myth that had taken shape by the early 20th century.

New age digital art representing a Viking


The Christian world saw the emergence of a cult of Anti-Christian musicians in the early 1980s, who formed Black Metal bands. The first among these, comprising bands like Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer and Celtic Frost set the Satanic stage for this subculture in the Scandinavian nations. In fact, it was British band, Venom's second album, Black Metal, from which this genre gets its name. Other early bands, which strengthened the Satanic and Pagan associations of Black Metal included the Swedish band, Bathory and  Mercyful Fate. 

Venom band members Mantas, Cronos and Abaddon and the cover of their second album, Black Metal

America too witnessed a rise of bands with dark themes, such as Slayer and The Misfits. However, Satanism was always watered down, and '...never seemed to achieve quite the unadulterated level of blasphemy weilded by the British founders of Black Metal..' say Michael Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderland in their acclaimed book, 'Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of Satanic Metal Underground.' 

Although a Death Metal band, Deicide made ample use of anti-Christian symbols, like the inverted cross, in their cover art and lyrics. This is the cover of their 8th album.

Bands like Deicide, who flamboyantly adopted the upside down cross and resorted to bloody theatrics on stage were exceptions. Death and Thrash Metal with half-baked Satanic ideas, which were popular in the late 80s, began to lose their appeal and the audience wanted something darker and edgier, making way for the second wave.


Black Metal, at least in its Norwegian “second wave,” is commonly described as Satanic, largely due to the influence of the mass media, which portrayed the genre as such. In fact, much of media fodder was provided by a Norwegian band called Mayhem, established by Øystein 'Euronymous' Aarseth in 1984, along with  Jørn 'Necrobutcher' Stubberud and Kjetil Manheim. They were later joined by Varg 'Count Grishnackh' Vikernes and  Per Yngve Ohlin, whose stage name was 'Dead'. Apart from their dark music and ideology, the band drew a lot of controversy with respect to arson, murder and a suicide.

In 1991, band member 'Dead' committed suicide by shooting himself in the head in what seemed like an act of self-fulfilling prophecy. Dead had a history of self harm and often cut himself during live performances. Band member Euronymous allegedly clicked a picture of the scene of Dead's suicide and used the image as an album cover to further Mayhem's cause.

Mayhem album 'Dawn of the Black Hearts' featured an image of Dead's corpse

In January 1992 Burzum’s Varg Vikernes gave an interview where he claimed responsibility for a number of church burnings, which led to a moral panic and a media frenzy focused on stories about “Satanism in Norway.” This escalated a year later with Vikernes’s murder of Euronymous, and the convictions of several individuals involved in Black Metal for a number of the church burnings that had occurred in Norway in the early 1990s. The Norwegian documentary film Satan rir media (Satan Rides the Media) clearly shows how the Satanism-label was applied by the media, how dubious “cult experts” validated this, and how the number of arsons drastically increased in the process—from approximately one per year in the early 1990s to fifty arsons altogether between 1992 and 1996.

The band Mayhem with Euronymous (L) and Dead (R)

Satanism became an identity marker in Black Metal, largely due to the media-created Satanism providing a “script” for Norwegian “second wave” Black Metal musicians and fans.

Mayhem gave the underground music scene much more than their music. The tradition of  black leather outfits, metal spikes, corpse paint can be credited to Euronymous, and Black Metal bands across the world today are seen dressed in similar outfits, using similar Satanic symbols.

A Black Metal band sporting stereotypical gear with leather, studs and corpse paint

Used widely as an anti-Christian symbol in the Black Metal community, it is in fact, quite Christian in its origin. The inverted cross is the sign of St. Peter, who deemed himself too unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as Christ, and hence chose an inverted one. However, in the metal music context, an inversion of the primary symbol of Christianity is meant to signify an opposite path.

A pentagram (sometimes known as a pentalpha or pentangle or a star pentagon) is the shape of a five-pointed star drawn with five straight strokes. In medieval Christian tradition, the pentagram could represent the five wounds of Jesus. In the Renaissance it came to be associated with magic and occultism. The inverted pentagram, as used by English black magician, Aleister Crowley and Anton La Vey, founder of the Satanic Church, came to be associated with Satanism. It is a popular with Black Metal bands and modern day Wiccan cults.

Baphomet - from the from medieval Latin Baphometh - is a term originally used to describe an idol or other deity, which the Knights Templar were accused of worshiping, and
subsequently incorporated into disparate occult and mystical traditions. Baphomet is often synonymous with Satan/Lucifer, and hence the raised fingers could either mean Satan's horns or Baphomet's. Modern day Black Metal fans use the hand sign as a customary salute.

For anyone even remotely aware of the heavy metal culture, the skull will be a familiar sign. Representing death and destruction, the skull is a favourite element of artists
designing extreme metal album covers.

The Triquetra is an originally Christian symbol, which often signifies the Trinity. However, Pagans consider the symbol sacred too and it might signify three divine elements. However, some have interpreted it as a hidden symbol for the number of the Devil – 666, and hence one comes across the Triquetra in the context of Black Metal.

Anarchism has a long-standing relationship with the arts, particularly music. As a symbol of opposition to any form of authority, all extreme music embraces anarchy. Punk rock is most associated with the sign, although some death and black metal bands employ it occasionally.
Other common symbols and themes include the Werewolf, the moon, the colour black, fire, blood, virgins, dark priests, forests, crows, etc. 


Apart from symbols, Black Metal carries forth the myths of Satan, and other Pagan characters through its explicit, blasphemous and sometimes downright disturbing lyrics. There are ample Christian and anti-Christian references, like Sabbath, Exodus, Day of Judgment, the pact with the Devil, sacrifices, Black Masses, etc. Such extreme lyrics sway teenagers, who are the largest consumers of such music. There have also been instances of suicides influenced by such music and ensuing lawsuits. However, dark myths continue to be fostered through the Black Metal underground culture. Here are some instances: 

• Gorgoroth – Satan-Prometheus 

See the hordes ascend
Crushing the face of god
See the horns rise
The eternal reign of Satan

• Solar Deity – Through the hallway of Narak

Satan… bless my soul
Father… we are yours
There is one god
Dark lord, you’re the one!

Indian black metal band, Solar Deity

• Nunslaughter – Satanic

Lucifer's grip upon the throat
Of the catholic priest
Asphyxiate eviscerate
The holy are deceased

• Mayhem- Pagan Fears

Pagan fears
The past is alive
The past is alive
Woeful people with pale faces
Staring obsessed at the moon
Some memories will never go away
And will forever be here

• Burzum – Lost Wisdom

Other planes lie beyond the reach
of normal sense and common roads
But they are no less real
than what we see or touch or feel
Denied by the blind church
'cause these are not the words of God

• Bathory – Sacrifice

Present at ungodly births
In holy paradise
I spread eternal dark on earth
And raped the mother of Christ

• Bathory – Shores in flames

Thor of thunder way up high
Swing your Hammer that cracks the sky
Send the wind to fill our sails and take us home
Guide your sons, us, home


Religion and the arts have always been carriers of myth. Since music as an art form has a wider appeal than most others, myth in music has been common across nations and genres. Whether one sings hymns in praise of God, chants praises of natural beauty, or rages against convention, myths are always useful in conveying an idea more powerfully. 

In the realm of Black Metal too, Satanic and Pagan myths are used mostly for artistic purposes than as ideology. Very few Black Metal artists admit to following Satanism in their everyday lives. Their dark costumes and stage ‘rituals’ are more for shock and entertainment value than anything else. There are crazed fans and extreme instances like the murder of the Thai Black Metal artiste are few and far between. 

Black Metal ‘arrived’ in India around the year 2000, but very little has happened since then. There are not more than five bands that play serious Black Metal. These bands are wholly inspired by their Western counterparts and their music is inspired by the same set of myths and ideas. Avid heavy metal follower and blogger, Devdutt Nawalkar succinctly sums up the Indian Black Metal scene, “There aren't any bands that make studied use of Satanic literature and symbols to the best of my knowledge. I can only think of Solar Deity from Bombay who claim to be influenced by Anton Lavey's cult of personality (the Satanic Bible is nothing but a trussed up self empowerment course), and Witchgoat from Bangalore who use various hackneyed cliches like inverted crosses, Baphomets and pentagrams as an ironical tool to make fun of black metal. Metal fans in India will regularly use flippant salutations like "Hail Satan" but it's little more than juvenile delinquency acted out to appeal to the outsider within. Indian Vedic literature has a formidable canon on atheism that deals with very pertinent questions of existence itself; we don't need to "Indianize" what is essentially a Judeo-Christian concept.”


This assignment was part of my PG Diploma Course in Comparative Mythology, at the Department of Sanskrit, University of Mumbai, for the academic year 2013-14, Sem. 2, Paper II. Images have been sourced from the Internet and none belong to me.

Monday, February 24, 2014

MYTHOLOGY AND MUSIC: The definitive influences of Hindu Mythology on Indian Music

Music is inherent to humankind. Since the beginning of documented culture, there has been evidence of music. Music has emerged spontaneously and in parallel in all known human societies. Archeological evidence shows a continuous record of musical instruments, dating back to at least 30,000 years (D’Errico et al., 2003). Music appears to transcend time, place, and culture.

Music is ubiquitous yet mysterious in the way it manifests and perpetuates. Since music has no apparent evolutionary function, this product of ‘pure culture’ has always roused curiosity. The human capacity for music has often been attributed to higher sources, and consequently, a whole body of mythology surrounding music has been born. This paper attempts to explore the effects music and mythology have had on each other over time in India.

Devi Saraswati by Raja Ravi Varma

History of Indian music

The ancient Indians believed in the divine origin of music. The purest form of sound was considered equal to cosmic energy. As a result, music and religion were always closely intertwined. Classical music tradition was probably evolved from the religious poems and chants of the Vedic period. It was later codified by Bharata Muni. Indian music has developed through very complex interactions between different peoples of different races and cultures over several thousand years.

The following timeline* traces the evolution of the musical tradition in India:

Significant musical developments
2500 BC - 1500 BC
Several musical instruments, drums and ‘dancing’ statuettes (including one of Rudra) found at Indus Valley Civilization excavations.
1500 BC - 500 BC

* Arrival of Aryans, beginning of Vedic tradition, especially the rhythmic compositions and chanting of the Vedas.
* Introduction of the first instruments like veena, dundubhi, tunav, talav and bhoomi-dundubhi.
* Drinking of Soma-ras as part of Vedic sacrifices.
* Shiksha literature where ritual and mantra became basis of music.
* Guru-Shishya parampara
500BC - 200BC
* Ramayana, with its rhythmic shlokas, composed
* Introduction of Pathya Sangeet – educative, instructional musical tales
* Mahabharata composed with ample references to music, dance and singing
* Musical references in early Buddhist and Jain scriptures
¤ 200 BC - 300 AD

* Mahabharata epilogue, Harivamsha, mentions Chhalikya and Hallisaka. Chhalikya was a form of ancient Indian music and Hallisaka was a dance form.
* Natyashastra composed
¤ 300 AD - 600 AD

* Golden age of arts – Gupta period
* Composition of important Kalidasa plays
* Kamasutra, with varied musical references, composed
* Samaj, ghata-nibandhan and other forms of music introduced
* Music mentioned in Puranas like Vayupurana, Markandeyapurana and Vishnudharmottarapurana.
* Dattilam, a text about ragas, composed
¤ 600 AD - 1200 AD

* Brihaddeshi, text on Indian classical music, composed
* Concepts of sargam, tala and Deshi music introduced
* Significant changes in 11th century Hindustani art music
* Beginnings of Sufi and Persian music
¤ 1200 AD - 1700 AD

* The rise of Amir Khusro’s poetry
* Emergence of music forms like qawali, qalbana, qasida, naqsh and rags like Turushka, Zeelaph and Sarpada
* Drupad, a genre of Hindustani Classical music, introduced
* Beginning of Hindi songs like Vishnupadas, in lieu of Sanskrit ones
* Rise of the Bhakti cult with devotional music about Rama and Krishna, especially Meerabai
* Legendary musicians like Tansen lived and sang
* Rise in popularity of 16th century court music
¤ 1700 AD onwards

* This period marks the beginning of modern Indian music
* Birth of musical forms like Khayal, Thumri, Tappa and formation of Gharanas
* Publishing of Hindustani music in English and other regional languages

Scriptural references
The evolution of music can be traced best through the scriptures, as also explore its mythological aspects. The Vedas and Puranas are replete with stories about the origin of music and musical instruments. We take a look at some such references.  

The Vedas
Music originated from chanting of Vedas from the Aryan age. The Indus Valley civilization declined around the first half of the 2nd millennium BC, giving way to Vedic civilization. An important aspect of Vedic religious life was the bard-priest who composed hymns, in praise of the gods, to be sung or chanted at sacrifices. 

'Nada' the source of sound turned into Chhandas. The priests chanted hymns in a musical tone with the pronunciation according to the tune. Vocalising syllables called Sthobhaksaras were added. Melody and rhythm created the music. Priests used to perform group chanting at the sacrifices. There are many legends about the origin of music. 

The Yajurveda and the Samaveda were composed after the Rigveda. The Samaveda is especially important as it contains hymns to be sung by those who did the chanting. It is this Veda which is specifically connected with music in India. 

The Vishnudharmottara Purana
The Vishnudharmottara Purana is a Hindu text, encyclopedic in nature. It is considered as a supplement or appendix to the Vishnu Purana. Among other things, it has chapters dedicated to grammar, metrics, lexicography, metrics, rhetoric, dramaturgy, dance, vocal and instrumental music and arts. Chapters 18-19 of one of its khandas deal with vocal and instrumental music.

The epics
The first Indian epic, Ramayana, was composed by the sage Valmiki. It was written in shloka form. The word shloka refers to a particular kind of metrical composition known for its brevity, easy tempo and lilting rhyme.

Satrughna is returning with his attendants to Ayodhya from his kingdom of Madhu for the first time in twelve years and halts at Valmiki's hermitage. There he hears Lava and Kusa singing the story of Rama. Source: British Museum via Wikipedia

From the lavish use of musical metaphors in the epic, it is evident that the precise concept of music or sangeet had been adequately established and appreciated. 
There are references to terms like Marga sangeet , divine music meant only for the gods, and Gandharva, the 'classical' music of the time. Rama was depicted an expert in gandharva, in the Ramayana, so were Ravana and Sugreeva. The epic also tells us that musical instruments were collectively mentioned as atodya, some of them being the Veena, Venu, Vansha, Shankha, Dundubhi, Bheri, Mridang, Panav and Pataha.

Vyasa’s Mahabharata composed in 24000 shlokas also mentions music often, but not as much as the Ramayana. 

Urvashi, an apsara in Indra's court by Raja Ravi Varma

Mahabharata used the term Gandharva instead of Sangeet. Arjuna, one of the heroes in the Mahabharata had learnt these musical arts from the king of Gandharvas, Chitrasen. There are also references to kings maintaining their own music schools to train princesses and their maids-in-waiting in the performing arts.
The names of the seven basic musical notes (shadja) have been clearly mentioned in the Mahabharata, which was composed around 400 BC. The epic therefore bears testimony to the long living tradition of Indian Classical music.

The Kalidasa plays and others
In ancient India, music used to be a part of the famous Sanskrit dramas like Mirchakatika and Abhijnana Shakuntalam. The origin of the ancient Indian music began in the age of the Aryans, with the chanting of the Vedas. It was seen as an excellent means for realization of god. Music was considered as a source of culture and civilization. It was an integral aspect of Sanskrit dramas like Abhijnana Shakuntalam, Mirchakatika. The fourth act of Vikramoryasiya by Kalidasa used different musical compositions like Aksiptika, Dvipadika, Jambhalika, Khandadhara, Carcarj, Khandaka, etc.

Natya Shastra
The Natya Shastra is an ancient Indian treatise on the performing arts, encompassing theatre, dance and music. It was written during the period between 200 BCE and 200 CE in classical India and is traditionally attributed to the Sage Bharata.
The Natya Shastra is incredibly wide in its scope. While it primarily deals with stagecraft, it has come to influence music, classical Indian dance, and literature as well. It covers stage design, music, dance, makeup, and virtually every other aspect of stagecraft. It is very important to the history of Indian classical music because it is the only text which gives such detail about the music and instruments of the period. Thus, an argument can be made that the Natya Shastra is the foundation of the fine arts in India.

The Gods of Music
Each of the above-mentioned scriptures acknowledges and explains the divine origins of music, attributing certain arts to certain gods. One cannot help but draw parallels with the Muses and Apollo in Greek mythology, who were reigning gods of music. However, unlike the Greek gods, Indian gods have been more associated with instruments rather than the crafts, with the exception of Shiva, who is considered the God of (cosmic) dance. Here are some popular Indian deities majorly associated with music.

A typical Mridangam

Brahma: The origin of the universe is often attributed to the Nada Brahma, or the primeval sound energy. On more concrete terms, Brahma, the deity, is associated with the barrel drum, or Mridangam, which is one of the most significant instruments in Indian music. Brahma is said to have created the mridangam (‘mritha’ being clay and ‘anga’ being body) from the blood soaked earth when he killed the demon, Tripura.

A bronze statue of Vishnu holding the shankha, chakra, gada and padma

Vishnu: Vishnu holds the shankha or conch in one of his four hands. This sankha is said to have created the primordial sound of ‘Om’, which is the source of all other sounds in the universe. The shankha is held sacred to this day in Hindu temples and rituals.

A stone carving of Rudra, sword and damru in hand

Shiva/ Rudra: Of all Hindu gods, Shiva probably has the most significant place in the world of music and dance. As Shiva, he holds the damru, a small drum that plays the beats of life and death. As Nataraja, he dances the cosmic dance, forever maintaining the balance of the universe. Shiva is also said to have invented the first five of the six main ragas. Of the five faces of Lord Shiva the eastern face gave birth to raag Bhairav, the western face to Raag Hindol, the Northern face to Raag Megh, the Southern face to Raag Deepak and the fifth face, which was directed towards the sky gave birth to Raga Shree. Goddess Parvati is said to have created the Raga Kaushik.

A Rudraveena

Shiva is also said to have created the Rudraveena, a string instrument, inspired by the voluptuous supine form of his wife, Parvati.

Veena-playing Devi Saraswati

Saraswati: Like Brahma, his consort, Saraswati is associated with music. Not just music, Saraswati is considered the patron goddess of all arts. She is seen holding a classical Veena in one of her four hands and is credited with the invention of the 7-toned scale or swara. Interestingly enough, each one of the seven swaras is associated with one Hindu deity: Sa with Ganapati, Re with Agni, Ga with Rudra, Ma with Vishnu, Pa with Narada, Dha with Sadashiva, and Ni with Surya.

The flute-playing Krishna

Krishna: Krishna, one of the most popular Hindu gods, has strong musical connections. The young Krishna of Vrindavan is always depicted as carrying the  flute and playing mesmerising tunes with it. Krishna is comparable to Apollo and the muses in Greek mythology, a charming God that he is, surrounded by gopis, immersed in song and dance. 

Other characters

Rishi Narada holding the Mahati Veena

Narada: The Vedic Sage Narada, famous for perpetuating divine gossip, also has some musical associations. He is depicted as carrying the tanpura, which he uses as an accompaniment to the devotional songs he sings in Vishnu’s praise. He is also credited with the invention of the Mahati Veena, the aristocrat among Indian instruments. The Mahati Veena is said to have fallen out of favour in the modern times due to the sheer difficulty in playing it.

Idols like these of Ravana holding a Veena are commonly seen in South India 

Raavanhaath, or the one-string instrument

Ravana: The biggest antagonist of Hindu lore, Ravana, was also known to be a master of many crafts. Popular iconography often has Ravana holding a Veena. There is, in fact, a rudimentary string instrument named after him. Called the Ravanastram, this ancient bowed instrument consists of a bamboo stick as a body to which two wooden pegs are fixed for tuning the strings and a half hollowed coconut shell as belly covered with a dried skin. The bow having a string of horse hair and belts attached to it is used as a fiddle stick.

A stone carving of Gandharvas

Gandharvas: The Gandharvas, or celestial musicians, led by Chitrasena were the guardians and practitioners of the arts, especially music and dance. They guarded the Soma and made beautiful music for the gods in their palaces. Gandharvas are frequently depicted as singers in the court of Gods.

An important component of music is the melody or Raga, as they are known in Indian Music. The powers of ragas were and are attributed to divine agency. In the 13th Century, Sarngadeva (in Sangita Ratnakara) assigned a patron deity to each raga. Later, ragas were themselves represented as semi-divine beings. In a famous story from the Brhaddharma Purana, the musician Narada is taken to heavenly realms to confront the souls of the male ragas and female raginis cruelly injured by his inept performances; when Siva sings them correctly, each raga or ragini presents him- or herself in person.

Ragmala Painting of Ragini Asawari (reproduction of Mewar school)

Also, the 72 Mēḷakarta ragas are split into 12 groups called chakrās, each containing 6 ragas. The name of each of the 12 chakras, many of which are of gods’ names, suggests their ordinal number as well.
Indu stands for the moon, of which we have only one 
Nētra means eyes, of which we have two – hence it is the second.
Agni, the third chakra, denotes the three divyagnis (fire, lightning and Sun).
Vēda denoting four Vedas is the name of the fourth chakra.
Bāṇa comes fifth as it stands for the five bāṇaa of Manmatha.
Rutu is the sixth chakra standing for the 6 seasons of Hindu calendar.
Rishi, meaning sage, is the seventh chakra representing the seven sages.
Vasu stands for the eight Vasus of Hinduism.
Brahma comes next of which there are 9.
The 10 directions, including akash (sky) and patal (nether region), is represented by the tenth chakra, Disi.
Eleventh chakra is Rudra of which there are eleven.
Twelfth comes Aditya of which there are twelve.

Also of import is the now obsolete Raga-Ragini classification. There are 6 principal male ragas, namely Bhairav, Malkauns, Hindol, Deepak, Shri and Megh ragas. These ragas have five wives or raginis each and these raga-ragini ‘couples’ also have 8 children or raga putras each. This gives us a total of 84 ragas.

The influence of mythology on Indian music has been undeniable and extensive. From the Vedic times down to the modern day, songs about gods have been central to the music of India. Whether it is naming of the ragas, or the invention of music instruments, the Hindus have always looked at mythological creatures for inspiration. We do not just tell stories about our gods and heroes, but sing them, for music is divinity manifest.    


This assignment was part of my PG Diploma Course in Comparative Mythology, at the Department of Sanskrit, University of Mumbai, for the academic year 2013-14, Sem. 1, Paper 1. Images have been sourced from the Internet and none belong to me.