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Music Therapy in India

    Throughout the course of Indian history, through the multiple invasions and revolutions and everlasting fight for freedom, one of the things that has remained prevalent is the nation’s love for music. 

    Vedas, the oldest forms of Indian music, can be traced back to nearly 1500 BC. These were typically hymns and texts that were sung along with the accompaniment of several string and wind instruments including the veena, which is sort of like a violin, and the venugana, which is similar to a pan flute.

    Over time, classical Indian music split into two major categories: Carnatic and Hindustani.  Carnatic is primarily played in the southern regions of India while Hindustani is more northern, eastern, and central focused. Although played in separate regions of the country and having several stylistic differences, both forms share the same general roots of music. Both utilize the Sapta Sur, or the 7 key notes of Indian classical music: Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni, and Sa. They both also utilize ragas, which are variations of the progression of the 7 notes similar to different scales in Western music. Additionally, they share rhythmic similarities as both are built around the concept of taal, which consists of the repetition of cycles of a different number of beats, based on the music being played.

    The fact that the concept of using music for healing has been utilized in India dating back to 500 BC is not very surprising considering the amount of emphasis and focus that has put on music throughout the course of Indian history. The earliest form of musical healing in India is Ayurvada, which means “the science of life.” This practice places a lot of importance on the balancing of one’s doshas, the 4 main elements that make up one’s body: air, water, fire, and earth. This balance was primarily maintained through both the playing and listening of music.

    Despite the long lasting Indian belief that music can be used in healing, the practice of music therapy is still relatively new in India. The Indian Association of Professional Music Therapists was founded in recently 2011 and as of 2013, they had 10 members and 2 schools and back in 2018, the Indian Music Therapy Association was founded. The World Federation of Music Therapy currently states that there are around 50 professional music therapists practicing in India and 3 schools offering music therapy, and one offering a graduate program.

    While still a relatively new development, Indian music therapists have put plenty of effort into developing effective treatments which can help appeal to the larger part of the population that is very culturally inclined. While music therapy is meant to be a secular field, it is still a client-centered profession and for this reason, many therapists in India play towards the religious side of their patients to help them deal with whatever they may be going through. Patients are encouraged to sing and improvise ragas, chant, and write their own songs. Unlike Western music therapy which utilizes the use of instruments as well, Indian music has long been voice-focused and as a result, music therapy in India primarily uses the voice as an instrument rather than having patients play a variety of other musical instruments.

    Although the professional of field of music therapy may just be being introduced to India, the concept of using music as a form of healing has been around for thousands of years and the uniqueness of such music therapy, relative to the Western methods, will only continue to grow.

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