Berlin commemorates Danielou with Indian music
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Berlin commemorates Danielou with Indian music

A lesser known name on the Indian culture circuit, France's Alain Danieloua, is often credited as the one who truly introduced Indian music to the West, writes Varupi Jain.

art and culture Updated: Jul 27, 2007 15:24 IST

German involvement with Indian culture is deeper and older than it is assumed. Goethe, Herder and the Schlegel brothers are associated with the first interest in Indian thought.

However, as Friedrich Wilhelm writes in his article "The German response to Indian culture", India occurs as a "marvellous and fanciful country" in as early as the Middle High German literature of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

Familiar people on either side who facilitated inter-cultural exchange and communication include, among others, Max Mueller, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Hermann Hesse, Rabindranath Tagore and Guenter Grass.

<b1>However, there are many lesser known names - surprisingly neither German nor Indian - who have contributed just as significantly towards introducing Indian cultural traditions to Europe.

Alain Danielou, French by birth, is one of them - often credited as the one who truly introduced Indian music to the West.

He was equally active on the music scene in India, Germany and Italy. He brought many Indian musicians to perform in Europe in the 60s and 70s - Pandit Ravi Shankar and Daggar brothers, among others.

The Ethno-musicology Museum Berlin and the Tagore Centre of the Indian Embassy dedicated an evening of music on the occasion of the 100th birth anniversary of Alain Danielou.

A befitting venue had to be chosen for the concert - the recently opened Bode Museum located on picturesque Museum Island on River Spree in the heart of Berlin.

The evening on 9 June 2007 started with a speech by Ambassador Meera Shankar followed by Raga presentation by Amelia Cuni - an Italian national who's an eminent exponent of Dhrupad. The climax of a prolonged and enthralling evening was the classical rendition by Gundeccha brothers.

The audience were hooked much beyond the scheduled time of the concert - something unusual in Europe but very much within the norms of Indian musical concerts. The concert - with almost 90 per cent European audience - lasted beyond midnight. Indeed a fitting tribute to a man who once declared 'India as his true home'.

Danielou's contribution has been immense. He wrote more than 30 books discovering different aspects of India and the Indian life. He not only devoted himself to learning and research on Indian classical music but also promoted the understanding of Vedas, Indian religion, philosophy and the arts among people in the West.

He adopted the name 'Shiv Sharan' and proclaimed himself to be a 'Hindu' not in the religious but in the philosophical sense of the term. In his interpretations, Danielou often focussed on the essential oneness among various elements of creation - which is at the core of Indian (Hindu) philosophical thought.

He said in one of his lectures, "the Indian philosophy, realising that ultimate knowledge is beyond man's understanding, sees man as part of the whole, where trees, animals, men and spirits should live in harmony and mutual respect, and it asks every one to cooperate and not endanger the work of the Creator".

Danielou joined the Benaras Hindu University as a professor in 1949 and also served as Director of the College of Indian Music in Varanasi and learned to play the Rudra Veena. Rudra Veena is a sacred instrument which is not only difficult to play but is taught to very few privileged disciples. Later, he highlighted the scientific principles of sound and rhythm which govern Indian classical music since the Vedic period.

Danielou said "The ancient Hindus were familiar with the theory of sound (Gandharva Veda), its metaphysics and physics. The hymns of the Rig Veda contain the earliest examples of words set to music, and by the time of the Sama Veda, a complicated system of chanting had started. By the time of the Yajur Veda, many musical instruments and musicians had evolved".

Danielou stressed intercultural dialogue through music and did everything possible to make this exchange vibrant, dynamic and mutually enriching.

Pursuing this goal, he went on to set up International Institute for Traditional Music in Berlin through which even folk and temple music and musicians were promoted. Danielou was indeed an outstanding cultural ambassador in the pre-globalisation era.

First Published: Jul 26, 2007 13:23 IST