The Mahatma’s Hymn: Music for Action


I want to go back to my original theme of ‘master of my destiny’ from my first blog . This time it is the favorite bhajan of Mahatma Gandhi – ‘Vaishnav Jan’ – by the great poet-saint Narsinh Mehta. It encapsulates the qualities of a virtuous man. The poet pens his bhajan sans any obvious religious overtones, describing the virtues of a noble soul.


I have vivid memories of standing in rapt attention in the school classroom every morning, eyes closed and soaking in the melody year after year. At times, through the corner of my eye, I got a glimpse of the fun that my friends had, observing me trying to be an obedient student. They had no idea that my prime objective was to memorize the melody, line by line till the entire bhajan became a part of my soul. They had their fun, but I had my bliss.


Almost each stanza of this prayer calls for action and implies that a noble soul derives her/his nobility from dealings with his/her fellow beings. How can I shape my life and create my destiny without taking my fellow being along? My destiny is inexorably linked to the destiny of everything and everyone around me.


The ghazal I had written about (Rain, sun and rainbow): “Safar mein dhoop to hogi, jo chal sako to chalo…” and later, “Mujhe gira kar agar tum sambhal sako to chalo”, is also instructive. You really can’t create your destiny by trampling upon others.


A noble soul also does not retire to the forest. S/he lives a life of action.


The poet humbly adds:


“Bhaney Narsaiyyo tenun darshan karta
Kul ekoter taarya re”

“Not just me but my entire generation will achieve salvation just by sighting of such a noble soul.”


Granted, this plethora of virtues is rare to find in one person. But the poet exhorts us to make it or life’s goal and to endeavor to shape the destiny of everyone around us.


Purity of thought, purpose and action will ensure the creation of our destiny, one that is interlinked with the destiny of all; it is not self-centered.


Mahatma Gandhi said somewhere that people mistook him to be against music. Mahadev Desai writes in his diary:


“Against music – I?” exclaimed Mahatmaji, as though stung. “Well, I know, I know,” he added resignedly, “There are so many superstitions rife about me that it has now become almost impossible for me to overtake those who have been spreading them. As a result, my friends’ only reaction is almost invariably a smile when I claim I am an artist myself.”


Perhaps music was one of the sources of his strength and inspiration.


Here is a sweet Carnatic version of the bhajan as sung by the venerated vocalist MS Subbulakshmi along with Radha Viswanathan:


I try to follow her divine voice in the audio recording of the same bhajan on my Pratham Tarang.


One who is a Vaishnav (noble soul)

Knows the pain of others

Does good unto others without succumbing to ego

A noble soul is humble to all

Does not speak ill of others

True to her/his promises, actions and pure thoughts

Indeed, her/his mother is blessed.

A noble soul treats everything with equanimity, does not fall prey to greed and avarice

Respects all other women as he* does his* own mother

Never utters a lie

Never fancies the property of others.

A noble soul does not succumb to worldly attachments

My entire generation will achieve salvation on sighting such a noble soul.


*Even though Narsinh Mehta’s words may have been ‘gendered’ in view of the times he lived in, mine need not and cannot be. So apart from this particular line that appears to directly address men, I truly believe that this is a hymn for all persons, and for all time.

One thought on “The Mahatma’s Hymn: Music for Action

  1. You know it is unfortunate that many Guarantees spend their time and life studying the Vedanta etc. when all they need do is listen to and practice Narsinh Mehta’s “prabhatias”.
    I was lucky to listen to these sung by Rukhi Fui (Gulab Kaka’s, sister) in Ajrai. Rukhi Fui woke up early (5 am) and started the Chulo in the Chok to heat up bath water for all and she sung the prabhatias with incredibly sweet voice.
    I would walk up to Gulab kaka’s house and sit there and listen. Rukhi Fui then milked the cows and more often then not, I ended up with a lotifull of fresh mike right out of the cow’s udder.

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