The Power of Music Therapy

  • Know what is music therapy? Names of Ragas which can be used to cure specific illnesses? What a music therapist must know about the patient before starting therapy?

The power of music is so profound that it grabs the attention of the mind, discarding every other feeling at a given point in time. No wonder how Sri Krishna hypnotized the Gopis through his mystique Flute. Swami Haridas, an ardent devotee of Krishna and the guru of Tansen, was a classical musician and a healer who lived in the 16th century. He was one of the many who used music to treat illnesses during earlier times.

The ancient Indian science of 'Nada Yoga' is found in Indian literature like Raga Chikitsa, Gandharva Veda, Sangeet Ayurveda, and Sangita Sudha providing ample proof of how the Indian Scholars, Musicians, and Ayurvedacharyas were aware of the power of meditative sound as a medicinal tool. They were aware of certain frequencies and their effects on human emotions, which enhanced the human body's healing potential. Eventually, the science to heal and treat human diseases with more than 100 Ragas came into being as Raga Chikitsa, which in this day is being rediscovered the world over as 'Music Therapy'. 

We find ample documented evidence of the ancient Indian Music therapy in the library of Saraswati Mahal in Tanjavur, in Tamil Nadu which still has the Palm Leafs engraved with musical prescriptions for psychological treatments, which were well preserved by the king of Tanjavur in 1684-1711. 

Nada Yoga and Raga Chikitsa form the backbone of ancient system of music therapy, which are highly spiritual and enriched with everlasting energy content. According to ancient Indian philosophy sound is intrinsically related to consciousness, with the term “Nada” which implies the flow of consciousness.

Nada Yoga is the system which develops a deep connection with the spontaneous interaction of sound and consciousness. It is of three types’ i.e. transcendental, deep sleep like and para consciousness. Nada Yoga is the science which addresses the issues of the Chakras (energy centres) of the human body, with the help of certain frequencies produced by musical instruments.

If we look at the origin of Indian classical music, it dates back to over 2,000 years which began with the evolution of the seven basic notes in a musical octave wherein each note has its definite frequency. It is believed that these notes were derived from the sounds of birds and animals. 


The first note 'Sa' (Shadja) is derived from the voice of a peacock, 'Re' (Rishabh) came from the sounds produced by the cow when in separation from her calf, 'Ga' (Gandhar) is derived from the bleating of goats in a flock, 'Ma' (Madhyam) is derived from the call of the heron. The note 'Pa'(Pancham) was taken from the call of the cuckoo bird during the spring season,' Dha' (Dhaivat) came from the neighing of a horse and ‘Ni' (Nishad) was derived from the Trumpeting sound of an elephant.

According to Ayurveda, the Constitution of the human body is dominated by three elements 'Vata', 'Pitta', and 'Kapha'. Vata constitutes of air and space, Pitta constitutes the Fire associated with the body heat required for digestion and assimilation processes, and Kapha is associated with water and physical structure.


While, there is a very strong correlation between the notes and the elements of the human body, and when a right balance is created through the right frequency of notes the illnesses can be treated. The lower notes of the octave Sa Re Ga helps in treating the 'Kapha', the middle notes Ma and Pa treat 'Pitt' and Higher notes Dha' and Ni treat the 'Vatta'.The Ragas of Indian classical music are based on this principle, which is the basis of Indian music therapy.

The permutations and combinations of the 7 notes in turn resulted in the creation of many melodious structures known as the "Ragas". As defined in the treatise Brihadeshi Matanga a Raga is the one which relishes i.e. Ranjayati Iti Ragah. Thus being aesthetically appealing to the listeners is its foremost quality.

According to Rajam Shanker, an independent classical music therapist, researcher, and instructor from Secunderabad the whole edifice of music is built between 'Sa', the base note, and ‘Ni’ at the apex, of the octave. Based on this, the human body's functional harmony and rhythmic balance are corrected and maintained. This helps in creating a spiritual connection between the human body's main as well as subsidiary energies. Shankar has been treating patients suffering from autism and neurological problems, and depression for over twenty years.


The treatise Raga Chikitsa deals with rectifying certain human habits and related illnesses, by using a particular Raga played or sung at a particular time of the day, to evoke a particular emotion, feeling or a bhava like calmness, happiness, excitement, pleasantness in the mind of the listener, which in turn generates immense positive effects on the body. 

If we look at the Raga, its emotional effect is determined by the frequencies of the notes that it forms, it's tune, Rasa and Nyasa swaras, which together convey the emotion (Bhava).While its experience (Rasaanubhava) is the essence, which instils life of the Raga in the listener, it is also capable of healing anxiety and stress along with many illnesses.

Rasanubhava, has a psychological basis, which is based on the concept of “Rasa” (essence), which is a fundamental concept of Indian aesthetics as propounded in Natyashashra written by Bharat Muni. According to which every human experiences certain permanent moods called the “Sthayibhavas” which include Rati (love), Hasya (laughter), Soka (pathos), Krodha (anger), Utsaha (enthusiasm), Bhayam (fear), Jugupsa (disgust) and Vismaya (wonder). 

Each sthayibhava has a corresponding rasa which are basic emotions namely Sringara, Hasya, Karuna, Raudra, Vira, Bhayanaka, Bibhatsa and Adbhuta, which are in turn connected with the seven basic notes of music.

Looking at the time theory as practiced in Hindustani classical music, we find that it is very scientific, wherein each raga has been given a definite time slot during the day or of the year as per human habits. Like in the morning the body releases its secretions and has a lot of Kapha. If we notice the morning ragas like Ahir Bhairav and Bhairav, have more of the base notes which help to expel the Kapha from the body. The afternoon is the time we relax and gain energy through food, so the afternoon melodies like Sarang give that relaxing effect. While the evenings are more active and energetic so evening ragas like Yaman, act like a musical tonic and work very well on stress, making one feel light and pleasant. 

During the Raga presentation, the Raga elaboration (Raga Vistara) is done through "Raga Alap" which is a very extempore and highly intuitive exposition of the Raga, which is capable of regulating emotional flow in a very pleasing way. Another important aspect of the Raga presentation is the use of the “Gamaka”, which is to produce delicate vibrations of the musical notes that help in creating a deep emotional effect for e.g. Raga Darbari leads to the depiction of the Karuna Bhava i.e. of pathos, sadness or remorse. This pain or sadness in a way touches the deeper consciousness and helps in absolute liberation from stress and anxiety. Thus, music and sound are used to alter states of consciousness to reduce the perception of pain.

Music therapy today is used to address the emotional, physical, cognitive, and social needs of an individual or a group. The therapy involves a variety of activities ranging from listening to music and certain melodies, playing an instrument, drumming, and guided imagery.


It affects human emotions thereby elevating the feelings of joy and happiness. This in turn helps in releasing stress, while it stimulates the brain cells. This further helps in getting over the depression, anxiety, and many disorders related to both the mind and body.


Music therapy can be broadly classified into two categories namely the Receptive and Active music therapy.


In Receptive music therapy, the therapist guides the patients to listen to live or recorded music. On the other hand in Active Music therapy, the patient is required to take an active part in creating the music personally.

Some of the Key Benefits of Music therapy are that it

1. Helps in treating psychological disorders like Hyperactivenss, Anxiety, Depression, and stress, Insomnia, Alzheimer's disease, and memory loss, feeling of low. 

2. Tremendously helps to increase and improve memory.

3. Also controls Diabetes and Asthma. 

4. Helps immensely in reducing constipation and controlling acidity. 

5. Works well on physical illnesses like pain management and arthritis and chronic disorders like diabetes. 

The three elements of the body Vatta, Kapha, and Pitt work in a cyclic order and change as per seasons like summer, spring, rains, and winter. Thus it's important for Music Therapists to know the timings and seasons of each Raga, to achieve maximum benefits. 


Names of Ragas with corresponding medical benefit

Raga Megha Malhar is a seasonal Raga performed in the Rainy season which helps in treating Tuberculosis. Raga Miyan Malhar helps in reducing Asthama, and the effects of a Sunstroke since it has cooling properties. Ragas Sohni and Jaijaiwanti are evening melodies that have a soothing effect on the senses and are ideal in reducing chronic headaches and migraines. The evening Raga Puriya and the afternoon melody Raga Bhimpalasi have a magical impact on mood elevation and both are used to treat Hypertension.

Raga Todi, Kamaj, and Jaunpuri help in relaxing constipation. If Raga Darbari is listened in the night hours, it acts as an amazing stress buster and helps in treating depression. Raga Sarang, an afternoon melody, helps in treating both Depression and Cardiac problems. Raga Shivranjani is good for those experiencing sadness and pain. Raga Bageshri is good for those suffering from Insomnia and sleep disorders.

Raga Puriya Dhanashri is ideal to treat High Blood-Pressure. Raga Yaman Kalyan relieves Stress and Anxiety. Raga Bhairavi strengthens emotions and provides peace. Raga Marva helps in curing Malaria. Raga Asawari can help treat Skin Disorders. Raga Bairagi increases Memory. Raga Bilawal improves mental balance and Raga Shyam Kalyan boosts confidence.


There are certain important factors which the Music Therapist must consider before prescribing any treatment.


What the music therapist must know about the patient?

It is important to understand the history of the patient-the physical and psychological aspects, the patient's nature of the job and the work environment. Also need to know the level of stress at the workplace, and how well does the patient bond with colleagues. This would help in determining the treatment. 


Knowing patient's likes and dislikes are very important. The therapist must know if the patient is doing anything unwillingly especially in their personal life and career. He/she must find out what type of music does a patient likes-vocal or instrumental and which instruments does patient like to listen to or play. It is important to understand which genre of music the patient likes and if one is interested in other than classical then is it traditional, folk, devotional music, etc. 


Therapists must try to access which methodology would be easy to adapt by the patient and whether one is good for Receptive or Active therapy. The therapist must find out what time of the day is suitable for the patient and what should be the duration of the treatment, which will surely help to cure the patient faster. Once the diagnosis is done, the therapy can be applied as per need.


According to music therapist Pandit Shashank Katti, in Indian classical music every raga has its own Rasa, feel or bhava. Music therapy is about tapping the optimum level of energy through musical frequencies, which helps cure the disease. Music Therapy’ differs in its effect in respect of time taken to cure different illnesses for examples diabetes takes 5-6 weeks, while it may give immediate results in pain management. The therapy usually lasts for 28 days with each session being of 22 minutes. Post this the patient is advised to listen to the prescribed music once or twice a week. To hear Pandit Katti interview

Do read ‘India’s rich music heritage has a lot to offer modern psychiatry’ by Sravanti L. Sanivarapu, Department of Psychiatry, Institute of Mental Health, Hyderabad. To read in PDF click on PDF 


 1. THERAPEUTIC EFFECTS of Ancient Indian Classical Music, Vol 10, Issue 8. Indian Journal of Applied Research.

2. Article above by Sravanti L. S.  

To read all articles by author

To read all articles on Music

To read all articles on Yoga Therapy


Also read

1. What is a RAGA

2. Know the basics of Indian Music

3. Bharata’s Natya Shashtra

4. Fine Arts in the Rig Veda

5. 3 Music Therapists on how Indian Ragas can heal

6. Indian Association of Music Therapy

7. Hindustani Classical Music – Its evolution and emotional synthesis  

8. How music therapy is reshaping India’s approach to Mental Health

9. How Neuroscience is reinventing music therapy


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