Motion is the significance of life, and the law of motion is rhythm. Rhythm is life disguised in motion, and in every guise it seems to attract the attention of man; from a child who is pleased with the moving of a rattle and is soothed by the swing of its cradle, to a grown person whose every game, sport and enjoyment has rhythm disguised in it in some way or another, whether it is a game of tennis, cricket or gold, as well as boxing and wrestling. Again, in the intellectual recreations of man, both poetry and music, vocal or instrumental, have rhythm as their very spirit and life. There is a saying in Sanskrit that tone is the mother of nature, but that rhythm is its father. An infant once given the habit of a regular time for his food demands it at that time, although he has no idea of time. This is accounted for by the fact that the very nature of life is rhythm. The infant begins his life on earth by moving its arms and legs, thus showing the rhythm of its nature, and illustrating the philosophy which teaches that rhythm is the sign of life. The inclination to dance shown by every man illustrates also that innate nature of beauty which copses rhythm for its expression..
Rhythm produces an ecstasy which is inexplicable, and incomparable with any other source of intoxication. This is why the dance has been the most fascinating pastime of all people, both civilized and savage, and has delighted alike saying and sinner. The races which show a tendency for strongly accentuated rhythm must be vigorous by nature. Jazz has come form the Negroes, and the syncopation is the secret of its charm and is the natural expression of their racial rhythm.
Its rhythm arouses a kind of life among performers and audience alike, and it is the love of this life that has given such popularity of jazz. The dances among many wild tribes in different parts of the world show a most pronounced rhythm, which proves that rhythm is not a culture, but is natural. Among Europeans, the Spanish, Poles, Hungarians and Russians show the greatest tendency toward rhythm. The secret of the success of the Russian ballet and the Spanish dance lies in their exquisite rhythm. Among the Asiatic races the music of the Mongolians is chiefly based on rhythm, it being more pronounced than melody in their music. In Turkish and Persian music rhythm is also pronounced, and among the Arabs the variety of rhythms is very vast. In India however the culture of rhythm has reached perfection. An expert musician in India improvises a melody, keeping the same time throughout the whole improvisation. In order to become a master musician in India, one must master thoroughly not only raga, the scale, but also tala, the rhythm. Indians as a race are naturally inclined to rhythm; their dance Tandeva Nrutya, the dance of the South, is an expression of rhythm through movement.
In the Hindu science of music there are five different rhythms which are generally derived from the study of nature;
Mahadeva, the great Lord of the Yogis, was the dancer of Tandeva Nrutya and his consort Parvati danced the Lassia Nrutya.
The traditions of the Hindus have as a most sacred record the mystical legend of Shri Krishna dancing with the Gopis. The story relates how Krishna, the charming youthful Lord of the Hindus, was moving among the dwellings of the cowherds, and every maiden attracted by his beauty and charm asked him to dance with her. He promised every maiden that asked him to dance with him that he would dance with her on the full moon. On the night of the full moon there assembled sixteen hundred Gopis, and the miracle of Krishna was performed when he appeared as a separate Krishna to each Gopi and all of them danced with their beloved Lord at one and the same time.
There is a tradition in Islam, where music, dancing, and all amusements and light occupations are strictly prohibited, that on one occasion, it being a holiday, the Prophet called his wife Ayesha to look at the dance and listen to the music of some street musicians. In the meantime his great Khalif happened to come by and was shocked to seeing the Prophet who had prohibited such things himself permitting music in from of his house. When he stopped the music of the street players, pointing out to them that it was the house of the Prophet, Mohammad requested that they might continue, saying that it was a holiday and that there is no heart that does not move with the motion of rhythm.
In the traditions of the Sufis Raqs, the sacred dance of spiritual ecstasy which even now is prevalent among the Sufis of the East, is traced to the time when contemplation of the Creator impressed the wonderful reality of his vision so deeply on the heart of Jelal-ud-Din Rumi that he became entirely absorbed in the whole and single immanence of nature, and took a rhythmic turn which caused the skirt of his garment to form a circle, and the movements of his hands and neck made a circle; and it is the memory of this moment of vision which is celebrated in the dance of dervishes.
Even in the lower creation, among beasts and birds, their joy is always expressed in dance; a bird like the peacock, when conscious of his beauty and of the beauty of the forest around him, expresses his joy in dance. Dance arouses passion and emotion in all living creatures.
In the East, and especially in India where the life of the people for centuries has been based on psychological principles, in the royal processions or at Durbars an impression of kingly grandeu is made upon the minds of people by the beating of drums; and the same beating of drums takes place at wedding ceremonies and at the services in the temples.
Sufis, in order to awaken in man that part of his emotional nature which is generally asleep, have a rhythmic practice which sets the whole mechanism of body and mind in rhythm.
There exists in all people, either consciously or unconsciously, a tendency toward rhythm. Among European nations the expression of pleasure is shown by the clapping of the hands; a farewell sign is made by the waving of the hand which makes rhythm.
All labor and toil, however hard and difficult, is made easy by the power of rhythm in some way or other. This idea opens to the thinker a means for a still deeper study of life.
Rhythm is every guise, be it called game, play, amusement, poetry, music or dance, is the very nature of man’s whole constitution. When the entire mechanism of his body is working in a rhythm, the beat of the pulse, of the heart, of the head, the circulation of the blood, hunger and thirst, all show rhythm, and it is the breaking of rhythm that is called disease. When the child is crying and the mother does not know what ails it, she holds it in her arms and pats it on the back. This sets the circulation of the blood, the pulsation’s and the whole mechanism of the body in rhythm; in other words sets the body in order, and soothes the child. The nursery rhyme ‘Pat-a-cake’, which is known all the world over in some form or other, cures a child of fretfulness by setting its whole being in rhythm.
Therefore physicians depend more upon the examination of the pulse than on anything else in discovering the true nature of disease, together with the examination of the beat of the heart and the movement of the lungs in the chest and back. Rhythm plays a most important part not only in the body, but in the mind also; the change from joy to sorrow, the rising and fall of thoughts and the whole working of the mind show rhythm, and all confusion and despair seem to be accounted for by the lack of rhythm in mind.
In ancient times healers in the East, and especially those in India, when healing a patient of any complaint of a psychological character, known either as an obsession or an effect of magic, excited the emotional nature of the patient by the emphatic rhythm of their drum and song, at the same time making the patient swing his head up and down in time to the music. This aroused his emotions and prompted him to tell the secret of his complaint which hitherto had been hidden under the cover of fear, convention, and forms of society. The patient confessed everything to the healer under the spell produced by the rhythm and the healer was enabled to discover the source of the malady.
The words ‘thoughtful’ and ‘thoughtless’ signify a rhythmic or unrhythmic state of the mind; and balance, which is the only upholding power in life, is kept by rhythm. Respiration, which keeps mind and body connected and which links the mind and soul, consists in keeping rhythm every moment when awake or asleep; inhaling and exhaling may be likened to the moving and swinging of the pendulum of a clock. As all strength and energy is maintained by breath, and as breath is the sign of life, and its nature is to flow alternately ion the right and left side, all this proves rhythm be of the greatest significance in life.
As rhythm is innate in man and maintains his health, so upon rhythm depend all a man’s affairs in life; his success, his failure, his right acts and his wrong acts, all are accounted for in some way or other by a change of rhythm. The instinct of flying in the bird is a rhythmic movement of the wings; and it is the same tendency of rhythmic contraction which makes the fish swim and the snake glide.
A keen observation shows that the whole universe is a single mechanism working by the law of rhythm; the rise and fall of the waves, the ebb and flow of the tide, the waxing and waning of the moon, the sunrise and the sunset, the change of the seasons, the moving of the earth and of the planets, the whole cosmic system and the constitution of the entire universe are working under the law of rhythm. Cycles of rhythm, with major and minor cycles interpenetrating, uphold the whole creation in their swing. This from the motionless life, and that every motion must necessarily result in a dual aspect. As soon as you move a stick, the single movement will make tow points, the one where it starts and the other where it ends, the one strong and the other weak; to these a music conductor will count ‘one, two,’ ‘one, two,’ a strong accent and a weak accent: one motion with two effects, each distinct and different from the other. It is this mystery that lied hidden under the dual aspect of all phases and forms of life; and there reason, cause, and significance of all life is found in rhythm.
There is a psychological conception of rhythms used in poetry or music which may be explained thus: every rhythm has a certain effect, not only upon the physical and mental bodies of the poet, on him for whom the poetry is written, on the musician, or on him to whom the song is sung, but even upon their life’s affairs. The belief is that it can bring good or bad luck to the poet and musician or to the one who listens. The idea is that rhythm is hidden under the root of every activity, constructive or destructive, so that on the rhythm of every activity the fate of the affair depends. Expressions used in everyday speech such as, ‘he was too late’, or, ‘it was done too soon’, or ‘that was done in time’, all show the influence of rhythm upon the affair. Events such as the sinking of the Titanic, and the amazing changes that took place during the late war, if keenly studied can be accounted for by rhythm working in both mental and physical spheres.
There is a superstition among Indians that when somebody yawns, someone else who is present must either snap his fingers or clap his hands. The hidden meaning of this is that a yawn is significant of the slowing down of rhythm, and that by clicking the fingers or clapping the hands one is supposed to bring the rhythm back to the original state. A Muslim child when reading the Qua’an moves his head backwards and forwards; this is popularly supposed to be a respectful bow to the sacred words that he reads; put psychologically speaking it helps him to memorize the Qua’an by regulating the circulation and making the brain a receptive vehicle, as when filling a bottle one sometimes shakes it in order to make more room. This also may be seen when a person nods the head in accepting an idea when he cannot take it in.
The mechanism of every kind of machinery that works by itself is arranged and kept going by the law of rhythm; and this is another proof of the fact that the whole mechanism of the universe is based on the law of rhythm.