Friday, November 7, 2014


A while back we had written a piece, speculating on an explanation to our pet Bhairavi conundrum: in spite of its acknowledged stature, Raga Bhairavi never occurs as the main course in any classical recital whatsoever. It was so because, we mused, Raga Bhairavi belonged not to the Mortal World, but she was really domiciled on Night’s Plutonian Shores. The domain of Bhairavi  begins where that of Life ends. Now further poetic evidence comes from the saga of the Golden Record travelling on NASA’s Voyager, which was alluded to briefly in our previous entry.

In 1977 NASA launched the Voyager 1&2 missions. The exercise had a something to do with Carl Sagan’s SETI dream: Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence… Voyager 2 was flung first, its trajectory designed to take advantage of a rare alignment of planets that occurs once in 175 years. Voyager 1 was cast at a shorter trajectory, as its first objective was to observe Titan, moon of Saturn. The two space-crafts were ultimately destined to become farthest man-made objects from the Earth therefore, just-in-case, you know…a plaque each was placed on the bus side of the space-crafts. The plaque called the ‘Golden Record’, contained, inter alia, in the most generalised format, sounds of the Earth- ‘Murmurs of Earth’, it was called officially, and there were deciphering codes for the benefit for extra-terrestrial intelligence who, or which, might stumble on the objects in interstellar space.

The Golden Record was a creation of Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, which was to eventually unite them into wedlock. The sounds are things like a mother’s first words to a new-born baby, sounds of a kiss, greetings in 59 languages, auditory translation of brain-wave..and what brings us here today- samples of Earth’s music.

The samples of music include the creations of Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Stravinsky, African percussion instruments, best known folk music, the oldest documented music of China ‘Liu Shui’ that is ‘Flowing Streams’ dating back to 500 BC…and from the Indian Civilisation, Raga Bhairavi sung by Kesarbai Kerkar! The compiler of music Robert Edward Brown, himself an expert mridangam player, considered Kesarbai’s Bhairavi jaat kahan ho the finest recorded piece of Indian Classical music.


To come back to Carl Sagan, we have already displayed his movie on Indian cosmological concepts in the last despatch. Carl was a rare genius. Isaac Asimov  described him as one of only two people he ever met whose intellect surpassed his own. The other, he claimed, was the computer scientist and artificial intelligence expert Marvin Minsky (WIKI). To quote Wikipedia again:

"Sagan was a proponent of the search for extraterrestrial life. He urged the scientific community to listen with radio telescopes for signals from potential extraterrestrial life forms. Sagan was so persuasive that by 1982, he was able to get a petition advocating SETI published in the journal Science and signed by 70 leading scientists, including 7 Nobel Laureates. This was a tremendous increase in the respectability of this controversial subject…"

Carl was also a regular cannabis consumer. He was quite forthright in defence of the gentlemanly and bad-mouthed herb.

So…Raga Bhairavi crossed into interstellar space in August 2012. Evidence for Voyager's transition was the sudden spurt in cosmic ray activity detected by the spaceship’s sensors. Interstellar space begins where the solar system ends, that is around 18 billion km from the earth. When the boundary was crossed, Sagan prevailed upon NASA to turn around the camera and take what he called a ‘family portrait’ of the solar system. From the snap was derived the term ‘pale blue dot’ for the earth, needless to state, by Carl himself.

The two Voyagers are today, man-made objects farthest away from each other. Voyager 1 travels at around 17 km per second as of now and is around 19.35 billion km away from us. Shortly, that is in 40,000 years, Voyager 1 will miss the star Gliese 445 by a whisker- from a distance merely of 1.6 light years, that is 15 times the distance of the nearest star (proxima centauri) from Sun! Perhaps Kesarbai’s Bhairavi is destined to travel beyond Elysium, her final resting place. She will be the only Indian who demonstrated what Kabir said:

(sung by Ravindra Sathe)


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