Music for the Unborn
“ The swishing of the waves on the seashore has a strange fascination for people. Have you met anyone who’s not fascinated by the music of the waves? That’s because it reminds us of the primordial world of prenatal existence inside the mother,” remarks Dr Gita Arjun (50), Chennai-based obstetrician and gynaecologist, startling me with her extrapolation. Perhaps it is this rare ability to juxtapose apparent paradoxes and seeming contradictions into harmonious wholes that have led Dr. Gita Arjun venture into new frontiers of exploration and journey in contemporary obstetric care.
Dr. Gita Arjun is also co-founder of the Chennai-based Ojas Foundation, a global Vedic health movement that advocates the Vedic path to healthy living. The foundation has recently released a CD, “Ojas for the expectant mother”. Hailed as the “CD for every expectant mother”, it consists of specific mantras sifted from the Vedas that are believed to impact on the unborn child at the physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual levels. “Ojas means life energy. The Sanskrit word Vedas mean knowledge, which transcends religion and beliefs,” explains the erudite Tatwamasi Dixit, Vedic and Sanskrit scholar, and founder, Ojas Foundation. Dixit combines his Vedic scholarship with insights into Jungian philosophy and different forms of healing. He has integrated important features of these methods with Vedic science in healing therapy. “ Basically what we are trying to do is to transform the ancient Vedic mantras to align with the modern metaphor,” explain Dr. Arjun and Dixit.
Looking back at the circumstances that led to her association with the Ojas Foundation, Dr. Arjun reminisces, “ I remember Sri Tatwamasi Dixit inviting me to release the CD. I declined the invitation because I had a lot of misgivings given my background of an allopath anchored firmly in Western medicine and subscribing to its values, belief systems, and practice of evidence-based medicine and my own non traditional concepts of God and religion. In fact my only religion is medicine… However, subsequent meetings and discussions with Dixit on the Vedic path to healthy living and my knowledge of Sanskrit touched a chord. I then began to explore and cull out information on the impact of sounds on the unborn child.”
Recent research studies provide sufficient evidence for the effect of structured sounds on the unborn child. “ The ear is the first sensory organ to develop and the foetus responds to sounds from the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy. There are documented changes in the heart rate and breathing pattern of the foetus in response to sound stimulation,” elaborates Dr. Arjun. Research also suggests that prenatal exposure to structured specific sounds provides a head start for subsequent learning and behaviour. “There is evidence that such children start to speak earlier and have better linguistic and mathematical aptitudes,” adds Dr. Arjun. The Los Angeles Times in a feature on neurobiological research remarked, “Undeniably, there is a biology of music.”
According to Giselle Whitehall, a prenatal music therapy practioner, “ We now know that the foetus is having first language lessons in the womb. The inflections of mother tongue are conveyed not only through speech but also, most importantly, through song. The singing voice has a richer frequency than speech. Babies born of deaf mothers miss these important first lessons in language development.” Drawing an avian parallel, French pioneer Dr. Alfred Tomatis has observed that songbirds hatched by silent foster mothers do not sing. “What the baby learns in utero are the intonational patterns of sound and the frequencies of a language in his/her particular culture,” remarks Whitehall.
While pregnancy is a milestone in the lives of parents-to-be, it is often an emotional roller coaster for the expectant mother. “Pregnancy is an emotionally labile period for the mother. We know that the growing child in the womb is affected by chemicals released in the mother’s brain in response to her emotions,” remarks Dr. Arjun. The hormonal surge makes both the expectant mother and the unborn child particularly vulnerable. Therefore under such stressful circumstances, listening to the “inherent resonance and rhythms” in Vedic mantras acts as an anodyne for both the mother and the child. Both Dr. Arjun and Sri Tatwamasi Dixit advocate setting aside some time during the day when the expectant mother, listening to Vedic chants, is able to synchronise herself with the new life that stirs within her. The energy that the mother imbibes while listening to the mantras is transferred osmotically to the unborn child, enveloping it in a security blanket of love, tranquillity and comfort. The resultant bonding between the mother and child is “the first step in early parenting and empowers the child as it enters the world,” avers Dr. Arjun. She also remarks that the mantras reiterate the message of “design me a beautiful baby integrated in body, mind, and spirit.” As Vedic hymns are part of Indian culture and our psyche, they act as an adjunct in helping the expectant mother experience the joys of what is perhaps a memorable event in her life.
Mantras are a microcosm of the perennial sound vibrations in the macro universe, which connect every cell. Hence it is not mandatory that a person understands the meaning of the mantras. “Sounds can be understood and related at three levels: Shabda Anusandhanam (perceiving the vibrations of the sound), Artha Anusandhanam (perceiving the meaning of the sound), and Bhava Anusandhanam (perceiving the emotions/feelings of the sound). The chanting is based on a combination of four swaras or musical notes that form the basis of the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharvana Veda, ” explains Sri Tatwamasi Dixit. This together with the inherent nature of Sanskrit in exemplifying the basic cadences in all Indian languages perhaps explains why Indians irrespective of their religious affiliations are able to “connect” with the mantras, making it cross cultural/trans religious in its scope and reach. Forthcoming health CDs from the Ojas Foundation include “Ojas for the healthy heart” to be released shortly and “Ojas for stress, anxiety, and depression” to be released next year.
From its initial word of mouth publicity, the growing popularity of “Ojas for the expectant mother” has today resulted in it ranking as among the “Top five CDs” at Landmark, a premier retail outlet in Chennai, alongside with popular chartbusters! However, Dr. Gita Arjun admits that she doesn’t actively promote it even with her clients as ethical compunctions restrain her from doing so, particularly as she is so intimately involved in the endeavour. Her clients, after reading the publicity material, are free to exercise their option in getting the CD.
Dr. Gita Arjun showcased her latest ‘baby’ in July 2002 at Dakshin, a conference of obstetricians and gynaecologists from South India at Hyderabad. “I was overwhelmed by the positive response,” exults Dr. Arjun. Nevertheless still incredulous, she recalls sharing her concern with Dr. Matthews Mathai, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Christian Medical College, Vellore, about being erroneously perceived as having “crossed over to para medicine” or dabbling in mumbo jumbo. “His response that I was indeed venturing into promising areas and that sometimes one needed to look outside the box, was encouraging,” recalls Dr. Arjun. She plans to conduct longitudinal studies on the effect of prenatal exposure to Vedic music on children.
Dr. Gita Arjun is currently Director, EV Kalyani Medical Centre, Chennai, a 52-year-old institution with a focus on women’s health. Dr. Arjun’s niche is high risk obstetrics, and pre natal diagnostic procedures. Following residency training in Ob Gyn at St. Francis Hospital, Evanston, USA, (1976-1980), Dr. Arjun returned to India with a mission to provide her people “an integrated model of Western medicine attuned to Indian economic constraints… to strive for excellent standards of medical care without compromise.” That she has been able to do so despite a flawed system with ethical potholes is a testimony to her passionate commitment to patient care. Married to Dr. Arjun Rajapgopalan, Surgeon, and Chief of Medical Staff, Sundaram Foundation, Chennai, they have two children, Ashvin (22), a jewellery designer, and Kavita (18), a student of International Studies at North Carolina, USA. The sensitive and articulate doctor describes her life as a “journey”, in which she is an eternal peregrine, exploring the unknown and the mysterious.
For further information please contact:
Ojas Research Foundation
22/2, Judge Jambulingam Road
Mylapore, Chennai 600004
Phone: 91-44-847 2655, 8471841