Tuesday, 17 January 2012

First Words on the Gramophone

The HMV Company had once published a pamphlet giving the history of the gramophone record. The gramophone was invented by Thomas Alva Edison in the 19th century. Edison, who had invented many other gadgets like the electric bulb and the motion picture camera, had become a legend even in his own time.

When he invented the gramophone record, which could record human voice for posterity, he wanted to record the voice of an eminent scholar on his first piece. For that he chose Prof. Max Muller of Germany, another great personality of the 19th century. He wrote to Max Muller saying, "I want to meet you and record your voice. When should I come?" Max Muller who had great respect for Edison asked him to come at a suitable time when most of the scholars of Europe would be gathering in England.

Accordingly, Edison took a ship and went to England. He was introduced to the audience. All cheered Edison’s presence. Later at the request of Edison, Max Muller came on the stage and spoke in front of the instrument. Then Edison went back to his laboratory and by afternoon came back with a disc. He played the gramophone disc from his instrument. The audience was thrilled to hear the voice of Max Muller from the instrument. They were glad that voices of great persons like Max Muller could be stored for the benefit of posterity.

After several rounds of applause and congratulations to Thomas Alva Edison, Max Muller came to the stage and addressed the scholars and asked them, "You heard my original voice in the morning. Then you heard the same voice coming out from this instrument in the afternoon. Did you understand what I said in the morning or what you heard this afternoon?"

The audience fell silent because they could not understand the language in which Max Muller had spoken. It was `Greek and Latin' to them as they say. But had it been Greek or Latin, they would have definitely understood, because they were from various parts of Europe. It was in a language which the European scholars had never heard.

Max Muller then explained what he had spoken. He said that the language he spoke was Sanskrit and it was the first sloka of the Rig-Ved, which says "Agni Meele Purohitam". This was the first recorded public version on the gramophone plate.

Why did Max Muller choose this? Addressing the audience he said, "Vedas are the oldest text of the human race. And Agni Meele Purohitam is the first verse of Rig Veda. In the most primordial time, when people did not know how even to cover their bodies, and lived by hunting and housed in caves, Indians had attained high civilization and they gave the world universal philosophies in the form of the Vedas".

Such is the illustrious legacy of India.

When “Agni Meele Purohitam” was replayed the entire audience stood up in silence as a mark of respect for the ancient Hindu sages.

This verse means:

Oh Agni, You who gleam in the darkness, 
To You we come day by day,
with devotion and bearing homage.
So be of easy access to us, Agni, 
as a father to his son, abide with us for our well being.

***  ***

Why did even Carl Sagan quote from the Rig-Ved? The sloka (verse) below is one of the reasons: 
Who knows for certain? 
Who shall here declare it? 
Whence was it born, whence came creation? 
No one knows whence creation arose; 
and whether god has or has not made it. 
He who surveys it from the lofty skies, 
only he knows - or perhaps he knows not.

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