Healing power of the Persian santur

November 16, 2017

Woman playing the santur in a painting from the Hasht-Behesht Palace in Isfahan Safavids state, 1669

I recently returned from San Luis Obispo on the central coast of California where I performed Persian dance at Cal Poly University with the Arabic Music Ensemble, directed by Dr. Ken Habib, and wonderful guest Iranian musicians Neema Hekmet, Azadeh Nemat-Gorgani, Nariman Assadi, and Nasser Sabouri.  What a beautiful experience it was!

In addition to the beautiful proscenium stage theater, gracious audience, and talented colleagues with whom I performed, what make this performance extra special for me was that I had the pleasure of dancing to a live Iranian ensemble, led by santur master Neema Hekmet, whom I have known and worked with for many years. The music was incredibly moving, and I was swept up in the experience, feeling a deep heart-opening triggered by the music, a deep connection to the audience, and sense of being wrapped and enveloped in Divine Love.

I am inspired to share with you how I first encountered the santur and Persian or Iranian music for the first time, because it relates intimately to the sacred mystical nature of music dance.

It was 20 years ago at the Middle-Eastern Music and Dance Camp in Mendocino that I first encountered Iranian music. Every night they have masterful live music ensembles from the Turkish, Arab, and Iranian traditions. I was out there in the audience, letting the music wash over me like water, and the santur begins to play. The santur is a hammered dulcimer of ancient Persian origin, over 3000 years old and considered the great grandfather of the the piano. It’s sound has a mystical, magical tingling quality, like angels dancing.  It sends me into such a delicious trance!  And the daff, the Persian frame drum, is like soft rain pattering on the roof of my heart. For me these instruments have a deep spiritual resonance and assure me beyond doubt of the healing capacity of music.

So this night of my first encounter with the santur and daff, a profound feeling of well-being, freedom, safety and spiritual connection washed over me. Certain fears and neurosis I was carrying from childhood softened their grip. This was a moment of deep healing and relaxation, as I realized in that moment that I was not bound by my fears and the past. That I would have a unique, beautiful life that would be my own. Tears started to well in my eyes as relief washed over me. This experience was all stimulated by the sound of the santur and the daff.

Traditional Iranian music is deeply connected to Sufi mysticism and is designed to take the listener through different states of consciousness. No one had to tell me that, because I felt the power of the music to take me celestial realms. Listen for yourself! Does it spark something in you?