His father agreed to teach him music if he would marry his daughter. The man agreed, but the girl was so ugly that they never spoke. They continued to learn music with the father's strict teaching. The man leaves and does not marry the daughter. She is coming to the river to purify herself and to rid herself of desire. The narrator in the story is at the same river to rid him of worldly desires, just as the daughter is trying to.
The moral of this story is that music and its spiritual connection is better than any earthly desire. We see the same portrayal of music and spirituality in Dante's work as well. Music is used in Dante's work to signal the reader that something wonderful and beyond normal human experience is happening. Music is used to set the mood in Dante's work. For instance, the use of "Ave Maria" evokes a specific sound image in the reader's head. One can hear the tune of Ave Maria. In this way, Dante uses familiar music pieces as type of descriptive tool to help the reader assemble a better picture of the scene that is being described. In this way Dante provides background music for the story.
At one point, Dante used music to work the reader into a religious frenzy. Dante uses music to invoke a type of ecstasy in the reader. Dante's reference to the wheel in the sky passages in Ezekiel further the notion that music is a part of that which cannot be humanly understood. Dante uses music to suggest that where there is music, the mere mortal will have difficulty understanding.
Dante uses music to evoke the divine. As Dante travels through the various levels of heaven the use of musical reference increases. When Dante describes the music of the Virgin Mary, he does not include a lot of detail or description. One reason may be that the piece is so familiar to the reader that this description is not necessary. However, as the piece continues, Dante takes great care to describe the sweetness of the music. The level of description increases as the traveler goes higher and higher into the levels of heaven. This may have been intentional on Dante's part and used to illustrate the beauty of each passing layer.
The River Sutra uses music to represent the divine much more mundane manner than Dante. In Dante, the divine is experienced directly by the narrator. In the River Sutra, the references to the divine are mush more obscure. For instance, in story about the singer, the divine is only referenced through ability of the boy to realize his life long dream even after his death. Not much is mentioned about the boy's spirituality and this little reference is not obvious to the reader that is not familiar with Hindu culture..
The River Sutra acts as a Hindu primer for the uninitiated. The cleansing of the girl musician so that she can be married to the music is a reference to the divine nature of music. It implies that the music transcends her physical body and that she is able to experience the divine through her music. However, this is never directly stated. The girl is giving up the pleasures of the physical world for something that cannot be felt or touched on this earth.
In conclusion, when one compares the use of music to connect the reader to the spiritual world, Dante uses a more direct method than Mehta. Dante uses music much like the description of a color or sensation to make the experience real for the reader. Dante uses music to draw the reader into his world. Mehta, on the other hand, subtly suggests the connection of music to spirituality, but does not use it to evoke the strong imagery that Dante does in Paradise. One can learn much about the spiritual worlds of the east and west by examining the use of music in their works.
Aligheri, Dante. Paradise. The Divine Comedy. Tanscribed by Judith Smith and Natalie
Salter. Project Gutenburg. Trans Rev. H.F. Cary. Online at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1007/1007.txt.
King James Bible. Ezekiel I (17-2210.
Mehta, Gita. A River Sutra (New York N.A. Talese, 1993)