India and auspiciousness

Facebook has this new feature now, reminding us what we posted a year, or two, or five ago on that particular day. So it is reminding me today, that three years ago I was getting ready for my third India trip, after a five year break. It was a good post, I thought, so why not translate it into English? The post was titled something like “India begins… for the third time”, and I was alluding to a poem of one of contemporary Ukrainian writers, the first line was “India begins with the dreams about the voyage eastward”. The poem was a sort of fantasy – a look at India from a perspective of a medieval European – part merchant, part knight, part adventurer, or maybe just a full-on knight :). It was beautifully charming, somewhat mystical, and of course, somewhat contradictory, it had as little to do with the real India, as the stories of Alexander the Great, so it was about the India-myth, but I really liked it, even though I did not agree (that is, if one can disagree with a poem). There was no point keeping that title in the English version of the post, so I ended up doing what philosophers do, rather than poets, – giving a title that is boring but to the point. 🙂 Here goes the old post, enjoy.

Actually, India “began” long ago, or, rather, the inner India never ended. I was there five years ago, and it’s hard to believe it was that long, especially now, when she is again so close. (Yes, India is feminine in Ukrainian, India is “she”.)

I though that I would come back there much sooner, to continue learning to sing, but my teacher died suddenly, so my “formal” musical education got postponed indefinitely. At that time the teacher said: when you go back home, one Sa (that’s the first note) will give you much more than it is giving you here. Unfortunately, that is not so. Here, to even get that one Sa out of oneself is not that easy. Perhaps, if one really commits to it, works on it and treats it in all possible ways, that Sa would give more, but how much work, discipline and humility that would require! Vaitarna was a place where the music seemed to be flowing freely on its own, and anyone who so desired could just drink it. Of course, the teacher also knew that about Vaitarna, and also spoke about it in his own way. Who knows, why he said that it would be easier to practice “in your own country”.

India, both actual and inner, is defined for me with a word, which I have never encountered in over ten years of me being in the English-speaking philosophical environment. The word is “auspiciousness”, it is crudely translated as “favorableness”, and is generally associated with old-fashioned superstition or with a notion of luck or good fortune (also old-fashioned). Perhaps that is why it is not respected much by “professional” philosophers, especially here in Canada with its ultra-liberal and anti-traditional tendencies and views. But this is an over-simplified understanding of this phenomenon, and yes, for me auspiciousness is indeed a phenomenon in the original sense of the word, that which shows itself, that which shines. My inner India says, that in truth the word auspiciousness is related to sanctity or holiness, though not in a formally-religious church sense, but rather in a live and real sense, as what we mean when we talk about the sanctity of life or the sacredness of mother’s love.

One of the seven hundred verses of Devi Mahatmyam, which glorifies the Mother-Goddess, begins with a description if the Devi as “sarva mangala mangalye” – “the auspiciousness of all that is auspicious”, that is, the holiness of everything that is holy, or, as philosophers would say, the essence of the holiness. Further the Goddess is revered as the One who takes care of Her children – fulfills their desires and grants the highest joy, takes care of their well-being and spiritual growth, protects and shelters, destroys all their sorrows and sufferings. So this auspiciousness has to do with a state which reflects our relationship with the motherly aspect of the Divine. It’s a state of being simple, confident and safe, or protected and peaceful. It’s not about being infantile, irresponsible or cowardly, rather, the opposite, it’s about that directness, generosity and ability to bring joy which we treasure in children, and that is why we enjoy their company.

I interpret this auspiciousness as holiness also because it reminds me of the German root “heil-“, the holiness that manifests as well-being or good health in full sense of all its dimensions, before we split our life into physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, professional, familial, material, social… That German “heilige und heile” conveys the wholesomeness that is protected from cracks and breaks, that belongs to itself confidently and securely, that originates and develops within itself and according to its own true essence. This kind of protectedness echoes for me the Sanskrit root “sharan-“, which appears at least twice in the description of the Goddess that I just mentioned. The first time it refers to the Goddess Herself “sharanye tryambake gauri” – the protectress, the three-eyed Gauri, and the other time as “sharanagata” – I guess, the ability of those She protects, that is, our ability to trust and fully surrender to Her sheltering protection.

So, these were the thoughts that were surfacing during my repeated attempts to acquire the Indian visa. At first I had a hint of a doubt about the “auspicesness” or “correctness” of the whole situation, when some small clerk in the visa centre decided that I should not get a visa. But then I though that maybe these “obstacles” were there so that I do not take India for granted, and instead attune myself to the wavelength of that holiness, which very soon will become tangible, when I will sit on the red earth of Maharashtra, and which could be totally missed if one stays in the rational-business-touristy mode, that does not go with auspiciousness at all.

What does all of that have to do with music? Well, that very description of the Goddess was perhaps the most inspiring thing that I was learning to sing five years ago in India, and the singing of it attunes you so well to the tonality of holiness, which is not surprising at all, for She is “sarva mangala mangalye”…

PS. The reference is to Devi Mahatmyam, ch.11, verse 8 and 10.

That time three years ago when I initially wrote this post, I did not get my visa until the morning of my flight when had to show up to the consulate with my ticket and demand my passport back. Turned out it was just lying around on a desk of some other clerk, with a visa being issued long ago. But it the end, all that “maya” was well worth it, for I just had to “surrender”, and get over the uncertainties and doubts, and it turned out to be an amazing India trip, full of special moments, special people, and very inspiring experiences of the Divine.

If you want to hear what “sarva mangala mangalye”sounds like, here it is in the last concert of this summer’s music tour that I already started telling you about (you can fast-forward to 1:22:14-ish if does not open there on it’s own):

 

Advertisements

Vrindavani Venu in Canajoharie Arts Academy

Within the last year I have posted several posts here with some of the Marathi songs that I find  rather special. You can find them by the tag marathi. The posts themselves are in Ukrainian, but the videos and audios within the posts are in Marathi, so you can watch/listen if you like.

The video clip above is one of the songs that we have learned in a bhajan class this summer in Canajoharie Arts Academy, sung by our teacher, Ranjan, during the class. You can find a better audio of this song from that recorder that Alan is holding next to Ranjan here: http://alanwherry.tumblr.com/post/131307102785/heres-my-favorite-singer-ranjan-sharma-of-new

I actually wrote about this song last May, and posted a clip of one the “original” versions as well as a Ukrainian rendition: https://msvarnyk.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/маратське-музичне-3-вріндавані-вену/ If you follow the link, you will see that the first clip has English subtitles, so you can see what the song is about if you are interested.

The poem is written by a Marathi saint, Bhanudas, who is connected to Pandharpur, one of the places that is on my Indian “to visit” list. It is said that he was an ancestor of Eknath, another poet saint from that tradition, about whom I also wrote before :). It is really quite special, what these Nath tradition saints were doing. Some of them are perhaps more known for developing hatha yoga, but they also developed a body of spiritual texts (philosophical or perhaps in the West we would consider them theological), as well as beautiful poetry. They were quite famous for not supporting, and sometimes actively opposing, the conventional systems or religious practices and rituals as well social institutions, like the casts divisions. They were scholars and studies the Vedas, but are know for writing and teaching in Marathi rather than Sanskrit, so that they could be understood by simple uneducated people also, they translated some key texts from Sanskrit to Marathi and provided commentary to them.

I will probably continue this Marathi songs theme, and maybe will share some stories about these poet-saints as they surface within my contexts. Last Sunday, for instance, we were celebrating another personality who also was part of that Nath tradition, Gnyaneshwara, or Gnyanadeva, who is considered to be a saint by some and an incarnation by others. Maybe I will tell you about him on another occasion.

Back to the song, Vrindavani Venu, I said in May that would love to learn thins song, but that learning it on my own would be too difficult, someone would have to teach it to me. We often joke that yogis words are mantras, that if spoken with pure desire, they materialize. I guess my desire was pure enough – I sort of know this song now, and with some polishing here and there and a little practice could probably get it to the singable condition, which feels great. 🙂

I also took a harmonium class, where for the first time someone (well, not someone, but Ranjan also), showed us the first steps of how to practice a song, we learned one classical composition and also the basic layout of one bhajan, and I am amazed about how much easier it is to play it now than it was before this two-week crash course in the summer. I knew that harmonium is helpful for giving a basis for singing, especially for people like us, who do not have much of an experience of Indian music and lack precisely that feel of the basis, the grounding that harmonium provides, but I did not quite realize the extent of its helpfulness. Now I do, so it is likely that once I finish the song I am working on right now, I will try to sit down and learn to play Vrindavani Venu on harmonium, and after that is achieved, singing it will be a breeze :).

Stay tuned…