|What Am I? Galen Sharp
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#2239 - Tuesday, August 23, 2005 - Editor: Jerry Katz
This issue features a selection from Raga Mala: The Autobiography of Ravi Shankar. The material was typed from the book and appears nowhere else. The following Amazon review says what I would have said about the beauty of the book's design. The book overflows with photographs and is highlighted with gold: gold endpages, gold lettering for chapter headings, and several gold pages within the book.
"Raga Mala is the autobiography of pandit Ravi Shankar, told in story, profusely illustrated [some in color], beautifully bound [with luxurious endpapers], on high quality, beautiful papers. It tells his story [introduced by George Harrison] from his early childhood, stage [as a dancer in his brothers famous troupe] to his study of sitar and Hindustani music with a master[Khan], to his gradual emergence in the west. I had no idea, that he had performed at Carnegie hall in the 1930's, that John Coltrane's son ravi was named after him, or that he was well known BEFORE the Monterey pop or woodstock concerts [he called woodstock"terrifying']. This is a wonderful book, it tells the ENTIRE ARC of the life of pandit Ravi Shankar [including his apparent heir and pupil, his daughter Anoushka], and does so with such a well put together volume. The papers, the binding, the photographic reproductions are exquisite. The publisher has done a remarkable job. A classic book, both in form and content." You may order the book at http://snipurl.com/h6ah
Our tradition teaches us that
sound is God Nada Brahma. That is, musical sound
and the musical experience are steps to the realization of the
self. We view music as a kind of spiritual discipline that raises
ones inner being to divine peacefulness and bliss. We are
taught that one of the fundamental goals a Hindu works toward in
his lifetime is a knowledge of the true meaning of the universe
its unchanging, eternal essence and this is
realized first by a complete knowledge of ones self and ones
own nature. The highest aim of our music is to reveal the essence
of the universe it reflects, and the ragas are among the
means by which this essence can be apprehended. Thus, through
music, one can reach God.
Being a Brahmin, I learnt some mantras from gurus as a child, and still repeat them in my mind as often as I can today. I do firmly believe that they have tremendous power. For a few years in the late Fifties and early Sixties, I regularly practiced hatha yoga, but gradually the pace of my life made it impossible to continue with it (although I still maintain my regular morning meditations, plus one before giving a recital). Many times in my life I have been attracted with great surges of love and bhakti (reverence or devotion) to some godly persons I have known, such as Tat Baba, Ma Anandamayi, Satya Sai Baba and the late Shankaracharya of Kanchi. Some I never saw have also exerted a strong pull on me, such as Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Lahiri Mahasai, Trailange Swami, Babaji and Swami Vivekananda. But in ones daily life and existence it is hard to attain cosmic consciousness. Most of the time the only self-realisation states one is aware of are physical and mundane ones. I am sure many of you have felt this too.
But MUSIC that is the thing for me! Mostly it has been when deeply immersed in my music that I have felt that surge of joy, merging into the indefinable drunken with beauty moment. Especially when I become attuned to my sitar, that is the route for me to touch the heart and the God within myself, and within my millions of listeners over the years.
The spiritual element in Indian
music is absolutely essential. From the very beginning our music
was handed down by the yogis, and musicians were invariably great
saintly people, leading a very religious life. Many of the old
songs were philosophical and devotional in nature, written in
praise of our gods like Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesha and Saraswati, and
the most popular character in the songs,
Sometimes I feel blindfolded,
completely susceptible to spiritual atmosphere and prepared to
believe whatever I am told, like a simple village person.
Whenever I visit Balaji, the temple to Lord Venkateshwar in the
South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, my heart is thrown
completely open to the power of the spiritual forces that seem to
be present. I feel the same innocent openness when I think of
But then at times I ask myself why I should depend on anyone. God is in me, not in these figures. These are supports which are there for when we need them; true religious experience is to be found in ones own heart. This comes back to the age-old philosophical questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? I believe I am both the atman (soul) and the paramatman (supersoul). Within me there is both the seeker and the one I seek.
Meeting George Harrison
I met George Harrison for the
first time in June 1966, one evening in a friends house in
From the moment we met George was asking questions, and I felt he was genuinely interested in Indian music and religion. He appeared to be a sweet, straightforward young man. I said I had been told he used the sitar, although I had not heard the song Norwegian Wood. He seemed quite embarrassed, and it transpired that he had only had a few sittings with an Indian chap who was in London (a student of the late Motiram, my disciple in Delhi) to see how the instrument should be held and to learn the basics of playing. Norwegian Wood was supposedly causing so much brouhaha, but when I eventually heard the song I thought it was a strange sound that had been produced on the sitar! As a result, though, young fans of The Beatles everywhere had become fascinated by the instrument.
Then George expressed his desire to learn the sitar from me. I told him that to play sitar is like learning Western classical music on the violin or cello. It is not merely a matter of learning how to hold the instrument and play a few strokes and chords, after which (with sufficient talent) you can prosper on your own, as is common with the guitar in Western pop music. I told him this nicely, getting him to understand the seriousness of Indian music.
I said, I have given so many years of my life to sitar, and by Gods grace I have become very well known but still I know in my heart of hearts that I have a long way to go. Theres no end to it. It is not only the technical mastery of the sitar you have to learn the whole complex system of music properly and get deeply into it. Moreover its not just fixed pieces that you play there is improvisation. And those improvisations are not just letting yourself go, as in jazz you have to adhere to the discipline of the ragas and the talas without any notation in front of you. Being an oral tradition, it takes many more years.
And there is more to it than exciting the senses of the listeners with virtuosity and loud crash-bang effects. My goal has always been to take the audience along with me deep inside, as in meditation, to feel the sweet pain of trying to reach out for the supreme, to bring tears to the eyes, and to feel totally peaceful and cleansed.
Then I asked him if he could
give time and total energy to work hard on it. He said he would
do his best, and we arranged a date then and there. It was not
practical for him to come to my hotel, so he invited me to visit
his house in
I felt strongly that there was a beautiful soul in him, and recognized one quality which I always have valued enormously and which is considered the principal one in our culture humility. Considering that he was so famous part of the most popular group in the world ever! he was nevertheless quite humble, with a childlike quality which he has retained to this day.
George Harrison writes:
The moment we started, the feelings I got were of his patience, compassion and humility. The fact that he could do one of his five-hour concerts, but at the same time he could sit down and teach somebody from scratch the very basics: how to hold the sitar, how to sit in the correct position, how to wear the pick on your finger, how to begin playing. We did that and he started me going on the scales. And he enjoyed it he wasnt grudging at all, and he wasnt flash about it either.
One thing he said was, Do
you read music? I said, No, and my heart sank
I thought, I probably dont even deserve
to waste his time. But he said, Good it will
only confuse you anyway.
When we were on the houseboat in
What Im getting at is that
pure essence of
Ravi and Anoushka Shankar
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