Saturday, August 29, 2009

My Tabla Solo Performance at Guru Purnima

Thank you thank you thank you for all the support, love and encouragement. Here is installment number 2 of my tabla journey (this is a year after my first solo). I played a pure Delhi Gharana solo.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Astrological Charts (Kundali) - Meaningless or to be Heeded?

A friend and I were recently talking about marriage and philosophy, etc and of course the inevitable question came up. Its a question I've been asked a lot. It makes its way into conversations about dating, marriage, arranged marriage, etc. Do I believe in matching kundalis (vedic birth charts)?

For many years, my answer was along the lines of Yes, I'll consider the matching because I've seen too many relationships between people with mismatched kundalis fail. I didn't really have a great reason why to believe or not to believe and since I had seen the power of spiritual practices firsthand in my life, I chose to give consideration to kundali matching.

Now I have more concrete reasons to consider matching vedic birth charts. Many might not be aware, but my Guru (Pandit Divyang Vakil) is not only a maestro of tabla and a brilliant tabla teacher, but also a spiritual healer and guru. His vast expertise is a treasure chest for me and my questions.

Guruji uses many different tools in his spiritual healing including vedic astrology, face reading, palm reading, vastu, tantra, numerology, occult powers, etc. He has stacks of vedic birth charts of his students that he uses, so who better to ask about vedic astrology.

Here is my understanding in a nutshell.

Ancient Indian civilization has given us a plethora of tools to provide guidance and help us make informed decisions. Everything is connected to each other (think butterfly effect) in some form or another, but the vast intricacies can be too much for us to comprehend. Each methodolgy serves as a guide. Sadly today, like with many traditional arts, there are many with minimal or no knowledge masquerading as experts who have at some point tarnished the image of effeciency of these methods.

Kundalis are a highly specific science, a person's kundali is very particular to the person. It is based on the birth time, birth place and name of the person. Small inaccuracies in birth time (on the order or 1o minutes) can change a kundali. (The debate over what time is needed - ie when the head appears or whole body is out is another topic).

A person's kundali tells you about the influence of planterary movement on a person's life. It gives various details about a person, including details about their personality, high and low points in their life, etc. The kundali itself is very scientific (and computer generated nowadays) and is incomprehendible to the common man as its speaks of planets, their locations and more. So results that you get from getting a kundali made are highly depended upon the interpretation of the chart. This is where the master is set apart from the amateur.

A common use of kundalis is to see good and bad periods in a person's life. I'm sure that there are times that you have felt that nothing is going right, no matter how hard you try. It is likely that your kundali would reveal that you were passing through a negative period (and there are different types), in which it would be difficult to see the fruits of one's actions.

By knowing these kinds of details, a person can make more informed decisions. For example, if the above period was occurring in one's life, it does not make sense to start a new venture at that point. It would be better to wait the few weeks or months for period to change.

Generally, when two people's kundalis are matched, they are paired together for over 30 different criteria. Each criteria gives a positive or negative result. A range of positive results is considered a good match. A perfect score is not a good match.

As a kundali also can provide an overview of the graph of a person's life, one can also examine how much trials/tribulations a potential spouse will face.

Like I said before, a kundali is only a GUIDE or indicator, not the final word, which is what many interpret it to be. The accuracy of a kundali is very much dependent upon the details used to make it, its maker and interpreter.

In general, after living in India, my respect for traditional arts (and sadness at its erosion and impending loss) has grown. Vedic astrology is one of the many that can be put in this list. It most definitely has its value and I don't think it can be passed off as a meaningless belief. It is a tool that has been created by extremely intelligent people to help man make better decisions. It should not be followed blindly, but without a doubt has value.

Would I consider matching janmakshars before marriage? Without a doubt, yes.
Would I heed the advice from the matching? That shall be a matter of circumstance.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Intuition/ Creativity

Yesterday Guruji was teaching us about what intuition is or the source of creativity and a wonderful line from his lecture has stuck with me.

The cosmic energy whispers to you in the silence between two thoughts.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Preserving Indian Classical Music Part 1: Creating an Audience

One concern that I have seen come up regularly is the about the future of Indian classical music. As maestros pass on, there is a growing lack of artists who can be compared to their Ustads. I won't tackle the question of why Indian classical music is dying, but rather will look at what can be done to ensure that it is preserved. The answer I believe is two-pronged. Musicians have to be cultivated and just as important, audience have to be cultivated. For the music to continue, there is must be people who can produce it and those who shall appreciate it and listen to it.

Audiences are most definitely changing. Only 20-30 years ago, a music concert by one artist could very easily be 3-4 hours long. Today in a span of a 2 hour concert, two to three artists will perform solos. Guruji often speaks of concerts that began at 8pm and ended in the wee hours of the morning. No one would move, let alone get up to get water or use the restroom during a concert, that was the level of involvement of the listens.

To listen to Indian classical music requires training. I am a perfect example of that. When I first began learning tabla, I knew VERY little about Indian classical music. When we would gather for music listening sessions with Guruji, the other students would be completely engrossed, reacting to taans and the way an artist render a raga, while none of the nuances were registering for me. I would catch myself zoning out and I'll admit it - falling asleep. Even within a year that has changed. I still don't know all the nuances and don't expect to understand them all in a year, but my comprehension is increasing. I am beginning to appreciate the music and the artistry of the musician more; and I'm not falling asleep. That is called training. I am being trained to listen to Indian classical music. As musicians would say (translated) - m y ears are opening.

Another example of audience education can be given in a geographical context. Kolkatta is considered the heart of Indian classical music. The toughest and most discerning audience is found in this city. Amdavadis is comparison don't quite live up to the mark. What might appeal to the music audience here and having them show their appreciation might not invoke the same reaction in Kolkatta as the expectations are higher. Kolkatta audiences are more trained. This is not surprising as the city is and has been home to many high quality musicians.

Training an audience will not happen on its own. It requires a concerted effort and is a valuable endeavour. If audiences are not trained to distinguish poor from mediocre, good from excellent, the artist has one less reason to push themselves to become better and better at their art (where this is the correct thought process or not is a different topic). When you gain widespread appeal for subpar or mediorce work, the market incentive to do better disappears.

The question then arises of how? Well, its not easy. Getting someone who only listens to modern Bollywood music (which can be quite poor in musicality) to listen to an alaap of Bhairavi is not going to happen overnight. But in small amounts, an appreciation can be created. One can say that today's well-done fusion that incorporates Indian classical music is one way of training in small doses, but it has to continue from there.

One way that Guruji has tried to tackle this issue is through his contemporary tabla ensembles, which we call "tabla fusion". Why tabla fusion because tabla traditionally is not performed as group so the presentation style is different. Also, the compositions, which are all his own, are made keeping a mainstream audience in mind. So you have all the facets of tabla playing that will make the common man give appreciation. BUT at the same, the essence of all the compositions is classical tabla playing. The intricacy and difficulty of the compositions is such that only his senior disciples can play them. The nuances of classical tabla playing are all intact. The presentation style though is such that even a person who will run at the name of a tabla solo concert will be asking when the next ensemble performance is. It is after all, 2 -5 tabla players playing super fast pieces in complete synchronization. Imagine the power of 5 tabla players playing dha at one time. (If you don't want to image, watch the video of his latest tabla ensemble - Tabla Ecstasy). His ensembles have performed all over and its a common response to see people inspired to learn tabla or come to tabla performances afterwards.

So how can audiences be created? By education, by exposure to this music. Its as simple as one person encouraging their friends and family to come to a show, giving them music to listen to. More concerts, more workshops, more access.

The benefit of the virtual world is that it has made it easier to find music, there are videos all over youtube, etc; but it has to be filtered. Again, poor should not be passed off as good. How can you tell? By building your personal database (mentally) by listening to more and more stuff and hopefully having a more educated ear to guide you. As you listen to more, your references grow and hopefully your discerning abilities as well. But ultimately, I think you do need a guide to this world of music to educate you about it.

A concerted effort has to be made to bring and keep Indian classical music in the forefront of society's music preferences. If the audience demands it, high quality Indian classical music can continue for a long time.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Indian Classical Music Listeners India vs Abroad

An interesting observation from some interactions this month. If you ask a group of Indian youth how many listen to Indian classical music, you won't get many positive responses. When I posed this question to some groups of NRI volunteers, the 70 - 80% of the people were familiar with it and listened to it. That is really encouraging and great to know.