Sachi R

Obiter dicta on music, men and matters

Raga is melted grace from God!

Posted by rsachi on January 4, 2010

I am listening to some wonderful Sankarabharanam thanks to this blog from Parvathi, Mysore. I am discussing the grandeur of a well-presented raga with my wife. She then narrates something she read in the Hindu.

I love this story so much I reproduce the portion here:

The Puranas present the Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Godavari, Narmada, Sindhu and Cauvery as the most sacred of rivers. Indisputably foremost among them is the Ganga. The myth concerning the genesis of the Ganga in heaven and the legend of its descent on earth, prominently highlight both the roles the sacred water is expected to play in the life of man – as the giver of life and remover of sin or curse.

While the legend of the descent of the Ganga in response to prayers of Prince Bhagiratha, whose ancestors had been reduced to ashes by Sage Kapila, and the sublime flow resurrecting the dead is popular, the mystery of the Ganga possessing that power may not be that widely known. Once while returning to the heavens after one of his trips to earth, the sage Narada saw a group of beautiful beings in a hidden Himalayan valley. His closer observation showed that every member of that group had lost a limb or bore some other mark of torment. At the sage’s repeated request the supernatural beings narrated their woes. They were ragas and raginis, the spirits behind the musical modes. Every time a musician sang with vanity or twisted the modes, the concerned being received a blow. Thus had they been maimed by generations of musicians. Narada – embarrassed because he was a musician himself – asked them what could undo the wrong they had suffered. if only they could have an opportunity to listen to the perfect musician, they said. Who was the perfect musician? None but Lord Shiva, the source of music. At Narada’s appeal, the God agreed to perform, but on condition that he must have at least one perfect listener in his audience. Who were the perfect listeners? There were only two of them – Brahma and Vishnu and both were only too happy to report at Kailash along with the ragas and raginis.

As Shiva began to sing – no words can ever describe the vibrations his song created – something unexpected happened. Vishnu became so thoroughly identified with that flow of that music that if not his body, his aura began to melt down. Brahma captured it in his Kamandalu and preserved it. That is the divine stuff that became the celestial river and later flowed down to earth, once again Shiva playing a unique role in the process as the first absorber of the shock of that mighty descent.

This is the myth that justifies the dead returning to life, figuratively establishing that nothing was impossible for the Grace flowing from the Divine, that death could be vanquished only by that supreme power.

Raga is a man-made concept. It exists in some form or other in every type of classical music, albeit it may be not so well structured as in Carnatic music.

In a lighter vein: some creative artistes would like to break free from the fetters of ragas. They even want to create or re-name MODERN ragas. All this is no doubt by divine design or inspiration. I think this is what is meant by the words Raaga Swarupa Paashaadyaa in Lalithaasahasranaama. On the other hand, the prayer also calls Lalitha as Sarva-anullanghyashaasanaa! That means she takes the form of the bondage called raga, but she is also the one who makes the rules that are absolutely inviolable!

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Travels of a Pierre Cardin Belt

Posted by rsachi on December 20, 2009

Once upon a time, there lived a farmer called John Smith. His cattle farm was famous all over Jersey,  and he frequently won prizes in cattle shows in English Fairs. Time went by, and his handsome young son Peter broached the subject of his own future. He had heard good things about the grasslands, snow mountains and sunny beaches of  New Zealand. Soon, with his father’s blessings, a dozen cows and a couple of bulls, Peter sailed to New Zealand.

Father Time now makes a fast forward  and we come to this century. There is no doubt Japan faces economic troubles, but every dinner table is still laden with Kobe Corn Beef or Peter’s Angus. So it turns out that around the Lunar New Year, a worthy successor to the Jersey ancestry tickles Japanese taste buds and also lends her hide to the flourishing sea trade between Matsumoto of  Kobe and Shin Tsui of Sichun. The ship itself is owned and run by Park of  South Korea.

Tsui’s nephew started a belt and shoe factory recently, and has won laurels from famous labels like Pierre Cardin. He makes lovely belts, with good grained cow hide, and it fetches him a princely sum of $2.50 per belt. He doesn’t have to buckle up, as the Cardin brand gets the buckles from Italy itself.

Soon after being buckled, a 115cm long gleaming formal black men’s belt makes its trip to Missassuaga in Canada. Just in tiime for the stimulus-driven Christmas season.

And what happens next? A handsome young statistician is shopping around in Toronto’s biggest mall with his lovely wife. And he happens to see s sweaty fat salesman at the Men’s Accessories counter! Voila! The statistician thinks of his brother in law (or Co-brother as Indians specify more exactly) with his vast girth crying for better upholstery.

The Pierre Cardin is taken and paid for, and thrown into the suitcase in a hurry since this B-in-L can’t get a visa to cross over from Buffalo. The statistician makes some fast math and concludes he should drive his Hybrid Camry all at once to catch the distressed man. So they meet, hug and the statistician calculates in his mind that the bell curve for men’s bulging torsos needs to be recast quickly to accommodate the muffin top like his B-in-L. But then, his estimation skills have served him right and 115 cm looks rather a good fit for the bulge losing its battle.

Bingo! After a lovely Indian temple orbit weekend tour, the US of A’s international conclave bringing together a B1 Indian passport holder from Australia and a statistician from Canada concludes. And the B-in-L flies back on a reluctant United who do their best to lose his bag and delay his flight. But he is an intrepid B1 you see and so does make it back to Parramatta. The very next weekend, he wants to get his belt on. He finds that the holes are not right as his torso has shrunk a bit after the United experience. So he goes to the Westfield mall, gets some extra holes punched by a Czech and Fiji partnership shoe repair team, and is all set to shine in his new upholstery, the Jersey-Angus-Peter-NZ-Kobe-Japan-Korea-SiChun-Milano-Toronto-Statistician- Aussie- Czech-Fiji-Indian B-in-L-Buffalo belt!!!!!

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An NRI Tree

Posted by rsachi on December 19, 2009

My good friend Vishwa led me to this astonishing story of a Mysore Fig tree holding its sway in far-away Florida, USA. This tree is over 113 years old, and has a care-taker who is 93 years old himself. The entire family is proud of this Ficus Mysorensis, which rises over 90 feet in height and declares its majesty as well as its sweetness through its fig berries that are made into a jelly by the doting family!

We talk of NRI Indians and awards that they receive. Look at this unique NRI. He stands tall and proud and healthy, and is not bothered about dual citizenship or double taxation. A model for all of us indeed.

The Holy Fig tree, called Ashwattha, is sacred for all Hindus. In Bhagavadgita as well as in Vishnusahasranama, this tree is said to be a form of Vishnu himself. My mother used to say that an Ashwattha tree inside one’s home garden could outlast the building itself and drive its roots even into the foundation.

I used to play under an Ashwattha tree as a boy. I was happy to see the same tree all over South East Asia and it may be here even in the botanical gardens in Australia.

Chaitanya compares the forbearance of a devotee to the patience and uncomplaining acceptance of a tree. What a noble thought indeed. Jagdish Chandra Bose showed how the tree could express dread at the arrival of the wood cutter with his axe.  Osho talks of how he used to talk to the Gulmohur tree in his college campus and how it would always welcome him.

Read this fairy tale from Hans Christian Andersen about the Christmas Tree. It is a fairy tale that imagines how a tree feels and aspires much like us. In this case the tree seems to have learnt to feel all the thoughts of the ever vulnerable man!

In closing, let me give an image of Bala Krishna, lying on a vatapatra (=Ashwattha leaf), sucking his own big toe!

Posted in Krishna Vishnu Ficus Mysorensis Florida The Mysore Fig Tree Chaitanya hans Christian Andersen Christmas Tree | Leave a Comment »

Shaantaakaaram

Posted by rsachi on December 10, 2009

Last weekend I was with four close companions in USA who took me to two Vishnu temples and made me recite Vishnusahasranama. They recite it daily and are devotees whose life exemplifies good values.

I came home and lit the lamp and played the wonderful Sahasranama record of Kishori Amonkar (Music Today). The way she has sung the dhyana shloka  Shaantaakaaram is so evocative. Listen to it here:
Today, after my companions’ treat to me, and amidst thoughts of all that we discussed, my mind says:
I am stressed out so much by things and happenings, but my deity Narayana is the very embodiment of peace, eventhough he is lying down on a mighty serpent! He is not dependent on anyone else or anything else for bringing him beauty, as he has created the lotus flower himself from his navel and is verily immersing himself in its beauty. No wonder even the gods run to him for succour, he is their absolute master.  Not only that, he is the lord of all creation, and as expansive as the sky. His colour of the rain cloud informs of his grace that pours down on all. His very form is so auspicious for me to contemplate.
One so much at peace with himself, so creative and expansive, supporting the universe and showering grace, no doubt is the beloved of all prosperity. He seeks nothing, and yet all prosperity comes and woos him. He is full of love, and his eyes show it like two beautiful lotuses. This form is the ideal that yogis envision in their meditation.
By bowing down to him, I have no more fear of what transpires in my silly world. He is after all my sole refuge.

Posted in Vishnusahasranama Shantakaram dhyana shloka sloka Kishori Amonkar peace prosperity deity prayer refuge of all | 1 Comment »

The Sydney Opera House

Posted by rsachi on November 24, 2009

This is a magnificent structure, and Sydney is duly proud of it. It was conceived and largely built by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, who in 2003 received the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest honour. The citation stated

“ There is no doubt that the Sydney Opera House is his masterpiece. It is one of the great iconic buildings of the 20th century, an image of great beauty that has become known throughout the world – a symbol for not only a city, but a whole country and continent. ”

The Opera House was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 28 June 2007. It is one of the 20th century’s most distinctive buildings, and one of the most famous performing arts centres in the world.

Utzon won a contest to design and erect an Opera House, and conceived of a design which was easy to “manufacture” and erect. In fact the entire structure is largely cement, ceramic tiles and wooden interiors.  There is a plaque showing how the structure which evokes visions of sails blowing in the harbour actually is made up of parts of the surface of a sphere, which can be cleverly divided up. That was the way the tiles were made in Sweden and transported all the way here.

I understand that Utzon was accused of underballing the cost estimate, which was over-run several times, and he was in fact dismissed towards the end. Sadly, he was not even at the inauguration ceremony. You can read more about it here.

I attended a grand eight piano concert here. All Steinways. The atmosphere was electric. The Australian pianists as well as the presenter were a huge revelation. And finally, after we had soaked up a wonderfully rich feast of profound music, one of the pianists went up to the organ. The Sydney Opera House organ is perhaps the largest in the world, weighs tons, and looms impressively in that magnificent concert hall. The organ made an absolutely mind-blowing impact. And the eight Steinways sounded like a feeble chorus of priests propitiating God himself. Think of Vishwaroopa Darshana.

The organ is located so high that the pianist had refused to go up there as he would have to look down from such a great height into the cavity of that huge concert hall. He agreed to go and play, only after they agreed that he would be screened off from the audience. There was therefore a black screen behind him, but his dimunitive figure was nothing compared to the grand, glowing sight of that spectacular organ.

Steinway supplied the original piano that Edison used to record the first sounds on his phonograph. I think it was Handel’s Messiah. Edison, world’s greatest inventor, was amazed by the quality of sound that the piano could reproduce, and wrote,

What great works are wrought by man, and think of the One who made him!

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Attachment 3.0

Posted by rsachi on November 22, 2009

This is a photo I took in 2005 in a shop window in Barcelona. The photo shows luxury clothes, but also the expressions on the mannequins’ faces is interesting. (You can see the reflection of the ubiquitous churches in the glass.). What are they thinking, or craving?
Now what do I intend to write about? About the human feeling of attachment. I think the evolution of man has seen a change in the way attachment is felt and expressed, and the nature of attachment itself. I think we are at a respectable version 3.0 now, and it is as problem ridden as any version of Windows!
What was Attachment Version 1.0?  Hark back to the days of our epics. They had attachment, but mainly to people, their families, their honour and their kingdom. They would die for their people. But people were not attached at that time so much to things. I mean creature comforts or objects of desire. Take for example King Janaka. He was willing to risk the famous Shiva’s Bow, as long as he got a suitable man for his daughter Sita. So much so that Rama broke the bow, only to be congratulated by King Janaka.
You will notice that Hanuman found Sanjivani, that would bring the dead back to life. But he did not patent it or hoard it or brand it or sell it. He was singularly lacking in a business sense… but then nobody seemed to care for things at that time.
Even in Mahabharata, we do not find people holding on to things as much as to their positions of honour and prestige. So much so that Karna gave away his divine ornaments.
That was V1.0. Attachment to people and honour. Then came V 2.0. The times of Nadir Shah and the like. The way they looted kingdoms for a diamond. Pillaged for pearls. And killed own brothren for the goodies. With V 2.0, you were attached to your precious heirlooms, things like money and assets. If you see any vintage movie, they show how a man’s will is read just after the funeral. Everyone gathers around, and nobody is mourning the death of the man as much as any denial of their share in the family fortune. They are willing to kill one another for it.
The entire modern economy developed on principles of wealth and security. This is classic V2.0, where you don’t care for people as much as for your things. In fact you deal with the company, which is called an entity. People just don’t matter!
Interestingly, the V2.0 was obseleted by the same people who created it. Of course they made lots of money as you insured your assets, and speculated on gain and appreciation of value. But nobody cares for you really, and how much you enjoy your things. In fact it is bad for the economy if you stay with things you love. It is better that you tire of them soon, sell them off, and buy new! The man who made this discovery was that magician who came selling Alauddin the new lamp for old.
So old is no longer gold. You need to replace or upgrade all the time. Not only do you upgrade your computer or TV, you upgrade everything… your clothes, your jewellery, your home, your job, your club membership, your car, your every single possession. Nothing is sacred, nothing is supposed to last. It is a replacement culture. So V 2.0 is dead!
Now we have V 3.0. You’re attached neither to things nor people. In fact you don’t know what you’re attached to. You are in fact attached only to your self image. Your self image, or Avtar, is everything. You don’t watch the same kind of movies, or listen to the same kind of music, or dine in the same restaurant. You are available to every kind of new experience. You are constantly connected to the entire world, and in fact MOST OF IT IS ONLY A VIRTUAL EXPERIENCE.  You hardly deal with real, palpable things. Your world is full of You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, Internet, Email, and blogs! You can relate only to your email ID and your Avtar. Nothing else matters or has any value. In fact this is the ultimate decadence of attachment… V 3.0. That means you are infatuated only with your self image. And this is not going to change ever… it does not matter what anyone thinks…. because there is NO REAL VALUE ANYMORE.
Alas, we have Attachment V3.0.  Do you agree?

Posted in attachment V3.0 people things self image obsolescence virtual experience real value objects of desire creature comforts Rama Janaka Sita Ramayana Mahabharata Nadir Shah Alauddin Shiva Hanuman Karna | Leave a Comment »

Lalgudi G. Jayaraman

Posted by rsachi on November 18, 2009

And there was a Lalgudi.
I am full of trepidation as I write this. I am writing about an extraordinary musical soul who lives amongst us and has created a wonderful legacy of music. He comes from a family of musicians, and his great grand-father was a disciple of Saint Thyagaraja. In fact Thyagaraja composed five magnificent songs while he was visiting this disciple in the village of Lalgudi.
That was over 170 years ago perhaps. And today, there is a musician amongst us who is totally unmatched for his contribution to Carnatic music. Who am I to say this? Actually a nobody. But I cannot help express these thoughts as I listen to his music streaming from a glorious blog site. This is a 1970’s concert with Palghat Raghu on the mridangam. Listen to it and you will take a few hours to recover from its musical impact. It is studded with gems.
Thanks to the great rasika and patron of the arts K. Srikantiah of Mysore Parvathi. The blog created by Vishwanath of New Jersey is a cornucopia of memories and music.
I attended three concerts of Lalgudi in Mysore in 1967-68 within a span of 3-4 days. I was so mesmerised, I sat close to the dias. And  I got his autograph. He signed with a flourish, the letter L shaped like a violin.
This great maestro has composed so many wonderful tillanas and other songs. He has given countless magnificient concerts. He has accompanied the great musicians like only he can. He has trained students who can hold their own today. He has created an incomparable solo violin style. The way he modulates the sound, the way he makes the violin speak the words… the way he creates a wonderful dialogue in the improvisation passages, bringing to our hearts the very God of music…. The way he coaxes the violin time and again to do even more…It is difficult to see where the bow and strings end, where the player begins and ends, and where God steps in and takes over…..
I remember an occasion when Lalgudi was playing in Krishna Gana Sabha. A suburban train passing by blew the strident whistle. At once he played the exact same sound and welcomed it to become a part of his raga essay…
I remember Lalgudi accompanying MDR in Bidaram Rama Mandira. MDR always had a packet of Kalkandu (crystal sugar) and dry fruits and so on, which he would strew in front of himself on the stage and occasionally pop some into his mouth with a delectable expression. Lalgudi would look out for a chance and steal a few pieces for himself and delight in them… the mridangam player would not be left behind either (I think it was TVG)…
Listen to the concert in the link. Each piece is a nugget. Kharaharapriya, Jayathasri, Mohana, Yadukula Kambodhi, Shanmukhapriya, the ragamalika in the end where he plays five octaves on the violin……Krishna nee begane….it is an endless treat.
Sometimes one is glad to be alive in THIS world. Where there is music and there is Lalgudi…..

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Séraphine

Posted by rsachi on November 16, 2009

Séraphine. This is a real story, made recently into a  famous French movie (7 Césars including Best Actress for Yolande Moreau) and I was lucky to see it on SQ233 enroute to Sydney.

Like so many French movies I have seen, the movie paints brilliant character portraits against a visually depressing imagery of buildings and spaces. The colours of walls are all dark dirty green or brown and black, and you wonder if you would like to be alive for even a few minutes in such a space, shorn of the bright hues and sunlit life basking under a blue sky (something you can count on here in Sydney).

But the characters are different. I don’t understand French much, but their spoken words are so fine on my ears, and the captions help to follow the brilliant expressions and thoughts of the characters.

In this film, the main character Séraphine is an ageing woman of dull appearance and body language, trundling along, working to scrub floors and wash the laundry of her convent nuns in a stream, in a depressing town called Senlis in Pre-WW I days. But wait a bit, and she transforms herself in front of our eyes as she secretly paints in her dingy dark room by candle light. She is very masculine in all her gestures, and has no niceties about her; but two things are luminous always..her paintings in candle light and her eyes and face as she communicates with Mary in the church. The bright shapes of flowers and fruits in her paintings are so cheerful. There is some kind of a dynamic in the visuals as you think you are almost walking amidst these cheerful expressions of Mother Nature.

Séraphine the maid who has always hidden her artistic side from everyone opens up to her benefactor. Herr Wilhelm Uhde, a famous art collector and promoter hiding  in Senlis away from the bustle of Paris, discovers that this house maid is a gifted painter. He convinces Séraphine to concentrate on her painting and make enough works to hold an exhibition in Paris.

Séraphine, who embraces trees and sees visions of beauty as she saunters in the woods, now has dreams of living a life of comfort and elegance. She even rents a large and comfortable apartment. She orders a silk bridal gown in preparation for some dreamy ceremony with silver candles and so on she envisions. By the way, she is touching 60 and says she has no family at all.

But the WW not only  tears down many lives, it also destroys the art market so Herr Uhde is no longer able to promote Séraphine  as a great artist and get her to move up from the drudgery of a house maid’s work to the comfortable life of a successful painter.

 The shortlived dream is dashed as Herr Uhde says there are no buyers now for her paintings. Séraphine is left alone to become eccentric and irritable. She is finally bundled off to a lunatic asylum. No one, neither Herr Uhde nor any of the town folk think of taking Séraphine  under their care and making her feel better in her last,dark days.

Luckily, Herr Uhde pays for the asylum to move Séraphine  into better quarters and she is able to walk into the wood peacefully and sit under a large tree as she counts her last days.

There are haunting questions the movie asks. What makes an artist? Whence comes the inspiration and talent?

How weak is man’s nature, that we cannot sustain the spirit of creativity in the artist, and show them love and care when they need it most? Why does a Séraphine, or for that matter, van Gogh, go mad?

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The Red Balloon

Posted by rsachi on November 2, 2009

I chanced to see this very simple and imaginative short film. It was made in Paris in 1956 in an area rather bleak in appearance which highlights the contrast of a bright red balloon.
The story is a fantasy of a young boy chancing upon a red helium balloon with a mind of its own. The balloon wants to be with him all the time and he has a great deal of fun taking it to play and school. The balloon has intelligence and feelings too… I saw it fall in love with another blue balloon!
In the end some bullies chase, torment and finally kill the balloon. Thereupon all the balloons of Paris converge to cheer up the boy and in fact take him on an aerial trip!
The movie-maker Albert Lamorisse has kindled our imagination with an insight into how we actually subliminally relate to a universally attractive plaything like a balloon. He won an Oscar for screen play.. and there are VERY few words spoken in the entire film. Shows you how a picture is worth a….
You can find more about the film here. Better still, you can watch a You tube clip here.

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Hercule Poirot’s walking stick

Posted by rsachi on November 1, 2009

Watch this, mon ami!

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