Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Where music is an offering to Divinity ...

... where soul meets the symphony, where devotion pours from dedication and where the cosmic presence serenades with human endeavor.

Shri Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh (SSMSS). If there is a Woodstock in India, it is this.

A five-day music conference, SSMSS started about 90 years back as as a part of a 9-day Hanumad Jayanti celebration, held in the pristine ambiance of  the Sankat Mochan temple, located in the holy city of Benares, India. What is unique about this event is that it is by design a mystical space for even the most accomplished musician to offer his / her music as seva of Lord Shri Hanuman - who is considered to be an embodiment of supreme talent, expertise and strength, even in the realms of music.

Legends in the Hindu mythology uphold Hanuman as the most accomplished musician, as certified by none other than the sage Narada. The story says that once Hanuman intercepted the sage's path to pay obeisances unto him. In return Narad said, "You will become expert in music.That was the only benediction left to be given to you". 

"How will I know that I am the best in music?" Hanuman inquired. "I am told that you are the best today. So favor me with the benediction that I will be more adept than you in music." "All right, I will sit somewhere and listen to you," said Narada.

Narada put his veena on a rock and sat down to listen to Hanuman singing. So magical was the spell of his rendition that it started changing the nature of things like the rock on which Narada had rested his veena. The rock melted in ecstasy and the the veena floated in the liquid. When he stopped singing the veena got stuck in rock which became solid again. Sage Narada had to concede that Hanuman was really the most magical musician to coax him to sing again, melt the rock and retrieve his veena. 

Here lies the essence of this unique mystical space. It is not a space for musicians to display one's musical prowess with pride and arrogance but a space to acknowledge with humility the epitome of infinite musical talent and perfection while offering one's music with honesty and authenticity.

Stalwarts of Hindustani music have come here to give haziri (voluntary attendance) in baba's ( Hanuman's) darbar (court) year after year over nine odd decades. They have lived the essence And in the process have created blissful experiences for themselves and the audience through their musical offerings, rendered selflessly.

I have been coming to Benares to experience the bliss of this samaroh in sweltering summers of the last 5 years. This year, after having stayed awake for two nights and listened to some of the most accomplished and even a few budding talents at the sangeet samaroh of 2013, I am beginning to get concerned about what seems to be a dilution of this essence. While the organizers have done a commendable job in painstakingly keeping the tradition intact over so many years, it seems some well-traveled musicians of today, smitten by the glory of their global fame, and even some who are trying to ape it as a part of their learning process are missing the point. They are visibly (and audibly) in a hurry to woo the gallery, more keen on demonstrating speed and gimmickry at the cost of the soul of the music - a natural outcome of the musicians' ego. But then there are those who either after a brief struggle to establish the prowess of their performer self, relent to the humbling power of the Cosmic Presence of the space or are consciously surrendered ab initio to this mystic power to allow the music to happen. The prevalence of this neutralizing power is palpable, sometime so overwhelmingly, that sometimes I find 'myself' completely immersed in the shapeless, nameless sea of silence amidst all the symphony. 

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