Tuesday, November 1, 2011

sound yoga

Kirtan at Anokhi's.

I love kirtan. I don't deny it. Even if I don't have the voice for it. Even if I don't have the tuning for it. Even if my pronunciation is flawed and my tongue trips over the succession of Sanskrit consonants ungracefully. I love the coming together of people, the strength of collective intention, and the vibrational shifts one feels when we allow our bodies to be an instrument of devotional sound.

Ok, so never mind the strangeness of repeating the names of Hindu gods with ecstatic fervor. If they could see me in the throes of Indian devotional song, my ultra-Catholic relatives would surely sick the family priest at me or at the very least whisper behind my back what they've always suspected, "she's a weird one, that little heathen!"

Thank goodness I quite like being strange. And I don't mind being quirky. Though when you are in a place like Mysore, surrounded by so many yoga practitioners/world wanderers, its actually hard to stand out. Extraordinary is quite the norm. But I digress here.

My point is, hereabouts I'm not the only one who likes kirtan because there's been two already in the two weeks I've been here and another one slated this Friday, 5pm at Anokhi's Garden. The first was a small candle-lit Diwali affair with Mark Robberds on guitar and Ganesh on tablas. The second was an all out feel-good mini concert where Mark and Ganesh were joined by Samya with her cool ethereal voice and Peter on his harmonium. They played together and took turns leading. The back room at Anokhi's was packed. And the appearance of some of the Ashadayaka children really made the kirtan extra special. They were, of course, well versed on the chants and were not shy about singing their hearts out. In fact, neither were we, the collection of some 30 odd students sang so exuberantly that we were not shaken by the last dregs of fireworks exploding around Gokulam.

Kirtan has been such a source of great joy for me, not just here recently, but also when I was in the Pacific Northwest this summer where I stayed at the aptly named Bhakti House and beautiful Bellingham--where just about everyone seemed to own a harmonium--and I was able to take a kirtan class with jazzy lady Gina Sala, that I've decided to take singing lessons from a classical Indian teacher right here in Gokulam. Gulp! Just writing about it is making me sweat because in my heart of hearts I always secretly wanted to sing but lack the skill and confidence to do it.

The opportunity to tackle this new challenge seemed to just fall into my lap. Or rather I moved in to it, so to speak. My landlady, Ranjini, upon letting us into our apartment that first night in Mysore introduced herself as a classical Indian music teacher, and it turns out that she's a respected one also. We sat down then and there and I agreed to come to class once I was all settled in.

Yesterday was my first class. And I am still buzzing from it. She gave us a brief intro, went over the scales, then threw us right into song, starting us with common chants and scales. Most of it is call and response. To just listen to her deliver the chants is in itself a delicious activity. Its a little more rattling trying to sing myself, but I found the beautiful voices coming from my fellow singing partners Claudia and Patricia buoyed my own performance.

So, surprisingly--and happily--I am finding that this is time of singing. A new dimension to this second Mysore experience.

The next kirtan at Anokhi's Garden Cafe will be this Friday, November 4, 5pm. To explore voice lessons with Vid. Ranjini Koushik, a vocalist in the Carnatic Classical tradition, call mobile +919480380383641 or 0821-2582193.

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