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Sunday November 21, 2004: Indian Music

        After the puja ceremony is complete, one of the Indians brings out his instrument. We are to be treated this year to a performance by someone well trained in classical Indian music. I'm unfamiliar with his instrument, though I believe it was a sarod. He explains that the metal fingerboard has a single fret and that there are twenty (or is it twenty-four) strings. Having played the guitar and cello, I am amazed. How in the world can you play twenty-some strings with just four fingers?  I wonder how long it takes to tune the instrument.

          He goes on explaining that he will be playing a raga and that ragas are created for specific times or seasons or events.  Each raga has its own sets of rules that identify it, yet a raga is never played exactly the same each time. Artists are expected to bring their own creativity to the piece, working within the rules of that specific raga to express the raga's theme. Since the song will be made up on the spot, he warns us there may be mistakes and hopes we will be understanding. (Note: the performance seems flawless)

         His last comment is that Indian music does not require silence from the audience. We can show our approval of sections we really like by clapping or by comments; he encourages our feedback, as this affects the music creation process. The music begins and we are transported by sliding notes and rhythmic beats. The group sits in silence, absorbed in the beauty and intricacies of the music. V.G. slaps his thigh, bobs his head in time to the music.  "Yes, Yes," he adds. "Oh, that is beautiful."

           The rest of us remain silent. Perhaps we are too conditioned by the American custom of sitting in silence through classical concerts. Perhaps, like myself, the others are mesmerized that by the realization that this is not a performance, but a creation. Each raga has its own principal mood and we are listening to a gifted artist -- building and communicating that mood with everyone in the room.  When the piece is finally completed, there will be enthusiastic response from everyone; yet, while the music plays, we sit in a state of reverence.  Music such as this is a form of prayer, and I suspect the audience silence comes from hearts opening to beauty, wonder, and devotion.  

          Could there be any better way to begin a retreat? The performance ends, we enthusiastically signal our approval. When the artist begins to put away his instrument, I look around the crowd and see faces still aglow.  The conversations afterwards are light and warm as people briefly touch base with old friends.  Many of us have traveled some distance and are inclined to call it an early night rather than sit up and socialize, but there is at least the chance to share hugs and smiles. Tomorrow will begin early.  I suspect many of us will go back to our rooms and meditate some more. Then we will slip into bed, wrapped in the memories and devotion of tonight's puja.


Posted on Sunday, November 21, 2004 at 09:59AM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | CommentsPost a Comment

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