Thursday, February 20, 2014

Garden of the Gods: Mantras on My Mind




            A few years ago, my yoga teacher introduced our class to the music of Snatam Kaur. While we made bridges of our bodies for "downward-facing dog" (yoga has many graphically named postures: my favorite is "corpse pose"), Snatam Kaur's magical arrangement of traditional mantras that have enchanted for hundreds of years washed over our senses, sinews and synapses like heavenly balm.

            I had heard musical settings of the chants, or "mantras" (repeated sounds that aid meditation), before. But this time the veil slipped, the universe out there spoke to the universe in me, and her voice went straight to my cerebral cortex.

            I don't know what to call this genre -- yoga chants? mantras set to music -- but these vocal music performances affect me like the "soul music" of yore; the name given to the Motown sound of the sixties. It just digs inside of you, the repetitions of the chant blending with your own heartbeats, physical and mental processes. It's not a matter of doing the chanting, but simply listening to the musical settings the way you would press your ear to the transistor radio to hear the latest Supremes song 
            These yoga songs affect me, at least sort of, in the same way. They come from a tradition in which the devotees say unblushingly they are "in love" with "God." I don't say any of these things without blushing.

            But I'm at the point, several years into this pleasurable addiction, where I feel distinct cravings. It's easy enough to find this music (and probably all music) on the internet, so I can go and access it whenever I want. It's an addiction to a feel-good moment.
            Snatam Kaur... It's not easy to explain that name; my understanding is that all women in the Sikh religion take the surname "Kaur." According to Snatam Kaur's website (which would benefit from the attention of a professional writer), her name means "universal, nucleus, and friend to all." She was born in Colorado and was taken to India as a child while her mother studied "kirtan" (chanting mantras, often with others). She now lives in the US and tours in this country and Europe.
            These days I am most addicted to Snatam Kaur's recording of a mantra that goes by the Sanskrit title of "Aap Sahaaee Hoaa."

            According to the Kundalini yoga info website, the title translates to "Meditation for Prosperity."

            The full chant goes: "Aap Sahaaee Hoaa, Sachay Daa Sachaa Doaa, Har, Har, Har"

            And the full translation, from the same site goes:

"The Lord Himself has become my protector. The Truest of the True has taken care of me. God. God. God. The Lord Himself has become my refuge. True is the support of the True Lord."

            The looks like two ways of saying the same thing. And I must say that Snatam Kaur's musical version seems to contain many more words than the words in the Gurmukhi language cited above.

            We are also presented with the instruction: "Chant this mantra for 11 to 31 minutes every day to bring the blessings of prosperity into your life."

            I'm a little uneasy about the implication that if I pray for good stuff for me I will get it. I suppose we can take the notion of "the blessings of prosperity" in a wide, or spiritual senses.

            Another site is even blunter in spelling out the deal: According to Yogi Bhajan [we read] this mantra "...will totally eliminate enemies and block the impact of animosity forever, it can give you mental self-control..."
            Also: "Yogi Bhajan also said that if chanted for 62 minutes, the best time being between three and four AM, it can relieve unbearable financial pressure."
            And: "This mantra meditation from the Siri Guru Granth Sahib is a gift to you that will let you penetrate the unknown without fear. It will give you protection and mental balance."

            I would prefer, I think, to just listen to the beauty of the musical chant and go back to stumbling around on my own.

            I have even fewer words to work with in trying to explain the enchantment of the mantra song (or "kirtan"?) that has lately become my absolute favorite and is to die for: Deval Premal's version of  "Radhe Govinda."

             The title, "Radhe Govinda".... after lengthy research...  appears to be the citing of two names romantically linked like, say, "Archie and Veronica." The comparison is not that far off, since the name in the manta appear to refer to something like a high school romance. Govinda is yet another name for Krishna, (the "supreme god") who spent his youth as a cowherd. Radha was his favorite of the "cow-herding maidens," though he sported with a number of the other cow-herding maidens as well. If you compare Krishna to the western deity to which is often paired, Jesus Christ, you can see that Hinduism has a much more pleasant notion of what divinity has to go through.

            Radha ("Radhe" is the vocative form; Latin scholars take a bow) and Govinda are a major theme in art and stories. Again, the subject is a celebration of youthful and, I suspect, sensual love. For another Western comparison think "Romeo and Juliet," but we know how that ended. Advantage: Hinduism. To be fair, Radha -- though not in this mantra -- is also a symbol of longing because Govinda has to go away (they do that, those young men) and on the way to becoming the supreme god marries several other persons before coming back to Radha for a "final" reunion.

            None of this narrative matters for Deval Premal's version of  "Radhe Govinda."

            The song is pure bliss. It's easy to find on the web. It's included on an album titled "Deval Premal & Miten" in concert. Lots of choral background here, including voices other than her own, notably a man's voice (Miten?).

             The name Deva by the way has own long involved etymology. Why wouldn't it? One of the sites translates Deva, short story, as "angel beings."

            When it comes to Deval Premal's singing -- and Snatam Kaur's -- that works for me.