My friend Jennifer Mazzucco just sent me this beautiful video about Tashi Mannox, an English calligraphy artist. I loved hearing his eloquent thoughts on creating devotional art that doesn’t preach, but just tries to communicate philosophy and ideas that will uplift people. Tashi said that he feels the responsibility of an artist or musician is to uplift everyone they come in contact with.
Jennifer and I are creating a devotional art workshop together that we’ll be presenting for the first time at the Kripalu centre this winter. Our aim is to explore the process of creating devotional art – how getting creative opens us up to a deeper sense of connection with the soul and the Divine, and how this act of creation can teach us so much about the joy of focus and detachment.
In other news, I’m in DC right now spending time in the recording studio with Gaura Vani. We’re working on new music that encompasses both kirtan and Sanskrit mantras, as well as original English lyrics. It’s a fun process, but very new to me also. Music can be so spontaneous and free flowing, and this suits the organic, immediate nature of prayer so well. In crafting something and attempting to capture it, it can be hard to retain the original feeling. Throughout, we must constantly remember that imperfection is inevitable – the creative spark that flares into a small, bright flame is only a tiny speck of divine beauty, and we are fortunate if we can hold it for even a moment.
I’ve been playing two ragas in my violin classes lately. Valaji and Garudadhwani. They are both beautiful, distinctive and so nuanced.
I had never heard of Garudadhwani when I started learning the piece composed by my teacher’s guru – Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman. It is a restrictive raga – it has all seven notes on the ascending scale, but only five on the descending. This means that certain patterns are created which make the raga both instantly recognisable, as well as hard to elaborate on for long. It is bright, playful, optimistic and powerful. It also has a fascinating name. I know the meaning of the Sanskrit words ‘Garuda’, the eagle carrier of Lord Vishnu and ‘dhwani’ – ‘sound’, but wasn’t sure what this meant in reference to the raga. I asked my guru why it has this name, and his answer wasn’t abstract at all – ‘It means the sound that the divine eagle, Garuda makes.’ Of course it does!
I love that a raga exists, based on the sound of a divine eagle’s cry. Here’s an example of the raga – what do you hear?
The second, Valaji, is a pentatonic scale – it has five notes on the way up and down. It is languid, confident and I think, bluesy. Aside from anything else, it reminds me so much of the classic blues minor pentatonic scale that my Dad once showed me on my old Casio keyboard. I’d love to hear a Valaji collaboration with a blues clarinet. Here’s an example that goes part of the way. Valaji on electric guitar – they say almost any stringed instrument can be adapted to Carnatic music…
I often moan about the way technology influences my life. I remember the days when I didn’t own a mobile phone; when I actually received handwritten letters in the post and when a keyboard was something I played music on. It was kind of nice to not be accessible at every moment – or at least to be up against the expectation that I should be.
Now, after travelling for the past five years on and off, my once fairly small social circle has exploded to include thousands, across continents and timezones. It can be quite overwhelming to stay in touch, or just understand the nature of those relationships, kept alive by Facebook messages and occasional Skype calls.
The other day though, I thanked God for technology. I met a wonderful lady in Melbourne this year – a fellow Hare Krishna who also happens to love Carnatic music. While I was there we shared a happy hour swapping songs and ragas, and she told me how she’d been doing the same with another lady she knows in India. So last Friday morning we all met up on a conference call to have a music lesson – morning in London, afternoon in Coimbatore and evening in Melbourne. It was so enlivening, and unexpectedly easy, given that we couldn’t even see each other (which I know is possible too). We learnt ‘Jamuna Kinare’, a bhajan in Hindi by the Carnatic composer, Swati Thirunal. Below is a version sung by Prince Rama Varma.
Ahh. Sharing music gives me a warm feeling inside. Perhaps I can live with Skype after all.
Tonight I was sitting next to my mum and a few people commented that we looked ‘exactly like sisters!’ Compliment for her. Yes, I know I’m not getting any younger. Tomorrow marks one more year of being, and I’m surprised at how meaningless it’s starting to feel.
When I was younger I was all into birthdays. Each year had a different theme, from St Patrick’s Day, to murder mystery, to Hawaii. It was fun. But now that I’m officially an old crotchet, I don’t feel much for the passing of another twelve months – except the realisation that there’s no time like the present to become more determined to live my words – put my thoughts into action.
So many experiences this year have brought me to the understanding that I have to surrender. I know – it’s almost a dirty word in today’s society. Surrender is what you do when you get arrested, or when you realise that you’re going to be stuck in traffic, whether you beep the horn twenty times or not. Surrender means relinquishing control. Failing to take charge of life.
Well, not really. At least not from where I’m standing. To me surrender means being satisfied with the fact that I’m not in control. It means acknowledging the divine source of everything in my life, and having faith that there is a higher plan. It means letting go to whatever vision I have of the way things are supposed to be, and listening, watching and learning as they unfold the way they will.
Tomorrow is a birthday for me, but a funeral for my uncle. We step into this life for a few moments, and walk off through the wings after the play ends. It’s so important to make everything inbetween count. Not in a frantic way. Not anxiously watching the years passing, our bodies changing. But with grace, good humour, patience and faith.
I love the way my dear friend Gaura put it in his song, ‘Surrender’. Heartfelt realisation.
Come an emergency, all good boy scouts must know how to: start a fire, tie a reef knot, send messages in morse code, and frankly, knowing how to make puris and pakoras comes in handy in a spot of trouble too.
The other night our whole family was invited to Mali’s scout group to show them how to cook up a full Indian meal: rice, pakoras, puris, chutney, matar panir and halava. The scout leader had been to the temple and wanted the boys to get the full experience!
It was so much fun. Hyperactive boys + hot oil + messy ingredients is always a recipe for excitement, and these boys didn’t disappoint. My team was making puris, and within minutes they were beating up the dough to within an inch of its life, and rolling the puris into hearts, faces, and quite a few unmentionables too (much to their delight when they puffed up).
At the end of the evening, they all lined up for the tasting, jostling and elbowing to go first. My dad said a prayer, and we served until the pots were empty. One boy came up for four helpings of halava, and said he wished he could eat it everyday. Give him a few years – he’ll probably end up living in the temple.
At the beginning of the summer I mentioned attending concerts at London’s annual Darbar festival. In just a few years, this has become a world renowned confluence of some of the greatest artists in classical Indian music today. One of my absolute favourite concerts was that of the dynamic Ganesh and Kumaresh, the Carnatic violin brothers. SkyArts broadcast all of the performances, and you can watch them now on YouTube. Below is the one that stole the show for me. Their playing is simply breathtaking, but seeing them live is a wonderful opportunity to witness their wonderful humility, warmth, humour, as well as their charming interaction with each other as they play such divine music.
Some people freak out on ekadasi – that fortnightly fast day where all grains, beans (and apparently anything worth eating) are avoided. Not me. Sometimes I think ekadasi is the best day of all, especially when I get to make recipes like this. I have been wanting to make these muffins ever since Prema Yogi, our intrepid chef, roadie, yogi and generally talented guy, made them for us on the Australian leg of the Mantralogy tour a couple of months ago.
I got up at 5am this morning to make them for my sister, who headed off to Mexico this morning. Bye bye Tuls!
The recipe is of course gluten free, and originally vegan, though you can substitute the coconut cream for yoghurt as I did (apparently coco cream is harder to buy than I thought.) They come out surprisingly fluffy, irresistibly moist, and punched with dates and berries.
1 1/2 cups buckwheat flour
1 1/2 cups almond or hazelnut meal
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup raw sugar
400ml coconut cream
3/4 cup sunflower or macadamia oil (tastes better)
1 cup softened dates (simmered in enough water to cover then drained) or soft medjool dates – diced
1 punnet diced strawberries
1 punnet blueberries
3 medium bananas mashed
1 tsp vanilla essence (imitation on ekadasi)
Mix the dry ingredients together.
Mix the wet ingredients together in a separate bowl.
Add the dry to the wet gradually until well combined, then place into muffin pans, filling almost to the top.
Bake at 175 degrees celsius till risen and browned; roughly 20 mins. They should bounce back a little when pressed with your finger.
And if you want to know where Prema Yogi gets the power to create such great recipes, here’s a clip of him doing his other thing:
Filed under Cooking!, Videos