Tag Archives: music

Synaesthetic Santoor


Last night I went to hear Kaviraj Singh play santoor with his brother, Upneet on tabla. It was so wonderful. I’ve never been a big fan of the santoor. Somehow the cross between the plinky-plonky hammered strings and the sometime delicacy of Hindustani music didn’t excite me so much. But this was incredibly beautiful. The faster sections, known as jhalla – sounded like standing under a shower of diamonds – precision cut, refracting light in all directions.

Whenever I attend a concert, I am amazed at how different the experience of listening to music live is to listening to a CD. In my car, I hear the music plain – it may be moving and interesting but there’s a missing layer. In the concert hall, the music rises and shimmers – images and impressions fill the air like mirages. It’s the closest thing I’ve experienced to synaesthesia – the condition of the brain that causes colours or other sensations to be triggered by certain sounds. My friend studying bansuri flute in India has synaesthesia, and it’s particularly fascinating for someone studying raga-based music. She can easily identify a raga, as each effortlessly appears as a specific colour in her mind when she hears it. She described how the colour of a word manifests as a mix of the colours of its individual syllables. Usually I keep a book handy to record the images that arise. Last night while Kaviraj played Raag Gorakh Kalyan – a poem appeared.

Dancing grass shudders wildly with every gust;
and starlings swoop across the sky.
Trees laugh, shaking their arms.
A smile spreads across the earth,
all spinning and alive.
Flowers must burst
at the sound of this music.
Spring weaves a lattice –
ribbons of light,
yellow, white and gold,
and a stretch of blue
that never ends.

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Filed under Art, Music and Dance, Inspiration!

Pulse Magazine Now Online

Pulse magazine is the UK’s only dedicated publication for South Asian dance and music. It’s been running for a good few years and I’ve nearly been subscribing since the beginning. I first read a copy aged eighteen, thrilled to find a magazine that connected me with a wide community of people who shared my interests and discussed and wrote about them in an intelligent, thoughtful way.

Dancer Seeta Patel – photo by Simon Richardson, as published in Pulse

A couple of years ago I started writing for Pulse – mostly reviews as well as recently, my own series of articles on sacred music and the way it interacts with different areas of society. A new website has just been launched where you can now view the latest issue for free. Soon the opportunity for digital subscription will also be created, but for now, enjoy this month’s issue that celebrates the life of Rabindranath Tagore in his 150th year. You can find my article on ‘Sacred Music in the Street’ on page 18.

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Filed under Art, Music and Dance

Just a Shanti-Banti Soul

I shouldn’t really be blogging –  way too much work to do right now, but I had to post this picture, sent to me this morning by Anand from Chennai. He saw my photostream on flickr and sent me this message:

Its good to see your collections..
im surprised you a westerner have adapted indian culture.. its strange..
whereas in india people down here got attracted towards western.
I could smell the indian flavour throughout your wesbite..

Well, i gotta funny idea when seeing one pic.. so i tried some what
you might like..
plz do take a look

jahnavihindianlook

Apart from making me laugh out loud, this also made me remember how as a child, I’d sometimes wish I could wake up brown. I wanted to be Indian so that my spiritual and cultural life wouldn’t be so commentworthy for people – particularly at school. I suppose for a shy girl, all I wanted to do was not stand out. Having red hair and white skin and belonging to a community that wears traditional Vedic clothes and all the rest, is a pretty good way of attracting attention.

As I grew up, and grew into my own skin and identity, I became more comfortable with it. I even began to enjoy shocking people that hadn’t previously guessed my background, with my knowledge of something Indian. I could laugh off stares and comments ranging from the amusing, to the downright rude. Once I got interrogated by an old lady in a supermarket while I was dressed in a sari – ‘Do you know what you’re wearing? Do you know where it comes from?’ She seemed amazed that I did.

Of course sometimes it was still an issue. Particularly when performing in Indian classical music and dance performances, a white face means standing out in a much more obvious way than in everyday life.

Now, I’ve gradually come to see it as a blessing. People noticing and asking questions gives me the opportunity to examine my deep philosophical beliefs that I learnt as a young child, but didn’t always consider growing up. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna talks about the body as being no more than the discardable covering for the soul, which is eternal. With this knowledge, I can understand that my external is irrelevant. I can’t imagine how confused I might be without knowing that I am not really any of the labels that society chooses to give me, whether it be wannabe-desi, white girl or HinJew. In Israel I got ‘shanti banti’- what young Israelis call white people that get into Eastern culture. It’s all fine. I am an eternal soul, and even if sometimes I think a suntan might be nice (!), I no longer wish to become any different on the outside.

In the words of the singer India Arie:

I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am not your expectations no no,

I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within.


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Filed under Krishna Consciousness, Photos, Videos