Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Hare Krishna and Western Music : Dope of spiritual Angst ?

Lennon and Ono (lying in bed in the middle of the picture) surrounded by devotees, Lennon reading Back to Godhead no. 23. Left to right: Rukmini devi dasi, Melvani the Muslim, Jayapataka das brahmacari, Baradvaja das, Himavati-Hana Kalbert, Himavati devi dasi, Yoko Ono, Sripati das, John Lennon, Hansadutta Das, Dayal Nitai das

From sixties on to the eighties and nineties in music jazz was quickly being left behind and sometimes overrun by rock, punk, disco,R&B, fusion and metal. And from among these genres another sub-genre of Krishna core seemed to have enjoyed a short, albeit exciting times at the intersection of punk and Krishna consciousness.
Srila Prabhupada

The fascination with India had never quite ended in the West. Whether it was the Rajahs, snakes or sadhus (ascetics) and religion, famous names had visited including the Beatles, André Malraux, Aldous Huxley, Jean Renoir to return home with different stories of satisfaction and fulfillment. They on their part added to the many myths, lies and fantasy about the country called India. Alongside, its famous savant abroad, Ravi Shanker had succeeded in making the Western World take notice of something equally compelling in its Classical music. Many travelled to India for that, too. The flower generation had become passé and instead, even more harmless saffron clothed white men and women with shaven heads and chotis and big tikkas had taken to the wide public roads happily singing and chanting hymns in praise of the glory and greatness of Krishna, serving prasadam, and playing on ancient Indian instruments like harmonium, bells and cymbals. This group mostly identified themselves with International Society for Krishna Consciousness Movement (ISKCON) founded by Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada .It had some illustrious musical patrons like Allen Ginsberg, George Harrison, and Chrissie Hynde, Boy George, KRS-One, and members of X-Ray Spex. In fact, truth to tell, many honest, simple Americans seeking mental peace were its many devotees too. Not to forget that the famous of the punk generation Ian MacKaye articulated this coming together and the birth of a new fascination.

Without being cynical or conceited I believe It would not be too far wrong to believe the fables of many loves, secret trysts, salacious adulterous escapades of the most colorful Hindu gods and goddesses, incredible sex, moksha, tantra and yoga, the supposed magical mantras of sadhus, still was at the bottom of the attraction to Krishna Lila, supposedly the god of Free Love. Around this time, the Bhagwan Rajneesh phenomenon also in no small measure, introduced a most modern and contemporary liberating and licentious mood of sex to super consciousness through the many fascinating philosophical stories in the Upanishads and Hindu texts told ever so hypnotically as only he could? Or was it the wandering bard Chaitanya and his rootlessness and propagation of other worldly love that fascinated the restless Western drifters seeking salvation through Prabhupada's ISKCON? We shall never quite know.

The Musicologists believe that in its initial years there was some great music produced despite almost the fatal combination of an agro Punk style combining with monk like niche demands of the spiritual lifestyle, no meat, all vegetarian, no sex and alcohol. This sub-genre was in that sense destined to die early, just like any other obsessive fad gone awry. Notwithstanding, it would be fair to record and recognize the contributions of Ray Cappo, perhaps ,in the lead, along with the likes of John Joseph and Harley Flanagan, John “Porcell” Porcelly, and Vic DiCara, for this short-lived sub-genre of Krishna core.

Nate Rabe made me sit up to listen to the many voices and tributes of some the very famous who had perhaps, their own reasons to be enamored of the “Black God.” I go searching and this is what I find. (Not in any particular order)

Stevie Wonder:

“Pastime Paradise” (1976)

The lyrics and the Song talk of the bad times of materialism and love of the transient and in the end the black gospel choir singing we shall Overcome and the chanting of Hare Rama Hare Krishna with Kartalas (hand held small cymbals) from 2:37 onwards come together in a soulful celebration of the True Spirit. Pastime Paradise is from the double album “Songs in the key of life” of September 76 vintage which though was very fuzzy in its lyrics was still considered innovative and ahead of its time, though very self-conscious and to be his signature album in pop history. The album won three Grammy Awards, one for the Album of the Year and ranks 56th On Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of all time.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono:

“Give Peace a Chance” (1969)

This was that famous number that put him on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 songs that signified Rock and Roll. He had already met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and now he along with George Harrison was introduced to Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada who stayed at his British home at Tittenhurst Estate for over 3 months. This song was recorded in the hotel room at Montreal, Canada where John and Yoko had their honeymoon, a famous bed-in demonstration for world peace with very famous friends like Allen Ginsberg, Rabbi Abraham Feinberg, Timothy Leary, and Tom Smothers among others, journalists included. It went on to become the signature song of protest against the Vietnam War and over 50,000 demonstrators sang this at Washington Square the same year on October, the 15th. Tamborines, acoustic guitars, beating on suitcases had the Krishna devotees singing in the background chanting Hare Rama Hare Krishna at (2:01 to 2:13 and at 2:56).

The song was used sometime or the other by icons such as Paul Macartney,Aerosmith, Louis Armstrong,U2,Peter Gabriel and a host of others.

Marc Bolan and T Rex

“Frowning Attahulpa “(My Inca Love) 1968

Marc Bolan was, Flower Child, rock guitarist and glam rock pioneer of the hippy underground scene with other world poetry, mascara on his eyes and plugged in guitar, the original stylist who transformed psychedelic rock to glam. The track ends with Hare Krishna being sung and reaching a frenzied crescendo at (2:23:2:59).Wild and free.


“Boots of Plastic” (2008)

A great rock and roll song with the cool Bo Diddley beat, that the other-worldly inclined Chrissie Hynde sang to her heart’s content thinking of Jesus in the four-line rock and roll format thus:

Hare Krishna Hare Rama too,

Govinda I am still in love with you,

I see you in the birds and in the trees,

That’s why they call me Krishna Mayi

The image of Krishna flits by at (1:03, 2:09, and 2:18)

George Harrison 

“My Sweet Lord” (1970)

A lifelong Krishna devotee, he joined the Gaudiya Vaishnava sect, donated huge sums to the Krishna Consciousness Movement including his house the Bhaktivedanta Manor in London. He wrote “My Sweet Lord “as a dedication to the unity of faiths and not its divisiveness while cross matching “Hallelujah” with Maha Mantra and other Vedic words. The inimitable Beatles touch is also evident. It went on to be a No 1 hit single for a long time and was honored by being considered to be on the best 500 Rolling Stone Magazine’s songs of all time. The gospel choir ends with the chant of Hare Rama Hare Krishna from (2:54).Pure Harrison with the slide guitar! 

Harrison at Vrindavan

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

What A Voice : An Ode to Barry White

If you have been having a look at our covers you may have noted the many words or adjectives usually used to describe a voice. Chuckled, you would have, when several of them were more than familiar and part of the regular vocab. And then comes this one called Barry White and the first thing you call out half shrieking and half choked, running out of the shower half-clothed - What a voice!
The romantic songs of Barry like “Just a Little Bit More” “Ecstasy (When You Lay down Next to me)”Your Sweetness Is My Weakness) among many others were the chosen ones of all those who once thought they were in love. His voice was rich, fresh and boom! Wickedly, he quite knew it, always-when very young.
Like most ambitious and self made talents he never wanted to be just a singer.”You get into trouble and the voice is not enough,” he had also always realized within and feared. He furthered his knowledge and skills of the studio by perfecting his writing and arranging skills and went on to become a successful producer. He learnt to play many instruments. Imagine him, yet, to be so vulnerable: the voice raved to be “thunder and silk”! People adored him; awards and recognition were too many to be remembered. So were his names from Dr Love to the Prince of Pillow Talk. He was the Lord of Discos in the 70’s to the Slow Jam king of 90’s with the deep- bass- velvet- feel voice of his.
Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata had swept him off his feet after the early lessons from the age of four he had received from his Mama and the phonograph, on sonatas, symphonies and melodies. He had begun to play the piano too and then as juvenile he went to jail. He came out as a man, as her Mama said and the school boy treble voice of Barry had changed forever to that of a heavy bass, male. His struggles took him to succeed finally with his group Love Unlimited. He had a way with women and knew a thing or two about sex though not very successful with marriages. Modesty was certainly not one of his strong points either.
You hear the Disco of Donna Summers or Abba or the Bee Gees. You dance. You hear Barry. You want to make love. His lyrics were direct: kind of face to face talking with another in a voice that seduced and made you swoon. Adrion Doovey was quoted in Jet thus “When he sings, strong men tremble and ladies are transported up the stairway of unparalled ecstasy,” and children “they say are often conceived that very night”. But the seventies Disco was to wither away and Barry knew it and through the eighties he mastered technology and getting ready to create a new sound. The drum should not sound like one. And so the piano, he had once famously prognosticated. He poured into synthesizers, computers, new fangled drum machines and programmers with piles of books. He mixed with and welcomed the new kids of the block filtered their anger and violence to produce a layered sound of slow raps over hip hop beats.R&B had found a new champion who was perhaps a shade bit ahead of the prevailing culture of the time. He was corpulent and huge, yet a highly sexualized figure in the age of disco,who just as easily morphed to become the god of Soul !
Sue Caroll gushed once upon seeing a man seated Buddha-like in a black velvet track suit… then the voice.”It starts as a rumble in his chest, it growls at the back of his throat, and then erupts like a volcano. It’s deep. It is dark. It is “Come to bed honey. Turn off the lights. It’s why this man-no oil painting- was called ,the King of Seduction “ Using his vocal chords, like instruments of sexual pleasure he does not so much sing as groan and moan his way through lyrics until finally, he explodes into a frenzy of passion and ooh..Lurve “

Friday, 28 August 2015

A Train to Pakistan and other Historical Legacies: Before and After

Nowadays one often reads of a book being banned,a party loyalist rather than a professional helming a premier cine institution, an impostor rather than a historian of eminence and academic repute representing  National Historical Research,the Census Board on Films headed by a hack,Science being handed over to pseudos or quacks at best.At another remove, arguments and harmless quarrels become skirmishes, turn into riots ever so often.Religious events and festivities have become the new cornerstone of political and ideological battles and increasingly the Muslim community and other minorities are being ghettoised and being made to feel as outsiders and alienated in the equal and participative democracy that we pride upon.Violence and vandalism is rampant and the minorities end up as regular victims.The Argumentative Indian is fast being replaced by the dogmatic.These among many others, then, have become substantial concerns for most.Therefore to understand the beginnings or its roots would help shed a lot of our intellectual conceit and urge introspection on how to stop it all.And to resist would be , but a firm hope !

 For very long the Left and the Congress have been attacked for writing histories which are supportive of their ideology.Over six decades it is claimed by some they ruled the roost and fed the gullible and innocent people on a diet of unproven and motivated histories.From a layman's point of view there have been frequent contests on what is after all true history?Who is to be read or trashed?What are the determinants, as most, if not all claim to be patriotic?That they are all nationalists is of course,a given.

The Right today, with a thumping parliamentary majority and with the decided swing towards neo-liberal policies and the ethics of ends and means being no longer a question of conscience, claims its space and wants to script its own version.The word'secular' has come in the cross hairs of the debate.Partition was the bloody divide of history and Hindus were the losers and suffered unbelievable tragedies in the creation of a Pakistan, they moan. That India is a Hindu Rashtra and predates Harappa and Mohenjodaro,that the Muslims were invaders, desecrators of temples and foreigners, that they are increasing in numbers every day,that they do not believe in Uniform Civil Code and need to go by the majoritarian Hindu opinion,their rights to equal citizenship is misplaced, are votaries of independent Kashmir and Pakistan among many others have become the reasons for an emerging rightist ideology to question the basis of multi-religious,multi lingual,composite culture in post Independent India.What is Hindutva and Hinduism and whether the BJP has the right to represent all Hindus is also a moot point.Whether the destruction of Babri Masjid around the end of the last century, then a watershed of history dividing independent India post-partition?Was the act a culmination of all the anger and hostility of such like forces that lay simmering within an initially quiet Hindu aristocracy, the common who had never quite forgotten or forgiven their heavy sufferings during the partition or in the misdirected energies of a large uneducated, undernourished masses who could not distinguish between religion, caste,and poverty or did not get to benefit from over 60 years of Independence?Or was it a failure of the right-minded to get organised, resist and fight the forces of reaction who had put history on its head and hijacked the dissatisfaction and frustrations of a large Hindu majority,hypnotised them to believe what-is-not and make them commit the unthinkable ! Destroy the basis of India...

The scholarship and respect accorded to Ms Romila Thapar is common knowledge.Here on the 19th of August 2015 in the 5th Asghar Ali Memorial Lectures held at Jamia Milia University, Delhi she speaks for almost an hour on what is Secular after all. Here.
More than ever before this subject is at the cross-hairs of most political and historical debates.To say, therefore,that people had taken to the streets to determine its definition, compass and depth,lost lives and shed a lot of blood on that count would be, to reiterate its seriousness rather than exaggerate.Ms Thapar takes us through almost many thousands of years of history and distills the wisdom of the millennial past and in some engaging moments of profundity shares with all who hear or are willing to on the prevailing myths, misunderstandings and sometimes deliberate attempts of the present government to misinform and misinterpret on Indian Society.She,however, at the very outset warns that some before have supported the supposed meanings of Secular only in theory, but not in practice.On the other side, it has left the so called Right both liberal and extreme to, at the very least, be amused and at the very worst mock the pseudo-secularists.

  She draws attention to the fallacious  understanding of the two major communities Hindu and Muslim by the colonial masters to be monolithic and binary.The two-nation theory was based on such a simplistic understanding. The subsequent national and post colonial historians failed to emphasise that the two communities were not one huge unified community but rather subdivided into many sects and castes and therein one needs to look with special tools and understanding.Sufficient thought and examination has not been done of them and hence communal-ism to a certain extent arose despite attempts to the contrary by the well meaning.
Without fear or favour she walks the razors edge while choosing to speak on religion, their deformities and perverted purposes across centuries both in the West and in the Asian or Indian world.To be secular is not to be anti religion as is sometimes believed or encouraged to do so.But it only means that the state and religion are separate in new ways wherein the demarcations on the social laws and the influence and control thereon are clearly drawn and limits of religious bodies or organisations are made and respected.Civil society should be governed on the basis of a set of laws, made on the basis of equality and rationality and there is no need to look into religion or its texts or scriptures for additional knowledge as it may happened in the past.In fact she believes in the weakening of caste or sects new beginnings could well be expected and the classic separation of state and religion and the West might not quite be the right prescription for India.
From her talk it is evident that Ms Thapar is contextualising her readings on the basis of what has been happening during her times and in particular, the present.She like the true learner seeks for answers to new and motivated cryptic questions raised by the forces of anti-history and anti- people to obfuscate and masquerade as legitimate challenges..It appears to me that while all along she has obsessively avoided governmental patronage and being a conscionable academic far away from political affiliations of any kind she seems to express her disagreement with the liberal left and their rather dogmatic,unsubstantiated shallow and non-rigorous sloganeering attempts to fight the rise of 'polarisation politics' for sectarian profit.She admits, enough thought has not been given to caste, sects, religion and the real facts of conversions which both historically and academically leaves gaps for the 'clever' to pick holes or create mischief.
Always acknowledging that nothing is sacrosanct until the next revelation through scientific methods including forensics,rationality, new discoveries of archaeology, artifacts, sculpture etc and never one to dominate and monopolise the 'right of truth' she intelligently weaves her story of India to wage an audible battle against a most worrisome viral attack made to subvert the 'Makings of the human mind"

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The Bechdel Test of Akashganga : A Trial by Photos

The Bechdel test (/ˈbɛkdəl/ bek-dəl) asks if a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added.

Only about half of all films meet these requirements. The test is used as an indicator for the active presence of women in films and other fiction, and to call attention to gender inequality in fiction due to sexism.

Akashgagnga the IAF Skydiving Team on the 10th of August 2015 celebrated its 28th Birthday with more than traditional warmth,hospitality and camaraderie typical of military culture.The joie de vivre shared by one and all however leave many a bystander wondering whether typical of male and macho systems does the woman get ignored or just get a passing mention as is de rigueur. Tokon leads a team with no recording devices for audio but photos alone.
He leaves us instead, with more questions than answers.

P.S. for purposes of a transparent and fair inquiry we have not shared or mentioned the names of all concerned

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Athenaeum : The Bhagavad Gita A Biography

Arjuna witnessing Krishna's Viswaroopam (courtesy Iskcon images)

Across the ages and cultures books have wielded an enormous influence as vehicles of ideas by seeping into the cultural consciousness and in due course dominating the intellectual climate. Religious books, more than any other, have an unparalleled capacity to influence millions over many centuries. Yet, many religious texts originate in antiquity and obscurity and evolve into a force of nature shaping entire nations, cultures and peoples. To unravel the mystery of how a complex philosophical treatise became a canonical text is the task of a literary detective. Richard Davis, professor of religion at Bard College, in an exceedingly well written book, "The Bhagavad Gita: A biography", traces admirably how a compact text evolved into the conscience of a religion and a people over many centuries.

What Davis does not do in the book is as significant as what he sets out to do. Davis's goal is to write a 'biography' of a book as one would write a biography of a person. Though Davis explains in shining succinct prose the themes of Gita, the various interpretations, socio-political changes that are reflected in how Gita was assimilated and propagated, he does not engage in philosophical discourse on the Gita itself. The book is not a philosophical treatise of Gita or analyses of its philosophical in a compare and contrast approach. Davis restricts himself, a tad too strictly, to his role as a tour guide in the life of a book.

Set in a battlefield, the Gita, is a call for action and duty, albeit with a crucial distinction. Krishna calls upon Arjuna to do his duty, that of warrior, but free himself from the 'bondage of action' by actively dissociating his soul from the fruits, victory or defeat, of his action. Davis points out that in classical India the notion of Karma, literally meaning action but amorphously signifies the stain of 'persisting moral consequences of actions' which was said to cause a cycle of births. Krishna then details the then prevailing 'schools of knowledge' to attain detachment. Without endorsing or the other school of thought Krishna focuses on 'the psychological consequences for one who adopts that perspective'. Tamil writer and exponent of Hindu philosophy, Jeyamohan, and Davis concur that Krishna does not offer a didactic singular prescription but gives 'heuristical validity' to the various paths 'insofar as it leads one toward equanimity'.

Read on for more :