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Baraka Kirtan – The Art of Spirituality

Baraka Kirtan – The Art of Spirituality (revised)

by Antonya Wallace (Anth-E200) 12/7/2010

Introduction: Baraka: a blessing, the essence of life, soul power. It’s a Thursday night, and while most people are headed out to the bars, I’m making my way across town to Sakshi’s house to sit in during a Baraka Kirtan performance. Kirtan is an ancient Indian tradition based on Bhakti Yoga, which uses music and chanting as an avenue to spiritual enlightenment. As I enter the house the smell of roasting vegetables, marijuana, and halava fills my nose. I later learned that food is almost always present and sanctified so that it can be offered to God. They believe that when one eats sanctified food, that the food purifies the soul. Since Kirtan has roots in India there isn’t any beef (or any meat for that matter) being served, due to their animals sacred role in India. Yet, not all Kirtankars (one who practices/performs Kirtan) are vegetarian. It just happened that everyone in attendance tonight was. Another thing that everyone shares is the use of marijuana, which is smiled upon, as it is believed to promote enlightenment, drive the music, and as an added benefit, make the food taste even more divine. Smoking was also used socially to bring everyone together to prepare for the beginning of the ceremony. I was only there to observe so I did not enhance my chances of enlightenment.

I thought it was important to note that as I entered the room; warm faces, hugs, and a plate of food greeted me. That hospitality was due in part because Sakshi used to be my neighbor and he was the first person I met when I moved to Bloomington. But the royal treatment wasn’t reserved just for ex-neighbors. As I sat watching I noticed that the Kirtan community is open and loving to everyone. As each person entered Sakshi’s house they were greeted by first name, a hug, food, and an offer to play music. I decided that I would not participate in the event so that I could have an etic point of view. I pulled up a chair slightly to the side of the group and began my observations. The heavy smell of incense being burned drowned out the colorful smells of food and ganja.

I really enjoyed the scent of the incense so after the event I asked what it was. To my astonishment it was part of another practice that I was completely oblivious to. “Agnihotra is a Vedic yajna and involves the burning of cow dung and ghee butter in an inverted copper pyramid at dusk and dawn precisely, while chanting Vedic mantras. Properly performed, this ritual according to the Vedic tradition brings about enormous healing and purification of the environment. The Agnihotra is a powerful yajna that in my experience brings about a deep sense of peace. This 5-minute process feels like coming out of an hour of meditation. It’s a grounding practices and assists in uncovering the real Self, hidden underneath all of the mental chatter. The fact that the dung of the cow is such an important part of this process is really significant given the way this culture brutalizes and tortures these sacred creatures” (ecovillage.wordpress.com). It seems that this practice speaks to the Kirtan community’s “love-all” mentality.

I learned that it was a good practice to do the Agnihotra before the real ceremony began, so that everything is cleansed. I learned, “The rites of the Morning-Agnihotra are almost the same as the rites of the Evening-Agnithotra; but, in many instances, the formulas uttered by the Adhvaryu or the Sacrificer are different” (Paul-Emile Dumont). I was only there for the evening Agnihotra so I cannot compare the differences with the morning ritual.

As the musicians began to take their seats, they ditched their shoes and sat in a semi-circle. The audience comprised the other half of the circle, therefore creating an atmosphere for the call and response style of the music. The simple act of sitting on the ground in a circle is an example of universal primitive behavior. Speaking generally, almost all ancient human groups have sat communally in circles during gatherings. Circular shaped atmospheres bring the listeners directly into the experience. They stop being just listeners, and become participants. The circle encourages each person to look into another’s eyes as they are beckoned to respond to the singer’s calls.

Each “Baba” grabbed their respective instrument; Sakshi Gopal Das on the harmonium, Arun Baba on the bansuri (a type of wooden flute), Zen-G on the guitar, and Ras D Hanubaba on percussion instruments, including the tabla, mridanga, djembe, and kartals. Kirtan events can be played in any musical style with any instrumentation. Baraka Kirtan chooses to stick with more traditional instrumentation on most nights. They also perform many different styles on their CD. Some of those styles include non-traditional instruments such as, electric guitars, bass, drums sets, and digital voice alterations. The style that they choose for each performance is generally based off of their mood that day.

The music begins and the first song (always) is Hare Krishna. Hare is the feminine energy of God, and Krishna means “all attractive one”. During the opening song, “a simple melody is repeated many times at continuously faster tempos and greater volumes until a climax is reached, at which point the whole process may begin again with either the same or a new melody…commonly a line of melody was first sung responsorily four times – leader, chorus, leader, chorus – before proceeding to the next line of the melody… [then] the whole procedure would start over…but at an increased tempo” (Slawek 80). Tonight’s leader, Sakshi sang,

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna

Krishna Krishna Hare Hare

Hare Rama Hare Rama

Rama Rama Hare Hare

The, the audience, some with eyes closed, some staring, some praying, would all participate on during the response. Everyone was completely indulged in their own self-awareness and spiritual being. The sound of all the voices in unison had a surprisingly rich tone. It was nice to be at a ceremony where everyone felt the freedom of creativity and experimented with harmonies, and adding their own flares to each response. The allowance of creativity offers everyone a unique personal experience for his or her spirituality. In some instances if the audience is really enjoying the performance, “The chorus of talkaris (kirtan) often interrupts the kirtankar’s sermon with the singing of a topically relevant abhanga and may take over the performance of a song that a kirtankar has begun. In fact, a warkari kirtankar can easily deliver an entire kirtan and only sing a few solo lines of the song” (Shultz 309). Since Indiana doesn’t have a very large Hare Krishna movement going on underground…Sakshi was more than welcome to solo until the cows (who weren’t eaten J) came home.

Main Argument: While I sat there watching everyone divulge all their energy into devotion through song, I found myself wondering why a genre of music that provides so much peace to people is not more mainstream. In fact, I can’t recall a time that I’ve ever heard Kirtan music on the radio, except when Sakshi would call me and tell me to tune it to Bloomington’s public radio station when Baraka Kirtan was playing.

Sakshi said that Kirtan is actually becoming a new genre in popular music, whereas before it was seated in the world music category. It seems that Kirtan’s growing popularity is due to its message of love, peace, and self-awareness; which can be contrasted by the mind numbingly idiotic music blaring on B97.7 day and day out.

I don’t want to come across as a racist person but I did notice that everyone in attendance (with the exception of me) was Caucasian, and none of us were from India. So my research question would have to be, How did an Indian tradition that’s not very well known, become a subculture in the United States? What makes this music more popular than other forms of world music?

Theory: Those who practice Kirtan disregard arbitrary attributes such as gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion. Kirtan is a catalyst to deeper spiritual awakening. People are instantly drawn to the ideology of togetherness that Kirtan offers. While most religions in our society offer a “Get Saved or Burn for Eternity” methodology, Kirtan’s job is to improve each person’s relationship with their own spiritual power.

Unlike most organized religions in the world, which ask you to abandon any other religious beliefs that may conflict with their doctrines, Kirtan lets you keep any, and all your beliefs. The point of Kirtan is to deepen your own spiritual awareness, in order to facilitate a deeper understanding of the spirit, self, and even other religions. It seems that since Kirtan offers such a contrast to more popular well-known religions like Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, etc…that people are also attracted just to get a taste of something new. Kirtan differs from other world religions in that they have never gone on some “convert or die” crusade. Instead of seeking out new members, they let the members seek them out, and then welcome them into their community with open arms. This method of gaining followers actually appears to have gained more devoted participants because each person is expected to find their own path into the Kirtan realm. If you want to become a part of the Kirtan community you have to make an effort to do so, unlike getting saved at a Baptist church which could be likened to going through a “McSalvation” drive through. Literally, anyone could walk into a church at any time and get saved, as many times as they want…without any real impact on their spiritual receptiveness.

Kirtan offers a tailored experience to each person. The natural feel of Kirtan takes away the hierarchal feel of organized religion. For example, the musicians take off their shoes before they play, everyone sits on the floor together, and shares food. It seems that those actions level the playing field between audience and performer, devotee and sit in, old and young, etc. Other factors that attract people to Kirtan are their love of the environment and preservation of ancient practices.

In the days when going to church has become “the thing to do” and if you don’t then you’re damned, people miss out on a real and physical connection with their spirit. From what I’ve seen many people just go to church to maintain their reputation, or they go but don’t practice what is preached. Churches have become kind of like fast food chains, in that they cater to the masses instead of the individual. The strength of major world religions seems to lie solely in the number of followers as opposed to the devotional strength of said followers. To see devoted followers, head over to a Kirtan event. Before going to the event I had no clue why it was growing, but now I understand that the personalized feel and unique musical styles is driving it to become a more prevalent part of our society (and most likely, many others).

Methodology: Being in such a laid back atmosphere, I thought it most appropriate to just jot down a few notes here and there, and casually start conversations. I began by asking Sakshi what Kirtan means to him. I used the genealogical method in a very loose sense so that I could get a grasp on which he learned from, since he was not born into the community. He actually mentioned that he thought it was a bit funny that here are four Caucasian men observing an Indian tradition, and really using it as a way of life. They have at times been misunderstood, but they simply just want to respect and enjoy the aspects of another culture.

I only observed during the event so as to remain neutral to my experience. We also met at Laughing Planet one day so that he could clarify the words of the songs for me. After talking to an insider, I thought I would interview someone who had no previous knowledge of Kirtan. I talked to Samy Estrada, who gave me her brief thoughts on the atmosphere and preaching of Kirtan. Since she was unable to actually attend the event with me, I asked her to watch one of Baraka Kirtan’s online performances. Since she is also a dancer I asked her to describe the music. She said, “the instrumentation was really unique, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought that it might be kind of lame because it was just acoustic instruments; but toward the end when they picked up the tempo it really got funky! They have a really cool message too” (Estrada)!

The rest of my research was done on www.BarakaVision.com, the band’s official website. I used this page to access the band member’s bios, mission statement, and preferred instruments. I also read a few articles on www.jstor.org so that I could read about Kirtan from an Ethnomusicologist’s and Ethnographer’s point of view. These pages gave me insight into more of the cultural implications and history than I could have gained in personal interviews. I couldn’t find much information about Agnihotra so I used www.google.com which led me to a brief review on ecovillage.wordpress.com about the book “How to Save the World”, by Peter Proctor, a biodynamic farmer.

Data Analysis: First, I needed to satisfy my curiosity about how Sakshi even got involved with the Hare Krishna movement. He said, “I was attracted to it years ago due to its instrumentation; especially the sound of the harmonium (which looks like a Dr. Seuss instrument), the message, and the ancient prayers which made me feel in tune with my ancestors” (Sakshi). I accessed his biography on his webpage for more insight on his background. “he lived and studied with many Elders and Mystics (including Ras Pidow, Dr. James E Mumford, Srila Turiya Das Mahasaya and more). Lived and studied at several Ashrams, Temples, and Binghi Camps across North America, Jamaica, Hawaii, and India. In the summers of 2002 and 2003 he traveled across N. America with a traveling cultural festival called “The Festival of India” in which he was a main contributor of set-up and break-down, cultural plays, food distribution, chariot-parading, and sacred chanting. He has been in several musical projects, including: Baraka Kirtan, Santos and the Saints, The Nyahbinghi Livity Choir, Indiana University African American Choral Ensemble, Kuru Dynasty, La Onda, Roots Groundation Family, Parrhesia and more” (BarakaVision.com). I thought that his eclectic musical diversity alone spoke to his openness to new cultures and creativity. If we use Sakshi as an example of the average practitioner of Kirtan, we can see how interesting and appealing the community is. As a side note, he also told me that he does not adhere to any organized religion. But he also does not judge or discriminate anyone based on his or her personal religious choices. His opinion is that people have their own path to embark on to find spiritual peace.

What Sakshi and the Kirtan movement do not do is tell people that they need to submit to their code or way of life. Their message is one of understanding and compassion. In Kirtan, God appears in many forms and usually his/her appearance is different to each person, because God can have an infinite amount of forms. In Kirtan, God can manifest as any deity such as, Krishna, Ram, Shiva, Ganesha, Kali, and many more. These deities share similarities with, and are usually connected to Catholic Saints. To communicate with the deities, they use music, which can be in any genre, just like God can appear in any shape. The musical style creates an openness, connectedness, and receptiveness, among each person’s spirit as they sit in the circle. Just like the participants, each song as a different flavor and mood. To connect with the gods they try to achieve spiritual awakening. Though the Kirtan spiritual awakening may be called different things, spirit of devotion, divine connection, right brained experience, or spiritual openness, these things seem to be held as a common intention to the band members.

Another common intention among the band members is to maintain old practices, like call and response. Samy’s reaction to the call and response aspect of the event was that it was reminiscent of tribal chanting (the band’s desired affect). She also thought the music was calming and soft, until the tempo picked up and it got intense. But this particular event that she saw was calmer than others because it did not use any electric instruments, which are more stimulating to the listener than acoustic ones. She also noticed that each person seemed to be in their own world, yet at the same time connected to everyone in the room. It was almost like Sakshi’s calls put everyone in to a trance, and they could only come out of it by singing the response.

I found that their website was extremely useful for bios and band info. I chose to focus primarily on Sakshi because he is my closest friend out of all the band members. But I did make sure to look at everyone else’s bio and they proved to each have completely different yet extraordinarily interesting backgrounds. It’s compelling to see that people from such different roads can all meet in the middle and work toward a common goal of harmony. Some of the ways that the band members spread peace when they’re not performing is Story Time Yoga, a group started by Sakshi, which incorporates yoga into fairy tales. Ras D likes to change the environment by teaching sustainable farming to Bloomington’s Community. With Kirtan the sky is the limit on creatively spreading the word of peace, harmony, and love.

Conclusion: Unlike other world religions Kirtan offers more than just a guide for living which can be summed up by the golden rule. The Hare Krishna movement brings entire communities of varied people together to function as one spritual entity. Kirtan allows each person to find their own path and use Kirtan as a means to help them spread love and harmony in whatever way they choose. For example, Sakshi’s yoga, and Ras D’s farming; they are each doing what they love to do, while weaving in Kirtan to spread a message.

The beauty of Kirtan is that while it is a deeply personal experience it is also very communal. The participation of the person sitting next to you, chanting, and playing music will directly affect your experience, and vice versa. The “primitiveness” of it makes the participants feel as though they have just relived something that their ancestors probably did long ago. As the tempo speeds up, so does the heart beato f all those involved. The music literally seems to pull your body toward the instruments. Everyone in the room seems to into a spiritual trance, as they slowly forget all the hardships in life outside the Kirtan room. When I was there, I wasn’t even participating but I found that instead of thinking about my bills, homework, exams, or life drama, I was just focused on the rhythm of the drums pulsating through my body. It was as if my brain turned off, and I didn’t have a choice, it was time to meditate.

Kirtan offers an authentic feeling of togethness that people usually do not get from day to day living. After the event eveyone kind of looks around smiling, like “now what?”. In such a short time they ate, smoked, chanted, blessed, meditated, and laughed together. I can truly say that I understand now why Kirtan is becoming so popular. It is a message that can virtually be played with any instruments, in and setting, and any time. Most importantly I found out that it can be played by anyone of any color or creed, etc…as long as they embody the message of love.

Since Kirtan is so musically amorphous it appeals to a broad audience of musical tastes and can easily become a tool for social change. “[It] is an especially effective meduim for the propegation of nationalist ideas because of its devotionalized context and Kirtan music’s potential for group participation, experiences of emboiment, and multiple interpretive possibilites” (Shultz 307).

After doing this Project I think that I have learned that Kirtan has the potential to create strong and loving leaders, who don’t adhere to social convictions of discrimination. In Kirtan you can come from any background because the importance rests in the spiritual world instead of the physical. Hopefully the Hare Kirshna movement will continue to spread, and add much needed harmony to the crazy world we’re all living in.

Works Cited :

Hindu Nationalism, Music, and Embodiment in Marathi Rāshṭrīya Kīrtan

Anna Schultz

Ethnomusicology

Vol. 46, No. 2 (Spring – Summer, 2002), pp. 307-322

Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of Society for Ethnomusicology

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/852784

Moi. “Cow Dung and It’s Many Wonderful Properties « EARTHKEEPIN.” EARTHKEEPIN. 27 Sept. 2007. Web. 02 Dec. 2010. <http://ecovillagelife.wordpress.com/2007/09/27/cow-dung-and-its-many-wonderful-properties/>.

The Agnihotra (Or Fire-God Oblation) in the Taittirīya-Brāhmaṇa: The First Prapāṭhaka of the Second Kāṇḍa of the Taittirīya-Brāhmaṇa with Translation

Paul-Emile Dumont

Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society

Vol. 108, No. 4 (Aug. 27, 1964), pp. 337-353

Published by: American Philosophical Society

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/985912

Popular Kīrtan in Benares: Some ‘Great’ Aspects of a Little Tradition

Stephen M. Slawek

Ethnomusicology

Vol. 32, No. 2 (Spring – Summer, 1988), pp. 77-92

Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of Society for Ethnomusicology

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/852037

Wind, Arun B., Sakshi G. Das, Ras D. Hanubaba, and Zen G. “Divine Music”. Baraka Kirtan – Divine Music. DigitalNature, 1 Jan. 2010. Web. 04 Nov. 2010.

Baraka : From the Experiential to the Analytical

Baraka : From the Experiential to the Analytical

by Aaron Pollitt, (IU Folk 450) 4/23/10

It has often been the case that an ethnographer with the intention of developing their analytical and academic understanding will enter and immerse themselves within a culture, in order to gain an experience of it from the inside. In my case this is rather the opposite. I am a member of the band Baraka, and for the past year or so I have been the flamboyant, joyous, flute player and member of this band. I have immersed myself in a melting pot of ecstatic chanting, cultural co-creation, divine connections, and holistic exploration. I have traveled with this group to many interesting places, made many amazing friends, and felt an awesome sense of spiritual development within myself. This has been a profound and wonderful experience in my life, and my desire to enhance my abilities and participation within it has steadily been growing. In the creation of this document, I have set myself to the task of gaining a deeper understanding of this experience of Baraka. I am stepping out of the role of band member and friend, and taking on the role of the researcher and ethnographer. I am looking back at this band with my analytical mind, from a prospective that I had up until now, largely left alone. Through interviews with the band members and its affiliates, and comparisons to other studies of spiritual music and culture, I attempt to develop an understanding of what Baraka is, what effect the music has on its listeners and members, how Baraka fits in to the greater American culture, what Baraka and its members hold as their intention, and why they are using the methods they are. After answering these questions, I hope to step back into the role of band member with a greater ability to both experience this musical cultural process and participate in this co-creation.

The official members of Baraka consist of 4 young white males, native to Indiana. The members have all come from a relatively mainstream American upbringing, which is a stark contrast to the identity and style which they are now embodying. The band comes together to form a kind of spiritual and cultural anomaly, or phenomena within a greater culture. It acts as a bridge between mainstream America and an ancient Vedic tradition reaching back some 3000 years ago in India. “Yes, were all white and American, but we look for our identity outside of our culture. We are privileged, so we have the opportunity to do this. We happen to be white, but we are trying to represent different cultures.” (Ras-D, interview). The band Baraka is a bit hard to classify, as it is rather dynamic in its identity. The main musical style of the band is known as Kirtan. Kirtan is a form of devotional communal chanting sung in Sanskrit to the Hindu gods and goddesses. Along with this however, the band also plays Reggae, Nyabinghi chants, Hip Hop, Rock, New Age spiritual folk songs, improvisational instrumentals, and many fusions of these different styles. With all these different possibilities for style one may think that the band would be very scattered, but interestingly the underlying feeling and direction of their performance seems to be relatively the same. “Baraka is a hard working band that is unified in its intent of artistic effort towards a spiritual end.” (Bamboo Steve, Interview). The performance of this band is held as highly valuable and important to the band members. The development of this performance is given great attention during practices and shows for a few reasons. Certainly it seems to be the selling point of the band, the reason that they are seen as valuable to potential listeners and venues, but the band also takes a great deal of pride in their ability to create a very attractive performance. “This is largely about co-creation of a story, immersing people in another world that they aren’t used to or aware of, it’s the mythic and the mystic, it’s the the foreign, the colorful and the ancient” (Sakshi Interview). This development and structuring of the performance is very specific. It’s not everything all at once but rather carefully selected stories and styles used to create an atmosphere that is most attractive, and immersive to those listening. “It’s like getting into these epic stories of where things all came from. Taking ourselves back to a very simple time. These songs are so simple and often we don’t even understand most of the lyrics. It brings us into a Turning off of our analytical minds.“ (Zen –G, interview). “This is very primordial, many of these elements have been with humanity forever, communal chanting, deities, sacramentals, and ritual are part of our human story, but it’s very new and fresh, to our American culture” (Sakshi, interview). The band gives focus to connecting to that which is part of human history, trying to recreate a feeling of the lifestyle from long ago. This seems to connect with people on what might be considered an instinctual or intrinsic level, building off the universal similarities in primitive human cultures, and in doing so creating a very natural and welcoming feeling to the performance. In a normal performance the band often takes their shoes off and sits on the ground facing one another. The simple act of sitting on the ground in a circle is an example of this universal primitive human behavior. Most all ancient human groups have sat communally in circles on the earth. Creating this a part of the structure of the performance adds to the intended ancient mystic atmosphere, and brings the listeners directly into that experience so they are more than just listeners, they are participants. The instruments themselves are largely all authentic and traditional in style. They act as center pieces to the performance creating what appears to be an alter on the ground in front of the performers, often decorated by the band members with small figures, gems, feathers, and colorful cloth. The instruments, draw a lot of attention, and are marveled at by the participants. “These is a community of humans that exists across time, These instruments have been worked on over generations for thousands of years, and have been handed down through time and culture to us, they carry in them all this artistry and care and intent” (Bamboo Steve, Interview). Because of this the instruments are seen as having something of a mystical power within themselves much like the instruments described by Sue Carole DeVale in her writing, Power and Meaning in Musical Instruments.

Once the stage is set and the instruments are in place the stories and songs can be brought in to the performance “in the energy of the great figures, be it Yahshua, Krishna, Jah, Buddha, Ganesha, or Bob Marley. These are characters and deities are symbols.” (Sakshi-I interview). These are all highly praised mythic characters, that the band is singing to and telling stories of. They are surrounded in symbology and ritual, some of them are deeply meaningful to of the participants on a very spiritual level, as they may likely have had or a profound connection with such a figure in the past, or at least know of someone who has. The characters most commonly brought up by the band are the Hindu deities. This atmosphere of mystery, story, symbolism and ritual, develops a very spiritually conducive mindset in the listeners. “Baraka makes the Kirtan so delicious that people really do stop. And intentionally or unintentionally become more receptive spiritual entities because of it.” (Bamboo steve, interview). The music has a certain quality about it that causes the listeners to go into a kind of trance, to allow their analytical mind to turn off and for them in that moment to sink into the experience and co creative flow of the music. This seems to be where the greatest power for the band is held, and perhaps their greatest intention. “The Sanskrit term rasa… rasa is a religious sense, a feeling of unity with the world beyond oneself, a transcendental experience induced by an artistic event. From the invoking of indigenous.” (Judith Becker, Tantrism, Rasa, and Javanese Gamelan Music) this Sanskrit concept of rasa seems to have carried over through this musical form and still holds true in this new context of modern day America. This trance like, unified, transcendental state seems to be a common side effect of the Baraka performance. “It’s about the spirit of devotion, unity, the love of story, the love of diversity,” (Sakshi, interview). “The divine connection transcending religious boundaries, coming together as one spirit in celebration, with common intention of co-creation through sound. “ (Ras-D, interview). “The underlying mission of our music is to get us into a Right brained experience, losing ourselves in the joy of creation” (Zen-G, interview). “We play to get ourselves and our listeners into a more spiritually open, receptive, connected state of being.” (Arun Baba, interview). Though it may be called different things, spirit of devotion, divine connection, right brained experience, or spiritual openness, these things seem to be held as a common intention to the band members, and understood that they are using music as vehicle to bring them and the participants into this state of being. “Each song has a different flavor, a different mood. The musical style creates this openness, connection, receptiveness, but the content is what is being opened up to, connected with and received. For example we chant a song to this elephant deity Ganesha, this figure represents beginning, good luck and overcoming obstacles, That is the kind of energy that we open up to and really are able to take in. Kind of like summoning the power of this deity to aide us.” (Arun Baba, interview) The band sees these different deities as symbols of different energies, and chanting their song will bring them that type of energy. There seems to be 2 ways that this is seen. One side sees this as an inwardly psychological change brought on by the action of focusing on a type of energy. The other side sees this as a more outwardly calling of energy, that through focusing on a symbol the associated energy will blessed to them from without. Though these 2 different viewpoints on chanting seem to exist within the band and its following, outcome seems to be entirely the same. Both seem to see the creation of this music as forming a personal relationship with the divine, weather the divine exist within them or without them seems unimportant. “Like trying to join the divine in heavenly song, in a mystical sense, trying create a personal relationship with the divine“ (Bamboo Steve interview). This concept of personal relationship and moving towards union with god seems to be a common on, and is very similar to many Sufi practices as described in the writings of Regula Burckhardt Qureshi, in the article, Sufi music of India and Pakistan.

The experience of Baraka seems to be received with such appreciation and relief by so many of its listeners and participants, as though the experience is greatly healing to them. “There is a need for this in our culture, the simplicity and spiritual drone of this music is something which is obviously missing. Our culture is such like a drive up window culture now now now. There is a profound loss of connection in it.” (Bamboo Steve, Interview). The type of mindset that this music brings about seems to be one that is highly uncommon in the society in which this band exists. The exercise of playing this music is such a contrast to the normal American life that those who practice it seem to do it as a way of healing and balancing themselves. “It’s a daily challenge to get into that. We come from a very the left brained society. How do I bring out my heart, my soul, my spirit, this whole other side of me? I think that’s part of our venture as a band; to strike balance between the analytical and the experiential.” (Zen-G, interview). “Even what we are doing right now (in this interview) is intellectualizing about this, and at a certain point you just have to shut all that off and just experience something. That raw experience is totally different from the concept and its way more fulfilling.” (Zen-G, interview). Some of the band members and followers see the society that they live in as being very spiritually immature, as though it has actually been trying to get rid of spirituality within it’s citizens. “this band is my spiritual outlet, to help me with my emotions, with maintaining my peaceful life, as a way for me to release pent up energy, as a way of healing. (Ras –D, interview). Many see this as something that is actually very rare and difficult to find in this society, so the band members are taking it upon themselves to create it. Though this style of music is relatively unique the intention seems to be very much connected to a broader movement. One of spiritual connection, community, and celebration of diversity, “It’s part of the spiritual consciousness movement, we are trying to embody, and set an example of a healthy, holistic, conscious lifestyle.” (Sakshi, interview) different manifestations of this commonly held intention seem to be popping up everywhere and secretly this is one of the fastest growing social movements there is.” (Arun Baba, interview)

Though the band’s intention seems to be pretty clearly that of creating right brained spiritual experience and connection, they seem to have another very important intention in their music. Through observation and much questioning of the members it seems clear that one of the most foundational concepts that this band bases itself on is the celebration of diversity, and love of culture. It seems that a mission of this group is to aid in breaking down the social boundaries and walls. “Baraka is trying to bridge 2 cultures with art. White American young people backgrounds and playing devotional chant form India. The way it’s played is a fusion, not the music itself, but the place they are playing it. It’s like a translation, Translating Kirtan into American, and making the underlying message accessible to American people.” (Bamboo Steve, Interview) The band sees itself as a cultural bridge, as carrying across valuable cultural experiences and presenting them to the people of this culture, in a way that can be easily understood and accepted. “I love to be able to opens people minds, this is a very mind opening band, open to how other people do things. Cross cultural collision; this is a big part of our country. We represent the essence of this collision, we as a band embrace many cultural elements, and are hoping to embrace more.” (Zen-G, interview) “We want to connect with other cultures and learn from them and share with them, we go in humbleness, We see so much beauty in diversity in other cultures, and we’ll share what we have, but we want to represent these wonderful and powerful stories and styles in an honorable way.” (Sakshi interview). Baraka has a commonly held view point that they are embodying a cultural openness, that diversity is beautiful and ought to be celebrated. Though at first glance Baraka may seem to have the identity of a purely Hindu group, they see themselves as being centered in the celebration of diversity, rather than the celebration of one culture. They believe that it is one of their greatest missions to aid the world in opening its heart and mind to the beauty of diversity, not to hide from it, or try to destroy it, but to celebrate it.

“We are about the essence of life within all religions. The spirit that inspires man to create a religion, people get caught up in the secular and dogmatic, but this is transcendental. We may have leanings towards one or another on a personal level, but this is about the mystical energy, whatever it is. Reggae and Kirtan are our means and they work great, they are beautiful forms of music, but it could be any style and I bet that it will be.” (Sakshi interview) “This is a universal thing, of coming together as community and howling at the moon, just coming together and chanting, is like a universal language. It’s not about which story is true; we accept all these different stories, it’s about the experience of sharing these stories through music.” (Zen- G, interview). This concept that no one story is the true story, that the act of experiencing the stories is what is really important, is at the heart of this band and the movement that they see themselves as being part of. These young men have found the vehicle of music to be the best way for them to spread this message, as it is so present, so mold-able and expressive, it can spread their message of celebration of diversity far and wide while at the same time actually manifesting it in what they are doing.

After a my time of immersion in this experience, and having a vague and dreamy concept of what we are doing as this band, it has been refreshing to take a different prospective on it. I myself I feel much more balanced now in my relationship to Baraka, having fulfilled both my right brains need to experience, and now my left brains need to develop an analytical understanding. I think that I can safely say that I have come to a much more clear understanding. Baraka’s intentions seem clear to me now, spiritual connection, and celebration of diversity through music. We use Kirtan and Reggae as our means because that is what we have come to know, and they seem to do the job very well. We are filling a profound and important niche with our culture and within ourselves. I’m sure there is far more for me to learn and reflect on regarding what this band is and my experience of it. Now with the clarity that I have found I hope to return to this multi-cultural musical conversation, with more strength I had before, and I hope that I can embody my own identity with more certainty as I aid the group in this co-creative process.

Resources :

Harvard University, Center for the Study of world Religions, (Enchanting Powers): Judith Becker, (Tantrism, Rasa, and Javanese Gamelan Music)

Marina Roseman, (Healing Sounds From The Malaysnian Rainforest (Temiar Music and Medicine))

Regula Burckhardt Qureshi, (Sufi music of India and Pakistan)

Sue Carole DeVale, (Power and Meaning in Musical Instruments) 95

Aaron Pollitt Field study, Interview with Steve Pollitt(Bamboo Steve), founder of Hymnosophy, 4/18/10

Aaron Pollitt Field Study, Interview with Baraka member, Sakshi Gopal Das 4/20/10

Aaron Pollitt Field Study, Interview with Baraka Member, Gabriel Lantz (Zen-G) 4/21/10

Aaron Pollitt Field Study, Interview with Baraka Member, Danny Atlas (Ras-D) 4/21/10

Aaron Pollitt Field Study, interview with Baraka Member, (Arun Baba) 4/20/10

Maha Shivaratri

Happy Maha Shivaratri!!

shiva

Today is a very special and ancient holy day known as Maha Shivaratri. Around the world hundreds of millions of people are remembering and worshipping Lord Shiva today! Anyone can receive infinite blessings and success in any area of their life by simply hearing about the pastimes of Shiva, observe a fast in his honor, sing kirtans/bhajans and hymns to Shiva, or simply taking Shiva prasad (sacramental offerings).

Maha Shivaratri is Shiva’s most holy night and devotees stay up all through the night to sing his praise, tell of his mystical stories and pastimes and dance ecstatically in oneness with His presence.  The 13th (or 14th) night in the dark half of every lunar month is said to be a Shivaratri – the holy night of Shiva. The greatest of these nights, the Maha Shivaratri, comes in the month of Magh, February-March, when the mists of winter make way for spring. This day is the anniversary of Shiva’s marriage to Parvati, when the hermit became a householder and became part of the cycle of life.

Shiva is one of the few gods in the Hindu pantheon to be worshipped in the dark half of the lunar month. This period when the moon wanes and the gods are weak is believed by many to be inauspicious. Demons and ghosts dominate the cosmos. Only Shiva can restrain their diabolical powers. And so the devout offer special prayers to Shiva on every Shivaratri, when the moon takes a crescent shape.

During Maha Shivaratri, devotees stay awake all through the night singing bhajans and kirtans, to the glory of Shiva. They do not eat or drink, nourishing themselves by telling each other tales of Shiva, of his marriage and of his many heroic deeds. Cool and perfumed water is poured over the Linga and offerings of bel leaves, bhang, milk and sweetmeats are made.

It is said that on one Shivaratri, a tribal man lost his way in the jungle. He took shelter on top of a bel tree. The cries of wild animals, jackals, and cheetahs rent the air; they kept him awake all through the night.

To divert his attention he kept breaking twigs of the bel tree. These fell on a small Linga located at the base of the tree. The tribal man had inadvertently worshipped Shiva – he had stayed awake all through the holy night, without food or drink and had offered bel leaves to the Lord. For that act of piety Shiva assured him salvation. As he is pleased so easily, Shiva is known as Asutosh. Every devotee seeks Shiva’s grace on Shivaratri.

There is a book by Wolf-Dieter Storl about Shiva which really inspired me and helped me many years ago when I first read it.. to overstand the mystical, symbolic and archetypal depth and meaning that is Shiva. Below is an excellent summary of the book by Susie Pedigo. I know that if you read it you will enjoy and just maybe some of the mystic secrets of Shiva will be revealed to you as well.

                                                           

(Inner Traditions, India)

Book Summary by Susie Pedigo

Shiva is transcendent and at the same time the Self of each individual. In southern India to worship Shiva one must first purify the body with water before entering the sacred space.

One must then present Shiva with beautiful things that symbolize one’s heart and soul. The presents can be incense, flowers or anything of beauty.

The presents must include a ripe coconut which the priest dashes against a stone surface spilling its contents in front of the lingam or idol(Shiva’s sign). The nut represents the human skull, the home of the hardened ego. So the act of dashing the coconut represents the sacrifice of the ego to the greater self.

Because the ego strongly defends itself, ego-centered individuals avoid Shiva who demands this sacrifice. Indeed, they may see Shiva as a Devil.

The gods and goddesses, demons and demonesses of India are innumerable. The myths about them are even greater in number. Shiva is outside this polytheistic background.

His worship enables his worshiper to explore their innermost nature and understand the wisdom of ancient history. Carl Gustav Jung might have called Shiva a unique image of the Eurasian collective unconscious.

Shiva is a power capable of shaking lives by sending intuitions, subconscious images from depths beneath our rational consciousness. Shiva is an archetype that works on many levels.

The first image of Shiva is man’s recognition of his humanity. That image became the ruler of all other archetypes. It is the key to the mystery of humanity. The West celebrated the Light, the path to liberation, as Christ.

However, the Indians call the present time period in the West the Dark ages because Europe, The United States and other Western nations appear to have lost the understanding of the images, rituals and expressions of the archetype.

Westerners have become too involved with consumerism and so depression, anxiety befogs our understanding of our essence.

In India the archetype is remembered and more easily accessed. The West can relearn the understanding of God and Self, Shiva, the gracious one. By studying the Indian worship of Shiva. India is a living collection of the stages humanity has traversed.

At the beginning are thirty to sixty million hunters and gatherers called adavasi who live in ancient ways in the jungles and mountains. They conjure spirits and dance shamanic dances.

Next come swiddle and hoe farmers who worship the Great Mother of fertility which bloody animal sacrifices are given to the earth to create fertility. In remote provinces there are still reports of child sacrifice where the body is dismembered and bits buried in different fields to increase crops.

The dominant culture has evolved from Indo-European tribes of cattle herders how conquered India five thousand years ago. These Aryans were patriarchal warriors. They brought horses, horse sacrifice, worship of fire, sun and holy cows and a language kin to the European tongues with them.

The wisdom of this tradition was eventually recorded in the Vedic scriptures . Aryan domination lasted without major threat until the twelfth century. At that point Muslim fanatics attempted to invade India. They were eventually absorbed although their culture has been preserved in Muslim ghettos of India’s cities.

Zarathustrian fire worshipers fled from Persia to India. Jews came to India when the Romans’ destroyed the temple at Jerusalem. The Portuguese brought Christianity to Goa. The British dominated India for two hundred years and left well trained officials, cricket, teatime, Hindu English. All the emigration and invasion left a trace on India.

Each culture had some part in forming the current version of the Archetype. The Shamanistic hunters provided the base in Shiva who trance dances, who has horns and is the lord of the animals and the guardian of the soul. They called him Pashupati.

The matriarchal planters made the Great Goddess his companion who represented magical powers. She was called Shakti. They also connected him to the fertility symbol, the phallus, serpents and bulls. The Aryans turned him into a fire god, Agni and introduced soma (an intoxicating drink), into the worship.

They also connected him to the howling storm god, Rudra. Zarathustrian who believed in one God who is God of Gods the people of India accepted, as Shiva. Shiva is the Great God. All other gods are part of Shiva or masks of Shiva.

Gods that were once powerful are demoted to background roles. For example, Agni becomes the wheel of fire in which Shiva dances the act of creation and destruction.

Because the Hindus have no problem worshiping God in female form, Shiva can be worshiped as a female, or as male and female at the same time.

Shaivites and Sadhus generally see Shiva in male form. They do however recognized that he exists only through the grace of Shakti a female ground of being.

Wandering Shiva Sadhus still perform rituals outdoors; however after the invasion of Alexander the Great rectangular stone temples were built. The interior contains a small stone shrine to Shiva with a phallic stone, lingam signifying Shivas presence.

Above the sacred spot of the shrine a tower rises which is decorated with gods symbolizing the center of the universe. The assembly hall faces the shrine with its roof supported with many stone columns.

The temple represents the sacred physical presence of the god. The doorway is feet, the shrine his heart, and the tower is his head and neck.

The Syrian Christians led by the apostle Thomas settled in India. They gave Shaivism a different turn. The bhakti school preached by Tamil saints depicted Shiva the dancing god and the God of Love, similar to Christ.

God’s love is found in the devotee’s heart. The Llingayat sect believes that gaining god within comes not through good works but out of Shiva’s great gift toward humanity. So Shiva is seen as a savior who brings the human being to safety without the human having to do anything.

Shiva drank the world’s poison created by the other gods churning the primal ocean. To these worshipers, Shiva is both a caring mother and a good shepherd.

Even Western psychotherapy and transpersonal psychology has influenced the modern worship of Shiva by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s reinterpretation

Some Indian scholars have tried to interpret Shiva historically. They claim that Shiva is a real person who lived five thousand years ago and invented tools, speech, fire, music and human civilization.

He is also the father of human kind with his three wives. Gauri was the mother of the white race; Durga was the mother of the yellow race; and Parvati was the mother of the black race.

Some even go so far as to see the rounded cement core of an atomic energy plant as a lingam and the terrifying energy of atoms as potential Shakti power.

Usually pictured as a naked god with matted hair and a trident in his hand, Shiva is unattractive. He is danger; bestiality. Civilized man attempts to proclaim him dead, but this Archetype is till capable of shaking us.

The flower children of the sixties who visited India brought Shiva, Kali, and Krishna back with them. The practice of Yoga spread in the United States. Shiva is Mahayogi, the lord of yoga.

The drug culture knows Siva as Aushadhisvara, lord of herbs and drugs. Rastafarians with dreads even looks like an African version of the Shiva sadhu.

The romantic natural man who can talk to animals and make passionate love to his companion is again the archetype of Shiva as Pashupati. Tarzan is a literary creation that fits this pattern.

Human beings are able to think about themselves. This thinking usually takes one of two forms factual/scientific and fictional/mythic. An example of this is the scientific field of archeology’s discovery of a hearth that is dated five hundred thousand years old.

Mankind had some control of fire or at least their fear of fire that long ago. Myth deals with mankind’s discovery of fire through light bearers like Prometheus and Lucifer.

In India fire plays a part in most rites. Women baking bread will flick bits of dough into the fire and call the gods names. The dead are burned so that their earthly bodies are diffused into Brahmin or to rise as smoke to be absorbed by water vapor and returned to earth as rain. Heroes are sometimes born of fire as Shiva’s son Kartrikeya was.

Scientists too are haunted by the image of light. The scientific theory of evolution uses cosmic radiation and electrical lighting being discharged into the see as the spark of life.

Nearly every culture has had a god of fire. For example, the Norse have the god Loki, The Baltic people had Perkun ,and in India it was Agni and then Shiva. There is a basic connection between stone, fire making and fertility.

The flint starts the fire and is the image of a phallus though which life fire is passed. It becomes associated with thundering god of heavens who impregnates the Mother Earth with lightening.

To primitive humans heat of fire, of sex by physical effort of dance, hunt, battle, all came from same source, the cosmic spirit of fire. Ascetic practices make one holy because it traps the heat unspent in sexual acts.

Because of their fiery holiness the fakir or shaman can walk on coals sit naked in the cold, and spread heat into souls not as warm as their own. The word “shaman” refers to an ascetic who tries ardently. Ashrams are a place to heat up or where heated work is done.

Siva is the lord of all ascetics, fakirs, and shamans. He contains the heat of the universe in the lingam. At the end of time Shiva’s heat will destroy creation just as it generated creation and will regenerate it.

Ancient societies around the world set up boulders megaliths, styles, and minhirs as a center for religious activity. Freud interprets such stones as phalluses. They are gateways to other worlds. In India these became temple lingam and are washed with coconut juice or Ganges water.

The heat of the flame is dialectically opposite to water. It melts ice to water. Life arises from such opposition. Water is the feminine counterpart of masculine fire. It heals, cleans, and gives birth.

Many religions combine the imagery of fire and water. Christianity says that those engulfed by the fire of the Holy Spirit will seek to be baptized in holy water. A fever is the conflict of the two. Heat causes sweat which baths the victim.

Creation of artificial fever in the sweat lodge in an old Shamanistic technique. It purifies body and soul to enable communication with the gods. Shiva who combines all opposites is Lord of the fever.

While Shiva’s name is not mentioned until well after the Paleolithic age, his presence is there. Shiva is all, but predominantly Lord of the Fire. Early myths depict him at the beginning of creation as a pillar of fire from which the world came.

In Benares a column of light, divine lightning is revered. The natives worship Kashi nicknamed the shining one. Benares is also called the great funeral pyre, and in the mystic geography of India Benares is the blazing third eye of Shiva.

Legend says that the fire used to kindle the cremation pyres has never been restarted since it came from the first fire on earth. In the cremation process if the skull does not explode in the fire one of the attendants must break it open with a bamboo pole so the soul can leave the body as a miniature Shiva.

The departing soul dances like Shiva and the demons and goblins which accompany it represent the sins of the corpse.

In the birth of the Savior Karttikeya sired by Shiva and borne by the Goddess combines the opposites fire and water.

The story says that Shiva and the Goddess made love for ten thousand years while the spirits in heaven were oppressed by Tataka, a demon. Agni the fire god was sent to remind Shiva and the Goddess that sex is not meant for pleasure only and that they should create progeny.

As a turtledove Agni interrupted the lovemaking and caused Shiva to spill his seed through the air and into the beak of the dove. The Goddess cursed the bird and the spirits who had sent him. Agni tumbled back to the hall of Brahma.

The river goddess Ganga thought her water would be cold enough to cool down the got seed so Agni gave her the seed. After ten thousand years she had exhausted herself in trying to cool it off. Brahma told her to leave the brining seed in the reeds by the river.

In ten thousand years a child will be born. She did and all the animals, human beings and vegetation in the area looked like hammered gold. Eventually a baby came and the six Pleaders who were playing on that shore found the baby.

Karttikeya grew six heads so he could nurse each of them simultaneously. So the son of Shiva, the conqueror of demons was born. His mother was part The Goddess Earth, part Agni or fire, part Ganga or water and part the Pleaders or air and cosmic space.

Everyone has a primitive hunter and a shaman in their soul. In hunting tribes animals are the primary concern. Furs, fangs claws become decoration fro the human body. Children are named animal names, and frequently ancestry is traced to a totem animal.

Which are celebrated annually in rites of increase. These rites include dancing, drumming, fasting, self-inflict ed pain, the use of mind altering drugs. The goal was for the individuals to contact the animal spirits that were their guardians.

When an anthropologist is introduced to Shiva he will probably identify him as a super Shaman. After all in one of his incarnations he is depicted with a drum in one hand and fire in another. The drum is a universal symbol for Shaman.

Shiva is Lord of the ecstatic dance. Incarnated as Rudra he transcends logic, he is wild. As Ardharnari he is androgynous as were many shaman who considered themselves the brides of some god.

Shamans allow no cutting of the hair because each hair is an antenna in contacting the gods. So the matted hair of Shiva is shown as uncut.

Shiva is said to have 1008 names. Pashupati or Lord of Animals is one of the most commonly used. In this form he is the guardian of the farmers animals and keeper of souls.

Sharva another of his names is the hunter. In one legend Sharva appears to Arujuna in as a savage of the jungle or even a were-tiger or a feral human being living outside civilization.

Shiva’s scepter is the spear, a hunting weapon, but the tip has been multiplied by three to make it a trident. Frequently the trident by itself acts as a symbol for Shiva. He may have two, four, eight, ten or thirty-two hands.

He may carry the ax, the hand drum, the staff, the bow and arrow, a simple spear, a sling and a divining rod. Other objects frequently shown in his hand include a dear, a string of beads, a discus, a skull a lotus, or as sword.

He is comparable to Apollo in the ability to shoot fever and disease to his enemies with his bow. He and his dogs are frequently linked to the constellation Westerners call Orion and the star Sirius.

The noose is also part of a hunter’s bag of tricks. It can also be a symbol of universal law, which binds all to follow right. Odin carried a noose and sacrifices were hung on trees to him. Shiva uses his noose to tie his followers into the discipline of yoga.

In the form of Bhairava, Shiva rides a black dog. Dogs were probably the first domesticated animals. As predators they became associated with war, violence, battles. If Shiva takes the form of a dog and eats a corpse it is to free the soul.

Cerberus the Greek conveyor of souls to the underworld was pictured as dog faced. Goethe used this archetype in his Faust when he has Satan appear as a black poodle.

As God of the dead Shiva is surrounded by drunken, dancing people who take animal form, vampires, ghosts, flesh eating ghosts, evil dwarfs, elves and witches.

Techniques to induce ecstasy or trance are taught in torturous initiations. South Asia has Shiva Mahayogi the patron of self-discipline as the enabler that helps man step into another dimension of reality. Odin inspired asceticism. His legend includes hanging upside down for nine days to get the Runes of wisdom.  Eight legged animals represent a bier carried by four mourners. Shiva sometimes shows up as a Sphinx with eight legs. In another connection to death devotees of Shiva attempt to envision themselves as skeletons.

This vision is connected to Shiva’s mother, Punitaviti. She married and the young couple enjoyed giving food to the poor disciples of Shiva. One day a wondering monk gave two ripe mangos to the husband who gave them to Punitaviti to store.

He left on business and a hungry beggar knocked on the door. Punitaviti gave one of the mangos to him. Her husband returned ate the first mango, wanted the second, so Punitaviti prayed for one and it dropped into her lap. Her husband thought it was delicious.

When her husband asked her about whether the fruit was what had been given to him that morning, Punitaviti confessed. Her husband requested more fruit and more fruit for which she prayed repeatedly and each time received.

Suddenly the husband realizes what he has become, greedy and decides he is not fit to be married to a holy woman, so he disappears. Eventually she discovers him in another city remarried and with children, so she shakes the flesh off her bones and goes looking for Shiva.

When she arrives at holy ground, afraid to touch it with her feet she inverts herself and goes the mountain head first, as a child enters the birth canal.

Shamanistic initiations occur at night in graveyards where Shiva and his ghouls love to dance. The initiate puts aside his regular clothing and dresses in unstitched orange cloth representing the flames. He is dead to the world as the corpses burning in the graveyards.

He smears himself with ashes from the corpses. The grounds of cremation become a symbol of the illusion of existence, which the shaman is leaving behind through asceticism. Tourists sometimes observe such initiations in Benares.

They are not allowed to take pictures and are told to look at the bits and pieces of the corpses or the vultures and jackals. The idea is that they learn the ephemeral nature of human existence, especially their own and thus earn magical powers or even freedom from illusion from Shiva.

Shivas ugliest embodiment is Bhairava has sixty-four manifestations which have female consorts. The manifestations include ” the skull carrier,” “one with black limbs,” “destruction,” “the howler,” “the wild one,” “the angry one, ” “the insane one,” and” the black one.”

“The howler” is like Odin in his frenzied state. In central and Northern Europe November storms are associated with Odin just as in India, violent storms are associates with Bhairava in his howler manifestation.

Shivatari or Shiva’s night is celebrated in India in February is not very different from fool festivals, carnivals and masked dances around the world. It is kin to Mardi Gras.

In Indian cities, the gods and goddesses flourish in posters and handbills that plaster the walls. In addition gods have become the main characters in the biggest film industry in the world.

The names of the gods are also used to guarantee the quality of objects for sale. India’s most popular rock group is called Shiva. City walls also have signs and symbols like the swastika decorating them. The swastika is a symbol of the sun, an indication of good luck.

It connects with the discus of Vishnu. Its four arms represent the four worlds of the gods, the humans, the animals and the demons. It is the wheel of the universe where Shiva dances. The pranava or symbol of OM also appears frequently.

It drives evil spirits away and works off the results of Karma that still affect the present. On the flags, money and walls of buildings the World Wheel appears with eight spokes. Associated with Vishnu it has become the symbol of eternal or divine law.

The Lingam Yoni is another symbol of importance. It is a smooth, highly polished egg-shaped stone that stand in an oval flat receptacle. The stone is the lingam; the receptacle is the Yoni.

The lingam contains all things that are were or will be. It is the gateway to both life and death. The Hindu see the lingam as Shiva and as the bridge between ephemeral and eternal.

The lingam is like the prehistoric minhirs, dolmens, and monoliths. Sometimes they are seen as the navel of the universe. All cultures and religions seem to have had or still have stones that are viewed as sacred:

Muslim – Ka’aba in Mecca
Greek – tombstone of the sacred python at Delphi. Christians – rock of ages

The Shiva lingam comes from the same archetype. Out of a lingam, Shiva can become a personal God for the worshippers and the form the manifestation takes depends solely on the personality and spiritual development of the worshiper.

The lingam began as a phallic symbol celebrating procreation. The Yoni it rests in represents the vulva of the Great Goddess. The union of the two reconciles all dichotomies and disharmonies, just as Shiva embodies the primal oneness of the divine and demonic.

Myth says that in the first age of the world the lingam was pure light; in the second age it became pure gold, in the third age it was silver, and today they are just stone.

While the lingam began as a representation of an erect male member, the Arabs during the twelfth century persecuted what they saw as lewd, idolatrous art. At that time the Brahmins defended the lingam as a symbol of a transcendent God who has no image.

It has no concrete associations. When Christian missionaries appeared, followed by the British Victorians, the Brahmins repeated the argument that the lingam is no longer a phallic symbol but an object to concentrate the sprit during meditations.

The Aryan Vedas do condemn the pre-Aryan worship of the phalli. Orthodox Hindus today reject the implication that sexual organs are worshipped in the lingam and Yoni.

The conflict between these two points of view has existed for a long time. Opinions also vary about where the original fiery lingam appeared. Many say Benares, but the Nepalese say it was the Katmandu Valley. Some say that anyone who searches for this lingam will find it very close to home.

The Shaivites see a holy trinity of gods: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva as three parts of the super god Shiva. The Vishnu claim that Vishnu is the one God and all others are partial aspects of him. Shiva and Vishnu are about equally worshipped in India. Brahma has no temples and no offerings.

Icons or sacred images are part of Hinduism. Shiva has many icons but there are three very popular ones. The first is of Samara an ascetic in deep peaceful meditation. He is covered in ashes and sits in a snowy mountainous land.

The second is Nataraja who dances in the middle of a circle of flames. He beats out the rhythm of life on a hand drum. The third shows Shiva and Parvati with their children on the mountains in the spring.

Samara with his snow-white body is the embodiment of the peace achieved through the dissolution of desire and passion. His athletic build speaks of the potential for action. His messy hair is held in a topknot by a hissing cobra.

The Ganges spouts from the cobra. On the left side of his forehead shank wears a delicate silver crescent representing the new born moon, min, measuring, memory and time. Soma is the name of the moon as well as of the drink of the gods.

Shankar wears necklace of skulls that his devotees imitate by wearing a necklace of acorn sized shriveled Rudra beads. Victors in spiritual battles against vices wear undertakes beads to indicate the conquering of desire.

These seeds are classified by size, color number of wrinkles. Most of the time these beads have five wrinkles. A two faceted bead or Shiva-Shakti guarantees the possessor that all his wishes will come true. A single meeting with a single faceted bead guarantees that the soul is freed form all sins.

Trauma is another of Shiva’s names. Tryambaka has a third eye in the middle of his forehead. It must remain closed for the beam from it can annihilate everything that comes within its range.

In Indo-European traditions the number three represents wholeness. Even Christianity kept the symbolism in the Trinity. Lord Shiva’s three eyes are connected to all trinities: creation, preservation, destruction; Brahman, Vishnu, Shiva; past, present, future; and on and on.

Shankara has three stripes of white ash smeared across his forehead. Shiva’s disciples wear these three stripes. The disciples of Vishnu wear a vertical V or U with a red dot in its middle. The ashes must be from a holy fire or a funeral pyre.

In order to wear the ashes, the devotee must rise each day before dawn, bathe, recite the Vedic Gayatri Mantra. Then he may apply the ashes using three fingers of his right hand.

He must then drink some ash dissolved in water of the Ganges. If he fails to perform any part of the ritual, he is considered unpure and must purify himself.

Shankara has a blue neck. As a consequence of an encounter with the churning ocean of milk. The sea is a symbol for meditation; the oceanic depths, the unconscious mind.

For westerners much of this is interpreted as parables and archetypes. Hindu peasants regard them as literally true. All experiences are real and natural and illusory and supernatural. They make no separation.

Buddha, Siddhartha Gotama, was at one point a Shaivit ascetic like Shankara. He sat at the base of the cosmic tree, the axis of the world, the bridge between heaven, earth and the underworld.

While sitting he watched the chain of karma die out and so reached nirvana and became the Enlightened one.

Shankara’s trident represents the cosmic tree and he too has reached nirvana.

Like Shiva Buddha was itinerate dressed in the saffron robes of a begging monk. He belonged to a group of sadhus devoted to Shiva led by Makkhali Gosala. Both Buddha and Shiva have elongated ear lobes.

Buddha’s indicate his noble caste; Shankara’s indicate the yogic ability of clairaudience. They are both connected to resting deer often used to indicate a calm mind.

The stories of Shankara Shiva are much older than those of the historic Buddha or Mahvir, founder of the Jains In Brahamanda Purana, Shiva appears in the fist age as a yogi, in the second age he is Krau, in the third age doomsday fire, and in the present age he became Buddha.

In India historical facts rapidly become transformed into myth. Mahatma Gandhi, India Gandhi, and Subhas Chandra Bose are becoming part of the Hind pantheon.

While the Aryan invaders were patriarchal and substituted the male gods for the earlier female gods, in India goddesses became important again in the Hindu culture. Particularly in the Bengali Mother cult and the Shakti cult.

In those cults the Mother becomes the universe, Maya(the illusion of variety in the creation) and kalla( the illusion of time coming and going) “Shakti” means energy. Shiva is the consciousness of self; Shakti is being or essence.

Monism demands that there be only a single transcendent truth. So Shiva and Shakti are not two entities, but one. He is the peaceful center; she is the energy radiating from that center.

Saravasti is the White goddess who rides a swan. In India she is the inspiration or energy of the artist, writer, healer. Lakshmi is the red goddess and the faithful wife of Vishnu. She represents good luck.

The two goddesses jealous of each other often fight. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the artists’ poverty and the rich man’s insensitivity to beauty. Devi or the radiant one is the other half of Shiva.

No god can be without his Shakti or other half. Yet Parvarti is Shiva’s wife. Shaktis have good and bad sides and Durga is Shiva’s dark Shakti. She is a royal amazon. She is also the nemesis of all who attempt to avoid their dharma or duty.

Probably Kali is the darkest of the Shakti’s. She represents the night, fertility, the abyss of life before and after life. She destroys all and is especially the enemy of the ego who wishes to create a monument for itself.

She is sometimes described as a devoted mother her destroys the monster of egoism. Calcutta is Kali’s city. The peasants there saw Mother Theresa dressed in white, the color of death, as Kali because of her interest in the dieing.

One of Kali’s cults were the thugees from which English gained the word thugs. When Kali sent good omens, the thugs would rob and kill tourists and pilgrims. They always strangled their victims because in one battle Kali created two men from her sweat to kill the monsters she was battling.

She admonished them to strangle the monsters because every drop of monster blood that hit the ground created another monster. It wasn’t until a British officer discovered their cult that anyone attempted to end their killings.

He had hundreds of them hanged. One interesting point that the officer discovered was that many of the thugs were originally Muslim. They saw Kali as Fatima, Mohammad’s daughter.

Dacoits were another group of armed peasants that operated as a cult of Kali. They terrorized rural areas until the 1980’s.

Other shaktis or goddesses include Annapurna the goddess of abundance usually pictured with a bowl and spoon. Ganga is the purest of the river goddesses and the Ganges is her river.

She is another wife of Shiva and the sister of Parvarti. Ganga means unlimited flow and constant motion. She represents the flow of life or energy. She also represents the flow of consciousness. At Kashi, Ganga’s holy city, the Ganges River is a place of meditation.

The river reflects the archetypes to the visionaries’ third eyes. Because the Ganges is shallow and filled with sandbars, steamships cannot travel on it. So it remains a place for reflection. Once you have visited Kashi, it will always be with you.

Shiva-Nataraja is the dancing Shiva. He is the elements of nature mixed. All of nature is dance. It is the almost simultaneous loss and regaining of balance. Shiva’s liberated souls are berserks and dervishes.

The shaking of his drum was the first sound of creation. The drum represents the constant process of creation, But the god also stands for preservation, and destruction as well as grace.

The dance is the dance of creation and destruction of the universe. He dances in a fiery ring that represents our hearts. He is The Self.

Shiva’s family consists of Parvarti his wife and her son Karttikkeya, and Ganga his second wife and Ganesha the second son. Actually The other gods afraid of the combined power of Shiva and Parvarti, got Shiva to agree that they would not have children.

Parvarti in her anger at this news cursed the wives of the heavenly beings so that they could not have children either. As a result all children of gods are magically created rather than being physically conceived and born.

Karttikeya is also known as Skanda., Gangeya, or Agnibhu. He represents the heroism of the soul triumphing over egoism, illusion and anger.

He has six heads which represent the five senses and discrimination. Six rays shoot from him representing wisdom, objectivity, wealth, strength, fame and power.

Ganesha is the most popular of the Hindu gods. He is worshipped all over Asia. He has an elephant head and is overly fond of sweets. The Hindu version of the tortoise and the hare fable casts Skanda as the hare and Ganesha as the tortoise.

He is the guardian of the threshold, beginnings, scholars, and writers. He also acts somewhat like the gods of mischief in other cultures in that he represents obstacles and also as the remover of obstacles.

He is the alpha and omega of creation. His offerings are incense, red flowers and sweets.

The mounts of the gods are often seen as the negative side of the deities’ personality. By taming and riding them the god overcomes his lower nature.

Ganesha’s mouse represents the nervous intellect, Parvati’s lion is cruelty, Skanda’s peacock is vanity, and Shiva’s white bull is sexuality.

Shiva becomes Mahadev the God of Gods. He is absolute being. All oppositions come to rest in him. As Mahadev he is not jealous of other gods. Shiva is pleased by all forms of religion.

They simply reflect a stage of growth in the spirituality of the believer. Since each individual is Shiva, whoever the individual is praying to is Shiva praying to Shiva.

Zarathustra experienced a vision nearly three thousand years ago that has affected Western religions ever since. While the Eastern religions see both good and evil as part of the grand illusion, Zarathustra saw them as absolute opposites who were antagonistic.

In the East Shiva can be both God and Devil. The westerner has a hard time explaining evil in connection to God. God is totally good. In the East, whether Shiva is seen as a God or the Devil is more a reflection on the believer than on the God.

Zarathustra introduced the idea that the universe is divided into light/dark, good/evil, and God/Satan. There is no compromise between the two sides. Each individual must make a choice between the sides. God’s (Ahura Mazda) creation is perfect.

Angra Mainyu (Spirit of Evil) threatens the creation by spreading lies and illusion. Zarathustra condemned the worship of older gods, especially, Shiva. They equated Shiva with Lucifer. Zarathustra also introduced the concepts of hell and heaven, demon and angels.

Many of the views of Zarathustra were introduced in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Today, Jimmy Falwell, Billy Graham, Osama Ben Laden are all modeled on the prophet, Zarathustra. They struggle to purify the people and refuse to compromise with Satan.

In the East there is a recognition that evil cannot exit without good. They are the same coin, just different sides. As long as the good people struggle against evil, evil will exist. It must exist, if good exists.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh came to America in the 1980’s and attempted to teach a form of Shaivite tantra and humanistic psychology. A primitive energy is pictured as the Kundalini-serpent that resides in the gut.

When awakened the serpent bends to rise and transform into a goddess. It unites with consciousness and creates a state of bliss. Anyone who attempts to fight the rise of the serpent(dark desires) will turn the energy against himself and must fail.

Repressing forbidden desires results in creating a fatal obsession. Rajneesh advised his followers to accept the dark desires or shadows that exist in the believers’ souls because they too were Shiva.

He was deported from the United States. Shiva exists in all and to understand him one must go past the division of the universe into good and bad.

In the fifth Veda, Shiva revealed the “weavings” or tantras. Many ancient taboos and traditional laws are violated there. Naturally this upsets many of the more conservative Hindus.

Instead of repressing the dark desires, tantra attempts to make them sacred The tantra masters believe this is the only approach appropriate for this age.

Classical Hinduism is monist. That is it states that there is really only one ultimate reality despite the appearance of diversity in the material world. Maya or a veil of illusion creates the diversity and hides the unity.

Part of that illusion is that each of us is a separate individual and therefore competition evolves. The only escape from the illusion is to reject the world and withdraw his five senses from the world.

Tantrism on the other hand celebrates the diversity and joyously affirms life. It too is monist, but sees that the unity includes the Maya, the diversity. Maya is lila Shiva’s game, the spontaneous overflow of his energy.

One should accept it and enjoy it, but without the involvement of ego attachment. When one accepts that there is no I and other, the soul loves and accepts all as self (Shiva) Everything is divine, but there is no compulsion to worship anything.

Sickness, war, poverty and death are not to be lamented but accepted as part of the divine mother. To see the world as unjust or unfair. Does not fit the tantric belief. To call the world bad is to call Shiva bad is to call one’s very Self bad.

Tantrism teaches that all we see all we experience is Self. For example accepting one’s sexuality does not mean raping, indulging in pornography, or adultery. Instead, sex is seen as holy as part of the divine.

The struggle against ego is the only battle an individual must undertake. The ego sees everything in relation to itself. It projects itself onto things, distorting reality and entangling the individual in loneliness and fear.

In order to battle the ego, the repression must end and the darkness of Self be acknowledged. Then quiet meditation must be undertaken often with the physical discipline of hatha yoga.

In meditation one gives oneself to recognition that all is one. Oppositions and differences disappear. Sigmund Freud sensed this in his thoughts on the libido. The libido cannot be suppressed it must be transformed.

The most heretical point that the tantrists make is that an enlightened soul can remain fully involved in the world. He can act as he pleases without piling up further karma that will have to be dissipated in yet another life.

He does not become attached because there is no one there to become attached. He is God-realized; he never abandons his state of union with All with Shiva.

He will accept all as pure and without problem because they are part of the whole, part of Shiva and that makes them holy.

Carried to extremes the tantric idea of accepting the libidinal urges and acting on them to make them holy can result into a slide into crime, insanity, drug abuse or spiritual vacuity.

There are three methods of approaching secret knowledge depending on the three types of human beings. This Sattva are holy spiritual beings, the divya are heroic action figures and the pashu whose lives are made up of boring routines.

The spiritual man can omit external ritual He already understands that the forbidden wine, food, sex are symbolic of ecstasy, self sacrifice, the illusion created by the five senses.

To this person the magical gestures of ritual are natural expressions of doing the appropriate thing at the time. Sexual intercourse is symbolic of the union of disparate parts, thought and action, spirit and soul.

The holy person therefore does not need sexual ritual to convert sexuality, for they are already open to the cosmos.

The hero has left fear behind but maintained virtue. Because he isn’t wise, he doesn’t understand social conditioning or the cultural modeling of reality. In order to understand he must experience concrete references.

He confronts the taboo aspects of existence and then accept them and integrate them into the whole. To these people the taboos are the five M’s of drinking wine, eating fish, eating meat, taking on magic postures and engaging in sexual intercourse.

The common man is still striving for survival and the satisfaction of his needs. The experience of the taboos will confuse him or cause addiction. The tantric ritual is modified.

Coconut milk stands for wine, white beans stand for meat, radishes stand for fish, sprinkling roasted sees is the magical gestures and submission at the feet of a statue of the Goddess is the equivalent of sexual intercourse.

This is as effective as the other methods because the archetypes, the gods dwelling in his soul are responsive to these actions.

There are many books published in the west on tantric sexual postures. This is the result of the confusion between the sexes in the west.

Shiva worship is practiced at sunrise, noon, and sunset. Monday Shiva is closest to his followers. The Hindus observe the double month of waning and waxing moon.

The night of the thirteenth and the day of the fourteenth day of the waxing moon is most auspicious for Shiva devotions. Each day is dedicated to a particular deity aspect.

The fourth day of waxing moon is Ganesha’s. The eighth day is Durga’s and so on. Each day is a meditative stage toward the realization of Shiva.

The soul is God’s garden. The flowers used to honor the lingam are a sign of what is growing in the soul. They must be fresh, produced by the individual’s own hand. One mustn’t smell their fragrance.

Every flower has a meaningful purpose and time to be offered. White blossoms are offered to achieve peace, red give strength and energy, dark ones help raise the dark desires. Each month has a prescribed plant.

May/June is lotus blossoms. The wood apple tree is often planted next to Shiva’s shrines. It has a threefold leaf, a symbol of the triune good, universe. An oath sworn on the leaf is like one sworn on a bible.

In India psychedelic plant drugs are available for those who have renounced the world and the elderly who are preparing their souls for death.

Hemp, bhang, ganja, and datura or Jimson weed may be smoked, eaten in sweets or drunk in milk or rose water.

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Shiva is invoked before taking the first puff of ganja by shouting one of many chillam-mantras:

Alakh! Bam Bam Bholenath! 

Bom Shiva! 

Om Shiva Shankara Hara Hara Ganga! 

Om Nama Shivaya!

Jai Shiva Shankar!

Hara Hara Mahadev!

I hope you got lots of VALUE from this post! If you have questions or comments, please share your comments below! Thanks for visiting my blog!

~Sakshi Zion

Ps. Get Access Now to my FREE Ebook! How I use Law of Attraction to Travel the World and Live my Dreams!

Nataraja – Kirtan by Baraka (Sakshi Zion) Waldron Arts Center Bloomington, Indiana

Enjoy this old school kirtan that we did at The Waldron Art Center 1st Annual Cancer Benefit in 2009! We did a Shiva chant called “Nataraja”.
You can Listen and Download more of our music here!
Thanks for visiting my blog!
~Sakshi Zion

 

Ps. Get Access Now to my FREE Ebook! How I use Law of Attraction to Travel the World and Live My Dreams!

So Hum Shivo Hum – Kirtan by Baraka – 2008 Healing Sounds Concert at the UU Church in Bloomington, Indiana

Enjoy this old school “So Hum Shivo Hum” Kirtan we did at UU Church in Bloomington, Indiana at the Healing Sounds Concert in 2008!! This was fun!

You can Listen and Download more of our music here!

I hope you got lots of VALUE from this post! If you have questions or comments, please share your comments below! Thanks for visiting my blog!

~Sakshi Zion

Ps. Get Access Now to my FREE Ebook! How I use Law of Attraction to Travel the World and Live my Dreams!

Narayana Hari Om – Kirtan by Baraka – 2008 Healing Sounds Concert at UU Church Bloomington, Indiana

Enjoy this old school “Narayana Hari Om” Kirtan we did at UU Church in Bloomington, Indiana at the Healing Sounds Concert in 2008!! This was fun!

You can Listen and Download more of our music here!

I hope you got lots of VALUE from this post! If you have questions or comments, please share your comments below! Thanks for visiting my blog!

~Sakshi Zion

Ps. Get Access Now to my FREE Ebook! How I use Law of Attraction to Travel the World and Live my Dreams!

Jai Ram Shree Ram Jai Jai Ram – Sita Ram Kirtan by Baraka – 2008 Healing Sounds Concert at UU Church Bloomington, Indiana

Enjoy this old school “Sita Ram” Kirtan we did at UU Church in Bloomington, Indiana at the Healing Sounds Concert in 2008!! This was fun!
You can Listen and Download more of our music here!
Thanks for visiting my blog!

~Sakshi Zion

Ps. Get Access Now to my FREE Ebook! How I use Law of Attraction to Travel the World and Live my Dreams!