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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

THE WORLD-WIDE INFLUENCE OF RAMAYANA

When Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia was gifted with a Ramayana by an Indian sannyasi, he smiled, and said they were all descendants of Lord Rama. He explained how the Ethiopians are called as Cushites, or coming down from Kusha, a son of Rama. The country is called Kushadwip, or the land of the son of Rama.

Ethiopians admit their ancestor as Kush, and they quote the Biblical story of Cush being a son of Ham (a phonetic misnomer of Ram). This only confirms to the widespread influence of Ramayana, even in a land that is 3000 miles away from the mainland of India.

Phonetic describes the way spoken words sound or are pronounced. When we closely examine the names of various places across the world, we can logically deduce how the culture of Ramayana must have influenced these lands, even thousands of years ago. Egypt derives its name from Ajpati, a name of one of Rama’s forefathers. Even the various legends in Egypt contain references to Dasharatha, the father of Rama, and thus even five thousand kilometres away, Ramayana had an influence.

The traces of Vedic age can be seen even today. Iranians have the culture of reverence to fire, an essential sacrificial tool in Vedic process. Armenia has an ancient structure, called the ‘temple of the little blue boy’-referring to Krishna. A French historian even claimed that the original Armenians were worshippers of Radha and Krishna.

This is explained in the Vedic scriptures: Parashuram was a great warrior who destroyed warrior class many times. As a result many kings ran to faraway lands and settled there. Over a period of time, due to the far distance from the main land of India, the culture of Rama and Krishna worship deteriorated.

Nearer home, in the South East Asian regions, Ramayana’s influence can be seen even today. Thailand’s national epic is called ‘Ramakien’– glory of Rama. Until the late 18th century, the capital of Thailand was Ayutthaya, derived from Ayodhya- the capital of Lord Rama. Most of the kings of Thailand are called as Rama-I or Rama-II and so on.

When Lord Rama shot an arrow at demon Maricha and disposed him off to the middle of an ocean, he settled in an island there. That place was called Mauricha or later evolved as Mauritius.

These instances prove that story of Ramayana is not simply a story that belongs to India; this is one of the most powerful stories in the history of the world.

Just as Bible has played a pivotal role in shaping the history of the Western world- you can read novels, appreciate art and history, and you will find some Biblical references there- similarly Ramayana has shaped all of Asian civilization. China, Japan and Korea have their own version of Ramayana story telling. Indonesia- the world’s largest Muslim country- even today has a popular puppet show on Ramayana.

Japan created an animated Ramayana made for the Japanese market by the Japanese; they too love to narrate the Ramayana. Over three hundred different versions- from South Indian to Urdu- Ramayana has captured the imagination of the people all over Asia for millennia.

In recent times, lands outside of Asia-like Africa and Europe- have revealed Ramayana’s influence. The Warner bros in US made a movie, ‘A little Princess’; the heart of the movie is the rendition of Ramayana by a young girl Sara.

The Ramayana story thus has a universal appeal. And that’s because it has all the ingredients of a good story: there is a hero, the princess, the damsel in distress. Adventure, romance, action, it’s all there. Yet, there is something more in Ramayana. It is the ‘adi-kavya’– the first poem. And the poetic masterpiece of Ramayana is known to humans for thousands of years.

Unfortunately modern scholars declare Ramayana to be a fiction; in most book stores, Ramayana is classified as ‘mythology’. However we need to remember that Ramayana is not a fairy tale born out of the fertile brains of some creative writers. Ramayana is a product of divine inspiration, revealed in the heart of a devotee by the Lord himself.

Even when Lord Krishna was personally present on this planet-5000 years ago- Ramayana was well known. That’s the reason the speaker of Srimad Bhagavatam, Srila Sukadeva Goswami devotes only two chapters to the Ramayana. The epic was sung in the courts of kings even those days.

*Article written by Vraja Bihari Das*

Jai Rastafari! Jah Krishnafari!!

Jai RamaChrista! Jah RastaKrishna!!

Thanks for visiting my blog! I hope you got lots of VALUE from this post! Questions or Comments always welcome!! Thank you!

~Sakshi Zion

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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!
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~Sakshi Zion

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Kirtaniyas feat. MC Yogi – Nitai Gauranga Official Video

Last night my friend Pankaj sent me a link to a brand new music video he made. I had no idea what it would be. To my surprise it was a music video of the song “Nitai Gauranga” by my other friends Vijay, The Kirtaniyas, MC Yogi, and DJ Drez! I just performed with all of these guys at Serendipity Festival a little over a month ago and got a first sample hearing of this particular song when they performed it live there. I was loving it then. I actually thought it was my favorite song of the night when I saw them perform their set. My bands The Tuff Tones and Baraka also performed at Serendipity Festival, and myself and Vijay sang with Arjun Baba too. It was a blast! But doesn’t really compare to the fun they are having in this video! Filmed at the Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah during the “Festival of Colors“, the energy, and well obviously the colors really make this video a very enjoyable watch! If you didn’t already know, Kirtan is sacred chanting of God’s Holy Names. So check it out yourself!

Kirtaniyas feat. MC Yogi – Nitai Gauranga Official Video

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~Sakshi Zion

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HAPPY NARASIMHADEVA APPEARANCE DAY

“Lord Narasimha is here and also there. Wherever I go Lord Narasimha is there. He is in the heart and is outside as well. I surrender to Lord Narasimha, the origin of all things and the supreme refuge.”~Narasimha Purana

Narasimha is the Lion form of God in India. He represents Divine Majesty and Protection.

I always felt a connection to this Lion form of God because of how much I loved the form of Christ as the Lion of Judah.

Listen to Bob Marley singing the song Lion of Judah:

If you want to learn about the Cat Mystery Schools and divine parallels of Cats from around the world in sacred traditions, check out my friend Jahnagga Baba’s very well done video:

Enjoy! Jaya Narasimhadeva!

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!