Friday, 20 February 2015

The three lessons to keep in mind about singing bhajans

Setting for an important message

Madh Bhaktaha Yatra Gayanthi, Tatra Tishtami Narada.
(“Wherever my devotees sing, I present myself there Narada”)

The Lord presents Himself wherever His glory is sung. 
This is the beautiful assurance that God in the form of Lord Vishnu conveyed to the devotee in the form of sage Narada when asked,
“Lord, what is your permanent address?”
My sweet Lord, Bhagawan Sri  Sathya Sai Baba, has taken that statement several notches higher in intensity by stating,
Madh Bhaktaha Yatra Gayanthi, Tatra Sthapayami.
(“Wherever my devotees sing, I install myself there!”)

There is definitely many things magical about singing for the Lord, the most prominent one being that the Lord Himself (Herself/Itself) seems to look forward for the same! And it is in this context that I vividly recall a conversation with Swami that happened on the day of the Ganesha immersion festival in Prasanthi Nilayam in 2009. It was just a brief interaction and an apparently casual conversation. But as with all interactions with the Lord, it has so much to offer to us especially with regards to singing for the Lord. Just keeping it in our heart and contemplating on it over and over again will reveal fresh and multiple insights.

The students’ hostels at Prasanthi Nilayam had got transformed into hives of buzzing activity as all of them were busy putting finishing touches to their respective chariots and palanquins. They had been working for the past couple of days on creating these vehicles which would be used to carry the Ganesha idols for immersion at the end of the Ganesha Chaturthi celebrations.

A sample of 4 among the two dozen or so chariots and palanquins that lined up in the Sai Kulwant hall that day. 
It was sheer joy for me to go around on my new TVS bike taking photos of all these chariots and palanquins. Having covered the procession as it made its way towards the mandir, I rushed to Sai Kulwant hall just before Swami arrived for darshan. It was about 5pm.  He was received at Yajur Mandir by a procession of little Ganeshas from the Primary school and the Vedam group with the Poornakumbham. Swami entered the Sai Kulwant Hall and moved past the magnificent array of chariots. He blessed them and the 'makers' too with His benediction and smiles. Many brought forward plates with prasadam and fruits which Swami blessed. It took about 20 minutes for Swami to move past all the chariots and arrive on stage.

Then, two little presentations - one by the University students and the other by the school students - followed after which, it was time for the chariots to leave.

Our performance vis-a-vis the Lord’s expectations

Then, began the procession of the chariots. There was a continuous commentary that introduced the different chariots/palanquins and explained the theme and idea for each of them. As the decorated vehicles with the students involved in their creation came to the front, Swami blessed them with raised hands. He seemed to be very appreciative of the efforts that had been put in making the chariots and that was a photographer’s delight! I clicked away in great joy.

Suddenly, Swami turned to me and said,
Oka bhajana ledhu... oka vadyam ledhu (There is not a single bhajan being sung nor is there any auspicious musical accompaniment)”
As He said that, He sweetly simulated a trumpet through His hands, blowing at His right thumb! He continued,
“Everyone is walking so silently.”
“Swami, shall we start bhajans here?” I asked
“They are walking silently”, He pointed to the students in the procession with the Lord, “they ought to be singing bhajans...
"They are all walking silently... They ought to be singing bhajans...", Swami told me
I left my camera on the floor and got up in a hurry. I had decided to rush to the students in the procession and tell them to start singing bhajans.
“Ay! Wait... Come back...” Swami called me back, “you don’t tell them anything.”
I returned to my seat and Swami continued,
“There is no bhajan being sung at all...”
I thought of being a voice for the students. I knelt and told Swami,
“Swami, they will walk silently here. But once outside, they will clap and sing bhajans loudly. They will also indulge in sloganeering - Ganapati Bappa Mourya.”
Swami looked at me with a compassionate smile. With great patience and understanding, 
He said,
“But nothing is being done inside...”

I nodded and continued to kneel before Him.
“Okay, start bhajans here,” He commanded.
The next moment, the bhajan group in the mandir took over and the whole Sai Kulwant hall joined enthusiastically in the singing. There was great energy and enthusiasm generated by Swami’s presence up front.

An aerial view of the procession of chariots along the rain-washed main road in Puttaparthi.

Lesson 1

The importance and efficacy of Namasmarana is well known and Swami has dilated via many stories on how one should keep one’s mind engaged in Namasmarana (contemplation on the name of the Lord). For me, that importance got reinforced when Swami said,
“They are walking silently... They ought to sing bhajans...”
Whatever Swami tells us is for our benefit, not His. But still, sometimes I have dared to think this way,
“No wonder, singing the Lord’s name has given great bliss to several devotees - Mirabai, Tukaram, Namdev, Thyagaraja. But why does it not give me that kind of joy?”

The answer from within is clear,
“When the jaundiced tongue tastes sweet as bitter, is it the fault of the sweet or the tongue? When Aham (Ego) is present, the sweetness of the Lord’s name is not perceived.”
The immediate question then is,
“What is the medicine for the jaundice then, so that I too am able to enjoy that sweetness?”
“Ah! That is the beauty of the Lord’s name! Not only is it a sweet, but also the medicine against the jaundice of Aham. Keep it at long enough. It will cure your jaundice and soon you will enjoy the waves of joy that the name of the Ananda Saagara (Ocean of bliss) brings forth.”

All the Primary School children dressed as little Ganeshas line up seeking blessings from Swami.
Lesson 2

Another thought-provoking statement that day by Swami was,
“But nothing is being done inside...”

It brings to mind another analogy that Swami offers,
“The name of the Lord on one’s tongue is like the lamp placed on the threshold of a house; it illumines the inside and the outside.”
Just like the lamp, the Name brings peace to the one who sings as well as to those that listen. But nobody places a lamp on the threshold only for the sake of lighting up the street! The process better be an internal one too.

Lesson 3

This one is a more subtle lesson and I realized it much later. It is hidden in Swami’s command,
“Ay! Wait... Come back...You don’t tell them anything.”

Evidently, it is not of much use if one is forced to sing bhajans, EVEN BY THE LORD! It has to come from the source, from one’s own heart.

For all readers:

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  1. Sairam Barru

    We have witnessed "one side" of the event(s) happening "outside" and now experiencing the "other side" of the event(s) "inside".

    Thanks a lot for sharing your insights, thoughts from each of Swami's interactions and these will be lessons for eternity.




  2. Sairam Aravind, sadhana towards Sharanagati is the means for removing ego, incessant Namasmarana means for purifying / cleansing inner space of heart where SWAMI is present, and singing bhajans with raga - tala - bhava ensures awakening Love internally and spreading it all around. Thanks for sharing SWAMI's teachings bringing out inner significance of HIS words. Best wishes and Love. Madhusudanvithal Nori

  3. When the mind is silent, the silence within is no different from the silence without i.e of stone, trees and animals- you transcend duality and feel oneness with everything with the world that is silent. To keep the mind in that state of meditative stillness and experience oneness with the silent world is not so easy.

    An alternative to mind becoming silent is mind remembering Lord's name.

    An alternative to mind remembering Lord's name is the mind singing Lord's name

    Namasmarana affects the mind (and the body to a some extent) but Bhajan Singing affects both the mind (thinking space) and the body (feeling space) potently and more powerfully.

    "Music is the instrument by which passions are sublimated, emotions are tamed, impulses directed to higher purpose" as per Swamy. Further singing in public also removes or diminishes our ego (if singing becomes a performance it can also become a greatest tool for ego aggrandizement)

    Our Swamy in His greatest intelligence and benevolence has bequeathed to us a very very simple tool of Bhajan Singing for achieving so many things not the least of which is transcending duality and achieving oneness in the universe.

    Om Sri Sairam


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