Tales of a Migratory Dhrupadi

I’m back in the luminous land of West Oz, port of Fremantle, after a month performing in the USA and 3 months in India imbibing the essence of the dhrupad homeland. I was a little ‘out-of-range’ (you may have noticed), as I rediscovered the simplicity of living from a suitcase, screen free, immersed in my yogic processes.

For most of the time in India I stayed in my teachers’ school, or ‘gurukul’ (The Dhrupad Sansthan) in rural India, on the outskirts of a village near the city of Bhopal. This is the real heartland of India, with its remnants of tribal lifestyle, and where the old men in the villages still wear dhoti and pagri (turban). The forests around Bhopal used to be crawling with tigers, until the Nawab shot them all from his jeep just for sport. Some strange animals are still sighted, like a sort of wildcat, jackals and even bears. But the creature that most bewilders the locals is that sort of foreigner who comes to learn some ancient Indian music they’ve never even heard of.

For me, it was a great time for rejuvenating my mind while honing my vocal chops, as well as connecting with the other beautiful people who make the journey all the way to Bhopal to study this special and timeless music.

I did four performances in India- one at the Ustad Alla Rakha Sangeet Sammelan in the Panjab (where we got a standing ovation), two in Bhopal and one, rather impromptu, at the birthday gathering of Sri M and party, as they were on their way to walk the entire length of India on foot. It was a beautiful gathering, in the town of Narasinghpur (‘city of the man-lion deity’). I sang a verse by Ravidas, ‘Tohi mohi mohi tohi’ (You are me, I am you) from the Gurbani, and was delighted to meet Malwi folk singer Pralaad Tipanya, well known to me from the Kabir Project documentaries. 

I also made some new recordings with Roman Das on pakhawaj. It was a spirited session in the pad of my Italian guru-siblings Igino and Virginia (aka ‘Samvad’) which saw Roman playing under a mosquito net to minimize the bass boom. Brilliant idea, Igino!

People often like to say that India is a spiritual place. It’s a sort of cliché that I’ve refuted ever since my first visit 24 years ago. Sure, one sees many ostentatious displays of religious sentiment, many habitual rituals, much spiritual garb and decoration, but are Indians any more or less spiritually sensitized than anyone? I’ve always been struck by the materialism, lack of concern for nature, and more and more by the violence, especially towards women. Do outer religious displays make one more spiritual, or less? Is India somehow magically infused with sacredness from all those prayers, mantras, rituals, philosophical debates and yogic postures? Every patch of land is sacred, in my view, and those who see India as some sort of holy motherland are sadly deluded (especially if they happen to be living somewhere else). I go there for the mind-blowing concentration of culture and ancient ideas that it preserves.

This journey changed my perspective, however. Returning to Western Australia, I was hit by the hollow materialism and taboo around an inner life here. I thought of a moment in Delhi, at an instrument makers shop. I had trekked into old Delhi to find this place and discovered the guy’s workshop, not much more than a crevice in the wall stuffed with half-made instruments and various chemicals, in a noisy automotive industrial precinct. Sitting on a bench, half in the filthy street, I got chatting to the maker, and he started talking of naad yoga. He confided in me that his only daughter had committed suicide a couple of years ago, and that what really helped him through it was his sound meditation in the morning. He would come to his shop, turn on a tambura device, or play a real one, and recite all his Sikhist mantras and holy names, intoned on the tonic note, the Sharaj. He chanted for me to show me, as I sipped sickly sweet chai and inhaled more diesel fumes.

After two decades of obstinance, I’ve have finally conceded that those sort of encounters- the sharing of inner life- so common in India, are virtually unheard of in Australian society. That’s what we have to bring back home: that openness of dialog around spirituality and a resource base of ideas, without dogmas, to protect us from the inundation of materialism and its accompanying existential poverty.

This year I will be leading Nada Yoga sessions again at the Beacon Yoga Centre in Fremantle, 4pm on the first Saturday of the month. I will also be giving presentations on Kabir at the centre on the 4th and 11th of April, 7:30 (at the ‘Parliament of Religions’). I am continuing my private teaching and doing the odd kirtan… and who knows what else. 



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