I spoke to Radhakrishna last night, an elderly gent and one of the managers of the reception area, about the possibility of harmonium lessons and to find out the detailed meaning of the “Om Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram” chant. I like Radhakrishna, he speaks English from a bygone era and uses words like “accoutrements” ;) His friend Vivek was sitting with him and whilst he fielded my harmonium enquiry and made some phone calls, Vivek explained the chant. “Om” is the sound of the universe. It is the impersonal, formless aspect of God. “Sri” is the manifestation of the universe - the personal forms of God that we witness in daily life. “Ram” is the guiding principle of the universe, the Lord of all. Beneath Ram are Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva – the creator, organizer and destroyer respectively. “Jai Ram” means “Victory to Lord Ram”. So the chant is meant as a reminder of the divinity in all of us. I recalled Brother Martin’s talks in Shantivanam about manifesting the infinite in the finite, and raising up the finite to the infinite. Everything I am told or have experienced in India during this trip has beautifully woven together to make a more comprehensive whole. Vivek mentioned that ultimately it doesn’t matter if the full meaning of the chant is grasped - benefit can still be gained from chanting it regardless. But he added it’s good that I have an inquisitive mind, and am enthusiastic and sincere in wanting to know more. Radhakrishna got off the phone and told me he had contacted the owner of a music school in Kanhangad who would come to the Ashram tomorrow morning at 7am to meet me. I thanked him and left to join in the bhajans in the main hall.
The bhajans are amazing – I’m really getting into them. My self consciousness has completely dissolved. It’s no longer about me singing, but about me being an instrument for consciousness to express itself. When I remember this, ego doesn’t feature in the picture, and so self consciousness cannot be present either. The minute I think egoically about how well I am singing or some such, it all goes Pete Tong and I mix up the words, hit the wrong note, run out of breath or lose the rhythm. As I sang, I called to mind Vivek’s explanation of the chant and found this helped me to go deeper. Closing my eyes and sitting cross legged on the floor helped me go further still. An hour flew by, and the session ended with prayers and Arati (a ceremony where ghee candles symbolizing the 5 elements are lit).
This morning I was at reception at 6.45am to make sure I didn’t miss the music teacher, whilst Nix made her way to the ladies Mandir session. Radhakrishna was impressed by my punctuality and asked to know more about me, my reasons for being in India and what I felt I was gaining from being here. We spoke for a short while until the teacher arrived, and I was introduced to Mr Rajan Karivellur. Raja runs 3 music schools in Kerala with his wife. Radhakrishna spoke to Rajan in Malayalam at length. From what I could gather he was filling him in on my background, intent and a lot more besides. There was a lot of head nodding and wobbling taking place. I looked on, smiled, and nodded my head too at what I thought to be the appropriate times. After they had finished their discussion, Rajan turned to me and said he would teach me harmonium for the 3 weeks we will be staying at the Ashram. Radhakrishna said he would ask one of the Swamis if we could make use of the harmonium in the main hall so that Rajan could teach me here. As if on queue, a Swami walked into the office and another discussion in Malayalam ensued. The Swami agreed that I could practice here but said I should get my own instrument as the Ashram harmonium is in use for most of the day. He indicated that I would be looking at Rs 25000 plus to buy a harmonium. Rajan must have seen my jaw drop since he smiled before telling me that he would be able to get me one for Rs 5000 and that I could come to his house for lessons. I asked him how much the lessons would cost and he looked at me quizzically, before wobbling his head and replying “No, no! Nothing!” Radhakrishna chimed in and said:
“You remember earlier we were talking about the differences between India and your country? Well, here is an example. It is not all about money. Rajan will help you. He wants to initiate you in the harmonium so you can take back what you are taught to South Africa and build upon it.”
If that’s not the totality conspiring to help me I don’t know what is.... At home I often feel like I’m dragging my feet through mud, whereas in India I feel like I’m in a fast flowing river. I need to maintain and cultivate my connection with this country - it’s one of the most important things I feel I can do. Nix feels the same way, which is a great bonus, and I look forward to continuing our adventures together, isn’t it?