Wednesday, 24 July 2013

On Sensitivity and Appreciation of Beauty

A new post in the series - Satyam Shivam Sundaram

A series featuring inspiring words from various sources, words that speak of  timeless truths, words that remind me of the deeper and hidden truth behind surface events and phenomena, words that shine light when all seems dark, words that are just what I need - 
for this moment and for all times to come.

A life that is held in technological knowledge is a very narrow, limited life. It is bound to breed a great deal of sorrow and misery. But can one have technological knowledge, be able to do things, make a little money and still live in the world with intensity, with intensity, with clarity, with vision? That is the real question. Life is not merely going to the office day after day. Life is extraordinarily vital, important, and for that you must be sensitive, you must have the sensitivity that appreciates beauty. You know, there is something extraordinary about beauty. Beauty is never personal, though we make it personal. We put flowers in our hair, have nice saris, wear fine shirts and trousers, look very smart and try to be as beautiful as we can; that is a very limited beauty. I do not say that you should not wear nice clothes, but merely that - that is not appreciation of beauty. The appreciation of beauty is to see a tree, to see a painting, to see a statue, to see the clouds, the skies, the birds on the wing, to see the morning star, and the sunset behind these hills. To see such immense beauty we must cut through our little personal lives.

You may have good taste. Do you know what good taste means? To know how to combine colours, how not to wear colours that jar, not to say something that is cruel about anybody, to feel kindly, to see the beauty of a house, to have good pictures in your room, to have a room with right proportions. All that is good taste, which can be cultivated. But good taste is not the appreciation of beauty. Beauty is never personal. When beauty is made personal it becomes self-centred. Self concern is the source of sorrow. You know, most people are not happy in the world. They have money, they have position and power. But remove the money, the position, the power and you see underneath an extreme shallowness of head. The source of their shallowness, misery, conflict and extreme anguish is a feeling of guilt and fear.

To really appreciate beauty is to see a mountain, to see the lovely trees without the "you" being there; to enjoy them, to look at them although they may belong to another; to see the flow of a river and move with it from beginning to end; to be lost in the beauty, in the vitality, in the rapidity of the river. But you cannot do all that if you are merely concerned with power, with money, with a career. That is only a part of life and to be concerned only with a part of life is to be insensitive and, therefore, to lead a life of shallowness and misery. A petty life always produces misery and confusion not only for itself but for others. I am not moralizing, I am just stating the facts of existence.

J. Krishnamurti, On Education -Talks to Students
(Photographs: Suhas Mehra)

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Sunday, 21 July 2013

Of Home and Blooms

About eleven years ago when I was in the thick of my non-resident-Indian experience I had written something about what home means when one is living between two cultural spaces. The essay was based on an analysis of voices of a few Indians living outside India with whom I had some interactions in an online discussion forum, combined with my own experience of about 10 years at that time of living in the United States. And in that essay I had come to a tentative conclusion that perhaps home means "a place where we can be really free, free at heart."

It has been about six years now since I moved back to India. No more of that NRI experience. However, at different points of time in these last six years, this question of what is home has often surfaced in different ways - personally as well as socially, but with a big difference that now the question takes on a more emotional and psychological shade than a mental or intellectual one. The experience of this question is also more inwardly grounded than something that is outer and identity-based.

This has been one of those times again - especially the last several months. In my egoistic moments I like to believe that I have matured and grown wise enough to know that in the truest sense home is something we carry within, or that home is where we are present - I mean present fully, in the moment, or that home is not an abstract idea but a real, psycho-spiritual state of being truly oneself and at peace with all that one is in parts. But despite this belief of mine, I know for sure that I struggle with living all these truths and oscillate between inner and outer meanings of home. At the same time I think that it is important to be aware of this struggle - what type of circumstances trigger it, how I deal with it, what I experience on different levels and in different parts within -  because perhaps through this struggle I may be blessed with an opportunity to experience more concretely the deeper and inner meaning of home.

But then I think this is how the Great Universe works! In the middle of a struggle, sometimes clarity comes. And that's what happened to me a couple of days ago. And the realization was simply this - Sometimes Home is Simply where the Flowers are! 

Presented below are some pictures of flowers from my garden, along with the spiritual significance of these flowers given by The Mother.

No more words necessary, let the pictures say the rest....


Rose - Psychic Love

Jasmine - Purity

Paradise Flower - Fire

Crape Myrtle - Intimacy with the Divine

Coconuts - Multitude

Parijat - Aspiration

Bougainvillea - Protection

Frangipani - Psychological Perfection

Passion flower - Silence

All photos courtesy of Suhas Mehra

Friday, 19 July 2013

"Song is Divine, but More Divine is Love"

Artwork by Manu Martin

“Song is divine, but more divine is love.”

Reading this brilliant line in Sri Aurobindo’s play, Vasavadutta, reminded me of two most beautiful songs. How? Why? Don’t know...but what difference does it make?  

One was: 

What beauty! The composition, the singing, the filming of the sequence, and of course, Madhubala. It is the delicacy and gentleness that somehow touches me the most, even though the passion portrayed here is unmistakable. I find here an appealing attempt to harmonize what may seem contradictory – passion and poise. And perhaps this too is the reason why something feels beautiful – when it finds a way to quietly integrate within seemingly diverse elements in a manner which creates a sense of wholeness that is soft yet compelling, gentle yet persuasive. 

The other song that came to my mind was:

The portrayal of love as the flame of the oil lamp in a temple (mandir mein lau diye ki) is so uniquely Indian in its essence. The ideal of complete surrender of the lover and the beloved to each other and the purity and selflessness that can raise human love to its divine potential give this song its essential  beauty and timelessness. Kind of like the timeless beauty of that single line from Sri Aurobindo that inspired this post in the first place.

Click here for the previous post in this series.

Monday, 15 July 2013

No Construction without Destruction

Satyam Shivam Sundaram

A series featuring inspiring words from various sources, words that speak of  timeless truths, words that remind me of the deeper and hidden truth behind surface events and phenomena, words that shine light when all seems dark, words that are just what I need - for this moment and for all times to come.

Got a wonderful reminder from my teacher yesterday. It was as if the words he shared on his blog spoke directly to me and helped me see the meaning of much that is happening, both at a personal level as well as in the society and nation around me. 
This is certain that there is not only no construction here without destruction, no harmony except by a poise of contending forces won out of many actual and potential discords, but also no continued existence of life except by a constant self-feeding and devouring of other life. Our very bodily life is a constant dying and being reborn, the body itself a beleaguered city attacked by assailing, protected by defending forces whose business is to devour each other….  
It is good that we should be reminded of [this truth]; first, because to see it has for every strong soul a tonic effect which saves us from the flabbiness and relaxation encouraged by a too mellifluous philosophic, religious or ethical sentimentalism, that which loves to look upon Nature as love and life and beauty and good, but turns away from her grim mask of death, adoring God as Shiva but refusing to adore him as Rudra; secondly, because unless we have the honesty and courage to look existence straight in the face, we shall never arrive at any effective solution of its discords and oppositions. We must see first what life and the world are; afterwards, we can all the better set about finding the right way to transform them into what they should be. If this repellent aspect of existence holds in itself some secret of the final harmony, we shall by ignoring or belittling it miss that secret and all our efforts at a solution will fail by fault of our self-indulgent ignoring of the true elements of the problem…. 
War and destruction are not only a universal principle of our life here in its purely material aspects, but also of our mental and moral existence. It is self-evident that in the actual life of man intellectual, social, political, moral we can make no real step forward without a struggle, a battle between what exists and lives and what seeks to exist and live and between all that stands behind either. It is impossible, at least as men and things are, to advance, to grow, to fulfil and still to observe really and utterly that principle of harmlessness which is yet placed before us as the highest and best law of conduct. We will use only soul-force and never destroy by war or any even defensive employment of physical violence? Good, though until soul-force is effective, the Asuric force in men and nations tramples down, breaks, slaughters, burns, pollutes, as we see it doing today, but then at its ease and unhindered, and you have perhaps caused as much destruction of life by your abstinence as others by resort to violence…. Evil cannot perish without the destruction of much that lives by the evil, and it is no less destruction even if we personally are saved the pain of a sensational act of violence. 
It is not enough that our own hands should remain clean and our souls unstained for the law of strife and destruction to die out of the world; that which is its root must first disappear out of humanity. Much less will mere immobility and inertia unwilling to use or incapable of using any kind of resistance to evil, abrogate the law; inertia, Tamas, indeed, injures much more than can the rajasic principle of strife which at least creates more than it destroys. Therefore, so far as the problem of the individual’s action goes, his abstention from strife and its inevitable concomitant destruction in their more gross and physical form may help his own moral being, but it leaves the Slayer of creatures unabolished.

Photo credit

It is only a few religions which have had the courage to say without any reserve, like the Indian, that this enigmatic World-Power is one Deity, one Trinity, to lift up the image of the Force that acts in the world in the figure not only of the beneficent Durga, but of the terrible Kali in her blood-stained dance of destruction and to say, “This too is the Mother; this also know to be God; this too, if thou hast the strength, adore.” And it is significant that the religion which has had this unflinching honesty and tremendous courage, has succeeded in creating a profound and widespread spirituality such as no other can parallel. For truth is the foundation of real spirituality and courage is its soul....

All this is not to say that strife and destruction are the alpha and omega of existence, that harmony is not greater than war, love more the manifest divine than death or that we must not move towards the replacement of physical force by soul-force, of war by peace, of strife by union, of devouring by love, of egoism by universality, of death by immortal life. God is not only the Destroyer, but the Friend of creatures; not only the cosmic Trinity, but the Transcendent; the terrible Kali is also the loving and beneficent Mother; the lord of Kurukshetra is the divine comrade and charioteer, the attracter of beings, incarnate Krishna. And whithersoever he is driving through all the strife and clash and confusion,to whatever goal or godhead he may be attracting us, it is—no doubt of that—to some transcendence of all these aspects upon which we have been so firmly insisting. But where, how, with what kind of transcendence, under what conditions, this we have to discover; and to discover it, the first necessity is to see the world as it is, to observe and value rightly his action as it reveals itself at the start and now; afterwards the way and the goal will better reveal themselves. We must acknowledge Kurukshetra; we must submit to the law of Life by Death before we can find our way to the life immortal; we must open our eyes, with a less appalled gaze than Arjuna’s, to the vision of our Lord of Time and Death and cease to deny, hate or recoil from the universal Destroyer.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita 


To see all posts in the series - Satyam Shivam Sundaram, click here.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Yeh Raat...This Night and the Thought of Kalidasa

Love Blooms, Water Colour on Paper, Artist: Bindu Popli, original in my home.

Three songs. One theme – Love.

First up....

This song recently came up in a conversation with my father, who among many other valuable loves in my life, gave me the love for old Hindi film songs, Hemant Kumar and Dev Anand. As I heard this song a few times that evening a few more songs with the same soft and romantic feel and starting with the same phrase “Yeh Raat” came to mind. 

Like this one...

And this one with “raat” in plural...

Who wouldn’t love the way the lover-heart’s seeking for the beloved is so indulgently and beautifully intertwined in these songs with the soft, sensuous and aesthetic portrayal of the nature – the pleasing night, the cool moonlight, the gentle breeze, the shimmering trees, the shining stars, the dancing river...all this tenderly but surely intensifies and enriches the emotion of love and at the same time lifts it up from the level of ordinariness by adding the element of Mother Nature’s loveliness.

Three words come to mind – Beauty, Charm, Elegance.  One theme – Magic!

Co-incidentally (but then perhaps not), the conversation about the Hemant Kumar song “Yeh raat yeh chandni” with my father happened in the evening of the same day that I spent reading about the poetry of Kalidasa and how his work reflected the time and age in which he lived and wrote. Kalidasa was “the supreme poet of the senses, of aesthetic beauty, of sensuous emotion.” He, according to Sri Aurobindo, was a true son of his age – an age that many historians have referred to as the classical age of Indian civilization – in his “dwelling on the artistic, hedonistic, sensuous sides of experience” (Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo, Volume 1, pp. 162-163).

The sensuous and aesthetic appeal of these songs, including the way they are filmed, brings to mind this thought that perhaps something of that age continued (and perhaps to this day continues) to linger on in some corners of the Indian mind which time and again expresses itself in such songs. If Kalidasa was predominantly a “poet of love and beauty and the joy of life”, surely something of the great works he left behind has continued to influence – covertly or overtly – some of the romantics of the classical age of Hindi cinema! This may be a rather big leap of imagination, nonetheless….

But what made Kalidasa a truly remarkable poet-dramatist and uniquely Indian was that he also made “his intellectual passion for higher things, his intense appreciation of knowledge, culture, the religious idea, the ethical ideal, the greatness of ascetic self-mastery” a part of the beauty and interest of life and saw them as admirable elements of the complete and splendid picture of the spirit and form of his age (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Volume 20, p. 361). If these songs could somehow remind me of the genius of Kalidasa, perhaps it will be an interesting and revealing exercise to do a close reading of some of the classic films of yesteryears and explore if they too were in some ways able to reflect a Kalidasian-style complete picture of the beauty of life where a refined sensuality co-existed harmoniously with a dignified self-restraint, the flaming passion purified itself in the light of calm reason, and the seeking for delight was accompanied by a quest for a higher and nobler truth. 

An exercise worth the effort, in my opinion, at least! 

Click here for the previous post in this series.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Music Unites, Inside and Out

Sometimes you come across a most beautiful musical gem in a rather forgettable film. This was the case for me with the following rendition of a shabad in the film, Halla bol.

In the recent years “Ik Omkar” which is part of the mool mantra of Sri Guru Granth Sahib also became a part of the popular Hindi film, Rang De Basanti. 

Even in their very contemporary renditions, these shabad gurbani are somehow able to express the eternal spirit behind them. Perhaps part of the reason may be that when working on such timeless hymns of devotion, faith and love for the Divine, the composers and singers are also able to get in touch with something eternal in them, something that is part of the Divine. 

I am reminded of a concert I attended in April 2006 at Miami University, Ohio in the US. This benefit concert was led by the talented and popular music composer, A. R. Rahman, and the performers included about 150 students from Global Rhythms Ensemble. Global Rhythms was launched in 1996 under the artistic direction and leadership of Mr. Srinivas Krishnan (an alumnus of Miami University). The program has “evolved from strong roots in India and her music, her musicians, her composers, and her people, all of which have enabled the ensemble to forge its inclusive and international identity… The musical creations of Global Rhythms are thus rooted in a community of performing artists and composers from across the world, particularly A.R. Rahman, who have donated their valuable efforts to keep the spirit of such harmonious bonds alive”

For this particular concert the students of Global Rhythms Ensemble and Srinivas Krishnan had chosen to perform selected compositions by Rahman, including a variety of Hindi, Tamil and Telugu songs. The performers were primarily American youngsters; there were a few Indian-American performers as well in the choir, who were either part of the university or local community. It was quite interesting, in a way, to see these young American kids enjoy performing Hindi or Tamil songs and really getting in the groove! The unifying spirit of music took over the whole concert hall - it was really a good way to witness a movement towards harmony.

But what really touched me was when the choir sang a beautiful Sufi prayer composed by Rahman (for the film, Bose: The Forgotten Hero). This was the first time I had ever heard this song, and was really moved by the atmosphere created during those few minutes.

After the performance Rahman told the audience that when he had first received the request from the students that they wanted to sing this song/prayer he didn’t initially agree to their request. His objection was that such a devotional and spiritual song can’t be performed like they would casually sing any other song. The performers had to somewhat prepare themselves to get in the right frame of mind and heart. Among other things this also required that performers must not consume any alcohol before or after the performance, they must not wear any footwear on the stage, and they must cover their heads. He told the audience that he was later informed by Srinivas Krishnan that all performers understood the value of all this preparation and complied with all of it, both for their rehearsals as well as for the show. Certainly during the show just before they sang the Sufi prayer, we witnessed all the performers getting off the stage for a few seconds to remove their shoes and wear a headscarf as they prepared to perform the song. Perhaps through this one seemingly small experience, some of these youngsters could also appreciate and might have even experienced a bit of the highest aim of music – to connect with the Divine. 

This episode may seem like a small thing to some people. But to me, this was a powerful example of the emergence of a new resolve in some sections of today’s young generation – no matter what their nationality or place of residence – to devote their energies toward meaningful and constructive ways which represent a movement toward harmony, mutual respect and unity, rather than fragmentation, disintegration and division. I may be idealizing this whole experience a bit, but then why should we not emphasize all the good that is happening around us? After all, the more positive and harmonious vibrations we can create around us, the more things begin to happen that are indeed positive and harmonious. 

The concert ended with Rahman leading the choir with one of his signature compositions - Vande Mataram, which again everybody on the stage sang with a great enthusiasm and feeling. 

Now that indeed is an unforgettable gem from a very forgettable film! 

Click here for the previous post in this series.