I just got home from “The Chant Super Tour” concert with Kirtan musician Krishna Das and spiritual singer Deva Premal. Although I like her lullaby-like versions of Santeria chants for Yemaya and Oshun, and I don’t mind hearing her music in yoga classes, Deva’s work is a little too soft for me. Tonight I enjoyed her partner Miten’s and her version of a Gospel blues song (with an astonishingly hot flute solo by Nepalese accompanist Manose) – but I couldn’t wait for the second act.
Because Krishna Das packs a strong punch.
During his Bhaja Govindam chant, I was clapping so hard that my arms tingled through the entire next song. At the end of his set, I had no idea what time it was and I barely felt the surprisingly cold rain as I walked to my car. Although he encouraged the audience not to leave the wholeness of the world around us to float off to a separate “spiritual” experience, it was definitely hard to not be swept away.
Aside from this event, I’ve seen a few concerts over the past couple of weeks. (I swear this will relate back to Kirtan.) I saw Wilco at the Strathmore in North Bethesda (formerly known as Rockville to those of us who grew up around here), and David Gray at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore. Being a non-drinker who mostly hangs out in non-drink-centric places, I found it jarring to walk into the lobbies of both venues and smell the overpowering scent of alcohol. No judgment, honestly. It’s simply jarring. As a non-drinker.
As a non-drinker and a yogini, it’s even more jarring to walk into a Kirtan concert and be hit in the face with that same smell. And to smell it reeking on people’s breath while they sang and sweating from their pores as they danced. At one point, I noticed that I was barely breathing while chanting, because I was so tired of inhaling alcohol fumes. And you know me – I’m a huge breather. Pranayama all the way. But not tonight.
So it was a weird experience. And I just thought I’d share about it a bit before going to bed.
Something I definitely appreciated from Deva was her description of Sanskrit chants as powerful medicine. This reminded me of when I used to participate in Native American sweat lodge ceremonies – and the elders would warn newcomers not to “mix medicines.” In other words, some people thought it would be cool to get high before doing a sweat lodge; and the elders explained the dangers of mixing “medicines” that had different purposes. Drugs having one purpose (no need to explain), and the lodge having quite another (praying like heck while purifying intensely).
So tonight, while I understood that some people like to relax with a glass of wine (or something), I wondered what their experience would have been like had they simply allowed the power of Sanskrit mantras to create that relaxation. Kirtan’s purpose is to express devotion to a Higher Power and it is a form of Bhakti yoga; while wine’s purpose…
Anyway. As we chanted our powerfully medicinal songs, I wished the elders were there to share their warning. Without their guidance, even I might not have thought about the significance of keeping medicines separate.
OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.
(PS: Yes I know that this is more attitude-y than my typical posts. I know that not everyone experiences yoga in the same way. Personally, I’m gratefully accustomed to and really appreciate yoga spaces being free of other “medicines.” Can you say “Eight Limbs?” Goodnight now.)