The area of experience that 'mystical' and 'spiritual' refer to is often not empirically verifiable, that is, a camera can't photograph it, a scale can't weigh it, nor can words do much to describe it. It is not physical, emotional or mental, though it may partake of those three areas. Like the depths of our loving, mystical experience can be neither proven, nor deniedThat quote comes from Coleman Barks' introduction to his book The Soul of Rumi. I bought my copy last year in the estimable Full Circle Bookstore that is part of Café Turtle in Nizamuddin East Market near the shrine of the Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya in New Delhi. But that header photo was not taken in New Delhi; it was taken in Clare Hall, Cambridge last Saturday during an evening of ragas played by the Cambridge Hindustani Trio. It is self-evident that the Hindustani music of Northern India, of which the mystical raga is the apogee, is rooted in Hinduism. But Hindustani music also contains Muslim influences: the dominant Khyal genre absorbed influences from the Qawwali music of the subcontinent's Sufis, and both the sitar and sarod seen in the photo originate from Muslim Afghanistan. In his celebration of the Sufi saint Rumi, Coleman Barks describes how mystical experiences cannot be captured by a camera or in words. Similarly the experience of hearing and seeing the prodigiously talented young musicians of the Cambridge Hindustani Trio* selflessly serving the spiritual music of India cannot be captured in a photograph or words, or in a stream of binary digits. Western classical music should stop chasing impossible dreams of miracle maestros, new concert halls, and thaumaturgic technologies. As the Persian poem inscribed on the wall of the Red Fort in Delhi tells us in an echo of the Sufi fable The Conference of the Birds: "If there is a paradise, it is here, it is here".
* Members of the Cambridge Hindustani Trio are: Left of photo Avradeep Pal playing sarod - Avradeep began playing the sarod at a very young age. He was trained in the Senia Mihar Gharana (lineage) by the late Pandit Kamal Mallick and Gopi Mohan Basu, and has also received training from Shrimati Amina Perera (daughter of the legendary Ustad Ali Abar Khan), Pandit Kartik Kumar and Pandit Nayan Gosh. Centre of photo Parth Gharfalkar playing tabla: Parth has studied the tabla since the age of six, first with Pandit Pankaj Naik of the Punjab Gharana, then from Pandit Rajkumar Misra of the Jaipur Gharana after Parth moved to London at the age of eight. Right of photo Angelina Morelos playing sitar - Angelina has been playing the sitar for more than fifteen years with her teacher the sitar maestro Pandit Manilal Nag. She is a national scholar and gold medal winner in Indian music. My ticket for their concert was bought at the Clare Hall box office. Photo is by Arijita Pal. Any other copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). This post is also on Facebook and Twitter.