If there is a paradise, it is here, it is here

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 denied
That 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.


Pliable said…
I did not know Avradeep Pal prior to last Sunday's concert. But he has sent me an email in response to this post which, with his permission, I am reproducing below in full.

Hi Bob, it's extremely kind of you to write this post. Your writing has a touch of heart in it, and on reading I have been deeply moved. Especially, the part where you refer to us 'Serving music selflessly'. This is a trait that I have tried to acquire from my main Guru (Pandit Kamal Mallick) - from whom I have learnt to be humbled by music. He was a person who never cared about acquiring wealth through music, and he passed away last year (his son, Chandan Mallick, another Sarod player passed away a month later), and now the family lives on the edge with no earning members.

From then on, I have decided to become like him. Music is much bigger than me, I am just a medium through which the message of music's beauty should be transmitted to all who seek beauty. Many many thanks for understanding this, and stating it so clearly.

Also, the fact that you state so clearly that the instruments have their influences from outside India, is significant. It is also my passion to convey to people the idea of India, as a truly all encompassing, tolerating and welcoming land, where across centuries, diversity has been taken to new heights. This point is especially significant in the light of extremist fundamentalist forces coming to the forefront, that probably jeopardizes the idea of India. In the words of Tagore, whom I cannot stop as a Bengali from being quoted here:

""Come ye Aryans, come non - Aryans, Hindu, Muslim, come all. Come ye English, come ye Christian, Come Brahmin, cleanse your mind And hold others by the hand, Come ye outcaste come ye lowly ones, Fling away your load of shame! Come, one and all, to the Mother's crowning come, Fill the sacred bowl and let all unite And consecrate the waters On the shore of vast humanity That is India."

I also happen to be the current President of CUICAS (Cambridge University Indian classical arts society), and had you been around I would have invited you to our annual showpiece event - Raaga Kalaa 2015, where you would have seen some more fantastic talents. Especially, a vocalist - Jashan Bhumkar, M. Phil student, and a real prodigy, whom I truly feel that Cambridge is blessed by his presence. I am attaching the event poster, you may like to inform people who you know might be interested.

I have uploaded the full recording of the first half of the concert in youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BprwzZjSS2s). This is the first such recording of mine that I have made public. The fact that I explain the basics of Indian music prior to the performance, and later answer questions from the audience (questions which further enhance the understanding of true spirit of Indian classical music), are captured in this recording, has motivated me to make this public.

Thanks again for your post. Thanks for expressing the true spirit of music of India.

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