Weaver's Song: Bhajans of North India
THE WEAVER'S SONG: BHAJANS OF NORTH INDIA Stan Scott - voice and guitar, with Steve Gorn (bansuri bamboo flute), Nitin Mitta (tabla), Kedar Naphade (harmonium), and the Rangila Chorus Dedicated to the memory of Sushil Mukherjee This recording of bhajans, North Indian devotional songs dating from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, was conceived during my study of Hindustani classical singing with Sushil Mukherjee, a noted flutist, singer, composer, painter, writer, and teacher, who taught me from 1974 to 1997. I traveled with him throughout India, and was adopted by his family, with whom I enjoyed countless cups of tea in Calcutta, Madras, Bihar, and especially at his home overlooking the magnificent Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts. We sang together whenever we met, and I was singing to him when he drew his last breath. Sushil Mukherjee often asked me to play guitar to accompany his flute, or when he sang his settings of bhajans by the great medieval Hindi poets. He loved the ensemble of flute, guitar, and tabla, and often voiced his desire to make a recording of our music, but the album never came to fruition during his lifetime. At his memorial concert in 1998, I performed several of his bhajans with a group of my own students-his "grand students"-and decided to honor his wish by making my own recording of his compositions. It has taken thirteen years to assemble the extraordinary performers to make this vision a reality. Over the years, this project has expanded to include compositions from two of my other gurus, Pandit Vidyadhar Vyas and Shri Mohan Singh Khangura. It has become not only a tribute to Sushil Mukherjee, but a celebration of the lineage embodied by all of my teachers, going back to the great bhakti poets of the fifteenth century. BHAJANS AND THE BHAKTI TRADITION In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna describes Bhakti, love of God, as the quickest path to salvation. Bhakti poetry saw a great flowering in North India beginning in the fifteenth century CE, when Kabir, the "Weaver" in the title of this album, created his verses. Kabir, Muslim weaver and disciple of a Hindu yogi, sang of the formless "Ram," not the kingly avatar of epic poetry, but an indwelling divinity, the divine potential within the worshipper. This approach-worshipping God without form-shares many traits with the Sufi poetry of Islamic mysticism. It is also the impetus behind the songs of Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion (see Hawley and Juergensmeyer, Songs of the Saints of India). Bhakti poets also sing the praises of divinity with form, the Gods and Goddesses of Hindu scripture. Surdas, composer of two bhajans on this recording, and Pandit Vidyadhar Vyas, who composed the second song, belong to this school. Bhajans are sung throughout India, ranging from responsorial folk renderings to solo classical expositions. This album incorporates both styles, but never strays far from the raga tradition of North Indian classical music. THE SONGS Track 1: Jhini Jhini Bini Chadariya--Rag Desh, Kharwa Tal (8:14) Text by Kabir; melody by Sushil Mukherjee Kabir uses metaphors from his weaver's work-a delicately woven cloth and an eight-pointed wheel-to represent and celebrate human life, especially that of the yogi. The ingala, pingala, and sushumna are spinal channels through which the meditator attempts to direct the life force, or prana. Track 2: Ma Sharade, Vidya Dani-Rag Hamsadhwani, Rupak Tal (14:34) Text and melody by Vidyadhar Vyas Pandit Vyas invokes the blessings of Saraswati, goddess of music and learning-the protector of musicians, artists, teachers, and students. Track 3: Siri Dhara, Giri Dhara-Rag Darbari Kanada, Vilambit (Slow) Tintal (14:12) Text by Surdas; melody traditional Surdas is said to have lived in sixteenth century Braj, the country of Krishna's legendary exploits. Although tradition makes Sur blind, his verses praise Krishna with intense visual imagery. In this bhajan, Krishna is depicted holding the mountain, the flute, the evil king Kamsa, indeed the entire world, as Sur embraces Krishna's divine feet. Sushil Mukherjee taught me this profoundly beautiful composition in 1975. As a teenager, young Sushil begged his first guru-Pandit Sharmaji of Ranchi-to teach him this song. After months of resistance, Sharmaji relented. Sushil paid for these secret music lessons by hoarding the money his mother had given him to buy books for school. Track 4: Tarana-Rag Darbari Kanada, Drut (fast) Ektal (5:08) Text and melody by Mohan Singh Khangura Tarana texts consist of syllables derived from drum strokes, dancers' footwork, instrumental plucking, and both Sufi and Sanskrit chant. This tarana also includes one meaningful line: Dâna dunâ ke tuma ho wålâ-"You are the caretaker of all, oh Lord." Track 5: Guru Ne Mohe Dinhi Ajaba Jari-Rag Yaman, Kharwa Tal (7:58) Text by Kabir; melody by Sushil Mukherjee Kabir sings of the human body, a house full of secrets, including five serpents (anger, lust, greed, ignorance and pride) whose poisonous breath threatens not only the individual soul, but the entire world. The true Guru, bestower of a marvelous healing nectar, can scare these dangerous serpents away. Track 6: He Govinda, He Gopala-Rag Bhairavi, Dadra Tal (8:48) Text by Surdas; melody traditional Surdas assumes the character of an elephant, attacked at the river's edge by a mighty crocodile. When he is about to drown, the elephant calls to Krishna (Govinda, Gopala) for help. In the final verse, Surdas identifies himself as the imperiled elephant, calling to Shyama (Krishna) to take him across the water. Pandit Vidyadhar Vyas taught me this exquisite bhajan.