Category Archives: Channulal Mishra

The Colours of Holi

Holi Radha KrishnaHappy Holi everyone! On this day of colours, I thought to talk about colour-symbolisms in Indian culture, especially amongst Hindus. To connect with the poetry, music and spirituality of India, one must understand its unique language of colour.

There are of course secular associations that form the base of our reaction to colour. Being a visual artist, I am very sensitive to these colour triggers but I believe the following triggers are fairly common amongst Indians. A roomful of people in white and we think of the grief and bereavement. Women in red remind us of brides. A glimpse of yellow mustard fields and we are transported to Punjab. A swish of red and shocking pink skirts and we recall the women of Rajasthan. Men in black dhotis? Surely pilgrims to Sabarimalai? The poetry and music of India make full use of these colour triggers to bring evocative images to our minds.

On a religious level, there are very strong colour associations with the various forms of God. Red is for Ganesh of course, but also for Hanuman. Red is for prosperity and auspiciousness. Red is the colour of kumkum that we place in the position of आज्ञा (meaning: Unlimited Power) chakra, the Third Eye chakra, our direct connection to our inner self.  Think of yellow and the yellow silk of Vishnu’s attire, pitambaram, comes to mind as do tilaks of sandalwood. How can we remember blue and not think of Krishna’s skin or Shiva’s throat? Think of Green and we are reminded of the beautiful Meenakshi, the tulasi leaf we worship Vishnu with and the bilva leaf we lay at Shiva’s feet. One cannot think of a rich saffron without thinking of Sanyasis and their lives spent in following the path of God.

The religious poetry of India often uses being coloured as an analogy for bhakti.
मैं तो सांवरे के रंग रची
‘ I have been dyed in the colour of my beloved

sang Meera. Kabir, who was a Nirguni (a devotee of Nirguna Brahman, the undefinable God) likened the body to a woven shawl and said
ऐसा रंग रंगा रंगरे ने कि लालो लाल कर दीनी
‘The dyer dyed the shawl totally red’

Red-saffron represents self-realisation, the colour that sanyasis wear.
Nusrat Fateh Ali in his famous Sanson Ki Mala sings
प्रेम के रंग में ऐसी डूबी बन गया एक ही रूप
’I drowned in the colour of love so much that everything became one’
likening Bhakti or devotion with being dyed.

On a deeper level, each chakra in our body is associated with a colour. From the red of the Mooladhara chakra at the base of the spine to the Sahasrara chakra at the crown of the head, we have an inner spectrum of light within ourselves. The qualities and the power of each chakra can be accessed by its colour. A great healing and energizing meditation is to visualise each chakra in its colour and letting the colour energy radiate through the whole body. Today on Holi, let us splash ourselves with the spiritual power of each colour.

For my song choice of today, I present to you something quite unique. Traditional Holi songs are almost always about Krishna and the gopikas, for colour and Holi are about life and the living, about joy and play, about love – all that Krishna is about. But in today’s song, it is not Krishna who plays Holi, but Shiva, who is about asceticism and detachment, about self-control and inner strength. In the cycle of life and death, if Krishna is about life and colour, Shiva is about death and colourlessness, each one half of the whole. Shiva playing Holi? Who would sing of it? Channulal Mishra of Benaras, the city of Shiva, but of course!

खेलैं मसाने में होरी दिगंबर खेले मसाने में होरी ।
भूत पिसाच बटोरी, दिगंबर खेले मसाने में होरी ।।

लखि सुंदर फागुनी छटा के, मन से रंग-गुलाल हटा के
चिता-भस्‍म भर झोरी, दिगंबर खेले मसाने में होरी ।।

गोपन-गोपी श्‍याम न राधा, ना कोई रोक ना कौनऊ बाधा
ना साजन ना गोरी, दिगंबर खेले मसाने में होरी ।।

नाचत गावत डमरूधारी, छोड़ै सर्प-गरल पिचकारी
पीतैं प्रेत-धकोरी दिगंबर खेले मसाने में होरी ।।

भूतनाथ की मंगल-होरी, देखि सिहाएं बिरिज कै गोरी
धन-धन नाथ अघोरी दिगंबर खेलैं मसाने में होरी ।।

Can you imagine the scene? Shiva plays Holi in the cremation ground with ghosts and ghouls. There is no colour here – not even in his mind, for he plays Holi with the ashes of the dead. There is no Krishna, no gopikas, no lovers where Shiva plays Holi. He dances and sings, and the water-squirt in his hand is a snake which squirts venom. This Holi of Shiva is unique, isn’t it?

Listen below to the Maestro in this intimate singing with no instruments.

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Krishna : Channulal Mishra

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Have you ever felt that all the electrons in your body have decided to quit their orbits and are madly jumping from cell to cell, creating havoc? That your mind has shattered into so many fragments that you are not whole anymore? In fact, you don’t know what it is that you refer to as ‘I’ ?

There is a cure for you! What you need is music which cajoles all the electrons to their correct orbits, get them whizzing about in perfect synchronisation so that your body feels at peace. You need music which collect all those fragmented bits of your mind and bring them together to form a light, a flame of a lamp, perfect and luminous. And when the music is right, the notes of the music will weave about this flame in a dance, like planes on a formation flying intricate patterns, and in joy this flame will burn brighter and brighter.

You don’t need to sit in Lotus Position to achieve this. Scrubbing the kitchen floor, ironing a mountain of shirts, walking in the fields, long distance driving on quiet roads or lying in a hammock watching patterns in the clouds – all of these are suitable states to be in when listening to this ‘becoming whole again’ kind of music.  Today I offer you just the CD for that.

Channulal Mishra (born 1936) is a Hindustani Classical music maestro with a voice like melted honey.  This CD is my long time favourite and lulls me invariably into a very peaceful state. I recommend listening uninterrupted to the whole album here to get the full benefit of this ‘treatment’. If you have only little time to devote to yourself, then here’s a sample to whet your appetite.

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Vatapi Ganapatim

I beg forgiveness to my very dear Ganapati;  I should have started my blog with this post.  He is the God of beginnings;  His name is taken before starting any endeavour to reduce hindrances for he is Vighneshwara, the Lord of obstacles. Today I shall correct my lapse.

Many of the Hindu Gods are strongly associated with music and dance. I had mentioned Shiva, the eternal dancer and Krishna, the divine flautist, in earlier posts. Ganesha, as he is also called, is associated with poetry, literature and theatre. Not that far from music; all the Carnatic music songs I write about are poetry, aren’t they?

I honour Ganapati with this composition in Raga Hamsadhwani (click here for more information), a very well known song which is often sung at the start of performances. Written by Muthuswami Dikshithar (1775-1835) it has a certain heraldic quality with its brisk and rhythmic passages; it seems to me like a call to wake up and concentrate! The raga is said to have been created by the composer’s father, Ramaswami Dikshithar (1735-1817). The transliterated lyrics of this song can be found here. I give below the lyrics in Sanskrit. Those interested in poetry will note how beautifully the poet uses alliteration.

वातापि गणपतिं भजेऽहं वारणास्यं वरप्रदं श्री
भूतादि संसेवित चरणं भूत भौतिक प्रपञ्च भरणं
वीतरागिनं विनतयोगिनं विश्वकारणम् विघ्नवारणं
पुरा कुम्भ संभव मुनिवर प्रपूजितं त्रिकोण मध्यगतं
मुरारी प्रमुखाद्युपासितं मूलाधार क्षेत्र स्थितं
परादि चत्वारि वागात्मकं प्रणव स्वरूप वक्रतुण्डं
निरन्तरं निटिल चन्द्रखण्डं निज वामकर विध्रुतेक्षु दण्डं
कराम्बुज पाश बीजापूरं कलुष विदूरम भूताकारं
हरादि गुरुगुह तोषित बिम्बं हम्सध्वनि भूषित हेरम्बं

As with most Hindu prayers, there really is not much of a request from Ganapati – in fact, there is none. Instead, the prayer lists the identification features of the God, for example, the one with the trunk shaped like Om, the one with the mark of the crescent moon on his forehead, the one who is in the Muladhara Chakra, the tantric chakra located at the base of the spine etc. To me, it reiterates the fact that prayer is not about asking, but about merging the divinity within us with the Other. Prayer songs are just a tools to focus our minds on the other divinity so that this merging can take place.

Here is the prayer sung by G.N.Balasubramaniam (1910-1965), in memory of my father who was very fond of this legendary musician. The quality of the recording is not good but it is evident why GNB was such a legend.

Raga Hamsadhwani has found its way North and is now sung by Hindustani Classical musicians as well.  For your interest, here is Vatapi Ganapatim performed by Channulal Mishra. Again, the quality is not good but its still interesting. I challenge you not to fall in love with Hamsadhwani after listening to the tarana. I wonder what makes something sound Carnatic or Hindustani? The raga is the same, the composition (in Sanksrit, our common heritage) is the same yet it is different! I love both Carnatic and Hindustani music; how lucky I am, for I have two wonderful worlds of music to take pleasure from!!

 

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