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Visionary Musician Alice Coltrane’s Deep Links with India and Hinduism

The life and works of jazz saxophonist John Coltrane's wife tells us why she should be called the musician of Hinduism

Visionary Musician Alice Coltrane
Alice Coltrane was a versatile musician, pianist, harpist and globally-acknowledged composer. Wikimedia
  • April 2017 marked the 10th anniversary of the death of musician Alice Coltrane, wife of jazz saxophonist John Coltrane
  • Coltrane, the devoted follower of Hinduism and Satchidananda, called herself Turiyasangitananda
  • She became a spiritual leader at an ashram in California, with by hundreds of devotees

June 17, 2017: It has been 10 years since the death of the visionary musician Alice Coltrane, the partner of legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. Alice was a versatile musician, pianist, harpist and globally-acknowledged composer.

Remembering the legendary musician, a compilation of her lesser-known work from her final years titled World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda was released. It made it to the top of Billboard Charts in the New Age and World Music category.

Coltrane’s visits to India, which later inspired Alice to take up the Hindu faith, were the influence behind much of the material. She chose to become a spiritual leader at an ashram in California, followed by hundreds of devotees and enthusiasts. Coltrane took on the name Turiyasangitananda, which means “the highest song of god”. It is only fitting that her “cosmic jazz and spiritual compositions have been described as prayers for humanity”.

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A short film narrated by her daughter Turyia Coltrane has also been released along with the album. The short film mainly focuses on what propelled her devotion towards the Hindu religion in her final years. Turyia talks about how in the months following the death of her husband, her mother went into depression, and found peace and solace in India and in the teachings of Chennai’s Swami Satchidananda, who was later the inspiration behind her fourth studio album, Journey in Satchidananda. Satchidananda toured the US in the 1960s and he also opened the famous Woodstock festival.

According to Alice’s eldest child Michelle Coltrane, her mother was a woman who was way ahead of her time, a home-girl from Detroit who founded an ashram in the west. Meditation is now widely popular and has become a part of everyday talk. But in her time, it was considered peculiar and yoga was viewed as just a bunch of people who laid on top of mats on the floor. “But mom was always different,” Michelle added.

In the short film footage from the historic BBC film Bombay and All That Jazz, which recorded the concert conducted by double violinist L Shankar in the city on New Year’s Day 1992, has also been borrowed.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang


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Right of Nature: Are Rivers Living Beings?

Should rivers be considered Living Entities?

Right of Nature
Many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

By Dr. Bharti Raizada, Chicago

Science says that water bodies are not living entities, as water does not need food, does not grow, and reproduce. Water is required for life, but in itself it is nonliving.

However, many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

The Maori tribe in New Zealand considers the Whanganui River as their ancestor and the Maori people fought to get it a legal status as a living being. In 2017, a court in New Zealand gave this river the status of living being and same rights as humans, to protect it from pollution. Thus, now if someone pollutes in it then it is considered equivalent to harming a human.

ALSO READ: Worshiping mother nature part of our tradition: Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Right of Nature
Rivers are sacred in many religions, including Hinduism. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

Rivers are sacred in Hinduism also. Hindus believe that the Ganga descended from heaven and call her Ganga Maa. A few days after New Zealand’s court decision, Uttarakhand high court in India gave the Ganga and Yamuna rivers and their tributaries the status of living human entities. The Court-appointed three officials as legal custodians. However, the court did not clarify many aspects related to this decision.

After this verdict some of the questions, which naturally came to mind, were:

Can Hindus still do rituals of flowing ashes, leaves, flowers, diyas in river or no? Can a dam be built on the river after this judgment? If some damage, to a person, animal, plants, or property, occurs because of river e.g. overflow, hurricanes, flooding etc., how the river will pay the liabilities? What if all rivers, oceans, ponds etc. are given the status of living beings? Will drinking water from river become a crime? What about taking water and using it for routine needs,  agriculture or building structures? Will it be illegal? If a child throws a stone in water, will it be a criminal act? Will fishing be considered stealing? What about boating? If someone is using heat near water and water evaporates, is it equal to taking the body part of a human being? What about taking a bath in the river?

Right of Nature
If the river gets a living status, as human, then we cannot use it for anything without its permission, so everyone has to stop touching the water. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: Decoding supernatural: What is the nature of entities and gods who influence human behavior

Other queries, which arise, are:

Will animals and plants get the same status? What if you kill an ant or a chicken etc. or cut a tree? Will all animals and plants get a legal custodian?

Where is all the waste supposed to go? It has to go somewhere back in nature, right?

Uttrakhand state government challenged the judgement in Supreme Court and the latter reversed the judgment.

Right of Nature
So where do we stand? In my opinion, granting living status to nature is a different thing than giving protected status or preserving nature. Image by Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: How nature destroys the negative tendencies in a positive manner

Ecuador’s constitution recognized the Right of Nature to exist, specifically Vilcabamba river, in 2008.

Then Bolivia passed the law of the right of mother earth and granted Nature equal rights as humans.

Many communities in the U.S.A. passed the Right of Nature law.

These laws are creating a dilemma or quandary also, as people need to use these resources. We cannot live without using natural resources. However, there is a difference between using natural resources and afflicting or destroying these. So, please use natural resources very diligently. Try not to vitiate nature.

On World Water Day (March 22), please start taking care of rivers, so that there is no need for future celebrations. It should not be a one-day celebration anyway, we should scrupulously look out for nature all the time.

Dr. Raizada is a practicing anesthesiologist.