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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

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Visionary Musician Alice Coltrane
Alice Coltrane was a versatile musician, pianist, harpist and globally-acknowledged composer. Wikimedia
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  • 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”.

ALSO READ: Bob Dylan: Spiritual Side of the Legend explored in Upcoming Book

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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Hinduism Should Not be Viewed Through the Narrow Prism of Marxism

Regarding menstruation, the seers of ancient India set down certain dos and don’t. It is no exaggeration that they realized the subtle intricacies of not only the tangible body and but also various sheaths of spiritual bodies

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Hinduism
Indeed all ancient Hindu scriptures put the female on the same footing as the male.

By Salil Gewali

“A little knowledge is more dangerous than ignorance”. And far more dangerous is when that little knowledge is spread in the society being propelled by the fuel of “prejudices”.  This write-up is with reference to a number of articles by a certain class of writers published in the mainstream media. Those articles are intended to rake up the issues in order to push the sacred temple of “Sabarimala” of Kerala or Shani Shingnapur and the culture associated with it, into the mire of controversy. Tarnishing the image of Hinduism is the main goal. Not unexpectedly, some stories even proclaim that in India “women” are thus demonized and their menstruation is abhorred.

Having gone through some of them I immediately contacted a number of top scholars in Kerala for hands-on verification — whether “women” are being despised so heartlessly or not. Since one of my books is translated into their language I did that with all ease. Not a single scholar (women included) informed me suggesting that they, or temple management of Sabarimala, have ever “despised women”, or hated “menstruation”.  I rather got an earful for asking such absurd questions.  They instantly reiterated referring to Hindu scriptures which teach all and one to look upon women as “Motherly figures”. One scholar remarks, “this confrontation has actually been orchestrated by the politicians with the help of certain forces which want to demean our culture”.  I heaved a sigh of relief!

Indeed all ancient Hindu scriptures put the female on the same footing as the male. But some vested interests with an ulterior motive have been distorting the true history/legends of India and also merrily belittling or shrugging off the literary treasure troves of the country. It was first done by the British in order to divide and rule Indians, in which they were very successful. And later, the legacy has been faithfully and aggressively carried forward by the Indian intellectuals influenced by certain thinkers and writers of the West and their culture.

Hinduism
Representational image.

Well, the seers of ancient India not only knew as information but they “fully realized” that everything, in and out, is pervaded by “Brahman” (Almighty). The modern science too has arrived at the “same conclusion”. The father of Quantum Mechanics — Erwin Schrodinger has scientifically discussed this fact in his world-famous book – “What is Life?”.  All knowledge associated with the ONENESS of Universe and the “Unity in Diversity” is systematically enshrined in 108 Upanishads.  They expounded with a force that “Purusha” (male) and “Pratriki” (female) both combine themselves to put forth the infinite COSMIC CREATION. One without other is like the fire without the heat. They are mutually complementary, inter-dependent and inter-related. The “discrimination” of any kind, not just “against women”, but even against the tiny “insects” and “plants” are considered irreligious. I would also request such biased scholars to read between the lines from the literature authored by Sri Aurobindo and Vivekananda who just quote from them to gloss over the footprint of their agendas. One wonders when they will learn to shake off the baggage of prejudices against while getting down to study the literature of the home country.

Now about the legend Ayyappa of Sabarimala in brief. The story which is long and interestingly too drawn-out, says —  Lord Ayyappa, who was born out of Lord Shiva and the feminine energy of Lord Vishnu, had exceptional power. His birth on earth was in order to kill a female demon– Mahishi. After having been killed the demoness, the curse against her ends. She again takes birth, this time the Goddess incarnate. This is laws of karma works. When she grew up she approached Lord Ayyappa for the marriage. But Ayyappa, who was practicing celibacy, denied. But, he consoles her saying that he will only marry her when no “first timer” will visit his temple for blessings. However, Lord Ayyappa asks her to reside just near to his temple. Later, in her memory, the devotee constructed a temple known as Malikapurathamma just adjacent to the temple of Ayyappa.

Since Lord Ayyappa, who was known for his celibacy, and had promised to marry Malikapurathamma, it has become a sort of a tradition among women not to visit the temple.  It should not be  misunderstood that it is apparently as a mark of showing respect to both Lord Ayyappa and Goddess Malikapurathamma.

Hinduism
Representational image.

Regarding menstruation, the seers of ancient India set down certain dos and don’t. It is no exaggeration that they realized the subtle intricacies of not only the tangible body and but also various sheaths of spiritual bodies (five sheaths mentioned in Upanishads). The areas of study are very vast. They caution that a woman during her monthly cycle should abstain from the religious public rituals, but can perform the personal spiritual practice. In fact, contrary to the modern tradition and practice, the seers didn’t “limit themselves” to the personal and public hygiene alone, but they went further, and so taken the “spiritual aspect” into consideration. Of course, lot many such dos and don’ts are beyond the understanding of we mundane people with limited five senses and “scattered mind”. It is too absurd who interpret that it is a practice of “untouchability”. A medical doctor will never allow you to enter into ICU unless you are well washed. Is not everything there meticulously sterilized?  Do you say that the hospital is practicing “untouchability”? I don’t think any mother will allow her children to enter the kitchen and take food immediately after the latrine without washing hands and feet.

Going by such biased articles in the mainstream media intended to denigrate the culture and heritage of the country; and also literary books (who unfortunately receive “Sahitya Akademi” and “Padma Shree” awards), I fervently wish that one should have the deeper knowledge of the subjects. Here the crucial prerequisite is that they must first unlearn false history and start to learn the true history without being weighed down by the prejudices.  Moreover, the cosmic ocean of the Indian wisdom is so deep, even it has described many “inconceivable” laws and principles which are seemingly out-of-box and discriminatory. I humbly suggest not to selectively pick up a few odds and use them to demean this vast culture of knowledge. The Vedanta should not be view through the narrow prism of Karl Marx and LeninEven their favorite master Fredrick Hegel (front ranking philosopher of the west) cheerfully confessed the depth of ancient wisdom, –  “It strikes everyone in beginning to form an acquaintance with the treasures of Indian literature, that a land so rich in intellectual products and those of the “profoundest” order of thought”. How I wish that a dagger not be wielded by an untrained person or else it will be disastrous!

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter: @SGewali.