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Kirtan/bhajan music should be recognised, says Grammy nominee


Madi Das, scoring a Grammy nomination for his album of bhajans “Bhakti Without Borders” along with the singing sensation Taylor Swift and rapper Kendrick Lamar, says it’s a “completely strange” feeling. But Das, who spent eight years learning kirtans and bhajans in India, believes it’s high time that traditional music gets its due recognition.

“It is completely strange, yes (to be featured as a nominee alongside Taylor Swift and others). But also, this music has so much more history than pop or R&B. This music has been around for centuries; so is it not the time for it to be recognised as a rich and important tradition?” wondered Das, a former Hollywood entertainment executive now working in the Australian film and TV industry.

“Bhakti Without Borders” is the debut album from Das who grew up in the Vaishnava tradition of Bhakti yoga. Looking forward to Best New Age Album (a category of non-Christian sacred music) for the 58th Annual Grammy Awards to be announced next month, the record marks the third time a kirtan album been nominated; the emerging genre has never won yet.

“Bhakti Without Borders” features 11 Bhajans and is produced by well-known kirtan artist Dave Stringer. Das sings a duet with a different female vocalist on each track. “I describe my music as world music with sacred origins, like the Hindu equivalent of gospel music,” Das told in an email interview from Melbourne.

As Das was born in Germany to an American mother and German father, his upbringing was an assimilation of different music genres. He went to a boarding school in India (in Vrindavan and Mayapur) at the age of seven. He spent eight years learning kirtans and bhajans and becoming fluent in Hindi.

He subsequently lived in Ireland, where he was exposed to traditional Celtic music. Film school brought him to the US.

His album reflects a mixture of Irish and Indian music. Western music influences in the US added to his reserve which created a blend of country and eastern sounds in the album.

But what about the tag of ‘hippie music’ that is often shoved on western artists who pick up such spiritual sounds? “Perhaps because the first influences of Indian music integrating into the West hark back to the Beatles and Ravi Shankar, which took place during the hippie explosion, there is a tendency to categorise it like that. “… and indeed there are still some strong hippie influences in some practitioners of modern kirtan,” Das conceded.

But he also acknowledges there is also a “growing movement of authentic western artistes who have taken the time to study and learn the eastern traditions”.

“And they are now creating something that has strong foundational roots in the East while still adding the more commercial broad strokes appeal to people who like Western music,” Das explained. Presently the popularity of kirtan music is “exploding” in the US what with bhakti festivals, radio shows and retreats, said Das, adding everyone enjoys the music.

“If we can enjoy each other’s music regardless of faith or culture, perhaps we can gain some understanding and empathy for each other… then that will put an end to intolerance,” he signed off.(IANS) (Picture courtesy: ytimg.com)

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In Bown University, USA students protest kirtan singing by white woman not born Hindu

Carrie Grossman (Dayashila) is a American Hindu and a follower of mystic traditions

Carrie Grossman (Dayashila): Picture taken from FB profile

New York, April 25 : Singing of kirtans at an Ivy League university has drawn protests from a section of Indian students there. Arul  Louis of IANS reports. 

 Unlike in the protests against yoga the demonstrators, this time, were not religious fundamentalists, but students spewing leftist rhetoric at Brown University. They protested a non-Indian white woman singing kirtans, asserting that only those born Hindu should sing the religious hymns, according to media reports.

The performance by Carrie Grossman, who has adopted the Hindu name Dayashila, was disrupted Thursday by protesters claiming that by singing kirtans she as a white person was wrongly “appropriating” elements of Hinduism.

Pic from FB page of Carrie Grossman (Dayashila)
Pic from FB page of Carrie Grossman (Dayashila)

They used radical leftist terminology like white privilege, structural change and “radical love” to oppose what they called “cultural appropriation” by a white person.

“Cultural appropriation,” according to those who protest it, happens when people use or performs elements from a culture not their own.

Many in the audience confronted the protesters, who eventually left the event and staged a sit-in outside.

“Several audience members turned around and asked them to be quiet,” The Brown Daily Herald reported. “In addition, some of the audience members stood up and moved to where the protesters were sitting to ask them to leave.”

Rajan Zed, the president of US-based Universal Society of Hinduism, called the protests at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island state, “sad and inappropriate.”

“Color of the person should not matter in devotional singing and anybody should be able pay respectful homage to Hindu deities through kirtan or other forms,” Zed said. “Kirtan offered means to connect to the heart, to the divinity that lies within.”

He asked Brown University president Christina H. Paxson and chancellor Thomas J. Tisch to “make sure that such unreasonable interruptions did not happen at the Hindu events on the campus in the future” and to hold a formal inquiry into the disruption.

The Herald reported that Grossman, a Brown University alumna, told her audience that she discovered kirtans during visit to India and “found (chanting) very powerful and very healing.”

Describing her mission to spread the singing of kirtans, Grossman writes on her website about her experience in the third person: “At the altar of her instrument she called out to the divine and unburdened her heart. This process was profoundly healing and, the more she did it, the more she felt drawn to share her sound with the world.”

She has produced a recording, “Soma Bandhu,” that features hymns like “Om Nama Shivaya,” “Jai Ma” and “Sarve Bhavantu.”

Although the protesters used radical leftist rhetoric, their agenda appears to be a form of selective opposition to conversions or religious interactions – in effect, banning those not born Hindu from singing Hindu religious hymns or participating in rituals.

Christian fundamentalist also oppose non-Hindus participating in Hindu cultural or health practices. From New York to California, some Christians have protested yoga practice in schools. Most recently fundamentalists in Georgia protested against the namaste greeting during yoga.

However, similar protests are not held by those claiming to be against “cultural-appropriation” when non-Christians sing Christian hymns or participate in Christian observances.

Most of those in a picture published by Herald of the demonstration against the kirtan performance were white and African American, with few Indians.

Wearing bindi or pottu by non-Indian women have also been crticised as “cultural appropriation.”

In the face of protests, the Contemplative Studies Departmental Undergraduate Group, which organised the kirtan, issued an apology saying that they “humbly acknowledge that those intentions (in arranging the event) do not preclude harm and hurt that we may have inflicted,” the Herald reported.

Ironically, Anchal Saraf, one of the protesters with an Indian name quoted in the media, was a signatory to a petition demanding freedom of expression at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Freedom of expression in US universities is under threat not from the government, but from students and faculty. At elite universities like Yale, students have in the past year explicitly protested freedom of expression on campuses and tried to silence professors and students not conforming to their version of liberal or radical views.

Even media faculties are not immune despite freedom of expression being at the core of journalism. Last year, a journalism teacher at University of Missouri, who supported an African American student protest, instigated an attack on an Asian American photographer trying to record it in a public place that guaranteed his constitutional rights. (Arul Louis, IANS)

NewsGram adds: The website of Carrie Grossman says this in the introduction:

“Carrie Grossman (Dayashila) is a devotional artist whose creative offerings explore the wild terrain of the heart. A lifelong student and practitioner of the mystical traditions, she brings a modern, feminine voice to ancient wisdom.”

“At the age of 21, Carrie first traveled to India where she was exposed to kirtan (call and response mantra chanting). The beauty of the practice inspired her to sing, but due to shyness and self-doubt, 10 years went by before the music within her emerged. It wasn’t until her life descended into a dark and difficult period that she spontaneously began to write songs and play the harmonium. At the altar of her instrument she called out to the divine and unburdened her heart. This process was profoundly healing and, the more she did it, the more she felt drawn to share her sound with the world. She has since self-produced two albums: Soma-Bandhu: Friend of the Moon (2010) and The Ram Sessions (forthcoming 2016).”


8 responses to “In Bown University, USA students protest kirtan singing by white woman not born Hindu”

  1. This article is very misguided. Cultural appropriation happens only with the presence of unchecked privilege…in this case, White privilege. Singing Sanskrit kirtanas has become an easy means to fame for White people. Yet there are less than a handful of kirtan rock stars of Indian descent. Poor pronunciation is no barrier to fame. I can’t think of any other language that is so freely mangled in the name of devotion and respect as Sanskrit. Could I become a mega popular French pop star if I just love French culture and French food and pronounce Je t’aime in my songs like Gee Tame? I don’t think so. That is why cultural appropriation is a legitimate concern. White privilege exists.

    • Obviously your culture is American considering how into the bodily concept of life you seem to be. Chant Hare Krishna and be happy.

  2. I think my fellow desis are mad because she’s more religious than they are.
    How is this cultural appropriation?
    ISKCON isn’t cultural appropriation.
    Hot yoga on the other hand, is. It needs to be assessed on a case by case basis. As somebody who is Hindu I say more power to her!

  3. The only qualification one needs to sing kirtan is an open and willing heart that longs to connect with the divine. Ridiculous protest by ignorant people who know nothing but how to disrupt and be corrosive. Shame on them.

  4. The word Hindu doesn’t exist on the original Vedas is a concoction, Hindu is a word spoken by muslins pointing that the people who live on the other site of the river Sindhu.They could not pronounce the word Sindhu river instead they said Hindu

  5. This is Nonsense. Nonsense of the highest order. Those who protest know nothing about Hinduism. In fact their actions are anti- Hindu. Hinduism claims no exclusivity. Because the idea of Hinduism it itself incorrect. The word Hindu was impressed upon us by outsiders who choose to demarcate us as separate from them. Hinduism – the original Sanathan Dharma, is universal and for all. Being born Hindu has nothing to do with it. Its all about how you live.

  6. This is surely not done. It is one’s own choice of selecting the task. You cannot stop or oppose anybody just because they do not belong to that particular religion. If this is so, nobody should be allowed to visit religious places if they don’t belong to that particular religion!