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Wondering about the title of this post: “His Excellency, Stop – No Eating Here!”?
This message was conveyed by none other than the great Santoor Maestro Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma at a special concert held in Pondicherry in March 2014. And this message was conveyed to none other than the Lieutenant-Governor of Pondicherry who had just a few minutes ago officially launched a book: “Shiv Kumar Sharma: The Man and His Music.”
Well, Panditji didn’t exactly say those words, but you will know soon what he said. Let me start at the beginning.
This is how it happened.
The special concert was organized by a group of music-lovers in collaboration with the Department of Tourism, Pondicherry to celebrate the centenary of coming of the Mother to Pondicherry. [The Mother, spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo, first came to India hundred years ago, reaching Pondicherry on 29th March, 1914]. The concert was held at the JIPMER auditorium, and special guests included the Honourable Lt. Governor of Pondicherry and several other high officials from Department of Tourism, Pondicherry.
After the initial ceremonies of lighting the lamp, honouring the special guests and the artists, and the book launch were over, and just before the concert was about to begin, an almost-unbelievable thing happened. This was a through and through Indian classical music concert. No light music programme, no fusion, no popular music, mind you. So naturally a certain dignity and a certain decorum was expected from the audiences.
The musicians were all on the stage, ready to begin. Panditji was introducing his fellow performers and giving a brief introduction about Indian classical music when all of a sudden entered from a side entrance to the hall a neatly dressed young man with a large tray of eatables and tea. These were meant to be served to the ‘dignitaries,’ the VVIPs sitting in the front row of the auditorium. After all, it was part of the much-touted Indian hospitality, you see! The organizers must have felt compelled to serve some snacks and tea to the ‘esteemed’ guests from the Government. Of course, what they didn’t realize was that they had no idea of what Indian hospitality really is.
Indian hospitality is first and foremost about recognizing what is the proper way to do things. And it is about recognizing what is the absolutely wrong way to do things. Serving or eating food and drinks at an Indian classical music concert was absolutely the wrong thing to do. But I am not saying this. The legend himself, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma said so, and rightly said so. In plain words. This programme was not just any musical programme. It was, like any Indian classical music performance, an outer expression of an inner sadhana of the musicians for whom music is not entertainment but a means to connect with the Divine. Divine in them and Divine in everything. Panditji expressed his strong displeasure (but in a polite way) at this misguided and wrong gesture made by the organizers and explained to the audience why it was so.
He spoke for a few minutes about the sacredness of all music, but especially the Indian classical music which has been acknowledged from times immemorial as a means to grow in spiritual sadhana, and used in that way both by musicians as well as the serious listeners. He said that while it is a common practice to eat and drink when enjoying popular music performances, and noted that this has become the worldwide trend now with music clubs everywhere, in Indian classical music concerts such a thing is completely intolerable.
The musicians invoke the Divine Presence through their music, the stage is their temple, the audience are the gods for whom they perform, the audience on their part try to become one with the music and go inward…in all this sacred work going on where is the room for any interference like that of snacking? Panditji explained further. He said that Indian classical music is no ordinary music, it has come from the depths of the souls of seekers, the heights of the spiritual ecstasy realized by the rishis. And for him and many other Indian musicians, music has always been first and foremost about an inner seeking, a spiritual quest, a means to get in touch with that touch of divinity within.
Obviously while this beautiful explanation was being given by the Maestro, the server slipped away quietly with his tray though he was for a couple of minutes confused about what to do, how to retreat. But I am sure this was an embarrassing moment both for the organizers as well as the VVIPs who would have probably picked up their plates had Panditji not spoken up. I do hope however that more than an embarrassing moment, this was taken as a real learning moment both by the ‘esteemed’ guests and their ‘hosts’.
Panditji got a huge applause for saying all that he did. For the wonderful lesson he gave everyone on the Indian classical music and the sacredness of the whole experience – of performing and listening, for the musician and the audience.
As mesmerizing and deeply meditative as the whole music performance was at this concert, this little bit of extra added so much to the whole experience. It really did.
“The role of music lies in helping the consciousness uplift itself towards the spiritual heights.”
It is perhaps most appropriate to end this post with this….