Today has been a creative day. I headed out early to Essex, where a devotee music producer was meeting me at a recording studio in the small village of Hockley. Jagannatha Suta Das – or Kiron J to artists who use his services – was starting work on the 40th anniversary commemorative album for the London temple, and I’d agreed to sing one song.
What that song was I didn’t know. I was supposed to have chosen it but by the time I got in my car I still hadn’t decided. The day was gloriously sunny, and as I drove around the great circle of the M25 I listened to Sacred Chants – Songs of the Holy Saints of south India. Its one of the many albums sung by Sri Vidyabhusan, a vaishnava from Bangalore. Vidyabhusan is promoted in Europe by Amara Das of Berlin, Germany, who runs Malola Music. (Click ‘Keshava’)
Anyway, I defy anyone not to feel good listening to these types of songs – specially when the sun is shining and England looks like a different world. This particular CD featured songs by Sripad Madhvacarya and Sri Vadiraja Tirtha, two acaryas and great devotees of Krishna.
Vadiraja Tirtha is most often depicted with a basket of food lifted upon his head and a horse eating from it. The story is that someone poisoned his food (its never easy being a preacher!) and because he offered the food with great devotion to Hayagriva, the horse-headed incarnation of Vishnu, a mysterious white horse arrived on the scene, ate the offering, and saved the devotee from a sure death.
Hayagriva is worshiped by many in the south of India, particularly sannyasis. Whilst they pray to Narasimhadeva for protection, they pray to Hayagriva for knowledge, since it was He who came to save the Vedic wisdom when it had been temporarily concealed by demons.
While I was thinking about those two sannyasis and the beautiful songs they’d written all those years ago, I also thought about my old friend Yadunandana, who was just initiated as a sannyasi last week. We spent a few weeks on a walking pilgrimage through Spain a few years back. He is what I call a ‘natural swami’ in that he is everyone’s idea of a monk: simple, strong in his vows, humble without being self-deprecating, very knowledgeable, eager to serve others and always jolly. He is not a tall man, but you don’t realise that when you are with him, if you know what I mean. His other qualities render his short stature of something of no consequence. Here he is:
While I was thinking of sannyasis, songs, sunshine – and shortness – I could not help thinking about Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, the great philosopher to the royal court of Prataparudra in mediaeval Orissa. It was he who, at the age of 60, presumed to teach the 24 year-old Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu the ancient wisdom of the Vedanta Sutra. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had just taken sannyasa, and the scholar was concerned that the young man’s lack of Vedantic knowledge might cause him problems in life. After teaching him for seven days he was puzzled as to why his new student had not asked any questions for clarification of the deep subjects. The Lord replied that he heard and understood, but could not agree with the Bhattacarya’s philosophical conclusions.
With that, Lord Chaitanya illuminated the scholar to many new meanings of the texts he had spent seven days explaining. Later, he caused the Bhattacarya to see a vision of Vishnu, then both Krishna and Rama, all present within the body of the young ‘uneducated’ sannyasi. Short in stature but tall in intellect, Sarvabhauma became even greater in the eyes of the world by becoming devoted to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and composing songs about him.
On the wall of the room where Sarvabhauma was taught by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is the six-armed form of Sadbhuja: the vision who appeared to the scholar
So I decided to sing one that he’d written, Sri Sachi-Sutashtakam, the song that begins nava gaura varam, nava pushpa-saram… As it happened, when I sang it to Pete Booker of Arcade Studios he liked the tune and worked out a piano accompaniment for it. It worked well, although recording it properly took around four hours.
Later on, I went to my son Mali’s concert at the Watford School of Music, where he had two piano pieces to play before an audience of appreciative parents.