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the non-mantra movie

Since i live in Switzerland recently i was contacted by the director of a very small film being launched in the west, given the (wrong) name "Mantra sounds into silence". She wanted to present the movie in Zürich, Switzerland, so she called me to see if i would be available to perform with my band the music for the opening concert, before the movie gets presented.

I didn't accept the offer, since I had seen the trailers of the movie which is totally misleading on what is trully sacred music from India; just used commercially for material purposes, which worsens even more the whole presentation. Actually the only beauty of the movie are the images from India (which of course they had to use to set up the atmosphere).

We had a very long phone conversation, in which i took my time to try to explain to her the basics: what is mantra, what is kirtan, its origin and tradition, the training of a musician since his childhood and how this music should be performed or used in the reality, which is much beyond the artistic scene of western mantra singers who most of the time cannot sing, pronounce and even less transmit the true spirit of indian sacred music. They cannot transmit because they have simply not been trained in indian music. Whatever they are transmitting, it is something else.

It would be totally misleading to perform a concert introducing the music for a film which has little or nothing to do with the music from India including devotional music: actually, i would be presenting the authentic taste of indian sacred music, and then later the movie would be showing something in a total different direction, what i call "an undefined genre"...a mix of pop music with lyrics from India most times mis-pronounced - because in the west they put a mantra to 'fit' their melody... when the right approach is totally opposite: the composition should fit the mantra.

Being from India and having contact with the west, it is my mission to transmit the truth behind this tradition, including mantra, kirtan, sufi, folk and other styles, and it is my responsibility to transmit my impression about european and american singers who have no clue about the humbleness, sacredness, grace, serenity and the true rasa or character required in the mantra or kirtan music. They just want to perform and aim to become famous 'spiritual star' or sometimes even feeling entitled to become referents of a tradition they know very little about. It is in fact a huge denial of its roots and as a result, a subtle insult to this ancient tradition of the east.

Indian sacred music is much, much more that just adding a Sanskrit text to a melody and play a guitar into it... mostly in the west, since it has become a trend, this is not well understood. Actually, mantra does not need music! But if at all, one would like to recite it in a musical way, it is a great responsibility to create music for mantra which can transmit its meaning, its essence, its origin, its wisdom and its silence, 'the right call'. Most of the mantra singers forget that Mantras are from India (except in the marketing of it: here, they don't forget to show a Ganesha or a Buddha!) So it needs a fragrance of India in its music - just the Indian text and photography is not enough.

Our music - classical and devotional - comes from a milenary culture with roots in spirituality and deserves all the respect and appreciation, since it was inspired by wise and enlightened beings who were able to touch spaces of the most hidden corners of sound, with the right understanding, allowing to unfold its natural powers when rightly applied.

It is ungraceful to mislead this tradition by offering 'mantra concerts' and workshops without the right training and understanding of what is being shared. Just being a musician does not qualify anyone to perform kirtans or mantras with its complexity and richness of musical culture, without knowing deeper about the subject. In India artists spend a lifetime learning and only at a senior stage and with the persmission of the Guru they slowly start performing and teaching... and this has a reason.

99% of western musicians 'desperate' in gaining a place in the yoga-and-new-age-commercial-scene are giving a wrong impression of Indian sacred music: they sell something that is not really from India, nor does it represent it - but they still label it that way, for commercialization purposes, using all the marketing elements of India as much as they can: bindi, clothes, buddhas, deities, language, photography, etc. Even the way they play the harmonium is not from India! they just play chords, in India we play melodies!

Don't get me wrong... i am by no means critizising - i am presenting an objective evaluation having been born in India and having grown in this devotional culture which i understand deeply. Everyone has the freedom to like any music style... tango, rock, heavy-metal, salsa, opera, etc... that's not my point. The point is that what it is presented is not mantra, it is not the tradition from India - it is something else, in which India is used as a marketing, even selling it as something spiritual and healing. It is as if i would call kik-boxing or zumba a yoga practice - it is perfectly right to practice kik-boxing, but it is not called yoga, it is 'kik-boxing.'

As i said at the beginning, in this movie, the nicest parts are the images from India... and one can also see that they use the beautiful cultural images of India to make the movie interesting visually, showing India's attractions and mystical magic... featuring an 'exotic place'... but when it comes to the music... there is little real of India! In a way, it is actually 'using' India-marketing to promote a music style - basically pop and lullaby or sometimes even rock - with sanskrit (mispronounced) lyrics.

In fact, there is not a single, I repeat - even a single mantra or kirtan singer from India featured in this film. Actually, in India mantras are never done in a concert, there are no mantra-shows... one can go to a temple and often find a priest reciting mantras... even this was not shown in the movie. Why? because of the ignorance: they don't know the tradition. On the other hand, sometimes well trained classical singers would compose for a mantra and sing it very gracefully, a fine example of a mantra being sung with honor is Jagjit Singh.

If they would bring this kind of presentation in the islam culture for example... they would really have a revolt.... but in India we believe in karma, we believe in the self-consciousness of our acts. All we do has a yin and and a yan.

In fact, what is happening is that audiences are being offered risotto and being told that it is indian kitchari... and because most people never tasted indian kitchari, they believe the risotto is indian food.

What performing non-indian-so-called mantra-kirtan-singers are commercially marketing and offering in the west, has little or no relation to the truth of mantra, kirtan and indian music/culture in general, and thus should not be offered as such, it should not be presented as from India, just using India as a means of commercialism.

Maybe the singer has nice music, nice melodies, beautiful voice- this we are not discussing... but the point is it should be given another name! - but not mantra, not from India!

Additionally, many of these musicians give false promises of healing, getting rich with mantra and other material hopes to the audience, who believe all these 'marketing' promises. This doesn't mean that a mantra cannot have power... but it is given by a mantra guru, a realized being who understood and realized the essence of sound... and it's all very personal, very hidden, very silent. It is not a justin-bieber-show.

Even recently i saw a promotional picture of a musician from Germany who pictured himself with many arms in a photoshoped picture promoting himself like an Indian deity, which are featured in India with many arms due to the mythology. Basically there's no words for that - really low and embarrasing, and utterly irrespectful. It is like someone would show himself/herself crucified like Jesus in a facebook post trying to promote church-like music. Trully insane and sad. This shows that they are desperate to get attention ! ...even the respect is gone.

It is my mission as a music performer and a lifetime student of Indian music, educated in India to communicate the right understanding of indian music in all its forms and genres, while passing over this tradition to those trully interested from the spiritual, silent plane of this music, unaffected by personal interests or material ambitions.

Did you know for example that the songs of the USA-born-kundalini-yoga (kundalini yoga doesn't exist and never existed in India) are not mantras? They are phrases and texts from the Sikh sacred books. They should not be called mantras because mantras have certain rules - not everything is a mantra. And as much as I know, in Sikhism, there are no mantras as such. Some are songs, shabads, kirtans, bhajans, poems, etc. but not mantra. I also sing those, but i don't call them mantra; i explain what they are and where they come from and at the most we discuss the beauty of the text and the message.

Since the mind loves to justify everything, i always say when i teach that intention is not enough... "i may intend to make a heart surgery... but i must learn and practice before i do ...and do it absolutly right", so intention is relative. Specially in mantra, which is a science of sound-form connection, so if you understand this science, you must know that it responds to the right, accurate sound, not the intention. I have benn present in a mantra concert once, where a famous 'mantra-star' was singing a song in Hindi and i couldn't understand a word being sung! so, in this way these lyrics have no power, besides misrepresenting a tradition.

Singers, teachers, movies, CDs, yoga teachers!!... everybody wants to sing mantras in public... and nobody knows how... even the pronounciation is always wrong - which in mantra is key, because it is a sacred code, a call. Recently a woman from Switzerland stole my compositions without even asking me and published a mantra album with 2 of my songs sung by her totally misleading the spirit and the ragas of the original composition... and this is how a false path is spread. What is the need?

Unfortunately the material ambition and interest has taken over the consciousness of what is being done and presented in the name of sacred indian music, and for me is really painful to see what is being mis-transmitted. Maybe in the west most don't see it because they don't know... how it ireally is.

It is like a false lighthouse... a mirage of a lighthouse which is not there.

. . . . .

This is the letter i wrote to the movie director after she asked me to perform live music for the movie, and also asked me to watch the movie and tell her my opiion - which can also be considered a review of this misrepresented movie:

Namaste G.

Thank you for sending the link. I saw the film. First the good things : Production quality, camera work, editing was very good. As a small time film maker, I know how much energy all these areas take, so congratulations on that area. It was a nice part when the camera went to the ghats in Rishikesh to some local kirtan singers and second when the buddhist monk sings the original style of tibetan buddhist mantras and the french pianist adding very subtle colours to his voice.

Now for the rest…

This movie is about all the KIRTAAN singers who don’t even know how to say KIRTAN and not KIRTAAN. This movie is about the stars who made it big in the american dream or want to try to make it. This movie is about western musicians who think they can sing mantras and kirtan and about the people who like it that way… because all they are doing it is singing pop, rap, hip hop, rock or blues with mantras… and just because the text is mantras, they think they are doing something spiritual -

Where is India in this movie? Where is the essence and grace of this tradition, that fragrance of the Indian music, culture, spirituality, art? Basically this film is like having made a film on Flamenco in Japan without covering a single Flamenco artist from Spain or showing its true roots.

I am shocked that you could not find anyone from this vast country India which is the birthplace of the tradition of Mantras and Kirtan. It is almost like the western world denies the roots of this tradition. It is like shunning out the roots and claiming that the west knows better since it adapted it and made it a popular movement, despite presenting it with deep ignorance and shallowness (as my master says, 'even Hitler had millions of followers and fans - that doesn't make what he's doing is right, does it?').

Ridiculous statements from people like Dave Stringer saying that tabla is 300 years old and harmonium was brought by british, and all his ignorance and justification to replace these instruments. People like him don't represent mantra at all - in body, mind and soul. Actually they represent the anti-mantra. In India, no real kirtan would be complete without tabla/dholak/mridangam/pakhawaj. Would you do Flamenco without Guitar or Tango without Accordion?

Although experimentations are ok, but the actual fragrance, flavour and colour of its tradition cannot be compromised. Just using eastern text like mantras or sufi songs, does not make it eastern. At least some amount of indian ingredients are needed before adding some other new ingredients. Otherwise it is total denial of its roots and depth (more on this subject on my blog here )

Other statements in the film about the origin of Kirtan and Yoga are also highly questionable and shallow.

Snatam Kaur says mantra ‘it is about becoming yourself’ (but i can tell you from personal experience that Snatam is really not a Guru and even less entitled to give spiritual statements from India). The wisest people from India, the awakened ones, the buddhas... always have said and have been saying - ‘it is about BEING, not ‘becoming’ and that is enlightenment.’ Not even ‘being yourself’ but just BEING because as these wise ones have realised, in that state, there is no myself or yourself....but a space, a state of beingness.

In a way, whatever my observations about the western mantra singers have been, this film confirmed it, and that was my main interest in watching the whole film.

These guys have no idea how sing mantras, because they don’t understand the grace, the energy, the serenity, the devotion, the compassion, the ‘rasa’ which is connected with these profound sounds. Just seeing how they sing ‘radhe radhe’ or ‘ma’ or ‘karuna’ and the most horrendous version of ‘nirvãnashtakam’ (shivoham) by Stinger... or CC White screaming in excitement Karuna, when Karuna means compassion and it requires a soothing tranquil loving composition - it doesn't match.

Problem is that many times, they have no clue what they are singing.

Some of these singers singing Shanti (with ti as in Tea) or Durge (Du as in Doomed) reflect a total crucifixion of Sanskrit language! How they break the words, to fit them into the melody, and destroying the meaning of the word… or singing 'hanuman chalisa' in a rap format... I mean, the list is endless. Mantras are supposed to be invocation, invitation and auspicious welcome to the gods and goddesses but these versions sound totally ungraceful, and the rule number one is the pronunciation, words cannot be changed, cut, shortened or split : it's like a call to a wrong number.

This movie shows an ancient India fully invaded artistically and spiritually…this time by the americans and europeans, to top it all some currently on drugs... who are just thirsty of fame and money.

It's a pity that the subject had not been explored deeply and correctly if the real interest was to show SACRED MUSIC FROM INDIA thru the SCIENCE OF MANTRA and not a fake movement of people who do anything to become stars giving false 'spirituality'.

You can't imagine how vast and how many wonderful, truthful and interesting material we have in India about this, the cradle of yoga and mantra : yesterday, today, always and forever.

Om Sai Ram

Manish Vyas


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