I was 6 years old when my grandma asked me to accompany her to “kirtan”. It is a practice where a group of people congregate to praise and seek the divine through devotional songs and prayers. “Wahan Bhagwaan milenge,” (You will meet God there) she smiled. I instantly agreed. After all I had never seen God. During the two hours, while everyone sang, my eyes darted frequently to the door. I was waiting for God to appear. I began to lose hope. Perhaps God had not heard us, despite our loud and energetic chants. I then fixed my gaze at the women who were singing. They seemed to be in a beautiful trance, not a care in the world. I wondered if they would metamorphose into God. “Bhagwaan hum sab mein rehte hain” (God resides with us), was another lesson my grandma taught me. On our walk back home, my 6-year-old self felt cheated. God had not appeared. I could have played in those two hours instead. But even at that tender age, I felt a contentment that I could not verbalize then and perhaps can’t even now. Thus began my journey into the world of “Bhakti yoga”.
Growing up in India, I enjoyed kirtan. Whether it was chanting the “Hanuman Chalisa”, or “Gayatri Mantra”, vibrations from kirtan always brought stability and seemed therapeutic. It set my spiritual foundation, which helped me to eventually establish my healing practice, iReikiNow. On moving to the United States, we retained the practice of chanting within the family but I missed the large group setting of kirtan.
Fast forward to July 12, 2018. While staying at The Omega Institute, Rhinebeck, NY, attending a training course on past life regression by Dr. Brian Weiss and Carole Weiss, I saw a brochure about a “Divine Feminine Concert”. It said “bring your joyful self and celebrate with kirtan featuring Wah!, including stories, mantra, meditation, and call and response chanting in Sanskrit.” I smiled! It was about time.
That evening, I entered a packed hall. The crowd was a surrogate of the popularity of Wah! and the acceptance of kirtan by mainstream America. I learned from her website that Wah! was the first female to bring kirtan music to the West in the 1990’s. Wah! stood in front of the microphone with her bass guitar. She was accompanied by musicians/singers playing the sitar, drums, keyboard, flute and other instruments. Wah! started with the track, “Amritamayi, Anandmayi”, in honor of her Guru, Mata Amritanandamayi, or Amma. But to the audience, Wah!'s words were “Amrita” (nectar) and brought unbridled “Anand” (joy). She continued with “Om Jai Ganpataye”, “Lokaha”, and other tracks.
|With Wah! after the concert|
|Wah! mesmerizing the crowd|
Wah! effortlessly combined the principles of Indian classical music and Sanskrit shlokas to Western musical instruments and English vocals. Her voice was enchanting. Her pieces started soft, and gradually gained momentum, reaching an electrifying crescendo which seemed like a rallying call to the audience to awaken and embrace their true selves. It did not take long for the multi-racial and multi-cultural audience to start dancing in abandonment, free of judgements, self-limiting beliefs, and barriers. It reminded me of a prayer written by my friend, Wendy Messier: “O, Lord, I long for that forever time when my heart and your heart beat as one.” It was as if, in that moment, we did merge with the universal energy. The color of our skin, nationality, or gender was meaningless. Wah!’s music reminded us that this was a time of true acceptance and to radiate love. Paradoxically, the music led me to a path of internal silence, and a mystical connection with the divine. It also reminded me of YoYo Ma and watching his global troupe, Silkroad perform while I attended an executive education program at Harvard Business School. “Music builds a more hopeful world”, YoYo had once said. Music has no language, or barriers; it is a joyful union with the collective consciousness. Read more about my experience at Harvard here.
As the concert culminated, I stayed back to thank Wah! That was when I met her partner, James. Over the next 2 days, I chatted with them. They were humble and friendly. Wah! was born in Alabama. Even as a child, she seemed to have a heightened spiritual awareness and a love for music. Her mother, a professional violinist, helped cement that love. She often fell asleep under the music stands. She attended the Oberlin College and Conservatory. Wah! studied Indian classical music and “Raaga” on the violin, with Pandit Ravi Shankar’s disciple, Roop Verma. She then went on to learn the tabla, sargam, and mantra. Wah! started a record label in 1999. She traverses the globe performing at concerts. Wah! has published books and CDs on yoga and healing. She has lectured at Princeton University, CU Boulder, Loyola Marymount University, and performed with Deepak Chopra and Wayne Dyer. Wah! continues her own “sadhana”, as she chants and meditates every morning and follows an Ayurvedic lifestyle.
|With James and Wah!|
Wah! and James have known each other for 20 years. Dr. James Leary was born in Greece. He is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Medical Qigong, and PhD of Behavioral Psychology. In his childhood, James was recognized by Chinese masters for having a special healing gift. His spiritual awareness helped him support his brother who suffered with and died of muscular dystrophy. James has developed a healing protocol, Life Qi Renewal, to help others heal and lead a healthy life.
As I left Omega, I looked up to the sky. I pictured my grandma smiling, “Kaha tha na – wahan Bhagwaan milenge” (Didn’t I tell you that you will meet God there?)
Despite my best attempt, I have been unable to articulate the emotions I felt attending Wah!’s concert. Hear her on YouTube. (My favorite is “Jai Ma”... click on the YouTube link below) or look her up on http://www.wahmusic.com/ and attend her concert. It will be a feast to your mind, body and soul. As Hans Christian Andersen said, “Where words fail, music speaks.”