May 31, 2009

Review of Raga Unveiled: India’s Voice [Interview With Gita Desai.]

A raga is a melody bejeweled with notes and emotions that colors or delights the mind. – Sage Matang, circa 700 AD

by Sarah Miller

Last week, I attended the Houston premier of Raga Unveiled: India’s Voice, a vibrant explosion of sight and sound that explores the tradition of North Indian Classical Music. The film is a brilliant expression of Vedic knowledge, sound and consciousness. I’m a new sitar student, but not so new to Gandharva Veda Music and the tools for expansion of consciousness. My study of the sitar and Classical Indian music have added rich meaning to my sitar practice, and also to my spiritual practice. This film, however, added even more wholeness. Left with a feeling of awe after the Premier, I sent an email of gratitude to the producer, Gita Desai, who kindly sent me a pleasant “thank you” and an offer to chat more by phone about the film. Through this amicable offering, I was able to ask more about her work, the process and her vision and soon realized we also had a few things in common. For a womyn with no formal film training, nor background in creating documentaries, Gita Desai’s films show that brilliance can truly come from thought and manifest into reality, while looking effortless in the process. Both of her films, Yoga Unveiled and the newest, Raga Unveiled: India’s Voice, express Vedic knowledge from an unadulterated perspective of wholeness. I asked her how these films came about.“Vedic culture,” she replies firmly. Neither of these topics can easily be tackled in a lifetime, let alone a 2-4 hour film. But with the talents of her husband, Mukesh Desai, and two sons, Mrs. Desai set out undaunted on a virtually impossible task of properly portraying an ancient craft through audio and visual marvels. Mrs. Desai states, “When I make a film there are only four hours and excavation into the subject is all so superficial. We’re talking about the cosmos and evolution that’s why there’s so much richness, but it’s difficult to bring that out in a four hour film. You never are sure if you fulfilled that.” Art is key to Samadhi experience. -Raga Unveiled Indian Music naturally maintains transformational capabilities as it is based on the scales and sounds of Nature. “Sound is the beginning and End of everything” as the film states. Instruments vibrating prana (breath or life force) create nadum, or primordial sound. Notes come from this level, but the music lies in the spaces between the notes or “the gap” as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi would often expound upon. It is from this level of silence that all transformational capabilities are possible. The film’s thorough introduction sets the audience up with an understanding of why transformational cosmic music is so profound, why it’s still alive and well in the Indian culture, and just what it takes to be involved with such a demanding spiritual practice. The humbling Guru/Shishya relationship is given great importance and characterizes the value of this ancient tradition and its depth. Through interviews with musical talents and priceless teachers such as Ali Akbar Khan, Shivkumar Sharma, Zakir Hussain and Ravi Shankar, the message becomes even more energized. “The good thing about India,” Gita says, “is that the knowledge is unbroken. Music, yoga, it is still vibrant. It is a defining part of India.” The film and its Interviews are timely as many of these legendary musicians are aging or have recently passed. Gita was fortunate enough to get the last interviews with several of these epic masters. You are not just playing with a musician, you are playing with a generation of musicians Raga Unveiled The complex subject of Indian music is broken down into the crucial elements of philosophy and history and clearly defined throughout the film with excellent graphics, stunning photography, charming interviews and brilliant music. Among the chapters are: Note and Melody (Swara and Raga), Tempo and Rhythm (Laya and Tala), Moods and Emotions (Rasa Bhav), Improvisation (Vistaar), Master and Disciple (Guru and Shishya), Lineage (Gharana), Training and Performance, Compositional Styles, and Instruments. Musical performance is a Yagya itself. –Raga Unveiled At last week’s lesson, my sitar teacher, Srinivas Koumounduri, and I discussed the film. He admitted to learning a lot from it and was extremely grateful for the viewing. As a trained professional performer, the role of Guru (or teacher) is somewhat new to him. The film enlightened and offered humbling reminders. I ask Mrs. Desai if she is a musician herself. Humbly, she says, “I sing a little and play a bit of sitar but I am however a professional music lover.” This passion has led to an intense six years process of film making (both films back to back), which hasn’t left much time for her personal practice. She sincerely hopes that these films have a lasting impact on others, not just in the Indian community, but in practicing yogis, spiritual aspirants and all Westerners alike. “I hope more people will be investing in these beautiful traditions, finding the peace [through them] one at a time. These are tools.” she gently reminds. “India has a very open heart. It never has tried to convert or change. It always has had open arms and has welcomed others.” Gita states. It is through this grace that India has managed to somehow maintain such vast, rich traditions, strong lineages and devoted students. From this knowledge, we are all blessed. Only an art form rooted in Nature… and theory can hope to survive.Raga Unveiled www.ragaunveiled.com www.yogaunveiled.com

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