'Shanti Mantras carry a power of their own'

THE INQUIRER

After its successful album ‘Shankara,’ which musically explored poems of Adi Shankaracharya, Shivoham is now back with another album that concentrates on ancient ‘Shanti Mantras.’ The purpose of the album, released by Silk Road Communications, says Mistry, is to re-interpret and transmit to the new generation some of the oldest prayers of mankind which have travelled from generation to generation through an unbroken chain of oral transmission.

Bhargav MistryThe album is the result of collaboration of an international group of musicians. It has French Saxophonist Luc Joly, Iranian composer/performer Pedram Derakhshani who has played the Daf, Iranian Sitar and Iranian Santoor, and Korean master Kim Jung Wook who has contributed to some of the tracks with instruments like Kayagum, Aejang, Daegum, Haegum and deep low drums. Bhargav Mistry speaks to Utpal Borpujari of Deccan Herald on the philosophy behind the album:


 Q: Is this album a sequel to ‘Shankara’?

A: Yes, this is a sequel, but I wanted to give it a different musical treatment. While the first album was only Sarod, voice and keyboard, here there are tracks with orchestral music and oriental instruments. I have kept a few tracks that bridge these two albums, musically. This album is more of a travelogue with a lot of inspirations coming from my visit to South Korea on music tours.

Q: What exactly are ‘Shanti Mantras,’ and how are they important musically?

A: These are from the Upanishads, each of which is associated with a Shanti mantra. They are used at the beginning and end of spiritual rituals and their function is to bring about peace and a higher level of consciousness to the performer as well as the listener. When these are recited in a proper meter, pronunciation, rhythm and intonation, they carry a power of their own, independent of the person uttering them.

Q: The album comes with the accompanying text of the mantras in a booklet. Why was that necessary?

A: Universal Music is planning to release this album in several countries and so we thought it prudent to give some explanations and meanings of these Sanskrit verses.

Q: What kind of experience you have while composing music around such ancient hymns?

A: It is indeed soul satisfying. To put ancient verses into a musical form with the aim to enhance its feeling is indeed a challenging task. It is subjective and different people will have different approaches. My aim was to internalise the meanings and provide what I thought was an appropriate musical ambience to it. The music itself must induce a feeling of peace and calm.

Q: What’s been your experience of working on such albums ?

A: The experience of working with different musical cultures of the world has given one a wider perspective and understanding of it. The basic notes are the same but the presentations are different, as are the instruments.

Q: Do you see a difference in the acceptance of such albums between Indian and foreign listeners?

A: The overall response from both Indian and foreign listeners is similar: compositions which induce a feeling of peace and timelessness.

The Indian listener further may try to associate each composition with raga scales and if some do not strictly adhere to it, they may comment. In reality most of the compositions are more general from music point of view, and do not elaborate as a classical music presentation.

 Q: What kind of experience you undergo when you work on hymns? Do they initially make you apprehensive?

A: One lesson I’ve learnt from Ustad Amjad Ali Khan is having confidence. It’s the music idea that flows through you and we’re just the media for it. As long as we don’t offend the note (swar), there’s nothing to fear. He often says, `Swar hi Ishwar hei’.  For the correct intonation of Sanskrit, I was lucky to be able to take advice and blessings of Swami Vivitatmanand who was kind enough to recite each verse and explain their meanings. I consulted him at various stages of development to seek his approval.
 
Q: From industrial design to setting ancient mantras to music for new-age listeners, how has the journey been so far for you? And has your decision to live in Udaipur rather than a metro?

A: For me, the journeys in design and music have been parallel. Design for me is music, just as much as music is design. Earlier I was living in Ahmedabad, a much bigger place than Udaipur.

This gave me time to work on music. It’s the peace and quiet and beauty of this place that is often inspiring. True, a metro could have given a better visibility. But then who knows the priorities might have been different!

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