Questions and Answers Regarding the Prabhata Samgiita songs by Shrii Shrii Anandamurti (also known as Shrii Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar.)
Questions by Sister Mitra
Answers by Acarya Diiptimanananda Avadhuta
1. As a musically educated person, what can you say about musical content or component of Prabhata Samgiita? How would you estimate it?
The Prabhata Samgiita (abbreviated here as PS) songs are a collection of 5018 songs composed by Shrii Shrii Anandamurtiji (Shrii P. R. Sarkar) in the eight last years of his life. The musical contents are extremely variegated with songs based on classical ragas and raginis, folk traditions, and a blending of melodies from different cultures and times. Most of them are based on ragas and the classical India tal (rhythm) system. They are composed in eight different languages but most of them in the Bengali language (Bangla.) Every song is perfect in itself, and when you analyze a song, you will find that the melody, rhythm, musical style, poem, and the overall feeling of the song (Bhava) are synchronized in beautiful harmony. The songs are of the highest musical quality and are a unique contribution to the world music for ages to come. In the future, those songs will become a source of inspiration for the many generations of musicians, music lovers and devotees. They can only be compared to the highest achievements in the history of humankind in the field of music and poetry.
2. What part do the Prabhata Samgiita songs play in the spiritual life of a devotee? Many margiis don’t sing them except at Dharma Cakra (DC). Why do we need them? Is it necessary to sing them at home when you are alone, or collective singing at DC is enough?
The Prabhata Samgiita songs are deeply devotional and express feelings of the devotee during meditation and while feeling the Supreme in daily life. The devotional feelings that are expressed in the songs span a vast spectrum of experiences and feelings that we can connect to and enrich our devotional life. I would say that singing the PS songs only at Dharma Cakra is not enough, just as doing meditation only at Dharma Cakra is not enough. We need to do meditation at least twice a day, and we also need to arouse devotional feelings in our mind before we meditate. Those devotional feelings will enrich our meditation and bring our mind to higher realms of spiritual experiences. Singing Kiirtana and Prabhata Samgiita helps us arouse devotional feelings in the mind, thereby accelerating our spiritual progress and overall wellbeing.
3. Does Bengali-learning change the perception of Prabhata Samgiita?
Yes, definitely. It is very beneficial to learn the Bengali language (Bangla.) I have spent a lot of time studying Bangla and the Prabhata Samgiita songs, and when I sing a song or listen to a song, in many cases, I don’t need a translation but can connect to the meaning of the song spontaneously. The Bengali language is a beautiful language and very rich in devotional poetry and culture. I would recommend starting with learning a few songs and the meaning of each word, and then try to feel that meaning while singing the song. It is not necessary for most of us to learn all the grammar and general contents of Bangla but is very useful to learn some basic pronunciation, basic vocabulary, and structure of the language.
4. As Bengali isn’t native for us, we often distort the pronunciation. Indian music is difficult for us as well, and sometimes we may sing the tune wrong. Is it very bad?
We should sing and pronounce the songs to the best of our capacity. If you love a particular song, then try to learn it as well as possible. Listening to the original recordings is very useful for determining the right pronunciation and the right tune.
5. Indian Acaryas sometimes notice that accompanying the Prabhata Samgiita songs by guitar brings about a distortion of the tune, but we still do that. What’s your opinion?
I also like to use a guitar for accompanying Prabhata Samgiita singing, and I try to match the original tune as closely as possible. It is generally challenging to accompany the songs based on classical ragas by guitar, but some of the songs easily adapt to guitar accompaniment. Songs that have a complicated rhythm should not be played by strumming the strings but preferably by plucking the strings and maintaining the correct original rhythm.
Guitar also uses Western harmony, and most of the Western tunes are harmonized, i.e. the melody will follow the harmonies played on the guitar. There is a high risk that the melody of the Prabhata Samgiita will get adjusted to the harmonies of the guitar if those harmonies were not present in the original tune.
Baba purposely composed some of the songs with melodies and rhythms that would easily be picked up by Western singers. Those songs have also become very popular in the Margii community.
Some of the songs that are composed in classical Indian genres and use complicated ragas are not suitable for guitar accompaniment. The melody and rhythm can be so complicated in some of the songs, that it is better to focus on singing correctly, and the Western harmonies that are available on guitar would not be an appropriate accompaniment to the raga and possibly influence the singing and bring about a distortion of the melody.
6. A difficult question with no answer which still arises – why didn’t Baba write PS in European languages other than English?
This is a very good question. Baba used the Guru and disciple tradition (Guru-shishya Parampara) when passing on His knowledge to the world. Many of the discourses that He gave during General Dashan and Dharma Maha Cakra (DMC) were recorded and were later published in book form. The Prabhata Samgiita songs were noted down by His disciples and after that recorded in a rough recording of their own voices and then in studio recordings with expert singers and professional musicians. In that way, the devotees would have the chance to feel close to Him and remain in His cosmic flow.
Baba always wanted to give everything as clear and easy to understand as possible, especially as the subjects that he spoke on were deep and profound. The Prabhata Samgiita songs were also a miracle, the way they were noted down by devotees with only moderate knowledge of music, but he made them note down extremely complicated songs, and sing them back to Him.
Baba appreciated all languages, and when traveling to Europe loved hearing Bhajans (devotional songs) in the local languages. He also merged some folk song melodies from various countries and continents into some of the Prabhata Samgiita songs. However, the team of Dadas (and sometimes Margiis) that were noting down the songs were Indian and didn’t speak fluently other European languages than English. There may be some other reasons as well that only Baba knows.
7. The Prabhata Samgiita songs are recorded again and again. When the Europeans record them, they use their western instruments, make their own arrangements. Doesn’t that destroy the original spirit of Prabhata Samgiita? Can we do with them as we consider to be right? Are there any directions or regulations?
There are four main things to consider in Indian classical music. They are ideation (bhava), language and poetry (bhasa), melody (sur), and rhythm (chanda.) In the Prabhata Samgiita songs, we must not change those four aspects, but the accompaniment can be adjusted according to time, place, and person.
That means that it would go against the grain (to be violating the tradition) to sing a translated version of the original Bengali. The words of the song must not be changed. If the song is in Hindi, then sing it in Hindi, if in Urdu, then we sing it in Urdu. We don’t change a single word in the poetry. And we have to feel the ideation of the song (the bhava.) The melody (sur) of the song must not be changed. Baba was very particular about the melodies and would correct if there were the slightest mistakes in the performance of the song. That also includes the subtle ornamentations and slides and glides. The rhythm (chanda) also must not be changed. The best source for learning these is the original published recordings. They are available at http://prabhatasamgiita.net
Some of the most beautiful Prabhata Samgiita are in very complex rhythms, and we need to take the time to understand those rhythms when we learn the songs. There is not so much problem with the instruments; the main problem is that we have to understand the songs deeply and to have enough expertize on our Western instruments to be able to play a completely different music style. It requires skill, patience, and dedication to maintain the original beauty of the song. Sometimes, the tuning and intonation systems are also different, and that’s why not all the songs adopt easily to Western instruments.
8. There are many articles written about the Genius of Prabhata Samgiita. But all of them are written by the Indians. It’s easier for them to perceive PS, as they are written in Indian languages. It’s difficult or impossible for a European to estimate and understand PS. When you sing them for the first time they don’t provoke any strong feeling, don’t seem to genius or complicated. What to do to evaluate and love PS more? Do more sadhana?
Here you are making some generalizations that I do not agree with. The first time that I heard a Prabhata Samgiita was in Reykjavik jagrti around the year 1995. It was the CD Shonali Bhor that was published around that time. I was immediately captivated by the beauty and spiritual vibration of the songs. I had never heard such beautiful songs in my life and wanted to learn them.
It is not altogether correct that only Indian people have written about the genius of Prabhata Samgiita. I graduated with Masters in ethnomusicology in Taiwan in the year 2013, and in my final thesis (more than three hundred pages long) a large part is about the Prabhata Samgiita songs, their composition, musical contents, and beauty. I still have to make it available to the public and hope to do that soon.
I also do not agree that it is difficult or impossible for Western people to understand or estimate the PS songs. I have made some recitals in the past in collaboration with other Acaryas and Margiis, and the audience was very impressed with the beauty of the songs and poetry.
It is the nature of the mind that many times we do not realize the depth and beauty of things at first sight. Just take the instance of a flower. If you go into the depth of the biology of the flower, the structure, the symmetry and mathematical equations in the symmetry then you realize that a simple flower is a miracle. Same way, when you approach very subtle music in the first time, it sometimes takes some effort to realize its beauty. The Prabhata Samgiita songs are extremely deep. Every song is like a flower, complete in its beauty and uniqueness. Some are very complicated and difficult to learn, but many of them are quite simple and easy. But they all have in common that they express a deep devotional feeling, they are all extremely optimistic and positive and help our spiritual practices. Yes, to evaluate the Prabhata Samgiita more it is important to do more meditation, sing them and understand the meaning, and to sing the same song many times, and learn it by heart. You have to sing the song many times and go deeply into the Bhava (feeling) of the song to realize its beauty and inner meaning. Then that song will start to benefit the spiritual life, and make our daily life more spiritual.
9. You worked in different countries. Is the attitude to Prabhata Samgiita different in different places?
Maybe a little, but generally the Margiis and Whole Timers all love the songs if they take the time to sing and learn them. Wherever there is a strong collective flow, then the Margiis can organize classes and seminars to learn the songs, and when there is a collective flow in singing and learning the song, it also creates a very strong collective spiritual vibration. I felt that very strongly in Taiwan and Russia.
10. Do you have any stories connected with Prabhata Samgiita? Or maybe someone told you?
Yes, I have heard some narratives from Dadas and Margiis that helped note down the songs from Baba. Here I would like to share some of my experiences. They are maybe not mystical, but I have always been feeling Baba’s Grace in my life when singing and thinking about the Prabhata Samgiita songs.
When I was in Sweden Training Center (years 2000 – 2005), there was one year that I was making deliveries for the organic bakery we have there. The delivery route was more or less always the same, and I used to listen to Prabhata Samgiita while driving, sing the songs, learn and memorize. I spent the whole day listening and singing the songs — one early morning at around 6 a.m. I was making the first round of deliveries and was listening to the original recording of the Song no. 7 (Niirabatá Májhe.) I had a vision that I was in the room while Baba was giving the song. The feeling was so deeply devotional and strong that I had to pull the car over and do some meditation with tears of devotion in my eyes.
Prabháta Sam´giita Song No. 7
NIIRAVATÁ MÁJHE, KE GO TUMI ELE
GHANAGHOR GHÚM BHÁUNGÁTE, GHUM BHÁUNGÁTE
JHAT́IKÁR GHÁTE NEVÁNO DIIPETE
JINÁNA SHALÁKÁT́I JVÁLÁLE, GHUM BHÁḾGÁLE
SÁJÁNO BÁGÁNE CHOT́A KHELÁGHARE
JÁRÁ ÁSE TÁRÁ CALE JÁY DÚRE
TÁDER PATHER NISHÁNÁ ÁJIKE
DIIP JVELE DIYE JÁNÁLE
(SHRII SHRII ANANDAMURTI, MADHUMAN’IKÁ, DEOGHAR, 20TH SEPT., 1982.)
In the midst of silence
Who are you who came
Breaking my deep, dark slumber
Breaking my slumber,
In the midst of silence
When the raging storm had extinguished the lamp
You lit the flame of knowledge in my eyes
And broke my slumber
In the small garden playhouse
Those who come, go far, far away
Their path is a beacon of light today
Lighting your lamp to awaken me
you have broken my slumber
Purport: Oh Paramapurus’á, You have come to break the bondage of slumber
You lighted the lamp of knowledge which was extinguished by thunderstorms. You are the lighthouse that saves us from any destruction, from the ravages of cyclones. People come and go in this world without direction; you have shown them how to reach their destination.
(Shrii Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar. Prabhát Sam´giita, Volume I.)
It was also interesting how it came about that I went into studying ethnomusicology in Taiwan. I was studying Western classical music from the age of four in Iceland, and at the age of 23 I was in the middle of completing my music studies but due to a strong spiritual inspiration and some personal circumstances decided to leave my studies in the middle and become an Acarya of Ananda Marga. Coming from a whole life of music studies my life becomes very dry and boring if I don’t have chance to engage in music on a daily basis. So, when I became LFT and later WT trainee, then I took a keen interest in the Prabhata Samgiita and learned more than three hundred songs and some basics of the Bengali language.
My first posting was in Hong Kong Sector, and came to Taiwan in December 2005. Working as an Acarya of Ananda Marga is quite busy, and it is not easy to pursue university studies while working full time for Ananda Marga. However, I had a keen desire to finish my studies that I had left in the middle when I decided to become and Acarya. My posting was also related to taking care of the welfare of university students, and enrolling in the university was a good way to have daily interactions with the students and professors.
I got permission from my supervisory workers in Ananda Marga to continue my studies. The Taiwan government also gave me a scholarship to study. After completing a year of Chinese studies, I continued general music studies at Tainan University. By Baba’s Grace, within two years, I gave a final piano recital and completed BA in music with the highest grade in my year.
One morning, I was in the Ananda Suruchi Master Unit in southern part of Taiwan, and brother Kamal was visiting us at the Master Unit. (He took the initiative for creating the website www.prabhatasamgiita.net and has a keen interest in Prabhata Samgiita.) After breakfast, I told him that I was looking for a Master program in music. He asked me a simple question, “why don’t you study Prabhata Samgiita for your Masters?” This question was very attractive, but I thought that there was no way for me to study Prabhata Samgiita in Taiwan as no scholars would have expertise in that field. Later that day, I had a class in music analysis. It was a selective advanced class, and the professor had allowed me to analyze one Prabhata Samgiita as part of the homework. When I showed her my work, I asked her if there was any way for me to study Prabhata Samgiita as part of my Masters. She was always positive by nature and replied with a smile, yes, that should be no problem! She gave the telephone number of a professor who was the dean of the department of ethnomusicology at Tainan National University of the Arts (國立臺南藝術大學) His name is professor Ted Tsung-Te Tsai. I called him by telephone, and we made an appointment the next day. I was living at Ananda Suruchi in those days and would go from there to Tainan Jagrti by bicycle on a regular basis. The surroundings of Ananda Suruchi Master Unit are very beautiful and bicycling was a great way to stay fit and enjoy the natural beauty of Taiwan on a regular basis. I went to the new university by bicycle from Ananda Suruchi, and the way to there was passing through a beautiful forest, small villages, and agricultural areas. It was so beautiful, and I was feeling Baba’s Grace strongly to be in such a beautiful environment. The university campus is also very beautiful, tranquil and good for meditation and studies. Professor Ted Tsung-Te Tsai was very interested in the Prabhata Samgiita songs and my interest to research how the songs were created. He invited me to study at the department and became my guiding professor for writing the thesis.
All this happened so fast, and I was feeling Baba’s Grace all along. I had this strong desire to understand the Prabhata Samgiita songs deeply and to preserve records and narratives how Baba had composed the Prabhata Samgiita songs. He graced me by allowing me to study the songs for four years while I was at Tainan National University of the Arts, and present the songs and my research to other researchers and the public at various scholarly conferences during those years. While studying, I of course also continued my Ananda Marga work in Taiwan and Russia. I was mostly participating in the activities at Tainan Jagrti and Ananda Suruchi Master Unit but would travel to Russia during the winter and summer breaks to participate in the Ananda Marga activities there. The studies and the university environment enabled me to learn fluent Chinese, and to help the students in my universities in the field of yoga and meditation.