Utpal Borpujari

September 29, 2009

Shanti Mantras carry a power of their own: Bhargav Mistry

By Utpal Borpujari

Shivoham is a band with industrial designer-cum-Sarod exponent Bhargav Mistry at its centre. 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. The 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. Mistry speaks with Deccan Herald’s Utpal Borpujari on the philosophy behind the album:

Is this album a sequel to Shankara?

Yes, this is a sequel, but I wanted to give it a different musical treatment in comparison with Shivoham Shankara. While the first album was only Sarod, voice and keyboard, here there are tracks with orchestral music, 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 in from my visit to South Korea on music tours.

What exactly are Shanti Mantras, and how they are important musically?

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.

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

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.

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

It is indeed soul satisfying. And challenging. To put ancient verses into a musical form with an aim to enhance its feeling is indeed a challenging task. It is subjective and different people will have different approaches, and the results we can see on the music shelves. 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.

What has been your experience from working on such albums and what kind of response you have received from listeners?

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 their instruments. So it is fun and rewarding to work with various cultures of music. It is difficult for me to tell about response of all the listeners, but at least those I have met or interacted with over media, give very positive responses. Generally no one criticizes when in direct communication, but when my publisher strongly approves of it, I know it has great value worldwide.

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

The overall response from both Indian and foreign listener 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. In the earlier album, however, all six were strictly based on Ragas. This album has a more general musicality with a number of musicians being from various parts of the world.

This is not the first time that you have worked on ancient hymns. What kind of experience you undergo when you start working on them? Are you scared, apprehensive, or anything else when you start to work on them at first?

One lesson I’ve learnt from Ustad Amjad Ali Khan is 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 so kind as to speak out each verse and explain their meanings. I consulted with him at various stages of development to seek his approval. In fact his voice also has been recorded in one of tracks

From industrial design to setting ancient mantras to music for new-age listeners, how has been the journey so far for you? And has your decision to live in Udaipur, rather than a metro that could have given you much more visibility in media, been an advantage for you in creating your kind of music?

For me, the journey in design and music has 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 good time to work on music. It’s the peace and quiet and beauty of this place that often is inspiring. True, if one was in a metro, there could have been a better visibility. But then, who knows, the priorities might have been different!

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 26-09-2009)

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/27331/shanti-mantras-carry-power-their.html

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