Chinmaya Dunster: sarod, guitars, keyboards
Manish Vyas: tabla, vocals
Bikram Singh: flute
Sangit Om: keyboard, harp
Sadhu Bolland: piano, swarmandel and vocals
Nandin Baker: flute
Vidroha Jamie: guitar
Prem Patra: vocals
Henrik Gumoes: percussion
(Released in 2002 – New Earth Records)
My musical tribute to India, celebrating twenty-five years of visiting the country I call my adopted home.
Several of the tracks are remixes of pieces made during the mid-1990s for the now defunct Nightingale Records.
This tiny shrine, dedicated to the goddess Kali, sits in a grassy square at the center of the equally tiny – and at the time of my visits completely un-modernised – village of Dhobapara, West Bengal. The surrounding landscape is dominated by water and the sound of frogs and waterfowl, while nearby one of the innumerable channels of the Ganges/Brahmaputra river system wanders murkily towards the sea.
In the 1980’s I spent many wonderful times here on the roof of a Bengali friend’s house overlooking the little temple and the village water pump, playing sarod with him on tabla. The flat emerald rice paddies seemed to stretch to infinity from up there, the fireflies at night faced no competition from electric light; while, undisturbed by road traffic, radio or TV, the village slumbered on in its millennial silence.
I dedicate this piece to KP and his family.
2 Mount Kailash
Trace back the water flowing through that Bengali village a couple of thousand kilometers or so – through the jungles of Assam and the Himalayan gorges, out across the interminable canyon badlands of Tibet – and one would arrive eventually at the foot of the most sacred place in the Hindu/Buddhist/ Jain world: Mount Kailash.
It is not a journey that I – nor many non-Tibetans – have ever made. But just as Hindus and Buddhists seem to long for this place of power that is not even geographically part of India, so a part of my imagination is sparked by the idea of that solitary, crystal-shaped peak of roack and ice, haunted by the echoing cries of fabulous birds in its chaotic ravines, which is believed to be the abode of Shiva and the navel of the world.
There is no temple as such there – the whole mountain is a temple. For this piece I simply let master bansuri player Bikram Singh (himself a mountain man from Manipur on the Burmese border) improvise whatever came to him on top of my atmospheric background tracks.
In 1996 Manish Vyas, whose tabla playing you hear on this album, took me to his home state of Gujarat. High above a lake in the National Park of Gir – home to the last wild lions outside Africa – I came across a half-abandoned shrine under an enormous banyan tree, dedicated to some unknown deity, perhaps by the local Maldhari tribes-people: a crude image smeared with ocher, a few withered flower offerings, the tree’s branches a clamour of birdsong, the ground outside scattered with shed peacock feathers.
This whole region is associated with the the flute-playing god Krishna, whose emblem is the peacock feather. Legend says he was married at Madhapur, where Manish, Dutch accordionist Sadhu Bolland, a local bansuri player and I made music for an Osho Meditation retreat.
I have a soft spot for Chamba ever since I played my guitar at the nearby tree-ringed lake of Kajjiar when I first came to India in the seventies. It is an untrendy little Himalayan town with a character of its own and a temple to the goddess Durga guarded by mysterious Tibetan-style demons on its outer wall. At that time at least there were still patches of native pine forest on the town outskirts and as one climbs up through them in the sharp mountain air, the high peaks come slowly into view.
My Canadian friend Nandin Baker’s flute playing on this piece coveys better than I feel I ever could the empty spaces of the Himalayas, and the sense of giddy ascent as one lifts ones eyes from the forest path, past tree tops and clouds, to the unreachable shining snowfields above.
On that first trip to India I came to sit one morning in this temple just off bustling Connaught Circus. Now after so many years I see its ordinariness: a a modern city mandir serving the housewives and students who come to beg the deity for favours in return for fruit, flowers and devotion. It could have been the Ganesh shrine on Dhol Patil road, Pune, or the Laxmi one at Churchgate, Mumbai – every city has dozens.
But then I sat entranced by its tranquil contrast to the madness on the streets outside, by the ringing of its little bell as each supplicant came forward, and by the roguish grin on the face of the gaudy monkey god. I was barely a musician in those days but that night I watch Amjad Ali Khan give a concert on the sarod and my journey into Indian classical music was abruptly born.
I will not add to the millions of words that have been written about these infamous temples, except to say that they have been seriously misrepresented. there are ten times as many musicians and dancers portrayed on its tumultuous walls as there are erotic images. The site should be more accurately portrayed as a homage to the great art of music than the art of love!
I feel both intense sadness and joy around this place. The great forests of Madhya Pradesh amidst which these temples once stood are now gone, lost in the smoke of cooking fires and as sleepers under the wheels of railway trains. And the bare-breasted tribal peoples who once roamed them have been reduced by economics and religious fundamentalists to slavery and shame. But joy, in knowing that at least once in the guilt-ridden, treacherous history of humanity there arose a people who could live without a sense of sin and who could immortalize in stone their celebration of each and every aspect of human life.
I like to think of this awe-inspiring ruin as it was a couple of hundred years ago before the spreading dunes cut it off from the ocean: right on the sands at the surfs edge, visible for miles from out in the Bay of Bengal in the form of a huge chariot to the sun god.
I love these empty stretches away from the tourist crowds: the slender-hulled fishing boats hauled up out of the reach of the waves, the myriad immaculate whorled seashells lying unheeded in the sand. There for a moment I can forget the milling multitudes and see for a little while India as it once was, vast and empty as the trackless oceans of our Earth are still. Then the music that comes into my head takes on a timeless quality, breathing unhurried like the sea tides.
In Tamil Nadu is the southern pole of the subcontinent, the complement of Kailash in the North. There Shiva rests in meditation, here at Chidambaran they say is where he dances the cosmic dance that creates the universe. This city temple is a city in itself, a chorus i stone, detailed and elaborate beyond the capacity of any single person to comprehend it all. Amongst other things it is a eulogy to dance, the 108 postures of classical dance as well as dozens of dancing Shivas being systematically carved on its countless sandstone pillars. Unlike Khajuraho or Konark it is a living temple still, visited by millions in an unbroken tradition going back a thousand years.
I like to think of the inner sanctum, barred to all but priests, with its crystal lingam and emerald statue of Shiva. Better still I like the thought of the innermost room of all, said to be completely bare, symbolising the empty heart of the devotee into which the divine may penetrate. To portray the riot of stonework on the outside is way beyond my musical prowess but my hope is that this modest ‘choral’ piece might at least evoke in the listener something of that silent room at the heart of things.
“In this phenomenal release Chinmaya Dunster captures all the pristine beauty and mystical spiritualism of the Sacred Temples of India and mysteriously presents them in way that the western ear can not only access, but also lovingly appreciate.
The sacred beauty of the Chinmaya’s sarod lifts listeners into realms of divine bliss as hosts of angels increase the heavenly experience with the sounds of glorious flutes, tablas, guitars, keyboards, chimes, harp, bells, and other sweet sonic expressions.
In many ways these awesome musical soundscapes are as moving an experience as actually visiting the Sacred Temples of India because after hearing it, it feels like I’ve actually been there. And what an amazing and wonderful experience it is!
Without reservation, let me say this musical offering from Chinmaya Dunster is truly a divine gift for which I am most grateful. Needless to say, this precious music easily receives my highest recommendation to all, especially lovers of new age, Eastern Indian, and World music.”
Rev Robert Walmsley
“The spirit of India’s holy places, her people and vast culture are subliminally reflected in Sacred Temples of India. Dunster’s gentle sarod compositions feature musicians and vocalists from India in a musical tour of the subcontinent’s myriad temples.
From a tiny village shrine to Mother Kali in west Bengal to a Hanuman Temple in downtown New Delhi, from Mt. Kailash and Chamba in the North to Chidambaram and Konark in the south, these are the temples that have inspired Dunster’s music and inner quest.
His serene yet lively melodies speak of the mystery, poignancy, timelessness, reverence and child-like joy that India’s innumerable shrines inspire in all who are blessed to pilgrimage there.”
Light of Consciousness
“With passion and joy, Dunster pays homage to a country and it’s temples. Through this wonderful compilation of East meets West, a melodic piece transcends the physical.
The sarod, guitars, flutes and keyboards weave a spiritual tapestry throughout the entire CD.
The meditative acoustic compositions evoke peace and tranquility, synonymous with the heart and soul of India.
This would be a delightful album to give character to a restaurant of cafe.”
Lawrence Bond (Oct. 2002)
“An evocative, awe-inspiring musical journey.We are immersed in wonder, captivated by the mystery through these gorgeous compositions connecting us with the divine vibrations of highly esteemed settings.
Sacred sites, some natural, some human made, such as a shrine found under an enormous banyan tree in Gir Forest, Gujarat state, to which Dunster travelled with tabla player Manish Vyas, the great Chidambaram temple of south India and the magnificence of Mount Kailash, home of Shiva, inspired these musical expressions.
Chinmaya Dunster is known for his highly original and successful blend of Celtic and Indian music.
Dependably, he creates here, music that is at once very easy on the Western ear, not overtly Eastern and most serene.
Friends into yoga and healing will just beg you for the title, sannyasin friends will already have it and your mother will politely suggest it for Christmas. Get this! There’ll be no regrets.”
Australian Yoga Life Magazine