(Part four of my exploration of the 25 songs in
25 slightly-more days blogging challenge — a way to bank and pre-schedule a few posts for JALC while I’m off a-travelling.) Day Song 4: A song that calms you down
I am not really much of a meditator. You might think, what with all the ways I talk about my consciousness work and my striving for spiritual awakening, that I’d be exactly the kind of person who had a regular meditation/mindfulness practice — but that’s not the case.
Well, that’s partly the case. If there is a type of person to have a meditation practice, I daresay I would be that type. I understand the value of such a practice, and I sometimes give thought to the question of how best to establish a regular sitting practice. But right now, for better or for worse, my regular reflective practice is my morning journal-writing
Even though it’s not a regular practice for me right now, I have had a sitting practice for short stretches of time during the last 6 or 7 years. During those times, I was much better able to focus my attention using mantra meditation and chanting than with silent meditation. Which brings me to today’s song: the Gayatri Mantra as sung by Deva Premal.
I believe I came across Premal’s work early in my attempt to learn more about Eastern religions, about meditation and about chant. I’d started with Krishna Das and the Ravi Shankar/George Harrison collaboration Chants of India. Wonderful, uplifting, heart-centered works, all of them, but as I listened, I was aware of a deep longing to hear a female voice to model my own baby-bird chant-croakings after.
So I bought Premal’s album, The Essence. And when I put it into ye olde CD player and started the first track, her singing of the Gayatri Mantra entered my heart and soul.
Om bhur bhuvaha svaha
Tat savitur varenyam
Bhargo devasya dhimahi
Dhiyo yonah prachodayat
Praise to the source of all things.
It is due to you that we attain true happiness on the planes of earth, astral, causal.
It is due to your transcendent nature that you are worthy of being worshiped and adored.
Ignite us with your all pervading light.
I still listen to this mantra now and again. At work or at home, as a centering background in the midst of some stressful task or another. Every so often, to sing and chant along with Premal. Sometimes I listen just because it’s beautiful and I love it so.
It wasn’t until I went to the CD booklet to type the lyrics and translation into this post that I was reminded that the Gayatri Mantra has a deep, personal connection for Premal as well. This page paraphrases the story told there:
My father has been on the spiritual path since the 50’s. . . . He taught himself Sanskrit and began chanting mantras. When my mother was pregnant with me, their welcome was to sing the Gayatri Mantra throughout the pregnancy. . . . As I grew up we continued to chant the Gayatri Mantra together regularly before sleep. I didn’t really know what I was singing… and why. I just did it because I was told to. It wasn’t until much later that I came to appreciate these precious times. . . .
One day I heard the Gayatri Mantra being sung by a friend in England. It was a different version to the one I had grown up with, and knowing the text so well, I was touched and excited by what I heard. I felt re-connected. This time I could feel the power of the mantra as never before, the strong effect it had on me, and the sacredness of it.
We began featuring it in our concerts. At last I had found my song! I had found something that felt like ‘mine.’ I felt at home with it, and I watched as it touched people night after night. I began searching out more mantras and before I knew it, I soon had enough for my first album! We recorded it in my mother’s flat–the same one I was born in, where the Gayatri Mantra had been sung to me all those years before.
The page ends with a shot postscript describing the death of Premal’s father in 2005:
I feel so grateful that I could be there until the moment of his death. We were singing the Gayatri Mantra to him until the end and so the circle is complete: He accompanied the beginning of my life with it and I the ending of his. I am also very touched by my family…how they were all joining Miten and I with the singing for him and how we are totally in tune with each other about how to deal with everything now…
I am deeply moved to discover the depth of authentic feeling Premal has for this mantra. I am sure that authenticity has imbued the recording, and that it is part of why this recording of the song has come to be so precious to me.
Not only does it calm my restless spirit: it opens my heart.