20 June , Los Angeles, California — USA Yatra 2007
The majority of devotees attending Amma’s Los Angeles Retreat had no idea what a “playback singer” was when it was announced that “playback singer” Sonu Nigam would soon be performing a couple of songs for Amma. But during the next 20 minutes, the residents of Hollywood were completely won over by the Bollywood superstar whose voice has become a staple of the Indian film-industry during the past 10 years.
Accompanying himself on harmonium, Sonu offered two songs to Amma, saying from the stage that “Destiny has brought me here today.” The first song, “Sukh Me San Saathi Dukh Mein Na Koyi” was made popular by Mohammed Rafi. The second, “Jag Me Sundar Hai Do Naam,” was an Anoop Jalota bhajan.
In an interview after his performance and darshan, Sonu was asked to describe his feelings in regards to his first meeting with Amma. “You cannot describe these feelings,” he said. “Because certain things cannot be described—like music cannot be described. I can’t describe what a certain note is. You can just write down—‘C’, ‘D’ or ‘F’ (Sa Ri Ga Ma)—but you can’t really describe those words. Similarly, meeting someone like Amma is indescribable; you cannot put it into words. The only thing I can say is that it is a very, very divine feeling.”
On invitation of Amma’s devotees in Russia, Br. Shubamrita Chaitanya visited Russia from the 3rd of June to the 7th. The picturesque city of Moscow was the first place of his programmes. The public programme of spiritual talk, bhajans and meditation was held at the Museum of Oriental Arts in Moscow city, and the hall was quite full as the programme commenced. Majority of the crowd had never met Amma. They enjoyed every bit of the evening programme.The next place in Russia where the programmes was held was the historic city of St. Petersburg. Held in a beautiful Krishna temple, the audience whole heartedly participated in the talk, bhajans and singing. After the prasad distribution, none wanted to leave the hall. They kept asking about Amma and started watching videos of Amma even though in English. One of the participants of the programme said, “Even looking at Her photo makes me feel so light. I think I will start flying when I see Her.”
Amma activities have started in Portugal in a big way. The Amma satsang group in Lisbon, the beautiful capitol city of Portugal, had invited Br. Shubamrita Chaitanya for an evening programme of public talk, bhajans and meditation there on the 30th May, 2007. Being the first official programme there, nobody knew what to expect. But, before the venue was open for the evening programme, people were already waiting outside. By the time the programme started the whole hall was fully packed and people were asked to sit on the stage. None of the people moved till the end of the programme and sat through with rapt attention. The only question that people had to ask Br. Shubamrita was, “When are you bringing Amma to Portugal? We can hardly wait to see Her.”On the second day evening, seeing the response on the first day, a programme was arranged at the Radha Krishna temple there. Though there was no prior announcement or information, still many found about it and reached the venue to take part in satsang and bhajans.
Portugal is another country in line waiting for Amma’s visit.
A few photos from Amma’s program in San Ramon 2007
1 June , Seattle, Washington — USA Yatra 2007
Over the past couple of years, it has become a tradition for Amma to add a few new English bhajans to her songbook around the time of her annual summer tour of North America. And this year, the first night of Amma’s “Northwest Retreat” near Seattle found Amma holding true to the custom. Towards the end of the bhajans, Amma sang for the first time a bhajan called “Awaken, Children” written by one of her American daughters.
One unique thing about the song is that the devotee who composed it has a deep love for the American gospel tradition, and parts of the song bear a subtle reflection of that influence.
The sweet, understated chorus goes:
Awaken, children… Awaken, children…
Awaken to the truth within your self.
Although gospel music took birth in America, it is the result of a mix of non-American influences—mainly European choir music and the rhythms and call-and-response melodies brought to America through African slaves. As the enslaved men and women toiled away in the fields of their masters, they would sing. One would call out, and the rest would respond in unison. The rhythms for the songs would serve for their work as well, creating a pace for the day’s labor. Naturally, these forms began appearing in the Black churches as well, becoming a fully bona-fide musical movement by the early 1900s.
It is interesting that the devotional songs of India also employ call and response. Is it something inherent in the call for liberation—whether physical or spiritual—that lends itself to the form? Certainly, in the cries of the field music of the slaves, the two longings blurred together. And that merger has continued in gospel through the present day. After all, it was a traditional gospel song that served as the foundation for “We Shall Overcome,” the rallying cry of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s American civil rites movement of the 1960s.
In fact, the most gospel element of “Awaken, Children” comes towards the song’s end. The bhajan culminates with Amma calling out a question and the chorus responds with an answer:
Amma: /”Child, won’t you rise up from your sleep?” /
Chorus: /”Mother, don’t you hear my desperate plea?”/
Amma: /”Child, aren’t you tired of chasing dreams?”/
Chorus: /”Mother, have you not forgotten me?”/
Amma: /”Can’t you hear my voice resounding deep within your soul?”/
Chorus: /”I’m one with you; you’re not alone.”/
Of course, in Amma’s hands, the song becomes something else entirely, something wholly original—a song from Beyond to the entire world.