On the eve of Janmashtami at his home in Mumbai, noted flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia is preparing for his annual 24-hour music marathon to celebrate the Blue-hued God’s birth at the hour of midnight. He believes Sri Krishna’s flute to be the Lord’s eco-friendly gift to the world.
The maestro tells your columnist that the flute is one of the three original forms of rendering Indian classical music — vaani(vocal), veena (string) and venu (flute) — according to the ancient scriptures.
Because of its association with the Lord, the flute has been deeply revered in our folk music tradition. The introduction of the flute in modern Indian classical concerts has, however, been a more recent phenomenon. And masters such as the late Pandit Pannalal Ghosh have been recognised for the achievement.
The maestro’s own instrument came from a thin straight cane that grew in the bamboo groves of Assam. As he keeps turning the flute in his supple hands, your columnist is reminded of the celebrated song of the reed, composed by the great Sufi Master Jalaluddin Rumi.
“Listen to the reed (flute), how it is complaining! / It is telling about separations,” says the Master. “The reed’s cry is fire — it’s not wind!.../ It is the fire of Love that fell into the reed. / (And) it is the ferment of Love that fell into the wine.”
It’s vital to note that Rumi is not writing about human love but of love for the divine. His poetry is often misinterpreted as being love for a man or woman, and this comes from many of our faulty understandings.
The same thing can be said about Krishna’s song and dance of the Ras Lila. “Unless one is thoroughly accomplished in the transcendental knowledge of the Lord, one is sure to misunderstand His divine play which is highly spiritual,” writes Srila Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Only liberated persons who have gradually attained the stage of Supreme Swan, Parama-Hamsa, can get past the mystery of the Ras dance. Even occupational engagements should be looked upon as being meant for ultimate liberation, says the first canto of the Bhagvatam.
Aspirants are warned that work should become worship and one should never engage in it for material gain or sense gratification. That’s the secret message of the Lord’s divine dance: that life’s desires should not be directed merely for sense gratification.
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Professor IIM, Bangalore