Insight, Inspiration, Motivation

Tradition of Respect

Last night, I attended a music recital by the famous Sarod (an Indian stringed instrument without frets) maestro, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan in Montreal. The ustad was accompanied by his two sons, Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaad Ali Khan (who were also excellent musicians in their own right), and two percussion artists playing the tabla. The performance was sublime, breathtaking, and even my daughter, who knew nothing about Indian Classical music and had no appreciation for any Indian music whatsoever, came away transformed.

This blog I am writing is however, not about the music itself. It is about all the little gestures I saw there that reminded me of the culture that I had grown up with. These gestures, I had taken for granted then – but now, I noticed each one of them – and was filled with pride as I explained them to my daughter during the course of the evening. I think this is what made her experience so much more meaningful. I will try to enumerate as many as I can remember here.

It is important to note that for any one ritual in India, there may be more than one interpretation, since India is not one coutry but a collection of many tiny cultures with some common origins.

As the Ustad came onto the stage, he was greeted with applause from the audience, which he received with his hands folded.  I will explain this later. Before stepping onto the dais, he touched the floor with his fingers and touched his forehead. This is similar to touching the floor with the forehead – and is simply a means of showing respect to the earth –  for allowing us to use her resources. In this instance, it could also be symbolic for deriving blessing or energy from Mother Earth before the recital.

When he spoke, his first words were, “Namashkar” which means  “Namaste” – which is said with the hands folded. This means, ‘I respect the divine within you’. He held his instrument with great reverence, while he tuned it.

Another tradition in Indian classical music recitals is that during the recital, each accompanying artist gets at least one chance of a good few minutes, to show off  his talent. This occurs as part of each piece that is played. This part of the music is particularly challenging, and very entertaining to watch, since it really brings out the best in these artists, and gets them their own recognition. The percussionists on the show gave an excellent performances and received great applauses for themselves last night.

The Ustad’s sons gave a brilliant performance as well, and after that, when the father came  back on the stage, they each touched his feet. This is to seek his blessings – both as father and as their guru. They all then played another piece together, which was the grand finale.

These are but a few examples of simple gestures that probably were done unthinkingly by them – but when I paid attention to them, the significance of this culture of reverence and respect all around seemed very impressive.

I have to admit very sadly that except in the world of professional dance and music,  in some very orthodox families, and at religious functions and weddings, such respect does not show up a lot these days.


March 14, 2011 - Posted by | Personal Journey, Spirituality and Religion

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