It was midnight of the third day when the chanting ended. Jan 1, 2008. We’d been at it, 2 hours on and 4 hours off, around the clock. After the first 24 hours I felt myself slipping into an altered state that felt amazing. For the entire 3 days, the chant never left my mind…there was no room for discursive thinking, worrying, obsessing, analyzing, wondering,. There was no past, no future, just the chant. …there were no thoughts…just the chant… Looking it up for the first time I discover that the moon was conjunct natal neptune/ketu. It feels good to *know* that.
I was one of the musicians alternating between harmonium and tamboura. This was my first time on a harmonium for ‘performance’ and I was nervous about that. The tamboura however was sheer joy for the memories it brought up. Years before I accompanied a local sitar player with his gig at the nearby Indian restaurant. He needed the droning of a tamboura to play his best. He had one and taught me how to play it. Loving all stringed instruments I was eager to learn and quickly mastered these 4 strings.
The tamboura I was handed at Kripalu was an entirely different instrument. Little did I know that tamboura’s could be female, like the one I learned on, or male, like this gigantic gourd that was bigger than me! The powerful, resonant, droning sound could project throughout the entire Main Chapel at Kripalu with only the most gentle touch. I’m in trouble I thought, for I always err towards loud.
I was grateful for the time we spent together earlier getting to know each other, learning the chant, practicing with the instruments, and rehearsing the ‘changing of the chanters/musicians’ from one shift to another. Although I had received many invitations to join this team, I was only able to participate twice due to family responsibilities
I remember the first meeting of our team. We sat in a circle on dusty pink velour cushions and listened to Bhavani & Atma lay out the program and how it was going to work. After time spent on the logistics, Bhavani brought out the instruments and introduced the chant. I can still feel my excitement at being one of the musicians. Although the Sanskrit was short and simple to say, the melody was difficult. It required good breath control, along with some notes that were hard for me. I was really impressed with those on the team that were the lead chanters and yearned for a voice as beautiful as theirs.
Over the course of the next three days we would chant Om Nimah Shivaya in Swami Kripalu’s chapel. It was my favorite room in the whole building with it’s soft pink carpet and cushions. The light wooden paneled wall behind the riser was rounded. In one corner was a supply closet hidden behind a wooden door that matched the paneling. On the other side was the space that housed the artifacts from Swami Kripalu’s time in the USA. This was also the room where Amrit Desai, the founding Guru of Kripalu Center, would have his most intimate gatherings, I supposed.
On the last night, without missing a beat or a syllable, we moved ourselves to the expansive Main Chapel on the 2nd floor. The backdrop to the riser we were sitting on displayed a huge OM symbol. Behind the OM backdrop is a mosaic left behind by the Jesuits who previously owned the property The alcoves on both sides were open with the a/v station on the left. I am sure that it looks very different today.
Everyone from the surrounding area of Lenox was invited for the final 2 hours of live chant and they began arriving soon after we began. Slowly the room filled while all 20+ of us, all dressed in white chanted away. I was grateful not to be the tamboura player for that last session as I was so high from bliss using a “gentle touch” would have been impossible.
There were easily 500 people on the floor in front of us all chanting and swaying away. I saw thefamiliar faces of teachers, mentors, fellow students, and strangers that I have come to love in my years there. The entire room was one with the chant. You could feel it. Everywhere. Surrounded by sound & vibrations.
we chanted the final Om.
I understand now how “Silence is deafening”.
I don’t have the words to describe the exquisite experience of those silent minutes. I don’t remember how long it lasted. It might’ve been 2 or 20 minutes? Time stopped. Tears streamed down my face adding to sensory experience of this silence. It became easy to understand the devotional Bhakti path if this was the reward for practice. Of course, I had been immersed in it for 72 hours, not 2, a realization that took some time to comprehend.
Eventually, the sounds of bodies moving and voices whispering spread throughout the room. Most of the audience had only joined in for 2 hours and maybe occasionally during the 3 days in the other chapel. I wondered if they were feeling what I was feeling. There was no way to know.
It didn’t take too long for the holiday cacophony to erupt. It was New Year’s Eve and the kitchen had prepared a feast that everyone was eager to partake. I didn’t have a bite. Even though I hadn’t eaten much that day, I was filled up with something that left no room for food.
The next day, we met again to say goodbye and share our experience of that year’s Saptah. After the hugs I floated out of the building and made my way back home, a 4 hour drive.
This year Bhavani & Atma will be leading the Saptah Chant on Zoom & on Facebook. I’m excited to participate in this way! I don’t have a tamboura or a harmonium, so I’ll use my harp & a drum for some musical accompaniment. The chant itself is a difficult one and requires a lot of practice to do it well. At least that’s how I felt about it 10 years ago. That said, the melody has never left my mind even though I haven’t heard it anywhere since that night in the Main Chapel.
I’m not sure how long they’ll keep the Facebook link live. There may be some issues around “recording” this particular melody? That said, I’d recommend to those who are serious about their seeking to keep the chant on repeat until the clock strikes midnight of 2021. Om Nimah Shivaya. Jai Bhagwan. Jai Gurudev. Namaste.