FULLERTON, Calif. — The annual fundraiser program of Chinmaya Mission-Los Angeles, “Sevanjali,” held this year at the Plummer Auditorium here Nov. 1, featured Padmabhushan K. J. Yesudas in his trademark white dhoti-kurta ensemble performing a repertoire of multilingual musical pieces.
Swami Ishwarananda, head acharya of CMLA who spoke at the “Shruti Laya” event, said that Shruti is a pleasant musical sound, but when the listener is transported and transformed completely by the music, then Laya (dissolution) happens and the mind dissolves into a meditative space at the pinnacle of the experience.
This, he said, is the ultimate feat and goal of great musicians like Yesudas, who convey that sort of rare transcendence through their art by generously sharing a glimpse of the oneness they experience during the height of their performance.
Acharya Mahadev of CMLA echoed the theme of the divinity of sound by emphasizing that “in Vedanta, Shruti, the constant drone of the supreme, is associated with the very basic background or substratum of the universe,” and “if we play our part like an actor on the stage of life in rhythm with the consciousness, we gain absorption, or Layam, in the self.”
Interspersing his music with anecdotes about his musical life, Dasettan, meaning Brother Das, as Yesudas is known, spoke about his simple beginnings, his training with renowned Carnatic music guru Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, his connection to such Indian film industry music doyens as Ravindra Jain and Salil Choudhary, and reflected on the process of singing in various languages over the years.
He went on to humorously yet poignantly draw attention to the disparities of regional loyalties and differences. Yesudas repeatedly expressed his view about the common thread shared by all Indians and all religions and made a plea for all communities to work and function as one beyond differences.
“I was born as a Christian, but feel close to Hinduism and to Allah. I just sing music from the heart without thinking about the religion and its differences,” he said. “When I sing about Krishna or Christ, for me they both simply come from the sound ‘Kr.’ Nothing is higher or lower or better than the other.”
Yesudas began the program with the classic “Vallachi Vachi,” followed by a rendering of the ever popular “Vaatapi Ganapathim” from his Carnatic menu. He then moved on to improvisational territory, straddling different genres in Tamil, Hindi, Malayalam, Bengali, Kannada and Telugu.
Yesudas was accompanied by Krishna Parthasarathy of the Bay Area on violin, Santosh Chandru on ghatam, Vidwan T.S. Nandakumar on mridangam, and Mayuri Vasan, a past Chinmaya Mission balavihar student, on tanpura.
His wife Prabha, looking resplendent in a pink-red sari, received a token of honor and appreciation for her support of her famous husband.
Yesudas’s parting message to Indian American youth was to be strong and disciplined in their sadhana and to seek a good guru who could observe and correct their flaws so that they could truly excel and evolve in their craft.
Swami Siddhananda of Chinmaya Mission-Philadelphia, who was a special guest at the event, performed a short, inspired piece of his own composition based on Yesudas’s “Jab Deep Jale.”
CMLA’s Foundation Committee chair Dr. Shashi Acharya disclosed the financial fundraising goals and successes of the organization while praising the volunteers at CMLA.
The evening was emceed by Nimmi Raghunathan.