White Light Seduction

Last Tuesday evening, Lincoln Center saved me. More accurately, “The Manganiyar Seduction” restored me to sanity, if only for a night.

Beginning with a stage cloaked in darkness and silence, a single cell, one among four tiers of similar cells, was illuminated to reveal a musician seated cross-legged, dressed in a muslin salwar kameez and colorful turban, drawing a bow across an Indian stringed instrument called the the khamacha. Minutes later, another cell lit up. Soon after, the chanting began. Passionate, heartfelt Sufi couplets were offered up to their deity.

More cells lit up — with more singing and chanting. Tablas were next, sounding out in four adjacent cells. Then wooden flutes. Then glittering kettle drums. An instrument like a jaw’s harp twanged from a cell in the top tier. Lights flashed on and off, alternating with strobe-like  effect. The chanting and droning and deeply rhythmic beat thrummed in my chest. It was exhilarating.

The performance I attended had to be rescheduled from its original date, pushed back a week, because five of the musicians had been detained by immigration. I can attest that the only thing explosive about these musicians was their virtuosity.

At the close of this hour-long event, the musicians joined together and sang a cappella, in an impassioned song to Krishna. Except for one, a Hindu, all the musicians were Muslim. But the Muslims, as confirmed by the conductor, also embrace the Hindu deity. The god Krishna, he said, sees love in everything.

Love in everything! Can you imagine it?

Inside the Playbill for this show was a poem by Kabir, translated by Robert Bly. It was called “Breath”:

Are you looking at me? I am in the next seat.

My shoulder is against yours.

You will not find me in stupas, not in Indian shrine rooms,

nor in synagogues, nor in cathedrals:

not in masses, nor kirtans, not in legs winding around your

own neck, nor in eating nothing but vegetables.

When you really look for me, you will see me instantly–

you will find me in the tiniest house of time.

Kabir says: “Student, tell me, what is God?

He is the breath inside the breath.

 

If only it were this simple!

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