Strumming the strings that connect music and spirituality
Meet The Mayapuris
Who are the The Mayapuris? They are an eclectic group of talented musicians who share their love of the sacred culture of kirtan through their music.
Where do they come from? The question is better answered in their own words:
“Where do we come from? Is it an esoteric question? Externally we as the Mayapuris are the product of our upbringing. Vish has an Indian father and an Italian-American mother, Kishor and Bali are brothers, one year apart, born from Colombian parents and Jagi is Venezuelan with Israeli descent. We grew up in temples, on farms, in villages, in cities surrounded by Krishna culture, playing mrdanga, singing, dancing, reveling in the joy of kirtan from birth until now. This is where we come from.”
The Mayapuris are Vishvambhar Das (Vish), Balarama Tirtha Das (Bali), Krsna Kishore Das (Kish), and Jagannath Kirtan Das (Jagi). The group has been touring around the world performing with RockOm alum Gaura Vani & As Kindred Spirits on the Mantralogy Tour 09 and recently performed at the Bhakti Fest in Joshua Tree, California.
RockOm recently sat down with Kish and Vish of the Mayapuris to learn more about the group, the history of kirtan and to discuss why kirtan is so popular around the world. We also spoke about their upcoming time in the studio where they will begin recording their first CD on Mantralogy Records. Mayapuris dancer Vrinda Doherty also joined us in this interview.
Tom: Tell us about your name, Mayapuris.
Vish: Mayapur is a place in west Bengali, on the banks of the Ganga where the sankirtan movement as we know it originated some 500 years ago. Mayapur is where Caitanya Mahaprabhu utilized kirtan as a non-violent response to the oppressive cultures in place as well as a protest to the caste social system. The people would take to the streets, sing and dance with the mrdunga drum. It was spiritual; anyone could join in and did. The Muslims, Hindus and all levels of social caste joined in. We took our name in honor of Mayapur. Most of the members have spent some time in Mayapur studying and going to school learning more of our instruments, visiting holy places and bathing in the Ganga.
Tom: You say on your website: “Finding our way home, to our true selves is a process.” How can music help us in that process?
Vish: Sound vibration is one of the most subtle elements in this world. Who we are as spiritual entities is beyond these material bodies made of the five gross elements. The strongest way to connect with that spiritual entity that we are is through the subtle vibration of sound. The mantras cut through the material elements and connects us with the spiritual elements. That connection is what is called yoga, that linking. So we are actually practicing a type of yoga, but it is kirtan – the yoga of sound, of becoming so close to that spiritual sound vibration that it removes those coverings, those layers and one realizes oneself in that process.
Kish: There are so many modern day distractions as the age we are in now progresses – the Kali Yuga age. It is very difficult sometimes to sit down, connect with yourself and get strength for meditation. The prescribed duty for this age is Yuga dharma sankirtan. Kirtan and sankirtan means “in union with people”. It’s the easiest and most fun way to surpass all material nature.
Vish: It’s joyfully performed. It’s really a blissful process. It’s a great way for everyone to come together and even though it’s such a serious thing – connecting with the Divine – it’s a fun process. Those who participate in kirtan automatically feel their soul stirred. Not only is the voice calling out but the soul is calling out as well in that love.
Tom: Vrinda, tell me what you feel when you are dancing.
Vrinda: It’s a progression. When I first start out dancing I’m dealing with how I feel while everyone is watching me. I’m suddenly vulnerable performing this spiritual dance. But as the music takes over I go beyond the vulnerability. I lose myself and it becomes a spiritual journey. Those who are in tune with their energy who have watched me say I am channeling diverse energies. I do that unconsciously because I am embodying the music and the energies come through me and are allowed to shine out.
Tom: Why is kirtan so popular? It’s resonating around the world. Why is that?
Kish: One of the main reasons is that kirtan is different. 40 years ago reggae wasn’t popular but through food, philosophy, music and lifestyle it clicked into society. I feel like with kirtan it is something that is naturally happening.
Vish: 500 years ago Ciaitanya predicted that this chanting would spread and be accepted in every town and village around the world. It’s happening. Caitanya also said that the sound of the mrdunga drum would resonate everywhere as well. We’re just part of that flow. We’re in the kirtan river wherever we go.
Vrinda: Also, Kirtan is based on audience participation and is not really a performance as much as trying to create the sacred space all together. The audience is such a crucial part of what we do. There is this call and response, so we all create the sacred space with everyone’s sound vibration and people love to be involved.
Tom: You’re about to go into the studio, so tell us about your new CD. What will you be working on?
Vish: We’re really excited to start work on our very first CD. It’s going to be a process for us.
Kish: The basic thing we want to capture is the energy that we represent. We want to put our energy of rhythm into the process because growing up playing the mrdunga is what inspired us. We want to try and adapt to the music that is popular and incorporate an “East meets West” sound, but at the same time keep the strong, traditional aspect of the mrdunga throughout the tracking.
Vish: We instill a lot of passion and energy into our live performances and want to capture that mood on our CD. We don’t hold back at all. We want it so that it makes your heart want to dance.