Those of you who have been with us for a while and know me well, know that any time I do not get this newsletter out to you first thing on Sunday morning, it is because I have had a busy weekend. This weekend was no exception. Friday and Saturday I had way too many things scheduled for the space of one day, and each night ended with a kirtan. Of course for me the kirtan is not just one more frenetic activity, but the carrot at the end of the stick, the reward at the end of a day of hard work. I was contemplating how I often mention the musical meditation practice that is kirtan. I was thinking how I would love to be able to write a descriptive piece, so that more than just reading about it, you could experience a taste of the kirtan for yourselves. Then I remembered that my band mate and dear friend, Krishni, had already written one such piece for one of her classes at Duke.
Back when she wrote the paper she gave me permission (or so I remember) to use her writing as a guest blog. I am taking her up on that now because her piece is so beautifully written and crafted. I hope you enjoy her glimpse into the magic of kirtan as much as I did.
"Entering the yoga studio, there is movement everywhere. A yoga class with live music has just finished and everyone is moving about. A couple of female college students discussing their week retrieve their shoes. Mats are rolled up by some of the yoga teachers in-training while a block and a small rug hit the wood laminate floor as they are dropped by a man with greying hair. Krishni weaves past warmed bodies further into the bustle to find an opening in the forming circle of people seated on the floor. Courtney Long waves a friendly hello and beams a wide smile when he spots her. He has already lifted up his double bass and rests his bow against the wall behind him. Dani Leah Strauss, sitting beside Courtney’s bass in front of several small end tables with figures of Ganesha, Lakshmi Devi, and other deities adjusts her position pulling the harmonium close to her. Voices overlay each other as songbooks, song sheets, shakers, and tambourines are passed out and around. A spirited woman in her twenties asks out loud if anyone has any strong requests for a chant tonight.
The chatter and rustles continue. Exchanged greetings of the twenty or so people around slowly dampers. Brightly, Allison Dennis, sitting next to the right of Dani, begins, “Welcome.” Silence ensues except for one lonely tambourine that performs a brief and frantic solo. “Is this someone’s first kirtan,” she asks to all the faces looking up at her from in front and around her. An older woman’s voice proudly says, “No,” though a few hands raise shyly. Allison confirms that those who need or would like a chant book have one and adds that no experience is needed. “So we will start with the mantras on the Owl page,” Allison says examining her chant book. Carefully, she outlines the chant: “So on page 6, we will do number three, number four, number nine, uh, number twelve, and then number fifteen and stay there for awhile. At some point it will shift up to number six. At some point after that, it will turn into ‘Sita Rama.’” Krishni fumbles trying to keep the order straight in her head. A silence brimming with trepidation surfaces. Intuitively, Allison reassures, “Unless you want this, you don’t really need the chant sheet. You can just hear it.”
A few soft lights set the ambience in the one room yoga studio. “Just take a moment to find a nice tall spine here,” Dani encourages. “Maybe exhale to let your week go,” she adds from behind the harmonium at the head of the circle of seated guests, yogis, students, and teachers. The silence moves with the airy inhales and heavy exhales and slowly blends with the approaching hum of the harmonium that begins to enchant the air with resonance. As the hum grows, Dani’s voice enters, “Feel your cells start to wake up. Like they hear the sound from the harmonium and they all sort of like perk up and come to full attention. Fully arrive with the feeling of vibration in the room.” She pauses then begins, “Let’s start with a few Oms all together.” She inhales, and as she lets her voice ring open with “Ommmmmmmm,” the many distinct voices sing and mingle tasting the A# note for themselves. Another inhale. Dani lifts up to play a single C on the harmonium and together with an elongated exhale, “Ommmmmmmm.” Many sing the C while a few others find their voice in other notes opening up harmonies; a space emerges between the notes. One more time, lowering into an A# again, together we inhale and release with a shared Om. The harmonium hums alone for a moment. Dani then sings the next chant. The words, familiar to some and unknown for others, are listened to for the tempo, rhythm, melody, and the unsung harmonies. Courtney, comfortably standing as tall as his grand double bass that he easily supports, gently lets his head lean back a little and his eyes shut as he begins to pluck the strings following Dani’s voice effortlessly. Dani finishes the first line of the mantra. Slowly, the voices rise up calling back to her what she has just sang. We listen to ourselves and those around us repeating the mantra and melody, uncovering fresh harmonies." - Excerpt from "Sounding Kirtan: Bodies in Sound" by Krishni Metivier.
Krishni is a writer, photographer, musician, graphic
designer, and all-around genius who happens to be
getting her PhD in Vaishnava Studies at Duke
University. You can follow her adventures on
This Week's Menu:
Entree #1 - Creamy Dreamy Tomato Soup Yesterday I stopped by the famous Carrboro Farmers' Market to have a little inspiration for when we will (hopefully, one day) also get to be a vendor there. I had forgotten just how many farms are represented at that market. That also means how very many fresh vegetables are being sold on a single market day. A friend of mine from Timberwood Organics gave me some of their amazingly beautiful, juicy, Red Rose tomatoes. OMG! If I haven't yet taken time to stop and soak in the fact that it is now summer (and that might be fair to say I haven't), I did in that moment. There is no more quintessential summer experience for me than the tasting the bounty of summer produce. I felt it would be an injustice not to pay homage to our dear friends and their tomatoes this week, and thus dug out this gorgeous tomato soup. Check out the recipe link to discover the secret behind its vegan creaminess. *GF, soy-free
Entree #2 - Ratatouille Here at Govinda's we are very customer-centered. I got some feedback this past week that the summer heat makes the heavier dals and Indian curries less attractive for some of you. I can totally understand, although it is funny that all those Indian recipes were developed in a land that has a good bit of perma-heat. Lol. This insight was very timely because I had anyway been thinking about when to work in my favorite summertime veggie extravaganza - Roasted Ratatouille. Ratatouille is like Fried Rice, in that it is a common, of-the-people dish, made in practically unlimited variations. The common themes are that the vegetables are fresh, summer ones, lightly seasoned with olive oil and green herbs and then served together (ratouiller in French indicates "to stir up"). I have taken a particular liking to Laura Vitale's method of roasting the veggies before tossing them together. *GF, soy-free
Entree #3 - Yellow Mung Dal with Spinach This recipe comes from one of my favorite foodies, Kurma Das. He reposted it from his cooking guru, Yamuna Devi's epic, Cooking for Lord Krishna. She has this to say about the recipe, "Moong, North India's most popular dal, was a great favorite of my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada. It is easy to digest and has a good flavor and high vitamin content. The spinach, preferably fresh, enhances the texture and marbled color of this power-packed dal soup, and the fried spices poured in at the end of the cooking add lashings of flavor." *GF, soy-free
Lemon Rice - $3/serving (1 cup) When I think of all my favorite kinds of rice, Tamarind Rice and Lemon Rice come to mind first. Both types of fancy rice originate in South India; both incorporate peanuts, curry leaves, mustard seeds, and chili; and most importantly both dishes are incredibly flavorful. Lemon rice can be enjoyed by itself for lunch or paired with the Spinach Mung Dal to give your dinner plans a little extra pop. *GF, soy-free
Dhokla -$3/ea. or 2 for $5. Since I just proclaimed how customer-centric we are here at Govinda's, I felt I just couldn't ignore the fact that several of you all love dhokla. And I have to admit that I feel a little avergonzada (ashamed) that it has been about 4 months since we made them last. I had intended to put both the entrees and the sides on a 6 - 8 week rotation in the menu. I guess there have just been so many exciting sides that this oil-free, steamed, chickpea flour "bread" slipped my mind. Dhokla is so cute and fluffy and yummy that this oversight just had to be rectified. For all you dhokla lovers out there, your wait is over! ;-) And seriously, if there is something we have made and you want to see it come back again, just remind me. I truly love to know what you love. *GF, soy-free
Green Coconut Chutney- $1/serving. This fresh cilantro & coconut chutney is a quintessential South Indian accompaniment to dosas, idlis, and other savory breakfast foods. Its creamy, curry, mustard-y flavor punch also combines smashingly with the spongy yumminess of dhokla. *GF, soy-free
Cinnamon Walnut Blondies - $3/ea. or 2 for $5. We have made very few desserts that I didn't like. Actually I am not sure if I have ever been unhappy with one of our dessert recipes. Somehow I think sugar has that effect - its presence in something automatically creates such an endorphin rush that you have to work much harder to make sweet things taste bad than you would salties. That being said, this recipe was one of the upper echelon of recipes that was not just predictably good, but O.M.G!, drool-on-your-neighbors good. What's even more exciting about these blondies than their luscious flavor, is that they are completely flour-free, being made instead from chickpeas, oats, and nut butter. Guilt be gone; your body will love these babies! *GF, soy-free