Machel Montano, Soca, Sadhguru, and Maha Shiva Ratri 2022

T&T’s Machel Montano seems to have been in spiritual joy when he performed his Soca compositions in reverence to Mother Earth, the theme being celebrated by the ISHA Foundation and affiliates worldwide.
Some felt such music and song were not in keeping with the traditional ways of observing Mahashivatri. After all, it’s the grand night of Shiva, for which yogis wait; and when kathas (sacred narratives told in story-telling style) are recited in mandirs and homes; and when devotees eagerly prepare for their sadhanas (rites and rituals observed during the period of worship).
Maha Shiva Ratri is a solemn period of fasting and prayer for days and into the long night of Mahashivaratri. One should not, for a moment, equate what Machel was doing at Sadhguru’s ashram in India with a carnival/calypso or chutney stage. Both spaces are poles apart, though they share elements like creativity and expression. Machel would have had to undergo intense sadhana – meditation, fasting, and so on – with his singing being just one element. In this sacred space, there is uplift – not the depravity that characterises parts of the Trinidad Carnival with its appeal to the LCD, or lowest common denominator, in what we call culture. Of course, there is tremendous creativity in the local carnival, but the point must be made that Machel was operating in a different space, and his presentation did not desecrate that space. Music, song, and dance are part of an ancient Indian tradition that we have inherited.
Mahashivratri is a period of deep spiritual reflection and observances for direct experience of that Highest Reality (some name it God) called Shiva. It is about the human intellect using the aesthetics of name and form (as Shiva in different images and having various narratives about his life and experiences) to directly experience the One without name and form. This path of experience connotes direct perception through the third eye and beyond the five material senses of knowing. The ancient Indian sages have a long history of experimentation in this realm, and so diverse pathways have been opened up for reaching that Shiva, of which we speak here.
In India and the diaspora, we have inherited and transmitted rites and rituals associated with Mahashivatri. However, something different recently started happening at Sadhguru’s ashram in South India. It is a markedly spiritual event with aesthetic expressions like public performances. The very attempt to capture the spirit of that Highest Reality as Nirakar (formless) in Sakar (with form) is an aesthetic one. Through music, song, dance, rituals, and so on, devotees seek to perceive the imperceptible directly. There is a mandir tradition in India that has associated music festivals, and so on, with sacred events like Mahashivaratri, Divali, etc. However, the objective is that higher aesthetic experience of experiencing Nirakar through Sakar.
Aesthetics is the key to appreciating the Hindu worldview and its sacred expressions.
Music, song, dance, rituals, and so on seek to stir and unfold the creativity within human beings. Sadhguru has been providing the sacred space for these expressions for some time now. Aside from foreign performers, there is music by the Indian-based “Sounds of Isha,” and dance performances by “Isha Samskriti.”
September at Isha Yoga Center sees a festival dedicated to International Day of Peace and Sadhguru’s enlightenment; it showcases the culture of different parts of the world and India. Through these events, Sadhguru has been able to bring together diverse strands of humanity in a celebration of their creativity.
The Hare Krsna worshippers demonstrated the same in song and dance, and at first were an anomaly in the Hindu world. However, they stormed the international stage, and have retained the sanctity of their traditions.
Sadhguru seems to have that golden touch in business that remained with him even after his spiritual awakening with its associated spiritual powers. He has been able to market spiritual goods and attract spiritual seekers worldwide. India’s spiritual culture has always been an attraction to the outside world.
India’s material wealth drew foreign oppressors as colonisers for thousands of years. Nonetheless, its soft power in yoga and the arts have drawn admirers. Today, India is rising out of its earlier poverty caused by colonisation and powerful Western narratives constructed to colonise the mind further. There is a parallel rise in its global image – both in material and spiritual wealth. Many of us are proud that Machel was there. Did we hear the content of his songs and their respect for Mother Earth?
As Machel Montano danced his Soca and shared one aspect of our local culture with the world, he was fulfilling his spirituality. He was dancing in tune with the cosmic dance of subatomic matter that points to the immanence of that Highest Reality – where creation, preservation and dissolution are interwoven over cycles of time, pulsating in the process of an ever-changing universe.
Dance on, Machel Montano – the Cosmic Dance of the Universe – and sing your song in devotion to Highest Reality!!!