Echoes of Baul 2018: The Japan Tour

The organizing of the Parvathy Baul in Japan tour started two years ago. The organising committee consisted of Sakurako san, Parvathy Maa’s long-time friend, Akira san, a connoisseur of Indian music, and me. After a few changes, the dates were finalized a little over a year before the tour happened. We started a series of pre-events from a year before the tour; that is, a series of educational programs setting their themes around Baul, through talks and other events, each focusing on different aspects of Baul. The aim was to lay the kind of ground of knowledge and expectation of Baul among the Japanese people, where Baul was known very little.

This process also took place within the committee of the tour itself, and for me, it was more or less a success when they were actually explaining to others, “the more you know about it, it becomes more mysterious and harder to explain…” It took much energy and struggles to make it come across that we cannot “summarise” or “describe” Baul in a catchy one-or-two lines. I wanted to prepare that ground, where the audience would be ready to see Maa’s presence with wonder, without stereotypes or prejudice, but with some background knowledge. Making the Japanese version of her book ‘Song of the Great Soul’ and the CD ‘Charya Geeti’ happened in line with the pre-events, through crowdfunding. All these were like drawing of a kolam (traditional south Indian art made with rice flour on earth), laying a laced-carpet to invite the divine’s feet to step on.

The day Maa was arriving, the railway line that I was taking stopped. I felt her arrival. With rearrangement of plans, I could still manage to reach the airport before she landed. My heartbeats had calmed down by the time Maa, Ravi ji and Arpita came out of the gate. It felt just like anywhere else we had been together.

While in Tokyo, they all stayed at Sakurako san’s house. The room Parvathy Maa and Ravi ji stayed in is a room that is normally used as a gallery. An exhibition of Maa’s woodcut prints was held there in May, and Sakurako san had kept them on the wall when she transformed the room into their bedroom. All the woodcut prints were printed anew specially for this exhibition by Maa’s own hands and arms, which only could have happened thanks to the 25-year long and everlasting friendship between Maa and Sakurako san (they never agreed in the end if it was 25 years or 26 years). An altar was set up at the corner of the room with Maa’s Balakrishna, and freshly framed gurus’ photos were placed behind him. Here, NHK-World Bengali radio came to interview Maa in the evening of her second day in Japan, which turned out to be a nice sweet meeting.

The first program was on 2nd June, at Kenjuin temple in Tokyo, consisting of talk and concert. Though Maa was uncertain at first about what she would say over one and a half hours, she eventually ran out of time. The response of this first day was amazingly warm, and many have told me how touched they were. The temple was a modern construction but made of natural material, and had a soothing air. It is a temple that hosts many environmental and cultural programs. The next day was Kyoto- the old capital of Japan. Since all our organising team members were based around Tokyo, organising this program was one of the hardest; but it turned out to be a beyond full-house program, with over 100 audience members, just like the day before. Again the response was very good.

5th was Gujo-Hachiman program. This was a special occasion at Annyoji, the biggest temple in the Gujo area; a collaboration with Mr. Toshi Tsuchitori, a musician renowned worldwide especially as the music director of Peter Brook’s Mahabharata. I had sent the Japanese version of the book ‘Song of the Great Soul’ and the CD ‘Charya Geeti’ to his office, and his assistant Mr. Hiroto Inoue, the moment he listened to the CD, took the brave decision to invite Parvathy ji to perform there. All 200 seats were filled, in the traditional temple surrounded by the forest hills of Gujo. Needless to mention the stunning impression Maa has given, the collaboration was magical. This performance is now in the process of being published as a CD- which was made possible as an off-shoot of the crowd funding project for Sakurako san’s documentary film project. Also, somehow after this performance, many enquired the meaning of “Radhe” and “Gobindo” that we all sang together in the end.

The performance on the 6th was at Hamamatsu’s Museum of Musical Instruments. It is a special museum that holds around 1500 musical instruments from all around the world. Maa was impressed to see especially an old Peacock Veena that she had only heard of before. It was another full-house concert of 150 audience members, with songs relating to musical instruments.

On the 7th, we visited and stayed the night at Ashigara, at a temple-shrine of Parvathy ji and Ravi ji’s old friend and a master of shugendo, Mr. Shun-ei Horibata. Shugendo is a tradition of practice in the hill-mountains of Japan, which incorporates elements of tantric Buddhism, shamanism, Daoism, and some other Japanese folk traditions concerning mountains and spirits. In a secluded hill-forest area that holds a couple of waterfalls, we all were received with such hospitality. While Mr. Horibata and his related practitioners shared with us their shugendo practice, Maa offered a few songs to the spirits and gods of the temple and waterfalls.

The next day, on the 8th, after a small rest back in Tokyo, we visited Yoshida Woodblock Print Academy. Here, Parvathy ji was shown the traditional methods of Japanese woodblock print. The masters, Mr. Yoshida and Mr. Numabe were very open and generous in sharing their knowledge.

The 9th was the biggest concert of this tour, at Musashino Cultural Foundation in Tokyo. All the 420 tickets were sold out fast. Not only because of the structure of the hall, but also thanks to the solid quality of the sound and light technicians, the ambience was great, and supported Maa’s work fully. Audiences were all totally drawn into her work, while Maa kept saying after the concert for a long time, “I still cannot come back from that plane…”.

The 10th was the final day of the tour. A morning workshop and an evening concert at Honmyoyin temple in Tokyo. It was raining outside. Though the workshop was so short that it could only offer a glimpse of Baul, still, Parvathy ji taught the participants one full song, worked on the voice, movement and footsteps, and even made them sing and dance, only in three (and a half)hours’ time. Most of the workshop participants were fast asleep after lunch made by Masala-wala, our dear friends, two artists who travel all over Japan cooking South-Indian meals. The evening program was a Charya Geeti concert, Buddhist songs from 8th-12th century sung by Maa. She sang and danced in front of the statues of Buddha, Bodhisattvas and Buddhist masters, under the golden canopy.

All the concerts were full house, and enquiries never stopped even on the program day. We could not imagine this when we first started planning this tour two years ago, as we were struggling to gain recognition and interest in Baul and Parvathy Baul. I think we can say that this Japan tour was a huge success. In all the programs, I could see from the stage the audiences first just getting blank, and then gradually being drawn into the work, like being caught by a whirlpool, deeper and deeper.

I ended up accompanying her on stage for all the programs with kortal cymbals, and even performed a song in a few of them—unexpectedly. It was Maa’s intention to communicate to the audiences how the tradition is alive and being passed down, and how one of their countrywomen is working on it. I was only ready for translating all her words into Japanese, so, naturally I was quite hesitant in the beginning; but as you know, Guru knows much better than yourself, so I just had to do it. It must have been the same with Arpita, who accompanied with ghunghur bells.

Accompanying her with kortal and performing before her have given me lots of learning, which has become the foundation for what I am practicing after the tour. Translating and interpreting her words into Japanese gave me the chance to taste, appreciate and digest her words more than any other time. I am not at all good in understanding and remembering the details—and this time has positively forced me to be kind of ‘possessed’ by the guru’s words. I did not always succeed, but I have a feeling that I did not fail either.

Charyageeti CD (left) & Japanese Edition of Song of the Great Soul (right)

So many people have given me compliments saying I have done great, I have achieved great. Every time I felt funny because I literally felt that I have achieved nothing. Everything came through connections that Baul and India brought. Nothing was mine. What my power did was so little and faint. If there was anything I could remotely be proud of was the translation of the book ‘Song of the Great Soul’ and the communications I had with the designers of this book and the CD ‘Charyageeti’, which was pure fun and joy. But for other work, I am still not sure what I did. Many of the volunteer staff who helped us this time are my long-time friends, most of whom I got to know through Indian art. Others were through connections of Akira san and Sakurako san. One blessing I was given by birth is that I always get good teachers and friends. I have only met good people in my life. I would not say that I have been mature enough to love everybody. I have fought with some of them. But I have never seen a single evil soul.

Something that this experience made me see is a portion of how much Parvathy Maa has gone through. I have taken many poisons in this journey, simply because it was necessary. Some of them I have digested, and few are still sitting inside me cooking, waiting to be turned into gold. I am sure that the unmistakable light Maa produces has come to be by going through many poisonings and rivers of fire. Will my poisons turn into nectar of amrita? I am only leaving that to the hands of the Beloved.

My deep gratitude goes to all who were involved in the process, of whom I would not list the individual names here. The appreciation and impact that audiences have shown have been a great blessings for me, and it was such a happiness witnessing both Parvathy Maa and Ravi ji’s return to Japan and reuniting with old friends, culture and the air. My prayers go to the further spread of Maa’s work, which is Baul. And I hope one day I will be a more active contribution to her work, which shall allow her to sit by our ashram temple more and play with her lover-dogs.

JoyGuru

Odhomo Tomomi Paromita

By: Tomomi Sato (Paromita)

Tomomi has studied Sanskrit, linguistics, martial arts and paintings among other things. She is a gifted writer and a painter, she was inspired by Baul path and has been practicing Baul under the guidance of Parvathy Baul since 2013. She has been the core team in organising all the retreats. She divides her time between India and Japan. You can follow her work at https://www.tomomiparomita.com/

Photographs by Akira Io www.akiraio.com