Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, arts, science, and music, so it’s not surprising that her name gets thrown around a lot at chant fests. The daughter of Shiva and Durga, Saraswati represents the free flow of wisdom and consciousness. She has four arms representing four aspects of human learning: mind, intellect, alertness, and ego. She is usually depicted playing a veena, a classical Indian stringed instrument, and the symbolism around this and her other accoutrements is rich. In the Hindu tradition, Saraswati alone can grant Moksha, the final liberation of the soul.
Moksha, huh? Not a bad goal. No wonder kirtan artists are always chanting to Saraswati-Ma.
Today we want to share two versions of call-and-response kirtan invoking Saraswati, from Joni Allen and Dave Stringer. Because we could all use a little help in achieving final liberation, couldn’t we?
We’re starting to think of the first version, from Joni Allen, as her signature song. She has sung it on tour with Stringer (she has been his vocal accompanist for nearly a decade). She led it on stage at last year’s Boston Yoga & Chant Fest alongside Boston chantress Irene Solea (see that video here). And a few months later, on the opposite side of the country, she belted out a slightly slowed-down rendition of it during Mike Cohen’s set at Bhakti Fest 2011, with Cohen and Brenda McMorrow singing response (video below).
We really hope she keeps on singing it, because it gets us every time.
That’s video No. 1. The second in this two-for comes from Dave Stringer himself (with Allen and Brenda McMorrow on response vocals), and has a completely different feel. Stringer called in Saraswati Maha Devi early in his Bhakti Fest Midwest set ,with a slow, sumptuously intensifying call-and-response co-performance. It was a classic kirtan slow-build culminating in a prolonged ecstatic climax. The Heartland bhavsters were leaping and throwing their arms to the heavens as if they had already achieved Moksha.
Witness the gyrating crowd under the full moon in Madison midway into this 8-minute snippet capturing the peak of the chant. And don’t miss the inspiring one-armed guitar riff by Yehoshua Brill at the end. Is he channeling Jerry Garcia there? (He said on facebook that that “seems to happen with Dave gigs for some reason.” ) Love that.
Is this Moksha in the making?
Saraswati Ma Ma Ma…