First night of 4th of July weekend, in vacay mode, I headed down Broad Street into Center City Philly with my friend Ondreah to attend what I just knew would be an amazing evening. Combine the ingredients of kirtan, kindred spirits, drumming, dancing, Indian vegetarian cuisine all held in a yoga studio and how could it be anything other? After a long and hectic day at work, I found myself taking deep breaths behind the wheel, as holiday weekend traffic and alternately catching and missing lights had me mildly frustrated. I reminded myself that all was in perfect flow and that we would find the ideal parking spot (rare at 15th and Sansom, for those who know the area); in my family, referred to as ‘an Uncle Jimmy spot’, since my mother’s brother Jim ALWAYS found the best spaces. I have snagged spots where I found money next to the car…as much as $20 one time, a space in Manhattan at rush hour right in front of the door of the building I was to enter and on this night, a block away from Center Siddhi Yoga which focuses on Bikram Yoga; created by Bikram Choudhury, founder of Yoga College of India. One of the hallmarks of this form of hatha yoga is that the room in which it is practiced in studios is heated to 105 degrees to maximize the benefits of the practice, according to those who teach it.
A few years ago, I had taken one Bikram class and found the intensity level and temperature to be excessive. This time, I climbed the three flights of stairs, ascending to a room that already had at least 50 people sitting on the floor, on cushions and chairs and standing, attempting to be comfortable in conditions that may only have been slightly less torrid, as they immersed themselves in the music of a group of artists called The Mayapuris. I have long loved rhythm and chanting, the rocking back and forth heart beat of it all and these folks did not disappoint:) Enthusiastic performers, they offered forth their praise to the Divine Masculine and Feminine in the form of call and response chants. Ironically, the more I danced, the cooler I felt, with sweat dripping down my body. I literally felt as if I was in a sonic steam bath. Their talents and backgrounds are multi-faceted; from hardcore punk to classic Indian flute and drumming as well as a complicated song style called konnakol or vocal percussion. I think of it as ‘drum scatting’. It sounds like jazz impov, but is quite deliberate and methodical in its tonings.
I was fascinated with the playing of the mridanga and tabla drums; wanting to learn both. They were irrepressable siren calls to this get-up-off my-butt-and-move improvisational, free form dancer. For several hours, I joined what turned out to be 60-some metaphysical movers and shakers. Some were young ‘uns in their single digits and many were in the 5th and 6th decades of life; all with one thing in common…a love of life expressed musically. Many of them I have known for years from the yoga community, some with faces for which I couldn’t attach names.
After the kirtan, which lasted beyond the set ending time, since the audience and the group were carried away by the ecstatic energy, we were invited to nourish ourselves physically with food lovingly served by Govinda’s which is a legendary Indian restaurant on South Street. Hearing the sounds of enthusiastic revelers, breathing in the aroma of the rice, veggies, tofu and seitan enhanced by sweet and spicy sauces, savoring the tastes were part and parcel of this full sensory experience.
Listening to the Mayapuris’ new CD called Mridanga, which features the same melodic magic and percussive pleasures as did their concert AND the bonus of guest artists Jai Uttal and Benjy Wertheimer, on the way home, I re-lived the experience; having a hard time keeping my feet still while driving, so I settled for steering wheel tapping and shoulder swaying instead. Listening to their music now as I am typing this, I have the luxury of moving my feet and my happy heart.