Musician Phildas Surakshadevi Bhakta is currently gearing up to try and reclaim her world record for playing the drums the longest continuous time. She is a devout Hindu, and a yoga and martial arts enthusiast. Hindu Voice UK, from which this interview is reprinted, catches up with Suraksha for a talk about her life, music, and spirituality.
Tell us a bit about your background before Hinduism.

I was born in Switzerland, and since a very young age was always attracted to all things Indian and Hindu, but I didn't really get a chance to explore it further until I moved to London in my late teens, because the society was mainly white and Christian, with virtually no Hindus except a small number of Hindu Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka. In London I studied various parts of Hinduism, like yoga and meditation, and that set me off along my journey.

What attracted to you to Hinduism?

From the age of seven I rejected the dogmas of the angry biblical God who would send us to an eternal hellfire if we didn't obey him. Hinduism is so much more open and less judgemental. There is no insistence to follow one set of practices to the exclusion of every other path. There are teachings for all people at any stage of life, and you are encouraged to follow the path suited to your individual nature. I also found the philosophy behind Hinduism to be very sophisticated and made a lot of sense to me. Another big factor was the art; the imagery of Hinduism is very enchanting to any person who has an artistic nature.

You played your drums for 41 hours non-stop. How did you manage to stay awake that long?

I did it as a tapas (austerity), to test how far I could go. To be honest, it wasn't that hard, with the power of bhakti (devotion). It certainly wasn't easy, but I wouldn't say it is the hardest thing I've ever done.

And your record was later beaten, right?

Yes, it was beaten in 2004 by a Singhalese guy who took it to 84 hours, so my plan is to take it to 108 hours by 2007.

108! I thought 41 hours was superhuman! Was it upsetting to see your record broken?

Not really, records are made to be broken!

What kind of music are you into?

As I grew up in the West I am very much into rock and pop. My favourite are Genesis and Phil Collins and things like Dream Theatre and Frank Zappa. I also appreciate classical Indian music very much.

Do you find any conflict between your music and Hinduism?

Not at all. You can be a rock star without taking on the excesses of the so-called "rock and roll" lifestyle.

Have you come across and prejudice on account of being a non-Asian Hindu?

There was one incident where some "Nazi types" saw me and said, "What are you, a Paki-lover or something?" They were so ignorant, it wasn't worth explaining to them.

How about from Indian-origin Hindus?

Nothing too bad, but generally they find it a bit hard to accept non-Indian Hindus, or automatically assume I'm a Hare Krishna.

When I was trying to approach Hindu organisations in order to get my formal initiation ceremony, people kept passing the bucket but not actually organising anything. It took me six years before I found a group of Hindus who were willing to arrange the ceremony for me. A lot of people come up to me and say "Hare Krishna." They can't seem to see that there are Western Hindus who follow other paths of Hinduism than Hare Krishna. But overall 90% of the reaction of Indian Hindus is positive and well coming.

What are your general experiences of the Indian-origin Hindus you have met?

Overall they seem to be very adaptable people who can survive in any circumstance, which is why they are successful in this country. Some of them seem to let this adaptability degenerate into mindless conformity with their surroundings. As a result I see many Hindus losing their heritage, which really should be their prized possession. On the other hand I've also met many young Hindus who are great practitioners of Hinduism and are actively trying to promote their spirituality. So the overall picture is mixed.

With all the negative stereotypes that surround Hinduism in the West, like caste, idolatry, etc., do you ever feel ashamed of openly stating you are a Hindu?

Not at all. In fact I'm very proud of displaying my identity in my dress, tattoos, jewelery, etc., and I am always ready to enlighten people that such problems in Indian society have both been magnified out of proportion and are nothing to do with Hindu spirituality or scriptures. A lot of Western yoga practitioners who partcipate in the full range of Hindu practices will vigorously dissociate themselves from Hinduism based on these misconceptions, which is a real shame. These people should be at the forefront of educating people to remove these misconceptions.

What spiritual practices do you participate in personally?

I teach and practice yoga and meditation. I also do Puja at home every day to my chosen deities, and participate in the main Hindu festivals at temples. I read certain Hindu scriptures as an ongoing process. In addition to this I have trained in the Hindu martial art, Kalariyappayat

Could you class a martial art as spiritual?

Very much so. Kalariyappayat incorporates philosophy and spirituality as an integral part of it. Just like Shaolin kung-fu is deeply spiritual.

Do you take an interest in Hindu social and political issues, or do you think that it is a bunch of rubbish that distracts the individual from true spirituality?

It is mistake to divorce spirituality from worldly issues. Spirituality touches upon everything, it permeates everything. Politics is an expression of human laws and ideas of order and ethics. If you look at the Ramyana or Mahabhrata--there is a lot of what you could call politics. In my opinion it's very important to be aware of social and political developments in the world. I take a special interest in Hindu issues. Learning about the Hindu struggle over the last millennium touched me very deeply.

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