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An interview of Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani by Selvi I Krishnaveni, transcribed by Smt. Meena Ramanathan.

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  1. 1. Dr Ananda interviewed by Krishnaveni 2014 ON BEING A HUMAN et al! An interview of Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani by Selvi I Krishnaveni, transcribed by Smt. Meena Ramanathan. Krishnaveni: Hi and Gud afternoon. Today we have with us Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani. I do not know how to introduce him because he is a doctor, he is a dancer, he is a singer, he is a composer, he is a song writer, he is a choreographer , a yogi and many more things. So let us ask him how he would like to introduce himself. Dr. Ananda: I think the most important way to be known is as a human being. We are not born human by accident. But once we have this great opportunity to be born human, to manifest our humanity, to become more of a humane being, thinking about others, and then finally manifesting our divinity, as said by Swami Vivekananda. I think I would always like to be known as a person who tries to be a human being. Krishnaveni: You were born to very charismatic parents. Have you ever felt the burden in having to live up to their names; was there any pressure from your parent’s side? Pressure depends on the individual. If you understand something as a blessing, if you understand something as an opportunity to grow, if you understand that they are giving a firm foundation on which you can build, I think it’s no burden, but if you think , ‘oh, what am i going to do , how am i going to do it’, then it becomes a burden. For me it has been very much a blessing. I feel blessed to have this opportunity, to have the spiritual genetics, the physical genetics and the artistic genetics from both the parents. So I have looked at it as a blessing, rather than as a burden. Krishnaveni: You are a Carnatic singer, song writer, composer and a percussionist. So tell us about your musical journey. Starting off at a very young age, maybe 3 or 4, what I found was that, anything I got in my hand, I used to be playing with it. You know just (playing with both the hands on the arms of the chair) like this or pick up a drum that some musician left behind, in fact, when i was in Czechoslovakia in those days, as a small kid, my parents were having dinner and I went off to one of the stages where there was a band performing. They had taken a break; i took the drummer’s sticks and started banging on the drums. When they came back, they actually started playing with me and it ended up as a nice orchestra. The other thing was that, there used to be a lot of music, lot of dance going on around me while I was growing up in the Ashram. Naturally I was sort of drawn to joining with the Bhajans, or the students would be singing, and if they were singing the Bhajans, i would be dancing for it, Nandalala or Radhekrishna or whatever was going on and at that certain point. Maybe when I was about 6 or 7, when my parents thought that I should have official training that I started training with one of our musicians, Kalaimamani Manikannan sir and he started giving me the background in music starting with the Saralivarisai, the sa re ga ma pa da ni sa and developed in me a very beautiful interest in the music, and around the age of 8, i joined Krishnamurthy sir for Mridangam lessons. Before that I had actually joined K.M.Vaidyanathan sir. He was the first Mridangam master for me. After 2 yrs he transferred me on to Krishnamurthy sir. And then i continued my musical journey with Srirangam Ranganathan sir, who then brought into me an understanding of the depth of the music. But till the age of say 17, I was in school studying in Kodaikanal, I used to come back to Pondicherry for holidays, and have classes. I was doing a lot of music, singing on stage, performing, playing on stage, dancing on stage. But I would say, I didn’t really realise what I was doing or the intricacies. It is like I was trained to do it and I was doing it. At the age of 17, I started to have this very beautiful inner experience, and I would very much credit K.J.Yesudas and his music for it, because he managed to give me, what I was learning in a more digestible form, and then I started to understand, “ oh, this is what the Raga Mohana is, this is what was happening in Misrachapa Thala” and suddenly something opened up and I will say, ever since that point , when I was 17 or 18, it has
  2. 2. Dr Ananda interviewed by Krishnaveni 2014 grown deeper and deeper. My understanding with Lakshman sir for the dance, Shankaranarayanan sir for the music, has even enhanced it further. Because with Shankaranarayanan sir, one of the greatest Carnatic vocalists of India today, I have understood the importance of hitting that connection with the audience. It is not just you performing, it is you and the audience connecting and this connection I learnt very much through Shankaranarayanan sir and thanks to Ammaji and Swamiji, those spiritual genetics and the Yoga, i have been blessed to see the spirituality of music and that is what comes through my musical compositions. It is not just made to suit somebody’s ear, or to make a name. It is an outpouring of my spiritual longing, my spiritual devotion and my evolution. Krishnaveni: Tell us about Ananda Ashram and Yoganjali Natyalayam. Ananda Ashram initially was founded by my father Swami Gitananda Giri, Swamiji and my mother Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani, Ammaji who joined him as a student in 1967, and between 1967 and 1973,the Ashram was running in Lawspet of Pondicherry, and then around 73-75,we shifted to Kambili Swami Madam in Thattanchavadi, where the interest of Swamiji and Amma to take Music and Dance to every part of society, grew in the Sri Kambaliswamy youth, Yoga and the cultural arts program, where thousands of kids would come on Sundays to the Ashram, they would come to Pooja in the morning, they would have the Yoga class , the dance class and music class, go for swimming in the swimming pool, all have a free lunch and enjoy life every Sunday. At the end of the year, those who had good attendance were given free clothes, free books for schools, lot of scholarships, text books for schools, it was like a community upliftment programme, both through the food, and books, but more importantly, the spiritual and cultural development, which was through the yoga, music and dance. This slowly grew into Yoganjali Natyalayam, which was founded in 1993 and through that, I would say in the last 21 years, at least 17 or 18 thousand people have benefitted from this yoga, dance and music programme, becoming human beings or rather better human beings that they can be in this life time. They may not be the best dancers, they may not be the best musicians, they may not be the best singers, but they are good human beings, they are social beings. I don’t think any of them would go and throw a stone at a bus for example and burn a bus. Now, that type of citizen, that type of human being what we are trying to create at Yoganjali Natyalayam through the yoga and the cultural arts. The aim I would say is, giving them a spiritual vitamin infusion to go with the modern education. Krishnaveni: As You said , you started learning Mridangam at a very early age and then you realised at 17, what the essence of it is. So there has been like 3 parts - a student, then a performer and now you are a teacher. Which part of this do you love the most? The teaching part. See, when you are a student, you are just gaining information, it’s getting transformed into knowledge, slowly staring to touch wisdom. As a performer you start to understand the connection with other people, the importance of timing and the importance of the team work. But then I think all of them come together when you are a teacher because you are then blessed with an opportunity by the divine, to pass it on to the next generation and help them maybe short cut all the mistakes you have made as a teacher. I think, the most important thing I like to share with my students is that – ok, this may be a mistake, so please make sure you don’t make the same. I think this is the beautiful evolution that happens as a human being, in helping others, to manifest that inherent potential within them. Amazing potential. And it is like the diamond jeweller; you know that he has all these diamonds and he has to polish them, cut them, put them together into this beautiful necklace that then is a beauty that hasn’t existed before. As the Buddha says, “Try to create a beauty, that didn’t exist earlier.” I think as a teacher we have this opportunity to bring to actuality, the potentiality of the student. So definitely any day, teaching is the one that satisfies me the most. Krishnaveni: Many of my friends think that Indian classical music and dance are terribly boring. Do you think that the artists’ haven’t caught up with times or do you think the audience do not have the intelligence to perceive these forms of art?
  3. 3. Dr Ananda interviewed by Krishnaveni 2014 That’s a very strong question, and in fact a question that I was talking to my Guru Adyar K. Lakshman sir, sometime back about it. He was talking of the common refrain, amongst performing artists’ who say, ”We need to bring the arts down to the public and he was saying what is this of bringing the arts down, shouldn’t we be educating the public and bringing them up, so that their refinement is such they can understand the arts and I think the Spic Macay programme, a very beautiful programme that runs in many universities, colleges and schools in India. It is a private programme, thanks to some of the corporates it is continuing. They bring the big artists, down to school to perform and interact. And I remember in school, having Pt. Jasraj, Balamuralikrishna, Alarmel Valli , Dhanjayans coming to perform and Mandolin Srinivasan performing, and it created a very beautiful understanding amongst the young children about the greatness of the art. They also used to explain. See, one part is to be blamed on the artist who do not take the effort to explain. If I’m singing a song, on my tour, like down under in Australia or when I’m in Italy or the UK… if I’m singing a song in Tamil , it is my duty, my dharma to explain the song , the concept of the song , what is happening in the music before I perform and they can catch it. Now if an Italian, an American, an Australian, an English man can understand it, I think our Indians can. But we are not doing it, because we think they are Indians and they must understand it. It is their duty to understand too. And the other thing is, it is very easy to go to a market and find people buying potato chips. A huge market for potato chips. How much is the market for diamonds? Very less. So the problem is that you have to cultivate a taste , which will come as you listen and this is what I went through because I had all this great treasures, training , experience of performing on the stage and not knowing what was going on and that’s why I told u, KJ Yesudas enabled me to make that jump, and suddenly I realised what it is. This is Shankarabaranam, this is Mohanam , this is what we are doing. And I think if someone like me, with such a background had to go through that, imagine the young people who don’t get that chance? We are fed with the most unique lyrics. The rhythms that are there are the most basal animal rhythms and unless we give people an opportunity to understand the greater importance of this music and dance , I feel, I don’t think it will die out . It will survive. Indian culture will survive even though they are desperately trying to destroy it. It will survive as it Is Sanathana, it is eternal. But as a teacher, as a performer, wherever I go, I try to explain what we are doing. When I talk of Shiva, it is not just lord Shiva sitting in Kailash with Parvathy having a good time. It is Shiva, the consciousness, the goodness, the auspiciousness, the evolutionary transformation. So when I say Ohm Namah Shivaya, it is not just I’m worshipping Lord Shiva. That’s only one aspect, that is the little finger. The whole picture is the evolutionary, the transformatory energy that we are invoking. The moment you give that, our people are intelligent. Our young people are greatly intelligent. They have an amazing ability to comprehend but we are not doing it. But I feel that if it is done in the proper way, I have seen in Yoganjali, such amazing change. The children grow up understanding the culture. I also enjoy the western music, I also enjoy the modern cinematic music to some extent. But then, I remember K.J Yesudas’s statement. He said ,”film music is for my stomach; the classical is for my heart. “, and I think I would say the same thing. Krishnaveni: You told us about your musical journey. We would also like to know about your dance. I think I have been a very reluctant dancer. In fact it’s because of my mother’s insistence I went to classes and most of the time , the only reason I performed was my mother’s insistence and the fact that my father had great love for the culture and that when I danced he was able to perceive something wonderful . So I became a vehicle for it and that sort of empowered me and I said , ok fine, if I can bring that out in someone who’s such an amazing human being , you must be doing something correct. But my training under my mother, it is always difficult to train under your own mother because the mother-son relationship, the Guru-Sishya relationship are two different things. I always say that even to this day. As a mother, well she and I may have lot of differences of opinion. But as a teacher and student, never a single difference of opinion. She is always right. So training under her, exploring the nuances of the dance, learning about it , and I think going to Lakshman sir, and with Lakshman sir- to stay with them on many occasion , staying in his house from morning 6o’clock to night 8o’clock, there will be classes- I will be running into class, running out of class, climb the trees, changing the light bulb, running to shop to buy milk packet, all of these experiences,
  4. 4. Dr Ananda interviewed by Krishnaveni 2014 they brought out a beautiful side which I feel is the emotional side and I will say it helped me develop empathy for other human beings- as a dancer. But the biggest joy has been going in to choreography because as Lakshman sir said- having the music , having the Mridangam and the dance, has enabled me to give , in the compositions, something which is sort of a unified feeling. I will say that many people have good rhythmic compositions, or emotive compositions, or there would be very good lyrics or very good music. But then, to be able to try and bring all of the aspects together is difficult. When you meet a human being, you want a person not just to have beautiful eyes, not just a person with beautiful toes or beautiful nose. You want a person who is beautiful in every sense of the word and I think that is what the composing has given me, specially because it is my own lyrics, it’s my own music, it’s my own choreography with of course Devasena’s input tremendously , again a blessing to have someone in a life who shares the same path. Dharmapatni is the word we use- very beautiful word, basically sharing the dharma-but this combination has I would say has given me the greatest sense of fulfilment. As Abraham Maslow says, “What a man should be, he must be, “and I think this is the biggest thing. A singer has to be a singer, a poet has to be a poet, and an artist has to be an artist. That is the way they fulfil themselves. They self-actualise themselves and I feel that this type of choreography, this type of composition, it has enabled the self- actualisation process a lot. And the other thing which I have found, which psychology talks about is something called flow- and flow depends on having great ability and a great challenge. It is only when the ability is great; the challenge is great, the flow occurs. The moment when you lose yourself. That I found through my music, I found it through my yoga, I found it thru the choreography. I may not have found it as a performer. I think I was always quite self-conscious as a performer. But as a choreographer, as teacher, I do think I tap into that self-actualisation and that flow. And it’s a very beautiful experience. Krishnaveni: I know you said you like teaching the most, but you are also a practitioner of medicine. If you were to choose between a teacher and a doctor, both are noble professions, which one would you choose? I believe you can have the cake and eat it too. I don’t believe you have to make a choice. People think if you are a doctor, you cannot be a teacher, if you are a teacher, you cannot be a doctor. It is like saying; either you can have a heart working or your head working. I believe that you can have the head and the heart working together and I definitely will not choose either one because for me being a doctor is like being a teacher. You are sharing, you are giving you are giving a helping hand and a compassionate ear to people. You are having empathy. Intelligence, empathy in helping another person to come from where they are, and achieve the potential as a healthy human being – that is a doctor’s role. As a teacher, again, a compassionate ear, helping hands, to help the student attain their potentiality. For me I don’t see a divergence there, for me I don’t see them as being different. For me, the role as a Doctor, as a teacher, even as a parent, I believe it’s all the same role, in helping the person manifest their totality of their potentiality. Krishnaveni: Do your kids find a difference in you as a teacher and you as a parent? Absolutely. See, as a parent, the chellam (pampering), the affection and the love is expressed in a different way. Giving them gifts, giving them a kiss, holding them, cuddling them, lifting them up, getting them sit on my back, going for a ride on the bike, taking them to school and having a chat. But then as a teacher I believe that, there has to be a certain distance maintained. It is that distance that enables me to be objective rather than subjective. Because if I am subjective and see they are my kids, either I am going to be too hard on them or I’m going to be too soft on them. And I believe that objectivity needs that gap and so definitely I would say that there’s a difference and I think they also realise it that the liberty they take with me at home or for the rest of the time, and when it comes to Yoganjali and the class there, I think they realise there has to be a gap. Because I grew up with my parents being my teachers, my gurus and that gap enabled me to get many beautiful experiences in my life and I see many people making that mistake of putting their children above other talented students. And I see it destroys the talented students and it destroys your children too. Because they’ll realise what you were doing. They will lose their trust in you, in your judgement, in
  5. 5. Dr Ananda interviewed by Krishnaveni 2014 your ability. At the same time one has to be careful that one is not too tough on them, and I hope that time will judge me favourably when it comes to the way my kids grow up and how they grow up will reflect on me , will reflect on my parents, and the entire tradition. Krishnaveni: I’m sure we will have a lot more questions to ask and a lot more avenues to explore, but may be on some other occasion. It was indeed a pleasure to have this with him and thank you very much for your time . We would like to end this interview with a song of yours. Well-this is a song on Lord Shiva and in this song we are asking Lord Shiva, who is the cosmic dancer as Nataraja- Have you got tired of dancing? I cannot find you any place. Where have u gone? Are u so tired that you have disappeared? Nandi the bull, has to play the drum, the Ganas- all these ethereal forces that are found with Shiva, they need to dance. Narada and Tumburu make music. Mother Parvathy, doesn’t she have to enjoy your dance? Why don’t you come and dance your dance of bliss with us??? Aadi aadi neere kalaiththeero… Aadi aadi neere kalaiththeero… Ambalavaanare.. Aananda tandavam engum, Aadi aadi neere kalaiththeero…(2) Porpadam thunai endru nambi vandene(2)… parpughalum unthanai kanavillai engume (Aadi aadi neere kalaiththeero…) Nandi maththalam kottave, Bootha ganangal aada vendama… (2) Naarathar paadida, Tumburu isaiththida, Annaiyum magizha vendaama.(2) Ainthozhil puriyum aiyyane, maaya viththai seiyyum meiyyane, (2) Thunbaththai thudaikkum thooyane, aanandhamai nee aadida vaa vaa(2) aanandhamai nee aadida vaa vaa.. aanandhamai nee aadida vaa vaa .. aanandhamai nee aadida vaa vaa……