Sangita Yoga was invited to Queretaro, Mexico. Naren K. Schreiner, Director of Sangita Yoga, shares in this article his impressions and details of the trip. Click on any photos to see larger image. Be sure to view the slideshow on the bottom of the page.
"As we ended and said our goodbyes, I felt as if Yoganandaji was smiling over us
saying, 'This is the Mexico that I found in 1929. This is the Mexico I want you to know.'"
Throughout my youth many friends and family members would invite me to Mexico—but I always declined because they would either be visiting the resorts or Tijuana. I knew that those places could not reveal to me the real Mexico that heralds from the great civilization of the Aztecs and other indigenous peoples.
My desire to visit Mexico was rekindled in my twenties when I saw a film of my Satguru, Paramahansa Yogananda, visiting Mexico in 1929. He wrote that the land and culture reminded him much of his beloved India. In the photos of that trip and in the film footage, it seemed as though Yoganandaji was able to be with the Mexican people as if he were among his own.
In October of 2013, my time to visit this ancient land finally arrived. Sangita Yoga was invited to provide sacred music at a new spiritual retreat center outside of Queretaro, a beautiful city north of Mexico City.
Lopamudra Bose, Cultural Coordinator of Sangita Yoga, was able to come and represent India and to offer invaluable support. For tabla accompaniment and assistance with leading meditations and pranayama, I invited my long-time friend, Janzel Martinez. Being from Puerto Rico, his ease with the language was a great help, even though I am nearly fluent in Spanish.
Clara Rivera, who lives in Queretaro, met us last year and became a student of Sangita Yoga. We were blessed that she was coordinating all of the details of our trip. Being herself an Ayurvedic and Wellness consultant, she arranged for a workshop and kirtan atArati, the yoga center where she works. Sangita Yoga was also invited to present Indian music at the opening night of the newly renovatedGaleria Libertadin the center of the city. Our short visit of four days was going to be intense, with eleven presentations; but we truly came to serve, which brings its own special supply of energy.
Upon arriving, I was in awe of the beauty of Mexico’s countryside. The scenery, the small markets with hand painted signs, and the abundant variety of colors reminded Lopa and I of Bengal, India. We could imagine what it must of have been like eighty years ago when Yoganandaji was there—if Mexico reminded us of India now, it must have been nearly identical back then.
The first morning meditation was beautiful. Seeing about twenty-five souls sitting cross legged on the floor, chanting, meditating, attentively listening…we immediately felt among spiritual friends. What made it so unique for us was the authenticity of their expressiveness. The way they greeted us, with respectful yet sincere hugs, a dignified kiss to the cheek, looking deep in the eyes and saying, “Bienvenidos” or “Hasta Luego” touched us to the core.
For many, this was their very first experience of kirtan and bhajan. Chanting with them was inspiring. The devotion that is inherent in their culture is profound when directed to the Divine in kirtan. To see them begin with a timid curiosity and to end with openly devotional expression was incredible. I saw before my eyes the universality of India’s sacred music. As a form of yoga, this sacred music is like the sunshine—warming and accessible to all.
One man was seated in padmasana during the meditation that I had led. I was drawn to him in some way. When the meditation was over, we approached one another without words. I felt like I had known him. He walked to me and we greeted each other with a pranam; and then he embraced me. There was such a flow of profound love and friendship that tears filled my eyes. We then looked at one another silently. No words were said as he stepped away. This gentle soul is a yoga teacher whom I got to know more when he drove with us to the airport. As Yoganandaji wrote, “Friends once more to be.”
The workshop on "The Yoga of Music" went extremely well, and I was blessed by Ma Saraswati (Goddes of Speech, Learning and Music) to be able to speak in Spanish the entire time. I only leaned on Clara or Janzel a few times for help with translation! Janzel spoke about sacred rhythms and related music to pranayama; Lopa spoke about the language and culture of India. Even after four hours, everyone wanted to dive more deeply into these vast subjects--we'll have to go back soon!
After the workshop we quickly packed up and drove for about an hour into the countryside to Centro Jamadi. The visionary and philanthropist behind this work is known to us simply as Pablo. While seeing his center, talking with him about his goals, and observing his interactions with others, I realized that he is a holy man. I observed how he would enter into a deep state during our kirtans and guided meditations. Being prosperous from his hard work and ingenuity, he was yet one of the most humble men I’ve ever met.
The center is named Jamadi, which means “Gratitude” in the language of Pablo's ancestors, the Otomí people, native to this area. He said to me, “Jamadi reminds me of the word samadhi. When samadhi comes, a profound gratitude will fill the soul.”
The architecture of this center is magnificent and totally sustainable and earth-friendly. Pablo’s vision is simple: To live off of the land, eating only what is planted and grown on site, with an organic perma-culture ecosystem that uses water from the natural springs on the land. And to practice yoga. Honoring his own land, he ordered that the walls be made with the soil; even the paint is mixed and tinted with the soil there. Using modern architecture, he made sure there was plenty of natural lighting and lots of water elements, including canals and ponds. How fascinating to be there so early in the construction—we were the first group to be there, and many rooms still had wet paint! The grand opening is scheduled to be in the Spring of 2014.
Pablo had invited a group of about thirty friends, most of whom are yoga instructors from all over Mexico, and their Anusara teacher from Florida, Jaye. At first, I think some of them were expecting a more typical American “kirtan band”. But when we led a meditation the following morning, I felt like everyone “got it” that this music is more—it is a form of worship and a yogic way to take one very deep within and offer oneself to the Divine. From Friday night to Sunday afternoon, we presented bhajans, led kirtans, and guided meditations.
At the end of our morning meditations, Lopa and I sang the Hanuman Chalisa in a traditional raga. I saw a couple in tears of devotion. When the chant ended, they remained withdrawn in their inner temple. Later that day they told me that Hanuman had just recently touched their lives, and so to hear the Chalisa for the first time, and other Hanuman stotram and kirtan, was deeply significant to them.
The food during the retreat was some of the most delicious vegan food we have ever had. Pablo hired a friend of his who was a trained chef and loving mother. She adopted us all for those three days and prepared vegan and gluten free meals without any compromise of awesome Mexican flavor. I was later told that one night she cooked with so much enthusiasm and love that she forgot time altogether—the sun rose and she realized it was 6:00am. She made cooking a form of sadhana (spiritual practice).
Lopamudra shared with many her love of India. Our new Mexican friends loved hearing from her how similar the land is to that of her motherland in Bengal. On a nature hike through the property, we walked along paths of dark red soil, through flowered meadows and large areas under the shade of huge trees—these scenes reminded Lopa of the outdoor gatherings of Baul singers in India. The deeper similarities between India and Mexico, in terms of the ancient spiritual roots of these civilizations, were first revealed to me in an article by Usha Harding(read it here).
The retreat flew by. When it was time to leave, Pablo and his wife, Marisela, gave everyone gifts. As each said farewell to one another, I cannot put in words how genuine and heartfelt the experience was. We were all in tears and radiantly smiling. (Pablo Ji is seated below in the green sweatshirt; Marisela seated fourth from the left).
After the goodbyes we finally managed to leave—an hour behind schedule! Pablo drove fast, yet without losing his inner calm--like Hanuman! We flew through the beautiful land of lakes and meadows and reached Queretaro city, with about an hour before our concert at theGaleria Libertad in the Cultural Center of Queretaro.
Dressed in our best, we arrived at the Galeria and began sound check. People gathered around us, asking about the instruments and taking pictures. Somehow we managed to get the sound all set up in time. We were amazed when all seventy seats were filled up a half-hour before starting time. More people came, standing along the walls, in the back, on the balcony above us, and sitting on the floor in front of us. I read some passages about India’s sacred music from aSpanish version of Autobiography of a Yogi. Janzel spoke briefly about the tabla and tala (rhythms) of India. We even led everyone in the clapping along with Rupaktal (the seven-beat cycle).
I had learned from Clara and a few other natives that Rabindranath Tagore is much loved in Mexico. So I sang one of his songs, and also a Shyamasangeet (Song to the Mother) in honor of the deep devotion Mexicans have for the Divine Mother—be it Goddess Coatlicue (Teteoinan) or Guadalupe.
Pablo had told me that Queretaro was important in the fight for the Independence of Mexico, and so Lopa and I decided to talk about the importance of sacred kirtan and bhajan in India’s Freedom Movement and presented “Raghupati Raghava” and “Vande Mataram”. Clara, to my surprise, asked me right on the spot to lead a kirtan. Concealing my hesitation, I taught them the words, “He Govinda, He Gopala” and sang a simple melody based on Raga Yaman. We were delighted to see the enthusiastic response—everyone sang and clapped along with joy. Janzel and I answered some questions from the audience and we offered a few more bhajans before closing.
The reception from nearly a hundred Queretanos was humbling. Many came afterwards to greet us and welcome us to their city, others wanted photos with us. Some asked more questions about the tabla, the harmonium, or the tanpura. Women asked Lopa about her sari and the works of Tagore. One gentleman in his sixties came to us and said, “Thank you for singing the chants in the holy language of Sanskrit. This sacred language has blessed my city. The entire planet Earth needs the holy vibrations of Sanskrit.” And then he politely left. Clara did not know who he was—we never found out how he came to know of us.
I met a musical family and spoke at length with the daughter and father about singing in the Western style and in the North Indian style. At one point, the girl, who is in her early teens, sang a few notes. Her voice echoed throughout the museum and the hairs on my arms stood up and tears filled my eyes. I realized that she had a divine gift in her voice. I told her that she has a treasure, to care for it and cultivate it. She told me of her belief that music has the power to uplift people’s consciousness, not just entertain them.
The following night we had our last kirtan at the Arati center. The people here are wonderful--Clara has gathered a remarkable community of spiritual seekers and friends. To our delight, several people who heard us at the Galeria came to attend. The purpose of this night was to really go deep, not to talk much or teach much, but to worship and practice yoga. As we chanted for nearly two hours, I felt blessed by the collective devotion—the fullness of forty fervent voices and the profound silence of meditation in between. It was the perfect manifestation of howSwami Bhajananandadefined kirtan: “Kirtan is calling out to God. Kirtan is calling in to God.”
As we ended and said our goodbyes, I felt as if Yoganandaji was smiling over us and saying, “This is the Mexico that I found in 1929. This is the Mexico I want you to know.”
We left Mexico uplifted and inspired, and looking forward to many visits to Queretaro and other cities of Mexico where a thriving community of spiritually centered people live and worship.