Our Cultural Debt of Gratitude to India

Our Cultural Debt of Gratitude to India

From yoga and meditation to chakras and mantra, our debt to India is monumental. Our personal journey with Indian culture began in the late '60s when we read a startling book by an Indian yogi which caused us to realize how much more there was to life than than what our modern materialistic culture had shown us.


In the early ‘70s while living in Manhattan, Dean Evenson and I came across Autobiography of a Yogi. In sharing his personal story, Indian yoga master Paramahansa Yogananda had shown us a spiritual world that we had no idea existed in the very materialistic modern society we were raised in. Around that time, we also discovered Integral Yoga Hatha, a book by Swami Satchidananda, the guru who made a splash at the Woodstock Festival when he opened the festival sitting in full lotus and telling the crowd that “music is the celestial sound that controls the whole universe.” Even though he was young in comparison to us now, we were impressed to see this elderly man doing astonishing yoga postures. We emulated the poses from the book as best we could and later took yoga classes at his center in the West Village.


Yoga became a pathway to the spirit for us. We learned the postures and practiced them at home, but in classes, we also learned about meditation and breath control. We were swept up in the ubiquitous OM that often followed the physical poses. Something very powerful occurred when we allowed our breath to carry a sound and we began to realize the depth of our spiritual nature.


In 1973, we attended our first Ram Dass lecture in the town of Woodstock where we lived at the time. He taught us the mantra – OM Mani Padme Hum. Former Harvard Professor and psychedelic experimenter Ram Dass (aka Richard Alpert) was a cultural icon himself known for his popular book Be Here Now and for his humorous way of sharing spiritual teachings and stories of living in India with his guru Neem Karoli Baba. We attended many of his lectures over the years, but it was in 1979 when he asked us to record his talk in Tucson, Arizona, that we were motivated to form our own record label to distribute recordings. We launched Soundings of the Planet with five cassette tapes including his lecture and our own peaceful, nature-based music.


Fast-forward to the 21st century, we are living in the Pacific Northwest and our company is well-established with the peace through music offerings we have been creating for decades. We discovered the healing power of sound and music and for many years traveled and taught sound healing workshops that included what we were learning about the healing aspects of music, meditation, and vocal toning. Dean and I have particularly enjoyed vocal toning together. This system can be as simple as taking a deep breath and then letting the exhalation carry a long vowel tone of oh or ah. 


Awareness of the chakras also originated in India and our album Chakra Healing reflected our growing understanding of the energy centers that govern various aspects of our being. Later we created Chakra Meditations & Tones which combined our music with my guided meditations specific to each chakra as well as vocal toning featuring four-octave singer Beth Quist.


Our connection with the Indian culture deepened in 2002 when we met Deobrat Mishra, a 25-year-old sitarist from Varanasi, India. We invited him to add his tasteful sitar to an album Dean was just finishing up with Scott Huckabay called Mountain Meadow Meditation. It turned out Deobrat Mishra was from a long lineage of spiritual musicians based in the holy city of Varanasi (also known as Benares) on the sacred Ganges River in northern India.

The following year, he returned to Bellingham with his father Pandit Shivnath Mishra who was also his sitar teacher and guru. For 17 years, we produced their concerts and workshops in our town. We also recorded their album Raga Cycle featuring their dueling sitars. The Mishras take traditional ragas and perform their own remarkable improvisational compositions, adding a spirited call and response dynamic to their exquisite musical forms. 

Lately, Deobrat has toured with his nephew Prashant Mishra on tablas. In addition to their concerts and workshops, we produced their album Yoga Mantra featuring Deobrat’s exquisite voice singing the ‘Gayatri Mantra’ and other ancient chants. Dean Evenson added his silver flute to this international collaboration.


The Mishras use proceeds from their albums and tours to raise money for scholarships at their Mishra Academy of Classical Indian Music which they founded to benefit children of indigent Indian musicians to study and keep alive the classical Indian music traditions. Because it is difficult for a musician to earn a living in India, many musicians had moved into other professions, and the rich cultural lineage of their ancestry was being lost. Fortunately, Deobrat Mishra continues to perform and teach traditional Indian music both in India, on European and American tours, and online. His son and daughter are now contributing members of this musical family. The music they all create together transports the listener on a river of musical communion that spans millennia, as vibrant in these living hands as it was in the hands of the ancient masters, a rare glimpse into the timeless universality of sacred music.

By Dudley Evenson

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