My tastes tend to prefer sweeter ragas, those that are delicate bordering on the tender, those that can melt as quickly as butter, those that are effortless in its unfolding. The ragas I have fallen in love with always feel obvious to me. Obvious in its shape, its form, its textures, its colors; obvious to my psyche the way that my name is obvious to my subconscious. I find beauty in familiarity and comfort, like everybody else. But, I also dislike stagnation with a staunchness that sometimes upsets the rhythm of my everyday, and oftentimes sends me scurrying across borders and over the foothills of the unfamiliar Himalayas.
This is the first time I have experienced Raag Shivanjali. Shivanjali is as beautiful a raga as it is a name, but I only see the beauty after spending a very difficult time listening to it. In this performance, a majority of the improvisation is in the pursuit of comfort, the familiar cushion of the Tonic is rare, and something about the design of the raga keeps me from feeling the body-shattering resolution of the build-up/return to Sa. Because of this, my mind is pushed beyond familiarity for longer durations than I am used to, and the effect is profound. Triggers go off in unusual centers of my brain, and they linger because they have nowhere to go. Panditji also works repetition into the performance the way a masseuse would work repetitiously on a particularly sore muscle. I can only liken the hammering down of these notes upon those unusual centers of the brain, to the effect of an exceptionally feisty Kerala monsoon where the rain stings your bare back as your run for cover and hide under the wind-fraught trees. This likeness only remains metaphorical, the experience unfortunately, is inexplicable. Shivanjali is a mind-expanding raga– uncomfortable and addictive, like all addictions– but where a physical addiction might lead to mental discomfort, and a mental addiction might lead to physical discomfort, Shivanjali’s discomfort leads to a very tangible resolution where both your mind and body are challenged to the point of breathlessness, at which moment comfort is found in the air, comfort is found in the water, comfort is found in the silence of your empty thought– and the experience of being massaged, without ever being touched, is addictive.
If there is such pleasure in the unknown, whatever I roam the Earth searching for, I hope I never find it.