This morning’s practice started as it normally does, with me flipping to the page and meeting my first reaction – depending on the song, it might be one of joy, apathy, annoyance, or curiosity. Having never sung or heard this one before, curiosity won the day.
Because it’s in an unfamiliar language and set to an unfamiliar tune, I turned to the trusty old YouTube to have a listen.
Video after video, offering me something near to what was on our page, but often with different lyrics (no biggie) and usually with differences in the melody (confusing). Video after video, each offering wildly different takes on the song, from the woman in a garden trying to be floaty and ethereal and failing, to the Bollywood mashup, to the westernized sitars, to the Indian marching band, and everything in between. To be honest, I went down the rabbit hole, listening to all these different versions.
At first, I was frustrated. “I just want to learn the song!” I shouted to the now already brewed coffee. (It didn’t answer back.) Click to the next video. Grrr. Click to the next video. Hmmmm. Click to the next video. Huh…. Click to the next video. Oh.
You see, because this was Gandhi’s favorite hymn, which he used in his morning devotionals, it became a favorite across India and the Hindu world. And just as there are probably thousands of recorded versions of Amazing Grace across the Christian diaspora, there are easily that many or more across the Hindu diaspora. Each one a different take, with differences reflecting the particularities of time, place, genre, belief…reflecting the universality of this simple hymn.
Raghupati, Raghava, Raja Ram.
Patita Paban, Seeta Ram.
Seeta Ran jai, Seeta Ram. Patita Paban, Seeta Ram,
Seeta Ram jai, Seeta Ram, Patita Paban, Seeta Ram.
Eeswara Allah tere nam Sabko sanmoti de bhag wan.
Eeswara Allah tere nam Sabko sanmoti de bhagwan.
Seeta Ram jai, Seeta Ram. Patika Paban Seeta Ram,
Seeta Ram jai, Seeta Ram, Patika Paban, Seeta Ram.
And it is simple. It’s prayer to Ram, the seventh (of 12) incarnation of Vishnu, asking for, among other things, peace between Hindus and Muslims.
And ultimately, while I may not have the tune as written in our hymnal in my head, I do have the tune, so if I sang it to a Hindu, they’d recognize it – and probably correct my articulation, as Indian music has a particular vocal articulation we aren’t trained for in the west.
It’s a beautiful hymn. I hope there are those congregations who have found a way to use it, because its call for peace never gets old.
The only time I ever saw this attempted in a congregation was pretty much a disaster. We had a young Indian woman visiting us at that time, and she agreed to help lead it. However, (we learned the hard way), just because she knew it, did not make her an expert in singing/teaching/leading it. It was all very awkward. We learned some lessons that day, but I’m not sure what they were.
My congregation sang it a few times, and they actually did pretty well. (How I loved that brave congregation!). There was a Hindu woman who was a member of the congregation, and we also had a professor of religious studies who had spent quite a bit of time in India. They conducted a beautiful Hindu puja ceremony, and our little choir sang it on that occasion. I’m not sure we used it any other times over the 14 years that I was their minister, but I’d recommend it for a choir to sing; they would have time to actually learn it in rehearsal.