After receiving an inner command from the Supreme in October, 1963, Sri Chinmoy Kumar Ghose made plans to begin a spiritual mission in the West. In order to enter the United States, Sri Chinmoy required a sponsor and he was truly fortunate to receive an offer from a close friend and admirer, Sam Spanier, who was an American. Upon entrance to the United States on April 13, 1964, Sri Chinmoy was employed by the Indian Consulate and worked in the passport-visa section for over two years. During these years, the Master began to plan the first steps toward the manifestation of the divine Light which the Supreme had been manifesting through him since his earliest realization. In 1965, Sri Chinmoy went on the air over New York radio station WBAI to announce his plans for the start of a school which would offer meditation and Indian philosophy to those sincere aspiring seekers who wished to learn the inner Truths about earthly and divine Life. On August 27, AUM Magazine, a monthly publication of Sri Chinmoy’s writings and philosophy, was inaugurated. AUM has continued to publish the lectures, poetry and music written by the Master.
Sri Chinmoy began offering lectures on the spiritual life to local church groups and community organizations such as the Lions Club, and inaugurated his musical manifestation with a performance held by the Asia Society at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. At the Indian Cultural Centre in New York on March 20, 1966, the Master performed ten devotional songs that included both ancient and modern music, sung in both Sanskrit and Bengali. The Sanskrit chants were ancient mantras set to music by Sri Chinmoy after he entered the country: “Agne naya supatha raye asman,” “Asato ma,” “Tvamadi deva purusha purana.” Included among the ten songs which Sri Chinmoy sang at the concert were the following three, composed when he was only twelve years old: “Tamasa rate,” “Sundara hate,” and “Jago.”1 Sri Chinmoy also sang the following songs by other composers of devotional songs: (The first two songs are often sung by the Master during meditations and family gatherings) “Phire chalo” (traditional), “He paratha” (Kaji Najrul Islam), “E ghora rajani” (Chandidas), “Nivid ghana andhare” (Tagore). (It may be noted that Sri Chinmoy has the entire collection of Tagore’s poetry and songs at his home in Jamaica, New York.) The Master closed the concert that night with “Bande Mataram,” the original national anthem of India. He has since set his own music to Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s text, and this song is today often sung by disciples. Dulal (Sol Montlack) was one of the earliest disciples of Sri Chinmoy, accepted by the Master on August 20, 1966. Dulal does not recall hearing Sri Chinmoy sing at the earliest meetings, held in the Master’s Brooklyn apartment. “The first time I heard Guru sing was when he bought a harmonium, when he moved to Manhattan (December 1966).”
Dulal, a musician in his own right, was soon recognized by the Master and was offered a great honor: “At one time in the very beginning Guru said that I would be the only disciple that he would allow to set music to his poetry. At that time I felt he was giving me the power to do it.” Since then, Dulal has set music to many of the Master’s poems, messages for the New Year, and selected mantras. The first songs which Sri Chinmoy sang at his weekly meditation meetings of the newly established Aum Centre (as it was known in the earlier days) were four chants from the Upanishads: “Asato ma,”(mentioned earlier), “Aum Purnamadah,” “Anor aniyan” and “Vedaham etam.” (Numerous cassette recordings exist which contain the actual meetings of the Aum Centre from 1966 on. It is from these tapes and interviews with disciples that this information has been obtained.) On August 27, 1967 (on his thirty-sixth birthday), Sri Chinmoy presented the disciples with the “Invocation to the Supreme” (since translated into many other languages). Sri Chinmoy sees this song as the most important for his disciples to sing because it embodies the essence of his illumining philosophy:
Supreme, Supreme, Supreme, Supreme!
I bow to Thee, I bow.
My life Thy golden Plough;
My journey’s Goal Thy soulful Dream.
Supreme, Supreme, Supreme, Supreme!
I bow to Thee, I bow.
Supreme, I am Thy glowing Grace.
My world Thy Feet of Light.
My breath Thy Vision’s Kite.
Thou art one Truth, one Life, one Face.
Supreme, Supreme, Supreme, Supreme!
I bow to Thee, I bow.
The Master has often spoken to his disciples about the power of the “Invocation”:
I feel it will be necessary for each seeker to learn this song. The “Invocation” will bring his psychic being to the fore and he will feel the living presence of the Supreme during his singing. This song not only will help him in his life of aspiration, but also in his life of realization.
Each note and each line is significant and powerful. Each word is a world of inner revelation – natural, spontaneous and soul-stirring. I wish everyone to commit this song to memory and it is my sincere request that you all fold your hands whenever this song is sung.
This is our most devoted dedication to the Supreme.
(August 27, 1967)
Another time he explained:
I wish all of you to sing the Invocation every day. Feel that it is part of your meditation. More than that, feel that it is the most soulful meditation. Try to imagine the words right in front of you with your mental vision and sing it most soulfully. If you can sing the Invocation soulfully, it will be like meditating powerfully for four hours … If you can feel that you are really ‘God’s glowing Grace,’ all of your problems will go away.
During the twenty years Sri Chinmoy spent in prayer and meditation at a south Indian ashram, he was a prolific poet and filled up hundreds of small notebooks with Bengali and English poems. When the Master mailed his poetry collection to New York (1969), over twenty volumes were lost in the mail. It is from the remaining books that Sri Chinmoy selects his favorite poems to set to music.
In 1969, Sri Chinmoy set music to his English poems and he lovingly offered each song to a disciple: “A Sea of Peace” (the Master’s first English poem composed circa 1949) was offered to Nilima; “I am a Fool,” to Gita; “Sweet is my Lord,” to Lavanya; “I am a Thief,” to Sarama; “I am an Idiot,” to Madhuri; “Father, I Am,” to Dulal. In addition, “I Sit Alone” was offered to Tanima; “At Last I Know,” to Nemi; “What Can I Do,” to Nirupama; “My Ego,” to Aditya. Each disciple was responsible for learning his or her respective song, and the Master often called upon the singers to offer their songs at the weekly Centre meetings. During this period Sri Chinmoy began assigning disciples to various singing groups.
The blue bird is flying in the blue sky.
Alas, here below I am dying in utter
The bird of my heart is crying
It is binding all around –
Time, space and man,
With its infinite freedom-light.
According to one singer:
He’d make up groups of singers which he thought were harmonious; sometimes it would be by age (such as the children’s group) and often the boys and girls formed separate groups.
Throughout the early days, Sri Chinmoy composed songs specifically for certain individuals and singing groups. He personally taught all the songs, since very little music was being transcribed by disciples. During these joyous learning sessions the Master would sing the song to be taught a few times, say the words a few times and spell the words for the disciples to write down. The only problem, which many disciples spoke of, was the speed at which the Master operated. Because of this, many found this process to be quite difficult. According to Lavanya, who has a superb voice:
When he sings, he’ll sing the first line ten times. Then he’ll go to the next line and sing it two or three times. Then he’ll go back to the first line and sing it twice again. Then he’ll go on to the next line and sing it twice, then back to the first line again. He’ll do the rest of the song like that, repeating the first line all the time. He says that if we learn the first line thoroughly, it will be easy for us to learn the rest of the song, because of the continuous flow that he, keeps in his songs. But for us it is funny and also frustrating, because each line takes us the same amount of time to learn. So at the end he’ll say, “so, you people have learned it?” and we’ll all look at each other and laugh, because all we really know is the first line.
(As a boy at the ashram, Sri Chinmoy had the unique ability to learn a song after hearing it only once or twice.)
Sri Chinmoy set music to the immortal motto of the AUM Centre in 1969.2 The “Motto” is most memorable on account of its beautiful flowing melody which sings of divine faith in man’s potential to realize the Highest in himself.
Man is Infinity’s Heart.
Man is Eternity’s Breath.
Man is Immortality’s Life.
In 1970, certain disciples besides Dulal were given permission to set music to the Master’s poetry. Some of the most beautiful songs by disciples were composed during this period by Mahavishnu.
The texts of the songs were often selected from My Flute and were sung by Mahavishnu and Mahalakshmi as well as by a selected group of disciple-singers called the Mahavishnu Choir. Since its formation, the choir has performed on radio, TV and in various concert hall appearances.
In April 1971, Sri Chinmoy composed the thirty-nine English songs of A Seeker’s Universe. Madhuri beautifully describes them in her biography of the Master:
(The songs) relate the eternal odyssey of the soul from the initial search, initial inspiration, the inevitable obstacles and discouragements, the anguished cries of the lost and bewildered soul, which terminate in the triumphant union with its Source. (p. 77, Vol. II, The Life of Sri Chinmoy)
In November 1971, Sri Chinmoy decided to form an all-women singing group to perform his Bengali songs (which, at the time, numbered around ten). Tanima, who was the first disciple to ever sing one of the Master’s Bengali songs (“Bidai bela,” the “Farewell Song,” in 1969), was made the leader of the group. A concert was scheduled for January 1972, and Sri Chinmoy decided that the singers would learn fifty Bengali songs for their first performance. Sri Chinmoy immediately set to work composing another forty songs and a rehearsal schedule was set up.
The Bengali Singers met on Saturday and Sunday mornings at the old Divine Robe Supreme. (Before the Sri Chinmoy Centre Church was purchased, the disciples often had meetings in the large, empty back room of the clothing store.) The Master came to the rehearsals quite often to sing new songs which he had just composed and to hear how the singers were getting along learning his other songs.3 For each of those involved in the Himalayan task of learning fifty songs of a foreign language in only six short weeks, a great amount of time was taken up in practicing and memorizing. Tanima relates:
We started learning the songs at the end of November and the concert was in January. So we had about six weeks to learn fifty songs. Most of the girls were not musicians at all and it was an incredible feat for them to do this.
I can remember at the time I was working at a bank, and I was also running the Sri Chinmoy Lighthouse (printing press) in the evening. At the bank I was an international teller and I used to have these little cards with the song words on them, and I sang songs behind my booth whenever there wasn’t a customer there.
The Bengali singers often asked the Master why texts of the Bengali songs so often dealt with depression. Sri Chinmoy explained that while walking along the street, he used to see many people full of depression. Whomever he saw he used to feel that person’s consciousness, and immediately it would be recorded in his heart, the Master said. He would offer the suffering soul light, but he would also remember the suffering and express it in his songs. The following is an excerpt from a talk Sri Chinmoy gave to the singers on this topic:
In the period between 1952 and 1954, my poems were all from identification. It’s not that I spoke to people about their suffering, but in passing I got a vibration from a particular person.
When the singers sing the songs, you should identify with the poems using your compassion-power and try to become one with the feeling in the songs. You people are all meditating and you have some light. While you are singing, at the same time you are identifying with and throwing light into the suffering soul. There are many people who will some day sing these songs and feel that their life is being expressed.
The first performance of the Bengali Singers was held on January 13, 1972 at the Victoria Church in Jamaica, Queens. All the local disciples were invited and the Master wanted this concert to be very special. In a special ceremony a few days prior to the concert he offered each singer a beautiful pale blue sari to wear for the performance and on the evening of the performance, he personally arranged the singers in rows. During the last set of songs, Sri Chinmoy asked the singers to sit in their rows and Tanima stood behind them. Tanima relates:
I had my eyes closed and we were singing “Hari jadi” (the third song from the end) when all of a sudden I felt Guru’s hands on my head blessing me. I had no idea that he was going to bless me. He went on to bless each singer as we sang the last couple of songs. We had all put so much into learning the songs and the goal was in sight. We had made it through this incredible six weeks – who would have thought we could do it?
After the concert Sri Chinmoy proudly offered his soulful blessing to the singers and presented each with a beautiful trophy. At a later date, he said the following to Tanima, who had begun teaching his music to different Centres as well:
I am so proud of you. You are the music teacher and you are teaching in many places. I am extremely grateful to you, for the singer in me you have brought forth everywhere. The whole of Bengal and Mother India will be truly proud of you and grateful to you. You will be teaching hundreds of songs. Fifty you have already taught and right now fifty more songs will be learned by this singing group.
This is an historic achievement. No Guru is fortunate enough to have disciples who will sing one hundred of his songs in a foreign tongue. For that I am grateful to the singers, and especially to you, because it is you who are teaching them and it is you who will be teaching them. The musician in me will find the real meaning and significance of these songs through the selfless joy and love of all the singers.
Sri Chinmoy immediately set to work composing fifty more melodies to selected Bengali poems. This time the Bengali singers were given much more time to rehearse and perfect the songs. The performance was held on December 17, 1972 in the Sri Chinmoy Centre Church, Bayside, Queens. For this concert, the women were much more confident and the performance was finished in less than two hours. The Master awarded each singer with a charming bell, a beautiful vase complete with flowers, a trophy and a small piece of candy.
Soon after the start of 1973, Sri Chinmoy tested all of the singers and he chose ten to form a second group of Bengali Singers (the “good group”). This did not signal a disbanding of the original group of Bengali Singers. In fact, Sri Chinmoy has increased the membership of the original group since 1973 and this larger group often offers a few songs during the Master’s public meditations. He soon composed forty-two more melodies to selected Bengali poems for the “good group” and their performance was planned for August 1973, but because of a lack of time on the night of their performance, the songs were not heard in their entirety until July 5, 1975 in the magnificent halls of the Jharna-Kala Gallery (which featured over 7,000 of Sri Chinmoy’s paintings and drawings.)4
In April 1972, Sri Chinmoy formed two all-men singing groups: Lotus Groves and The Singers of Eternity’s Patience-Pride. For the Lotus Groves he chose the finest singers and Mahavishnu was chosen as the leader. (Because of Mahavishnu’s busy schedule, Kanan eventually assumed the leadership position.) The Master composed twenty Bengali songs for the Lotus Groves and although he taught the singers the first two songs, Tanima was chosen as the teacher for the group.
The formation of the Singers of Eternity’s Patience-Pride was completely spontaneous. As related by Tarun:
Several of us were eating dinner in the basement of the Church and somebody suggested that the bad singers form a singing group. The idea had been around for a while before this particular night, but for some reason, that night Guru agreed. So he asked someone for a hat and he put the names of eleven bad singers in the hat and he picked one piece of paper, saying that the person whose name was on the piece of paper would be the leader of the group. Of course, I got picked!
Sri Chinmoy wrote eleven new Bengali songs for the singers and he assured [should be assumed] personal responsibility for teaching them the songs. According to Tarun:
Guru said he would teach us the songs and he tested us on scales and he wouldn’t accept our wrong notes. The funniest part of the rehearsals was when Guru gave us the words to the songs. He usually pronounced the words and letters so fast that we never got them right the first time around. We’d always say, “Guru slow down!”
On February 18, 1973, the Lotus Groves and The Singers of Eternity’s Patience-Pride performed their songs in the Victoria Church. Since the Master wanted to make the concert enjoyable for all the disciples, he had previously arranged for a contest to be held at the end of the concert. The Eternity’s Patience-Pride singers dressed up as different Hindu cosmic gods and famous avatars (Krishna, Christ, Vishnu). Each “avatar” or “god’’ stood up in font of the audience, which voted for the singer who had caught the essence of that spiritual figure in his choice of costume and in his consciousness. Tarun won the contest, dressed as Ramakrishna.
Most of the Singers of Eternity’s Patience-Pride had never sung any of Sri Chinmoy’s songs, because their sense of pitch was so bad; thus, the singing group provided a great opportunity for the young men to experience the power of the Master’s music. Tarun relates:
I feel it was a divine opportunity to sing Guru’s songs. When you sing soulfully, it really helps your aspiration and spiritual progress. So I think one of the points of the group was to give the poor singers an opportunity to feel the divinity in Guru’s music.
In June, 1973, Sri Chinmoy traveled to India to visit his family and spent a large part of the summer there. Before he left, he asked Tanima to make him a tape of the Lotus Groves, Bengali Singers, various disciples performing his music and two classical pieces by Bach. (Solos by Lavanya, Tanima and Anjali; Bach pieces played by Dulal, Chandika, Tanima and Prabhat; Songs with music by Sri Chinmoy and words by Bhumananda, Nolini Kanta Gupta’s son; “Bande Mataram,” music by Sri Chinmoy, words by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee.) Tanima recorded the songs and later received a beautiful letter of appreciation from Sri Chinmoy:
Yesterday about a hundred and fifty people came to hear your songs and music. They were moved far beyond their imagination. Apart from the musical voice and talent of your students, they deeply appreciated your Bengali pronunciation, accent and so forth. So, you can well imagine my joy and pride in you all.
During the summer of 1973, Sri Chinmoy composed music to various English poems from The Dance of Life. These were offered to the European disciples during the Master’s European lecture tour, and then to Puerto Rican, Canadian and San Francisco disciples. The performance of these songs took place in August 1973 during the Master’s birthday celebration.
In 1974, Sri Chinmoy accelerated his musical manifestation and he set music to 100 Bengali poems, which were performed by his disciples during the August birthday celebration. Although the Master recorded 100 songs on cassettes which were distributed to the singers, only 85 songs were located and were subsequently transcribed. Apparently, some disciples either lost their tapes or recorded over them.
Sri Chinmoy composed another hundred Bengali songs for the disciples to perform on New Year’s Eve. Since the tapes of these songs were distributed to the disciples only a few days prior to the performance, Sri Chinmoy remained on stage throughout the performance and each group joined him in singing its particular song.
In 1975, Sri Chinmoy was in the midst of his monumental painting effort (called Jharna-Kala, or “Fountain-Art,” which produced over 120,000 works in its first year) and he began composing music in an improvised style very similar to the way was painting. The Master started his Jharna-Kala in November 1974, and at that time spent several minutes laboring over each of his paintings and drawings much in the same way as he sometimes worked over a musical phrase while composing one of the early Bengali songs. Gradually he began to flow with a steady stream of inspiration and he was soon turning out works of art in only a minute or less. The inspired lines and swirls characteristic of the Master’s colorful art began to manifest themselves at an unbelievable rate (culminating in a world record of 16,031 in 24 hours). During this period, Sri Chinmoy composed one hundred more Bengali songs for his disciples to sing in the August celebration, but this time he composed them spontaneously. He would sit down in his meditation room at home or in the Sri Chinmoy Centre Church, with the tape recorder running and ashram notebooks close at hand, and begin singing the improvised songs a few at a time. The cassettes containing the songs were given to the individual singing group leaders. The songs were later transcribed for publication. The Master also composed fifty Bengali songs, which were left unsung and untranscribed during the celebration. This group of songs were transcribed in November.
In 1975 Sri Chinmoy composed some of his most important songs as far as the world body of nations is concerned. For the American Bicentennial, the Master offered “O My America,” a loving tribute to the soul of America:
America, America, America,
Great you are, good you are,
Brave you are, kind you are.
O my America, America,
is Earth’s Aspiration-Choice.
With you, in you is God-Hour’s
This song embodies the spiritual qualities of the soul of America. For the beautiful soul of Puerto Rico, Sri Chinmoy offered “O My Puerto Rico” which he dedicated to Governor Hernández Colón of Puerto Rico:
O My Puerto Rico,
Your soul is beauty’s flow,
Your heart is duty’s glow.
O My Puerto Rico,
Your simple life of truth
Is God’s perfection-Ruth.
To you I bow
In our Lord’s Eternity-Now.
To you I bow,
O My Puerto Rico.
For the soul of Canada, the Master offered “O my Canada”:
O my Canada You are very vast.
Can you not be very high too?
Try, you can. O my Canada,
Why do you always follow?
Can you not lead from now on?
Try, you can. O my Canada,
You think that the world does not admire you.
Can you not demand the world’s admiration?
Try, you can, you certainly can.
Sri Chinmoy has been conducting meditations for staff and delegates at the United Nations since 1970. As one who is truly devoted to the cause of world brotherhood, the Master has been performing divine service for all humanity by meditating for world peace within the walls of the U.N. In the words of Governor Hernández Colón of Puerto Rico:
I know of [Sri Chinmoy’s] great work in the United Nations and his efforts in helping the United Nations gain the spiritual direction that it needs to cope with the problems of the world today. It is indeed a very hard task, but if there is any one person with devotion and deep spirituality who can carry this task to fruition, it is Sri Chinmoy. May this body realize the highest mission which he has for all mankind.
In August 1975, Sri Chinmoy composed “O United Nations,” which speaks of the divine potential of that great world assembly:
O United Nations, O U.N.,
You are the world-body,
Crying for the world-soul.
And you are the earth-life,
Longing for oneness-goal.
In the heart of your glowing dream,
Big brothers and brothers small
Shall smile, sing and dance –
O Vision-Perfection in all.
During the month of August 1975 Sri Chinmoy decided that he would perform on twenty-seven different musical instruments for his birthday (August 27). He played songs, scales and improvised passages on Indian instruments such as the sarod, jal tarang and sitar; on our own Western violin, cello and piano; and on an assortment of other instruments, drums and even on a toy horn. Sri Chinmoy explained that the performer of the concert would actually be the ‘divine child’ within him. The soul is this divine child, which in the lives of many people, has been covered over by dullness and hesitancy. The seekers who have accepted the Master’s path have heard the divine child in them singing the song of the Supreme. The Master in his wisdom sees that showing what his own soul-child can do helps to bring out the divine childlike qualities in his disciples. These qualities, such as purity, spontaneity and delight, are of supreme importance in Sri Chinmoy’s path.
Of the twenty-seven instruments the Master studied for that concert, he has continued to practice the flute, violin and cello. (More recently, he has taken up the esraj, an Indian stringed instrument similar to the sitar.) He is truly becoming a great spiritual musician. His music demonstrates an unusual capacity for sweetness and inspiration, but this is not based entirely on technical proficiency. The listener will immediately realize the Master need not be a great musician from the technical standpoint, for through his utter simplicity and innocence the great spiritual wisdom and vision of the divine soul comes forward.
Thus, watching Sri Chinmoy play an instrument is an experience like no other. He plays soulfully, so sweetly, drifting higher and higher into the world of the Beyond, and it seems that his only link with the mundane world as we know it is the instrument on which he is playing.
One may consider Sri Chinmoy’s music as the music of the Supreme. It is none other than God who is the Supreme Musician and Sri Chinmoy who is the instrument. Thus, when Sri Chinmoy plays, what is communicated is enjoyment, satisfaction and delight – God-Enjoyment, God-Satisfaction and God-Delight.
A most astonishing feat of musical composition occurred on the evening of November 22, 1975, at Thomas Edison High School in Jamaica, N.Y. Sri Chinmoy invited all of his disciples to join him in silent meditation as he spontaneously composed the music to two hundred Bengali poems. In a remarkable display of yogic powers of concentration the Master composed all two hundred songs within four hours. He started off singing each group of songs by chanting the Vedic mantra “Aum,” which resounded through the halls of the auditorium, and it seemed as if the listeners were being carried off on a divine journey into the world of the Supreme by one who has free and total access to it. A visiting disciple commented, “It was as if we were hearing the voice of God Himself.”
It seemed that 1975 was going to end with the two hundred songs as the final offering, but on December 20, Sri Chinmoy surprised his disciples by spontaneously setting ninety-nine poems from Transcendence-Perfection to music. (The 843 poems in this collection were written in a twenty-four-hour period from midnight to midnight on November 1, 1975.) Before he began singing, Sri Chinmoy commented:
If the songs come out well, then I shall give full credit to all of you and if they do not come out well, I shall gladly take the full blame. If you truly inspire me, I do not know how I can fail you. So, do inspire me so that I can sing well.
The fact that I have talked too much today is an understatement. I have talked and talked since the small hours of the morning. My voice has already started revolting, but I am more rebellious than my unwilling voice. So let us see who will win the race.
This set of songs was the most recent compositional effort by Sri Chinmoy for 1975.5
– End –
This article first appeared in the author’s book “Sri Chinmoy: The Silence-Sound: An Overview of Sri Chinmoy’s Musical Manifestation (1944-75)”, Aum Publications, New York, 1977.
Author's & Editor's Endnotes:
1 These three were composed for Sri Chinmoy’s play on Sri Ramakrishna and Vivekananda. They each embody different moods of Swami Vivekananda. “Tamase rate” tells of his period of darkness. “Sundara hate” tells of the feelings of Sri Ramakrishna’s disciples as they were meditating on their Master. In “Jago” Vivekananda is bringing his awakened soul, the friend of his dream, to the fore.
2 On April 13, 1970, to honor Sri Chinmoy, and to make the AUM Centres more definable, the name of each Centre was changed to Sri Chinmoy Centre.
3 Many early Bengali Singers rehearsals have been recorded on tapes filed in the Sri Chinmoy Centre Library.
4 Only forty melodies from this group have been published in The Garden of Love-Light, Vol. III.
5 There have been numerous songs omitted from this historical glance, but most of the songs which Sri Chinmoy composed during this period can be found at Sri Chinmoy Songs.
Copyright © 2010, Shambhu Neil Vineberg. All rights reserved.