The Song-Bird of St Petersburg pays tribute to Sri Chinmoy at the Royal Albert Hall
Boris Purushottama Grebenshikov is a living paradigm in the world of music and poetry, justly lauded in his Russian homeland and throughout the world. Tapping the ‘infinite silence’ within as a source of his prolific creativity, his songs are his direct interpretation of the universal musical consciousness.
No wonder then that he found in Sri Chinmoy a profound inspiration. With almost 1600 books to his name and over 22,000 songs, here was a Spiritual Master who shaped his own life’s service from the very fibre of music and poetry, singing the songs of Heaven into the ears of the earth.
Sri Chinmoy was born in East Bengal, 1931. Following an inner calling he moved to New York in 1964, to be of spiritual service and inspiration to the west. From then until his passing in October last year, his meditation brought forth a wellspring of creativity in many fields.
Sri Chinmoy met Grebenshikov in 2005, and offered him the spiritual name Purushottama. A unique friendship blossomed from there. The immediate bond between teacher and student was exceptionally deep given its outer brevity; a recognition and reflection of true inner harmony. In Grebenshikov’s own words:
“Before meeting him I could never imagine I would see with mine own eyes the enlightened spirit operating from within the frail human body. It made me realize we do not really understand how strange it is to be fully realized in the world that misunderstands Divine realization. And I am endlessly grateful for his love and unflinching selfless courage.”
As part of his soulful service, Sri Chinmoy offered over 700 free public concerts in the span of his life, which he dedicated to World Harmony. London’s Royal Albert Hall ranked among the most notable venues, where he last performed in October 2003. In this same spirit, and at the same venue, Boris Purushottama Grebenshikov paid tribute to him last week.
Under a 14-foot portrait of Sri Chinmoy, flanked by statues of Ganesha and Saraswati, the setting was an Indian garden at night. An enclave of trees and glowing candles waited on a backdrop of winking galaxies. Hoards jostled outside for a place in the hall, peering over galleries high up into the roof to catch a glimpse of the artist. The legendary Song-Bird of St Petersburg entered with a smile of joy equal to his air of poise and humility. As he took centre stage his audience could not have been more attentive, appreciative, or more alive with electric anticipation.
Some 20 musicians joined him, mostly from the Indian and Irish genres, and some of the finest in their fields. Two were from Grebenshikov’s original band Aquarium, which dates back to the early 1970s. The tabla talked in rhythm to four Irish bodhrans; a sarangi sang sweet melodies over a group of classical strings. The fiddle, tin whistle and Uillean pipes carried on an Irish banter with such unbounded effusion, precision and harmony, that the crowds could not contain their shouts of delight.
All the while Grebenshikov was an ocean of depth, speaking through an acoustic guitar as if it were a part of himself. His singing voice itself was, as always, an exquisite blend of strength and sensitivity; ageless and imperturbable wisdom with a sweet and heart-melting centre. The essence of the poetry, although mostly in Russian, could be felt even by the uninitiated, such was its earnest delivery.
The songs vaulted from pin-drop soulfulness to ebullient joy, via countless spirited forays into new musical realms. They stopped neither at folk, nor jazz, nor rock, nor classical, nor world music, but spun into a whirl of all these, where no division or identity could be defined, where music sprang forth unbounded and unadulterated from its source.
As a finale, Grebenshikov offered a bhajan he wrote in Sanskrit for the goddess Saraswati, and a loving song in the ballad style, which he wrote for Sri Chinmoy during one of their earliest meetings. The Sri Chinmoy Centre Choir accompanied him on the refrain:
“O, Guru Sat, we may be far apart,
O, Guru Sat, forever in my heart.”
It was a poignant end to a magical evening; an evening whose spirit seemed to have no age, no beginning, no end; no limits or worldly boundaries of any kind. With simplicity and utmost self-giving, Boris Purushottama Grebenshikov offered a tribute to his teacher which was at once fittingly grand, heartfelt and joyous.
Portrait of Boris Purushottama Grebenshikov by Antonov Pavel
Photographs of the event by Pavitrata Taylor at Pavitrata.com