Thursday, June 26, 2014

Paving the Way into the Sacred Treasure: MC Yogi and "Elephant Power"

A few years ago, Megan and I watched a little movie called Sita Sings the Blues. It is an animated film that told the story of a woman whose relationship fell apart after her husband was transferred to India. She began to imagine herself as Sita from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and so she presents the story of the Ramayana and the relationship between Rama and Sita. Sita is presented in the Ramayana as the ideal woman who supports her husband. Even when there is a misunderstanding, and Rama believes that Sita has betrayed him, Sita sacrifices herself to convince her husband that she remained true to him. The protagonist of the film changes the ending slightly, however, by showing a celestial Rama catering to Sita's wishes. (By the way, if you wish to see the movie, it is downloadable for free at the website. It is cute and funny and has good music.).

 Before I had seen that movie, I had paid little attention to Hindu mythology. However, the way the Ramayana was presented in the movie, I began to eventually read it. It's a long book, and I take it up in fits and starts. I am through about a third of the book, and so far it's a tale that upholds all the Hindu morality. Rama is an enlightened man, heir to the throne, who becomes the victim of a plot by his half-brother's mother to put her son on the throne. As a result, he is exiled for fourteen years, and his loyal wife Sita follows him into exile. The moral crises in the book come when the characters step outside of their roles in society. While the characters and the morals are interesting, I find the gods of Hinduism even more fascinating, partly because they incarnate themselves into new characters. Take for instance Vishnu, the supreme god of one of the three main sects of Hinduism, who is the essence of all beings and the holder of the past, present and future. He is the creator and the destroyer of the existence and the god who governs the universe. Yet Vishnu also has ten avatars, or incarnations, of himself. Rama is one incarnation of Vishnu. Krishna,the hero, prankster, and great lover is another. Or take Hanuman, the monkey god who is the devotee of Rama. Or Ganesh, the son of the gods Shiva and Parvati, whose head was lopped off by Shiva by mistake and then replaced with the proffered head of a wise old elephant. He is a remover of obstacles and represents intellect and wisdom. While there are elements of the strange, to Western ears, in Hinduism there are also parallels to Christianity. After all, Jesus could be seen as an avatar of God, and the disciples, his devoted servants, could be elements of Hanuman if you stretch it a little. So, there is a lot to explore in Hinduism that's just plain interesting.

Which brings us to MC Yogi and the point of this foray into Hinduism. MC Yogi is the stage name of Nicholas Giacomino, a yogi (yoga practitioner) and instructor who is based out of Point Reyes, California. As a hip-hop artist, he focuses his music around the tenets, philosophy and spirituality of Hinduism. His songs are often bhajans, or devotional songs, celebrating one or another of the Hindu deities. At other times, he provides interesting history lessons on the lives of important historical figures within Hinduism, such as Gandhi. At times, even when he is doing nothing but beatboxing, his songs can sound like mantras or prayers. Currently, MC Yogi has two released albums, Elephant Power (2008) and Pilgrimage (2012) and there is also a remix album called Elephant Powered Remixes (2010). This song, Elephant Power, is off of his first album of the same name, and provides some insight into the Hindu god Ganesh. The song features Bhagavan Das, a bhakti yogi who is also a singer and teacher and who was the guide for Ram Dass in his spiritual journey in India.