As the world becomes a smaller place, the amount of focus being placed on India seems to increase. India was the birth place of many of the world’s religious and cultural traditions many of which stand in utter juxtaposition to mainstream American values. These include meditation, improvisational music, incense, yoga, Ayurvedic medicine, Vedic Astrology, colorful clothing styles, vegetarianism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.
Simultaneously, devotional music has grown in popularity. The following festivals have had sizeable audiences or sold out in 2011: the Beloved Music Festival (Tidewater Falls, OR), the Mystic Garden Festival (Selma, OR), and Bhaktifest (Joshua Tree, CA). The largest of these is Bhaktifest which has over 4,000 attendees. Members of the Oregon Country Fair community have attended, enjoyed, and become active in the production of these events.
The current movement within Oregon Country Fair to provide transcendental experiences without the need for mind-altering substances is stronger than it has been in the past. Indian music, meditation, and cultural practices offer the oldest and potentially purest forms of mind-alteration or transformation.
Unquestionably, Indian culture has influenced hippies more than any other. Picture, if you will, George Harrison sitting on the floor on a colorfully decorated pillow, incense smoke wafting through the air with the Beatles “Tomorrow Never Knows” bouncing from George’s inner left ear to your outer right. Picture the ’67 Monterey Pop Festival. Only one act received more praise than Janis and Hendrix. That was Ravi Shankar and Allah Rakha, two of India’s finest musicians. Picture the 1971 concert for Bangladesh. Again, only one act received more praise than Eric Clapton, Harrison, Ringo, Bob Dylan, Billy Preston, and Leon Russell; that was Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar, and Alla Rakha.
As the Oregon Country Fair grows and expands, the following vision may serve to synergize the energy around India with the trend in devotional music and the ever growing demand for additional forms of mind-expansion. I ask the Board of Directors and other stakeholders to consider this vision and allocate the resources and support necessary to birth it into reality.
Envision a space at Oregon Country Fair dedicated to the music, food, culture, wisdom, and crafts of India. This could include:
· A stage dedicated to the music of India
· A space dedicated to Yoga and Meditation
· Food and Crafts Vendors
· Spoken Word or Experiential Educational Space
Each of these is described below.
There are three major forms of Indian devotional music all of which have a major following amongst US listeners. These include Kirtan, Hindustani and Carnatic music.
· Kirtan is musical chanting, often done in a call and response tradition. This form of music is very participatory in its nature since all audience members are encouraged to chant and sing along with the Kirtan leader. There are many flavors of Kirtan. Some are peaceful and calming while others are joyous and ecstatic, the latter of which often inspires movement and dancing amongst the audience. Kirtan performers often use harmoniums, guitars, tabla, various forms of western percussion, and keyboards to supplement their vocal chanting and singing. There are now over a dozen American Kirtaners that have gained international popularity. These include Krishna Das (who has sold out the Crystal Ballroom in Portland several times), Portland’s Shantala, San Francisco’s Jai Uttal, Los Angeles’s David Stringer and Eugene’s Jaya Lakshmi.
· Hindustani music, often called Raga music, is the classical music of Northern India. This is the style of music that Ravi Shankar, Zakir Hussain, Alla Rakha (Zakir’s Father), Ali Akbar Khan, and Pandit Pra Nath shared with the world. It is these teachers who were enormously influential in the careers of George Harrison, Mickey Hart, David Crosby, John McLaughlin, Bill Laswell, Phillip Glass, John Coltrane, Terry Riley, and DJ Cheb i Sabbah to name a few. The Sitar, Tabla, Sarod, Sarangi, Esraj, Santoor, Tamboura, and Bansuri are the most common instruments of this lineage along with the voice. It is believed that each Raga has a mystical power and when performed accurately by a true master, the music can tame the beasts, heal the sick, invoke deities, and change the course of the universe. One of the unique aspects of Hindustani music is that each Raga must only be played at a specific time of the day or phase of the moon. In India, Raga music festivals last several days and provide round the clock performances which feature Ragas suited for the time of day and season. To witness a 24 hour Hindustani Raga cycle is to experience all of the unfoldings of the soul, a transcendental, epic journey very rarely available within and outside of India.
· Carnatic music is the classical music of Southern India. Known for its complicated rhythms and the use of Krishna’s instrument, the Veena, Carnatic music has a style that is distinctly different from its Northern counterpart, Hindustani music.
The vision would include a stage dedicated to promoting Indian music. The following schedule serves as an example of what might be possible on the Indian Devotional Music Stage.
· Kirtan - Thursday through Saturday at noon.
· A 24 hour Raga Cycle – Saturday at noon to Sunday at noon
· Carnatic Music – Sunday from noon till the end of Fair
In addition to these three forms of Indian music, there are several other forms of music which compliment these and might serve as outreach or fusion opportunities. These include non-Indian West Asian devotional music (e.g., Sufi Qawaali Music – Fanna Fi Allah), Bangra dance music, and ecstatic devotional DJ music (e.g., DJ Cheb i Sabbah). There are also many forms of Indian dance (e.g., Kathak) which could supplement such a space.
There are several forms of Yoga and meditation, which originated in India, known and practiced by many amongst the Oregon Country Fair Community. Although the current Dharma space in Chela Mela is well-loved, it is not large enough to provide adequate space for Fair family and Fairgoers to ground themselves in their daily practice. If a dedicated space was added, this might give Oregon’s many Yoga instructors the opportunity to share their wisdom. This would also provide a second yoga space doubling the accessibility for all.
Some of the most popular food booths at Oregon Country Fair are Indian in their style including India House and Golden Avatar. Many of the barter fair vendors trade crafts made in India. It is clear, that there is a demand amongst Oregon Country Fair family for goods and products that are Indian in their nature.
The hand-made production of Indian style goods in Oregon (or the US for that matter) is largely unknown. The Beloved festival featured a metal artist who created brass and bronze murti (sculptures of Hindu deities). There are also many incense and scented candle makers in Oregon. Outside of this, the scope of Indian influenced crafters is currently unknown.
The quality of goods produced in India is traditionally quite low. One may wonder what might happen if Oregon crafters, known for their creativity and practicality, began to make clothes, jewelry, home decor, and musical instruments in the Indian style.
Indian art is also desirable to Country Fairgoers. Henna body-art is quite common as are temporary and permanent mandalas.
A space dedicated to Indian food and crafts would help to enhance the vibe of the Indian area of Country Fair. In addition, the installation of temporary mandalas would be uplifting and enjoyable to all.
Oregon Country Fair has historically given some of the great gurus the time and space to share their wisdom, Ram Das being the most notable. Still, there is plenty of desire amongst the Country Fair community for more.
There are many Indian educational topics that are of interest to the Oregon Country Fair community. These include Vedic Astrology, Ayurvedic medicine, Hindu mythology, and the Sanskrit language.
If a space similar to Energy Park or Community Village was allocated, then booths could be created where these topics could be explored.
The following organizations would benefit by the creation of such a space. Therefore, these organizations might make logical partners:
· Kalakendra – This is a Portland not for profit dedicated to the arts and culture of India.
· Music Department at Lewis & Clark University – In 2011, Lewis and Clark opened up the first Indian Music department in the state of Oregon.
· Ali Akbar Khan College – Located in San Rafael, CA, this is the largest school of Indian music on the West Coast.
· Dhamma Kunja – Located in Onalaska, WA, this is one of the Vipassana meditation centers in the US.
· Peak Experience Productions – Peak has put on several events through Madison House Productions and has a large interest in Hindustani music.
· The Chopra Center – This is Deepak Chopra’s Center for Well Being.
· Any of the various yoga studios in Oregon
The following action is requested of the Board of Directors
· Endorse the idea of an area of Country Fair dedicated to the music and culture of India
· Allocate space as part of the planned expansion into Craft’s Lot, Miss Piggy’s, and Island Lot.
· Empower the proposers to create an ad-hoc committee commissioned to manifest the vision of an area of Country Fair dedicated to the music and culture of India