Updated: Jan 22
Madhukori in France 2019
24th of June 2019. It was a hot summer morning, one of this mornings in the South of France when already at 7am one can feel the heat, annoucing a very, very hot day…
I got in my car, and started for four weeks in company of Parvathy Baul, my master and teacher of the Baul Tradition.
In the following weeks we will drive a lot, and make a full circle – or maybe more poetically as Parvathy described later - we are up for a pradakshina (1.) of France !
After six hours of driving, my heart jumping in joy creating even more inner heat, I arrive to Bordeaux. Parvathy’s plane arrives from Denmark, and here she is, ready to enjoy the trip !
Making our way through overcrowded highway surrounding Bordeaux, we drive happilly surrounded by the waves of cars until they become less and less in number. Finally we arrive to the flat lands of Charente Maritime and, after driving through the long bridge between the coast and the island, we moor our car in Valerie and Samuel’s garden. Valerie and Samuel are also studying the Baul tradition, and their house and organic vegan restaurant are our association’s, Sérénade aux Etoiles, headquarters.
-First stop : Ile d'Oléron-
Parvathy’s schedule being very busy during previous weeks, the teacher and her students spend a couple of days of rest, enjoying each others company, bicycling to the ocean, breathing its fresh breeze, sometimes singing, sometimes talking, sometimes cooking, and preparing for the upcoming tour.
The first madhukori, intimate with friends and acquiatances, quite numerous though, takes place at the restaurant. The public is already familiar with the Baul tradition, thanks to the meetings and Madhukoris organized here previously by Valerie and Samuel. Parvathy has come here a few times already. But this night was very special for all of us. It was indeed the very first act of our newborn non profit Association.
Every one of us, Samuel and Valerie, Emmanuelle O., Jaya and myself presented the project to the public, speaking about the need to find support for the ancient traditions, to keep them alive. We also explain the reason of Parvathy Baul’s travels in Europe : finding support for Sanatan Siddhashram, a traditional Baul school under construction in Bengal. Jaya speaks about the links we can find between our own european traditions and those coming from abroad, about the common thread of universal love that is nourished through transmission of the knowledge and wisdom of the sages throughout the world.
It is her who introduces the madhukori with one of her touching hungarian compositions, then Parvathy arrives with the jingling of her nupur ankle bells, singing and dancing several songs from the Baul Tradition. After that, it is my turn to join in the performance of a song ; Valerie and Samuel beautifully interpreted another, and we end all together with Emmanuelle who joined us as we all sing with many voices in unison : Mondire Mondire Jago Debota ….
Tonight, Maha Prana restaurant is a place of communion and joy, hosting a precious moment of a common madhukori, shared by the teacher, her students and the guests.
Not surprising that two days later, the time of goodbyes makes a small pang in the heart, as Valerie and Samuel can’t follow us in order to take care of the restaurant, and Emmanuelle needs to stay back too, before joining us later on during the tour.
In the car full of delicious food prepared under the guidance of our master cooks Samuel and Valerie for the upcoming fundraising event, with delicious foccacia made by Michel, our
« bread guru » friend, trunk packed to the roof with folders, pictures, luggage and instruments, Jaya, a very good driver, drives us smoothly, up North, in the direction of Paris.
-second stop : Paris, Théâtre du Soleil-
We arrive smoothly and quickly to the Hôpital des Invalides area, where our host, a renowed vocalist Martina Catella, an old time friend of Ravi Gopalan Nair, Parvathy’s husband, lives. We put our luggage in our cosy cave-rooms that are usually used for vocal practice, and continued the way towards our destination : La Cartoucherie, near Bois de Vincennes wood.
Indeed, the next Madhukori is to happen in Theatre du Soleil, a mythical place founded and directed for many years by Ariane Mnouchkine. It is one of these theaters that makes one think of a community of people, a theater family, rather then an institution. Parvathy and Zsofia know the place from previous collaborations, myself, not a « theater person », have visited it once when Parvathy was playing there with the Odin Teatret company. It is a very open space, welcoming many artists and theater companies, and allowing them sometimes to use their stages free of charge, making the space alive and vibrant with a large variety of interesting projects. Our angel Emmanuelle Martin, whom we were to meet a couple of weeks later for a common retreat, was the one who spoke about the project to the direction who opened the door of the Cartoucherie to Parvathy and her students for the first public Madhukori evening.
When we arrived at the theater compound, we were awaited by Mimlu Sen and Paban Das Baul. They welcome us warmheartedly and serve a delicious bengali meal, filling nicely our bellies after long hours of driving. We enjoy then together some relaxing time for the bengali adda, chatting in good company (in Bengali of course).
In the evening, the first part of the soirée was led by a French Kathakali dance company, one of whose members happened to be an old acquaitance of Parvathy from her learning time in Kerala twenty years ago : Nathalie Le Boucher, what a surprise for them to happen to meet there after so many years ! After a short break in-between the two performances, we open the madhukori by displaying a video about the project of Sanatan Siddhashram and then Parvathy enters with Baul songs of Love and Longing leading all into the green and dark blue landscapes of Bhakti…
-Third stop : Paris, Tapovan center-
On the next day, a fundraising event takes place in Tapovan Yoga and Ayurveda center in Paris. The event is hosted there thanks to Sri Kiran Vyas ; we were able to share there time with an intimate group of people interested in learning more about the Baul tradition and the project of Sanatan Siddhashram and in bringing a substantial financial support to it, becoming thus one of the mécènes (patrons).
To complete the evening, an official standing cocktail party is planned. We are supported by many volounteers who join us, Parvathy, Jaya and me, happy to give us a hand in arranging the space, taking pictures , Lionel Brard from Collectif Echo), preparing and serving food, selling the CDs and speaking about the project (Stephanie, Claire, Marie, Michel). The party food was all delicious home cooked by Samuel and Valerie and Parvathy Maa who has spent hours in our host’s, Martina Cattella’s kitchen, cutting vegetables and cooking a delicious kitcheri..a traditional baul food.
And, without surprise, the Baul spirit takes over the standing party, and, following Parvathy who has sat on the floor next to a baby, who was one of our guests, most of the people sat informally on the floor, many eating with their fingers, while a vivid spiritual discussion was happenning impromptu. This spontanous moment of exchange between Parvathy and the guests was interrupted only by the obligation to leave the space at ten pm...
-Fourth stop : Domaine de Chardenoux-
After a day of rest, Parvathy takes off from Paris for a short trip to Italy where she participates in the Science and Nonduality Conference (SAND) in Orvieto, an international gathering of spiritual teachers and scientists with workshops, talks and music.
Back to France, our friend Stephanie and myself we pick her up from the airport and drove a long way towards Domaine de Chardenoux, happily enjoying our mutual good company and listening to Parvathy as she was singing all the way her newly composed song to one of Radhashyam’s poetries.
The castle in Chardenoux belongs to A Ciel Ouvert non profit association and is managed with love and passion by Alain Chevillat. For many years, its amazing compound has been a place of gathering for spiritual teachers and practitionners of arts and music from ancient traditions throughout the world.
To arrive in this green bower after a long journey and a few days in the heart of a big metropolis feels like entering an oasis of peace. We are very warmly welcomed and it is a pleasure to see people from the association work together, young and old, to support the transmission of wisdom and beauty.
The weekend workshop there, preceded by a concert in « plein air » under very old trees of the courtyard, has a special mood of intimacy and sharing much more than music. Some people have encountered the Baul tradition for the first time, tears and smiles shift on their faces while they speak about their experience.
There is a mood of secrecy and protection, we are surrounded by very old walls and a forest, as if this special place was a secret garden for the spiritual practionners coming there from France and from abroad.
We leave Chardenoux enriched by the exchange with people we met and with a new song which melody has just been reworked and recomposed by Parvathy for the purpose of the following workshop : Deeno Tarini Tara Maa Go ....
Moreover, the tin box that we carry since the island of Oleron preserving our food, was now full of delicious banana baja (fried bananas) cooked by Parvathy, Stephanie and myself in order to offer them to the participants of the Madhukori that was to happen on the same evening.
-Fifth stop : Lyon-
The Saône et Soi space in Lyon where Benedicte was waiting for us, is a yoga and practice space, and thus the songs that were chosen for the evening by Parvathy were carrying deep yoga wisdom of the Baul tradition. During the Madhukori, there is an electric atmosphere in the air and people are spellbound by the energy and intensity of the spiritual performance and prayer happening before their eyes. Parvathy is showing full power of the Baul bhav. Towards the end of her performance, she invites all three volunteers who are present at the location : Stéphanie, Flavie and myself, to sing together a song that we have just learned at the previous workshop given at Chardenoux.
Benedicte, who owns the space is practitioner herself. Extremely happy to host Parvathy Maa, as the intimates call her, for the evening, she was feeling blessed and grateful that the life has put us in touch a few months before through our common american friend, Saraswati.
-Sixth stop : Hauteville in Ardèche-
Later, in our white french car, we follow through the dark night Emmanuelle O., who joined us the same evening, and we drove silently South, leaving behind the luxurious green fields of Eastern France, towards the hotter and dryer area of Ardèche, where Arnaud Desjardin, renowned French teacher, disciple of a Bengali master Swami Prajnanpad, has established his ashram.
Hauteville, as it is called, is a second french castle that hosts us during the tour. Another castle which destiny has turned it away from worldly affairs into a spiritual center hosting instead of aristocracy - spiritual practitioners, whereas the invited guests are no longer princes and dukes, but generous spiritual masters. When on the first day Emmanuel Desjardins, son of Arnaud, whom left his body in 2011, has made Parvathy, Stephanie, Emmanuelle and me visit the ashram and its compound, we stopp in a room showing dozens and dozens of photographs of Masters and Practitioners from Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Jewish traditions and even Native American. I feel surrounded by a beautiful garland of loving eyes and smiles coming from the pictures around us.
It is difficult to express in words the intense peace and serenity that the ashram irradiates. The sound of dry grass being crushed under the feet while walking through the orchyard, humming noise of the cicadas, sudden jump of a koi fish in the mountain pond would be the only noises heard by a lonely walker whereas the body and mind are being aligned with the universal harmony and intrinsic joy of existence emanating not only from the Samadhi Shrine, but from every tree trimmed carefully by the sevaks, and from the grains of sand on the path walked on by so many seekers and practitioners.
After the walk, Parvathy gave a beautiful talk on the Baul tradition and answered some questions. Later, she was invited to sing and dance, and this time it was the sweet mood of love and longing that was reaching our ears and hearts.
-Seventh stop : near Valence-
Next day was a day of a long awaited concert of Parvathy and Emmanuelle Martin. Emmanuelle has been trained for ten years in India in carnatic music. Her very demanding and traditionnal training she received from her master T.M. Krishna has brought fruits of an amazingly flexible voice full of strenght and cristal like clarity. Her comitment to the music being developped in parallel with spiritual practice of bhakti marga, she is today reveiling the intrisic profondeur and beauty of the south indian music born from very ancient vedic scriptures and her performance is deeply touching the souls.
The concert takes place in a small chapel that had been a place of cult in the Celtic times. It is placed in a remote place outside of any village, and next to asmall wanderous cimetary with every cross decorated with a little bit rusted but still reddish mettalic enameled heart. After an hour long rehearsal of the two singers, some rest time was needed. In a small room next to the chapel, cool and fresh thanks to the thick stone walls, we all have a cup of tea, some fruits and a little bit of necessary pause.
The medieval chapel is holding in its apse a grave of a woman devotee, hidden under the stone paved floor, and the feminine energy irradiating from its presence has inspired Emmanuelle to choose, as theme for the evening, songs to the Divine Mother. We place an old wooden statue of Virgin Mary on the center of the altar, decorated the « stage » with flowers and candles, and while Emmanuelle, beautiful as an ancient priestess in her simple yellow cotton sari, is standing in the middle of the church welcoming the spectators in a very intense silence of hers, we realize that the flow of people where not diminishing, and soon there was no more seated place available ! Other volonteers and myself stood up and helped to squeeze people in every available corner of the temple…
The concert is beautiful ! At first Emmanuelle and Parvathy sing separately ; towards the end some ragas interpeted in the south indian and north indian manner have merged seamlessly while two artistes and practitionners, sing together their prayer and praise to the Mother together.
-eighth stop : La Belle Terre-
No wonder that the following three days of an immersive retreat, during which Emmanuelle and Parvathy Maa are sharing their teaching together, pass in a mood of friendship, good company and love.
Except me and Emmanuelle Oliviero, the small group of people is discovering for the first time the Baul tradition, one of them however have practiced Carnatic music before.
We begin the days with meditation, silent and with sound led by Emmanuelle, do yoga with Parvathy, then voice practice with Emmanuelle and then, after a delicious brunch under an old tree, the afternoons were spent in practice of the Baul rythm, song and movement. We practice the song to Tara Maa, and another one dedicated to Lord Krishna Madhava, we move our body learning to let go of our old imprinted manners, to move with the flow of the inner feeling of stillness.
-ninth stop : le Gard-
The last chapter of the summer madhukori story is to be written now. On the Sunday evening we drive down South through more hills and their mediterreanean bushes to my home in Saint Jean de Maruejols, in Gard, neigbouring the Ardeche area.
We spend few days sharing good company of some friends and practionners, in a celebration of the teaching and of its transmission, before the last madukori that was to happen in an art gallery that will soon open its door to the public.
It was the first event happenning there, and while we were wondering how many people will come to this still unknown place, and while we were looking for some flowers that would still be blooming in the heavy heat and dryness of the area in order to make the space beautiful and welcoming, the cicadas where humming their song loudly, reminding us that it will all be just as it should be…
And indeed it is. About fifty people from near and far come to attend the event. We are unlucky that despite several hours of attempts, the projector with which we are to broadcast a short video presenting the traditional school (Sanatan Siddhashram) with its project and stakes, refuses to work that night. So I start a last-minute improvisation, holding up the laminated pictures of the photo exhibition that we had printed for the tour which show the project of Sanatan Siddhashram. After this spoken introduction, telling one more time the story of the master and of the disciple, of the school and its projects, we hear the ringing of Nupur ankle bells and the participants are embarking on the boat of the Baul, for a journey into the depths of the heart, through the song-prayers that evoke torment and beauty, longing and peace - the eternal journey of the soul towards union and bliss.
Deep in our hearts, we join Parvathy Maa in her prayers. She is singing and dancing, holding in her heart the vision received from her Teacher, the vision to teach to a patchwork of children and adults from all horizons the ancient yogic ways and mystic poetry, to bring consciousness and love to the mother earth and feed the loving spark that illuminates our hearts, to bring down the experience of joy and harmony in our material world thirsty of friendship, peace and true acceptance.
Thank you all for having been part of this journey
Of this story that has just begun
Thanks to my teacher who is patiently showing me the path
And to my fellow companions who hold my hand
Full of gratitude of being able to learn from the everyday companionship and through the volountary work that we all did together this past year
I can say only…
(To be continued…)
Guru Kripa Hi Kevalam
Article written by Magdalena Busnel Published by Claire Sondag
Photo credits: Lionel Brard, Brian Kwong
1. Pradakshina : circambulation of an object keeping the right side towards it, a reverential salutation