His instrument rests gently on his knee. His right hand confidently plucks the taut steel strings. The fingers of his left hand dance rhythmically up and down the fret board releasing a cascade of beautiful notes.
There seems to be nothing separating the musician from the instrument he is playing upon. They are one. His eyes closed he plays a song that seems to come not just from months and years of practice. But instead originates from a far deeper source. Of course Vijay can look back and see a long musical family tradition. He is after all the 6th generation to grow up where playing and hearing classical Indian music was as natural as drinking water.
Yet as I sit near his feet, on a hot afternoon in Thailand, his audience of one. I cannot see that great lineage that stretches out behind him. All I can only hear is what is pouring out from his heart right now. What is undeniably clear, even to my own untrained ears, is that I am listening to a master musician. One who is sitting upon the ground in front of me while simultaneously reaching out to the celestial realms beyond. This, the very essence of who Vijay Shankar Mishra is.
I have listened to and admired Vijay’s music for years. As a musician, when he plays you instantly realize what a master he is over his instrument and as well as a singer. As a friend he is something else. His humility, warmth, and charm do not instantly reveal all and what there is about this 58 year old man from Delhi, who now finds himself living in Nepal with his wife and 2 children and also working for a travel and tour company. Both his daughter Shivani and his son Abhishek have continued in their own way the great musical family tradition. So one afternoon in February I asked him to tell me more about his life and his music, and how all the bits and pieces fit together to make up his most interesting world.
On Being a Musician
“It is a tradition. It is pretty natural, you are in a family where the music is happening all the time. Every weekend we used to go to classical music in different places. Music was a part of our life. At home my father used to play at all hours. Learning started right from the beginning.” In fact he was also exposed regularly to a wide group of other talented musical artists as well. “I was never aware of the fact that it was going to be my destiny. It was just going along. It happened. It came so naturally it was in my family it was easy. It becomes destiny itself.”
“Our family instrument was the sitar. My father was a sitarist and my brother is also a professor of sitar in the Delhi institute. It is quite obvious then that the sitar would be my first instrument.” But eventually he found himself being drawn to the Sarod and his father agreed to it. “So one day when I was very young he came to me with a Sarod.” He points to the instrument in his arms now. “This was a gift from my father. It is my father’s love gift. He said okay here it is, it is all yours. So then I started practicing and I hope I become one with this.” Laughs
He tells me his father was his teacher and though the fingering is different from the sitar he instilled in him the very core and essence of Indian music, the raga. “It was pretty natural, I had been seeing my father play, I went to the conservatory and my brother was playing. It was traditional kind of thing happening.”
He describes that even in performing you are not aware of the audience. “You see them as a part of you and you become one with that. I have never been scared of people because they are a part of me. I watched my father play comfortably and my brother playing so comfortably on stage with thousands of people around so I inherited that thing.”
He remembers that his first performance being a very natural experience. He was around 19 and how then, just as he does now, he simply closed his eyes and got into it.
He tells me that he never set a goal for himself as a musician. “For music we cannot set a goal. Especially in terms of classical music. It is a transcending factor. Every time you play you are transcending. It is always a new thing for me. A new test, a new exam. Every time I play it is never ending process.” He also continues to teach classical music in Katmandu.
He describes his move from Delhi to Nepal as an interesting process. It all began at about the same time that Sri Chinmoy was visiting Katmandu for the first time in December of 1994, though he didn’t actually meet him at that time. “It was a kind of destiny.” They actually never met until 5 years later in 1999. “I was fascinated.” He says that it is only now as he looks back that he can see the grand picture unfolding of his life. He certainly had no plans originally to move there. “When you come from Delhi, Nepal is so much smaller.” Yet it didn’t take very long before it became obvious to him that his spiritual life as well as everything else now needed to be transplanted to another city and in a different country. “This is how things work. It is basically destiny.”
He said that his entrance into a spiritual life and having a teacher was a new thing. “I didn’t know much about it. I wasn’t looking for a Guru, but once I saw Sri Chinmoy, I felt this big energy. It was like a magnet. It attracted me. So then I tried to learn step by step. It is like a baby learning to walk. It was the same way that happened with me. I didn’t even know the A B C’s about spirituality. I had heard about it and read about it, but this was different. Spirituality is a complete yoga. It has to be learned. It has to be felt. It has to be inherited from the master. It is not easy.” He describes that for him his spiritual life could not have even begun without his encounter and then his relationship to Sri Chinmoy.
“It is a journey. It is pacing me and helping me in my music as well. To make the music more divine, more Godly, more beyond words. I play for him. That is how the music goes on.”
Vijay performs on Sarod:
“It does not mean that I play, or your heart doesn’t play. It is all within us playing. The listener is also playing. It is a give and take. Who is giving and who is taking? Nobody knows. Only the Supreme knows. There is an amazing exchange. It is beautiful.”
” Music is initially a self motivated art. The more I please myself the more I please you, and the more deeply I go. The more deep I go and also the more deeply the listener goes. Music is a universal language of
“It can transport you to a higher consciousness, in silence. Silence itself is a soundless sound, and that transports us very easily. Then we reach a state of silence. We are from the sound world and we go through to the silence world. For that we need a vehicle. It is music that we use as that vehicle. As transportation to the silence sound of God.”
It was at a concert in 99 that he met his Guru for the first time. “I really liked his presence. He was beaming with energy. He played so many instruments and that really affected me. He had so many dimensions. I had never seen anyone like that. That really attracted me. So I became close to him and I really liked him.”
At the time he said that both he and his family became disciples that very evening. “There was something happening within me. He meditated on us, it was very moving. A very special moment for me. To become part of his spiritual family.”
“Guru’s music is a written and composed for the Divine. The consciousness in Guru’s songs and music is very high. That transports you to the very highest very easily.” He is amazed that Sri Chinmoy composed so much music, more than 23,000 songs. “Even if you sing just a few songs a day it gives you such upliftment in terms of consciousness.”
He remembers how he played for Sri Chinmoy in New York for the first time. He told me, “very well done. Very good Vijay, you have played so well, and he gave me a medal.”
“Oneness love is his message. The whole world is one in peace. The divine love amongst us is a message. Even if he is not in the physical, I don’t feel like he is not there. You may not see him but he is always there to guide us.”
“My dream is to be always a seeker and always a divine lover of each and every human being through my music. I love the transcending goal. I am a seeker of music, I am a student of Sri Chinmoy and I always want to be a student and learn and transcend. That is my goal.”
WHAT MUSIC TELLS ME
The sound-music tells me
God is Power.
The silence-music tells me
God is Bliss.
The God-music tells me
God is Experience.
Sri Chinmoy, The Wings Of Light, Part 15, Agni Press, 1974