DR VEDAVID MANICK
THE RECENT performance of Hindu chants at a Carnival fete by soca superstar Machel Montano has sparked much controversy in the public domain and, most interestingly, within the Hindu community itself. Many seem to be offended by the act while others have voiced their support for the superstar.
As someone who identifies as Hindu, I found myself in a situation where I am unable to pick a side and thus had to reflect a bit more as to why this is so.
Some Hindus have voiced dissent, pointing out very logically that the soca star’s actions were not appropriate for the time or circumstance. One ought to think and act appropriately according to the time, place and circumstance.
For example, if one were to go a wedding and sing a funeral song, or go to a funeral and sing a wedding song, such an act will be considered to be situationally inappropriate. Montano’s actions are seen in such a light because something considered sacred has been rendered in a situation regarded as profane.
Other Hindus have pointed out a seeming hypocrisy of such a view, as there are many Hindu chutney artistes who have sung songs such as Nanda Baba and Mohan ki Muraliya (both songs that sing about Lord Krishna) as chutney in chutney fetes where large audiences of Hindus lap them up, wining down low to their refrains while a beer bottle or drink of puncheon is held in one hand.
The reason why there seems to be no unified view is perhaps because, unlike other faiths in our land, Hinduism itself is very pluralistic in its view of the world and there is no monopoly on how God can be viewed or a singular code of morality. When an informed Hindu gives an opinion, it is usually rooted in a tradition that particular person belongs to, and may be very different from an equally devout Hindu of another tradition.
What ought to be our moral compass is our intelligence, thinking appropriately before we act, and acting always not for selfish gain but for the welfare of all, while bringing as little distress as possible to others.
Some have questioned whether Montano was being disrespectful to a faith he is perceived not to be a part of. Would Montano dare to sing a hymn or a verse of the Bible in a Carnival fete? Would he dare to sing a qaseeda or a verse of the Holy Quran to such an audience? Certainly a devout Christian or Muslim would feel disrespected if such was done.
Montano himself has indicated that he was not seeking to be disrespectful, pointing to aspects of his personal life where he has openly embraced Hindu customs and ideologies. Whether or not this indication of “no disrespect” comes from a sincere place is a question only Montano can answer and therefore I cannot judge.
The chant was Hindu but any faith would have perhaps been offended if their sacred verse was rendered in a soca fete. Why then will all faiths see such a place and situation as inappropriate? Maybe it is because Carnival culture has become a den of promiscuity, alcohol glorification and everything we find wrong when others do it, but see no problem when we do it ourselves.
Therefore, the deeper issue is not which religious item was rendered or which religious doctrine supposedly offended but perhaps a deeper one – the nature of religion, spirituality and its interaction with the Carnival culture that we Trinidadians hold up to the world.
Religion and spirituality may seem the same, but in reality they are miles apart. Religion is a dogmatic identity with a higher principle which one practises within the context of a specified code of conduct. Spirituality on the other hand is a personal seeking, to discover the nature of one’s existence and his or her relationship with a higher identity and the world around them.
In other words, religion is what is practised for a specified time in a week in church, masjid or temple, while spirituality is practised with God being in every breath we take. If we find ourselves in an environment where the remembrance or name of God makes us feel uncomfortable, then perhaps such an environment is not where we ought to be, and better yet, we should be striving to make that environment not be what it has become.
The problem is therefore not the chant or the chanter, but what Carnival, soca, chutney and all other items that go with it have become.
I have no condemnation or admiration for Montano but I do however wish to issue a challenge to him and other artistes out there. To be an artiste of such high standing comes with much responsibility. The art forms that you persevere in has become that which people feel uncomfortable to remember God in. The Carnival we proudly glorify to the world has become that which we secretly feel ashamed of inside. It has made us essentially into passive hypocrites. Therefore, use the great influence you possess within the realms of cultural sensitivity to inspire a change that will make all of us proud.
Machel Montano performs at a Carnival fete recently.
Photo by ANSEL JEBODH