In December 2022, I began taking music instrument classes from Amrita Virtual Academy, starting with the ganjira.  In February 2024, I also started learning kaimani.  Both classes have had a strong impact on my life, my path and my sadhana. They have given me access to a practice that has sent its roots deep into many areas of my life.

The classes have helped connect me to other spiritual seekers in a beautiful way.  They have challenged me to expand at multiple levels and shown me that it is most important that my actions be connected to love.   They have also shown me that Amma is very much with me, that her plans are often surprising, and that her work is deep and constant. I feel very lucky to find myself in these classes. I would not have predicted that I would do something like this.

In this first blog post, I would like to tell the story about how, by Amma’s Grace, I started to attend these classes, beginning with the ganjira, and how I found my ganjira teacher, Br. Vipin. 

The story begins in Amma's Ashram Amritapuri….

The first time I remember hearing a ganjira was in the Kali temple at Amritapuri.  It was in the fall of 2022 on my first trip to India.  Every morning, women gather for archana in the Kali temple.  The 1000 Names of the Divine Mother are followed by the Sri Mahisausuramardini Stotram – a chant depicting an epic battle where the Divine Mother in the form of Durga slays various demons.   Normally, there are no instruments played during the chanting, but one day, the woman who was leading the chant played the ganjira.

This changed everything for me.

The stotram came to life.  I became enchanted and wondered if I could learn to play that instrument so I could bring this experience home with me.  

I am not really musical, and I had never heard a ganjira played like that before.  No one I spoke to had either.  The thought of my learning to play one seemed like a long shot.  But as it turned out, some time after I got home, I saw lessons offered online through the Amrita Virtual Academy.  So now, all I needed was the instrument.

A few weeks later, I rode with a friend to the San Ramon Ashram in California to attend satsang.

That very night, someone was playing a ganjira, in the bookstore,  after bhajans.  And sure enough, he was a student of Br. Vipin who teaches both in-person and online ganjira classes through Amrita Virtual Academy.  We then discovered that a few ganjiras were for sale in the bookstore.  We each bought one that very night.

But that is not the end of her grace.

Now that I had my own ganjira, I quickly signed up for the online class.  The class is detailed and starts with a comprehensive lesson on how to approach the instrument, how to hold it, and how to respect it. 

Br. Vipin introduces a few basic beats (or rhythms) used in Indian music which we are encouraged to practice with a metronome. Then step by step, beat by beat, the classes add something new each time.  Each section of the course is followed by an invitation to connect with Br. Vipin and submit a sample of our homework in video format.  Br. Vipin then responds with encouraging words and clear and precise recommendations for improvement.    

At the beginning, my playing was a bit stiff, my timing was off, and in some ways, not strong. Despite this, we—the ganjira and I—would practice and play together. If I found an exercise too challenging to do on my own with the metronome, I would just set a 20 minute timer, and play along with Br. Vipin and the demonstration videos, until it felt natural to me.

In September 2023, I returned to Amritapuri where I was able to meet Br. Vipin in person and take in-person lessons.  During our first lesson at the beach, he mentioned that this day was Ganesh Chaturthi (celebration of the birth of Lord Ganesh) and that a group of young people would be playing bhajans as part of the Ganesh puja at the Kalari (the space where Amma first started to give darshan and where the fire ceremonies are now held).  He invited me to join them.  It turned out to be a wonderful experience—very vibrant, fun and dynamic.  This opened up to other opportunities for me to play along with others. 

There is a video from the Ganesh Chaturthi 2023. You can see it here.

Shortly after Ganesh Chaturthi, during Onam (the harvest festival of Kerala where the relationship between man and Nature and human beings and God, is celebrated—read more here), I was able to hear first-hand other forms of percussion that are found in Kerala.  This helped to give me a context for what I was trying to create with the ganjira. 

Br. Vipin also gave tips to help me reduce my tension by encouraging me to slow down, relax, be in the moment and to play naturally.  Through these suggestions, as well as through the focus on playing as a meditation, he wove ganjira playing into my spiritual path. 

In Napa Valley, California (also known as wine country) people talk about “terroir”, a way of referring to the unique, recognizable qualities that a specific soil of an area offers to a grape, and later to the wine it produces.  Being immersed in the rhythms of Amritapuri and the surrounding area, I was able to feel that terroir of the rhythms of the Ganjira.   I could hear them echoing from their origin.  

Recognizing this instrument as a form of Amma’s love has helped me to keep practicing.  Every now and then, I hear something lovely in my playing—it feels like a kind of grace, an attunement with the beauty contained within all things.  This has become my meditation practice. 

Try out the Ganjira Course with Brahmachari Vipin, here.

Amrita Virtual Academy offers a wide range of musical classes, from singing to learning different instruments. See more here.

As a Amrita Virtual Academy member you have access to more than 60 different courses in different fields. Discover more about the AVA Membership here, and join.