Baladeva Nitai Das is a devotee of Lord Rama from Brazil. After his residency in India, he has taken the Veena to concert stages in Brazil, USA and India. In this interview with CSP he speaks about the link between Carnatic music and spirituality. He shares with CSP his offering to Lord Rama: https://www.softpowermag.com/purandara-krithi-by-brazilian-vainika-baladeva-nitai-das/
The song Padmanabha a composition of Purandaradasa, was performed at Palácio das Artes(Arts Palace) - Belo Horizonte City - Brazil April 2019 by Baladeva.
Are there any similarities between Indian and Brazilian culture?
Yes! Brazilians and Indians are very happy, very friendly, and hospitable. Both cultures are very devoted to the Lord. Both cultures are very colourful. Actually, the original people that were in Brazil, 500 years before the Portuguese arrived were called ‘Indios’, because they say Portuguese were looking for India, and when they saw our people they called them ‘Indios’. And in the original language, our country was not called Brazil, this name was given after we were colonised. The natives of Brazil called the land ‘Pindorama’, some people say that is a connection with Lord Rama and that Hanuman came here. So we have a lot of things in common.
Does Indian art and music have a presence in Brazil?
No so much. Some artists who have a great passion, and make a lot of sacrifices, have the opportunity to go to India to learn from an authentic guru. In the last decade, we meet only a few artists that live and breathe the classical art seriously. Actually, Bhakti Vedanta Swami Prabhupada in the 60's started to spread Indian Philosophy and Arts in the West on a large scale, and now some people are really seeking this spiritual path seriously.
In Brazil it is harder to be an artist than in other cultures because of the cultural view towards the arts on the part of Government leaders. In our history they didn't make a substantial economic plan for this aspect of society. Because of this, me and my wife, Kamalaksi Rupini created "Natya Yoga - Spiritual Arts" company, and because of our deep relation with India, we are offering a lot of events and Festivals here in Brazil like "Magic India", "Mantra Yoga", "The Week of India in Belo Horizonte", "Indian Classical Dance and Music" and also helping in "Ratha Yatra", so more people can be in contact with this deep expression of the human being.
How did you get interested in the Veena and Carnatic music?
Carnatic Music is one of the oldest music systems in the world, it is a remnant of the ancient Vedic culture, still found in India. Veena, the sacred string instrument described in the earliest scriptures, played by great divine personalities like Saraswati Devi and Narada Muni, is the ultimate expression of this system of music. I learnt this music from my gurus Vijaya Lakshmi (Vocal), Geeta Shyam Prakash (Veena), Geraldo Tonelli (Music) and Radhanath Swami (Spiritual).
How long have you be learning Carnatic music. What appeal does it have for you?
My journey towards Carnatic music has been long. I am the son of a great musician called Geraldo Tonelli, and he was my guru in the art of music since I was a little baby. My father has already passed, but his instructions still are inside me, and give me the strength to continue my dedication and work to evolve and create a spiritual music.
In 2006, I went to the Philosophy University in Brazil and my goal was to study human thought, so that my poetry could touch the soul of the people who listen to it. At that time my uncle asked me if I had found what I was looking in Western Philosophy, he was talking about the deep questions like "Who am I? Where I came from? Where will I go after death? What I am doing here?" My answered was "No!" And he instructed me to read the Bhagavad-Gita - As It Is and to look to the mystic East side of the world.
Since then I have been studying without a stop until today. In 2014, my band at the time called "7 Estrelo" went to a Music Conference in Spain, and we were invited to perform in India. It was a dream! We went there, and after finishing the tour, the group came back to Brazil, but I stayed back and went directly to Vrindavan, in Mathura. I stayed there for 20 days, and that changed my life forever.
I recorded an album there - https://youtu.be/-HHODR7Gm-c - and I built a mantra fusion band called Vrindavan with devotees of a little Jagannath Temple in our city, and we tour around Brazil spreading Indian culture. The great dancer of Bharatanatyam from Brazil, Kamalaksi Rupini, was there, and I invited her to dance with the group - https://youtu.be/trfZ0crBkEk.
Since 2012 I have been reading the Bhagavat Purana, and I read about Narada Muni playing the Veena. I play the guitar, and I felt the ancient strings instrument, the Veena, was Divine, so I desired to play it one day. Kamalaksi and I got married, and we went to India in 2017. She found a Carnatic Vocal guru form me - Vijaya Lakshmi. I started to learn in 2017. That time I also met my spiritual master, Radhanath Swami Maharaj. Because of our efforts here and the spiritual call from India we left everything and went to India to live for one year and study. That is when I met my Veena guru Geetha Shyam Prakash. I am studying and spreading Carnatic music in Brazil, and recently we went to USA and performed there too. I am starting to write new songs in the Carnatic system. My relation with Carnatic has just started!
Do a lot of Indians perform in Brazil?
Not so many. We know that in the big city of São Paulo, there are more activities related with ICCR. Also in Brasília the administrative center of the country we know that sometimes Indians perform there. We live in Belo Horizonte the third big city of the country, and we don't have too many Indians that perform here. With our company, "Natya Yoga", we have been bringing some artists in the last two years. The idea is to bring more artists every year.
Does coming to India to learn the arts appeal to Brazilians?
As I said, only some artists that have a huge passion, and make a lot of sacrifices, have the opportunity to go to India to learn.
We hope to inspire more people to understand what this sacred art means, not only Westerns, but also Indians that nowadays because of the situation of the world, the global connection, are following the materialistic way of life from the West countries. Also we want to help in the building of a wonderful relation between our countries, so the doors can be always open for this purpose.