The Flame of Spiritual Aspiration Brought Us to India: Adam Callejon and Nathalie Nichanian

Love for Hindustani music and a Dhrupad workshop in France led Adam and Nathalie to meet each other. Adam S Callejon and Nathalie Nichanian live in France and have been offering Vocal Yoga which is their main spiritual sadhana. It includes meditation, singing as a meditation, and returning to Silence which is one’s true nature. The diverse experiences, the relationship between sound and light, the transcendence in the sparkling silence, the infinite beauty of harmony that creates pure joy are the ways in which Vocal Yoga has been a part of their Sadhana.

The two started their Dhrupad journey under the guidance of Yvan Trunzler. Nathalie was a Hatha Yoga teacher and Adam was a songwriter and music composer well versed in the study of spirituality and the practice of meditation. They also shared a common interest in the teachings of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo and in Indian Master, Chandra Swami.

Hindustani music led them to practice Yoga. In the course of their research, Adam came across an ancient Yoga form - Gita Marg, the path of Realisation through Gandharva music. Gandharva music is a legacy of Vedic Rishis and the origin of today’s Indian classical music. Dhrupad is an old and very pure form of Indian music which has retained its authenticity throughout centuries of transmission. “It reminds me of the vocal waves of Sama Veda. The main focus in our practice is the combination of vibration and Silence,” said Adam. The Alaaps in Dhrupad are magnificent in their quiet strength. To both Adam and Nathalie, although they have studied the Indian raga system, performance was never the main focus. They were more concerned with sharing the peace and tranquillity, to restore the original value of Energy and to open themselves to the knowledge of the Reality - of the Consciousness.

Adam said, “We have been focusing on this aspect of the Source, practicing music as a path of Yoga, returning to the heart, stepping out of the mental whirlwind, keeping the spiritual connection through vibration. From our own practice, over the years, we have evolved a practical method.” The Yoga of the Voice (or Vocal Yoga as they call it in English) differs from Nada Yoga because its main source and support is the Raga (combined with Sanskrit revealed mantras). Their songs are sound meditations which reveal and celebrate the Silence of being.

Sanatana Dharma, the eternal Law, of which India is the repository, enables human beings to cultivate their true nature by guiding them in their daily quest for Self-realization - Adam S Callejon and Nathalie Nichanian

The two met at a Dhrupad retreat and began learning Dhrupad at the same time around August 2000. They first learnt under a French Vocalist, Yvan Trunzler, a long term disciple of the late Dagar brothers, Fariduddin and Zia Mohiuddin. For decades he lived in Bhopal with his Gurus and that association provided him the full Indian flavour. Although the two learnt under a French Guru, they always felt that they had the “real thing” throughout.  They also travelled to India and met a wonderful Indian Guru, Pandit Barun Kumar Pal, a senior disciple of Pandit Ravi Shankar. It was also very meaningful that they met him in Sri Aurobindo Ashram Delhi, since Adam and Nathalie were both committed to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s integral Yoga. Adam studied instrumental music for a few years with Pandit Barun Kumar Pal. “I met a music knight, affable and delicate, meticulous and coherent, constantly devoted to his role as a musician. He was living music from morning till night and I know he is still at it today,” Adam said.

Nathalie always had a liking towards Indian classical music. In her early days, she found it very soothing to the mind, and loved to let her imagination wander at the sound of Hariprasad Chaurasia’s flute. Much later, she was attending her first Dhrupad vocal workshop and started singing the Sargam. She felt the power of sound vibrations inside, and a thought crossed her elated mind. “There are years of work, learning and passion in front of me.” Little did she know then that life changing meeting would become her life.

Adam’s first live Indian music concert was a duet of chant and tabla. It was a real revelation, a kind of musical transcendence. “The chant was an expression of my own sadhana. It vibrated on the surface, but above all in the depths, in the inner temple”, he said

“We never really taught Dhrupad as such. We studied enthusiastically for years, and felt the deep secret connection with Yoga more and more. We were both committed to as well and with that commitment and our Guru’s blessings, we started leading Vocal Yoga retreats. We taught Dhrupad but the aim was to realize the goal of Yoga rather than become performers,” they said. “We are still studying, it seems endless”, said Adam

The duo soon realized that many participants in the Dhrupad classes were more interested in the inner journey than to really become an artist or performer. “That’s how we started offering our Vocal Yoga retreats, and immediately noticed the benefits of this practice on the participants: happy smiles and bright faces, relaxation, expression of their inner joy and energy”, commented Nathalie.

When asked if they were trained in western classical music and if that gave them an impetus while learning Dhrupad, Nathalie said, “Not at all. I very much like ancient western music, and I used to listen to it a lot. Adam has always been a western self-taught and very talented musician, composer, singer and poet. I don't know whether Indian classical music is more technical than other forms but to me, it is completer and more refined. It is closer to the cosmic vibrations that constantly inform our universe. And our inner universe as well. That is why it harmonizes us so deeply.”

As a musician, Adam played progressive rock, jazz and so on. He was looking for beauty in all of that, and also was looking for intoxication. Whenever he played, he escaped from his inner jail. He said, “Technically you have to work a lot to be able to express yourself in jazz or fusion, because they are music that demand virtuosity. Everything depends on our consciousness in music as we remain on the surface of things and be satisfied with it. What I found to be different in Hindustani modal music are the specific energetic secrets. One can, without risk of drowning, dive deep and find pearls.” Adam and Nathalie found the skill of Indian maestros is stunning. They marveled at their many years of discipline, willpower, and passion to perform a raga the way they do. They remain in awe of such finesse and virtuosity.

The duo once offered their songs to an audience of 200 Indians from Maharashtra. The audience were astounded to hear Westerners performing classical music in Sanskrit. Once the shock wore off, they listened and joined in the vibratory sharing of the devotion, and then at one point, unable to stand still, they set fire to it.  “It was amazing, they were climbing on stage to sing with us, blessing us and applying the Kumkum powder on our foreheads. We have never received so many smiles and warm handshakes as we did that night. A great moment of universal love between complete strangers”, said Adam.

They give concerts occasionally, and like to label it “medit’active concerts”. Their audience is mainly Yoga/energetics involved people, seeking to enhance their peace and well-being. Their concerts, purely raga music, are a blend of instrumental music on various Indian and hybrid instruments, duets in the form of call and response. They always end with an interactive session where they invite the audience to sing with them and experience the music as a part of them rather than something foreign and separated from them.

As far as Nathalie can recall, India had always seemed mysterious and attractive to her. At the age of 15 she read “The Adventure of Consciousness” by Satprem, and was deeply impressed. She felt she wanted to live in Auroville.  About 10 years later, she found herself in Sri Aurobindo Ashram Pondicherry and that was the real start of her Sadhana. Nathalie kept returning to the ashram every year for at least 15 years and has very dear friends there. When she met Adam, he also had followed an intense Sadhana under the guidance of an Indian Guru, and though he had never set foot on this sacred land, she couldn’t help but see Adam as an Indian person. They both read many Indian spiritual books and Adam has studied the scriptures in depth. “It seems that spiritual India is all our life. I taught Hatha Yoga for 15 years, and now our main occupation for the last 10 years is Vocal Yoga retreats and Teacher training”, Nathalie said.

“As our music teacher Barun ji used to say, you are half Indians. It was the flame of spiritual aspiration that brought us to India. Our house is an ashram. Our heart is a lingam, our soul is a lotus. Our immense gratitude to the great Rishis of Bharatha and for all that India has given to us, is giving and will give in the future. Sanatana Dharma, the eternal Law, of which India is the repository, enables human beings to cultivate their true nature by guiding them in their daily quest for Self-realization. The ideal of Yoga today remains the offering of our actions to this Law, serving the Divine and contributing to the advent of Paradise on earth," said the two.