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Parvathy Baul brings exhilarating spiritual music to Vancouver

Parvathy Baul's musical performances are hypnotic. Standing with a drum at her waist and an ektara (one-stringed drone) in one hand, her clear, soaring voice seems otherworldly and divinely inspired.

She is a "Baul", a mystic religious sect in West Bengal.  Baul is often compared to Sufi Islam for its emphasis on the arts. Free-spirtited and unconvenetional, Baul singers rely on music as their main form of sustenance, living on whatever people give in return for their songs.

Parvathy Baul's beautiful singing has gained recognition around the world, bringing her all across Bengal and India, then across the continents to Paris, Beirut, Geneva and Tokyo.

Now, she's in Vancouver to give two performances from August 4-5, on invitation from the Althea Foundation, a non-profit organization focusing on spiritual traditions.

Speaking in a lilting, gentle voice, Parvathy explained what goes on when she's on the stage.

"Music is the closes to God -- something that goes straight to God," she said. "What we are really trying to do is, to stop the mind when we sing," she said. "There is so much going on around, so many things happening at once, but inside, we (Baul singers) are calm." 

She explained how Baul singers emphasize the "non-duality" between self and others, and how this is expressed in their performances. 

"That's why we only have one string," she said, speaking of her stringed instrument, the ektara. "One is enough."

Born  into a middle-class family to an engineer father in Bengal, Parvathy -- then known as Moushumi Paria -- surprised her family when she said that she wanted to join the tradition of the Baul, traveling and playing music, leading an extremely austere lifestyle like that of a monk. 

"My family did not really understand what I wanted in becoming a Baul. It was very difficlt for them to accept it. A family like mine would always wants their child -- especially a girl child to have all the good things in life. A good education, marriage and children," she said. 

"The Baul path is one of traveling, and very little material comfort. I don't live the conventional life."

"But now, after many years, they have realized what I was trying to do. They know what I was looking for."

 Parvathy's live performance takes place on August 4, 7:30 at Inner Space Yoga. She will also appear at the Canadian Memorial Centre for Peace on August 5, 7-9pm.

Tickets are available at Banyen Books & Sound at 3608 West 4 Ave.

Call 604-737-8858 for more information. 

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