Last July there was a story in the news from Kerala that spread quickly all over the world. Jewelry, gemstones, gold, silver and coins worth billions of dollars had been found in vaults below a Hindu temple. For centuries devotees had brought offerings and the collection grew and grew. One family faithfully safeguarded the treasury through the many cultural and political upheavals and now the government of India has decided to intervene. The many rare artifacts, including an eighteen-foot gold chain that weighs more than ten pounds, will challenge the team assembled to assess their worth.
It is amazing to imagine how this could happen. Swarms of ordinary people walking around doing ordinary things, taking care of the necessities of life, doing business, practicing rituals and ceremonies, never realizing that beneath their feet was a huge fortune that had been carefully collected and maintained by those who had the foresight to protect it. However, no one was actually benefitting from the wealth and the vaults had not been opened for over one hundred years.
The story of this tangible treasure is not unlike the story of the intangible treasure. How many people are even aware of the heritage that exists, where to find it, who knows about it, why it is valuable? How long has it been since the ordinary people have had a chance to see the riches for themselves? For the few that know about it, is it enough to preserve it under lock and key, or is the intangible heritage for enjoying, engaging and enriching? How many are aware that something as magnificent as an eighteen-foot gold chain is even possible? The two volumes of Gurbāni Sangeet are a vault like this. This week I’ve been travelling, but the few moments I’ve been able to spend with the sweet shabds of rāga āsā recorded in Volume One have been refreshing and renewing and a reminder of the insight of those who composed them.
I’m in India with my daughters and granddaughter preparing to join Bhai Baldeep Singh and other students at the Qila in Sultanpur Lodhi for twelve days of music practice. This will be the thirtieth gathering of this group from India, Italy, Canada and the United States that has been meeting twice a year for nearly fifteen years for a hands-on experience with the intangible heritage of Gurubāni Kirtan. This is the first time we have met in India and it is an opportunity for the international group to connect with the people and projects Bhai Baldeep and the Anad Foundation are working with in South Asia.
Arriving at the Delhi airport and descending the stairs into the sea of humanity waiting in the immigration lines I realized what a rare privilege it is to have learned about this fortune and to have the opportunity for a first-hand experience. It is like being invited to join the panel of inspectors assembled to view and assess the value of the hidden treasure in Kerala. I feel fortunate, indeed.