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The Madonna Timeline: Song #24 – ‘Shanti/Ashtangi’ – Summer 1998

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{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

What can one say about this bit of sung Sanskrit from 1998’s brilliant ‘Ray of Light’ album? Personally, not much. And yet… and yet. There is something about this song that I’ve always liked. No idea what is going on lyrically, but I forced myself to learn the words and sing along (which is a nifty car-ride trick to impress, or in my case underwhelm, any friends in trapped earshot).

Vunde gurunam caranaravinde
Sandarsita svatma sukhavabodhe
Nihsreyase jangalikayamane
Sansara halahala moha santyai
Hala, hala
Ahahu purusakaram sankha cakrasi
Ahahu purusakaram sankha cakrasi
Dharinam dharinam sahasra sirasam
Dharinam dharinam sahasra sirasam
Vande

It’s a bit of chanting to ease the soul, and for a number of years whenever I felt stressed or scared (I distinctly remember repeating the mantra silently to myself while riding up in the elevator to my first state job) it offered a small piece of peace, or at least a welcome distraction to whatever I happened to be dreading.

Om shanti, Om shanti
Shanti, shanti
Shantay Om
Om shanti, Om shanti
Shanti, shanti
Shantay Om 

But what does it all mean? It’s been a while since I’ve brushed up on my Sanskrit (and by ‘while’ I mean forever), so here’s how it supposedly translates, by way of the internet:

I worship the gurus’ lotus feet
Awakening the happiness of the self revealed
Beyond comparison, working like the jungle physician
To pacify loss of consciousness from the poison of existence
In the form of a man up to the shoulders
Holding a conch, discus and sword
Thousand headed, white
I bow respectfully
Peace

I don’t know about you, but the only thing I got out of that was ‘Peace’. No matter, the music and the Sanskrit combine for a mystical experience, the beat and melody make for an irresistible combination of hooks and bait, and the whole thing is better than it has any right to be.

I’ve always thought that Madonna should make a world music album – something along the lines of Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland.’ This seemed like it might mark the jumping off point for that, until I heard its descendant, “Cyberraga”, a B-side from the ‘Music’ sessions. Maybe one song in Sanskrit per career is enough.

Om shanti, Om shanti
Shanti, shanti
Shantay Om
Song #24: ‘Shanti/Ashtangi’ – Summer 1998
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