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Women’s Day: Meet Manisha Sharma, the yogini on a musical quest to revive the fading Indian tradition

‘Yoga and music for me are two sides of the same coin. There’s a mystical connection between the two! Music is that which connects individuals to universal energies.’

women's day, Manisha Sharma, sitar player, yogini
' I embraced Sitar as my silver lining. They say when the words fail, music speaks. It did for me, quite literally.'

Music has always been considered an effective medium to tackle anxiety and burnout while yoga is believed to benefit us physically. The thought is widely known and acknowledged, but how many of us manage to imbibe practices like learning music or performing asanas alongside a corporate job in our lifestyle? FinancialExpress.com spoke with Manisha Sharma, a sitarist, yoga enthusiast, actor and a corporate professional who seems to be striking just the right balance in life. Besides discussing the power of music and yoga, she also spoke about her quest to revive the fading Indian tradition. Excerpts from the interview:

You are a budding Sitarist and technically will be the first-generation musician. What inspired you to follow Indian Classical Music in your thirties?

Most Indian classical musicians and maestros are indeed from the lineage of musicians. They get the relevant skills and the art as an inheritance from their family and, hence it proves how much time, discipline, and practice it takes to learn and master any form of Indian Classical Music. However, that shouldn’t deter people like us – with no musical heritage to begin their musical journey when there is an ardent call of the heart!  

That said, the inspiration and the will were always there. Even while growing up, I tried my hands at flute, keyboard, and guitar – always had the propensity to learn music. But Sitar always simulated me differently. More like meditation or self catharsis that transcends you to a state of enlightenment. 

Thanks to the pandemic – I got the final push! 

You call yourself ‘the musicalyogini’ on Insta. How do you define the combination of Music and Yoga, and what do they mean to you? What are your thoughts on the power of music in battling anxiety or burnout?

Yoga and music for me are two sides of the same coin. There’s a mystical connection between the two! Music is that which connects individuals to universal energies. The finite consciousness of the human mind transcends through music to connect with the larger consciousness. Yoga does the same. It leads to the union of individual consciousness with the universal energies, indicating a perfect harmony between the mind and body, man and nature, self and the other. Both together are like a powerful interplay of emotions, actions, introspection, and silence. Both together expedite our journey to inner realization!

It is no coincidence that I started my musical journey during the pandemic – when the whole world was still struggling to fathom the intricacies of the new normal, and the majority of them were under immense stress and anxiety of the COVID era. I embraced Sitar as my silver lining. They say when the words fail, music speaks. It did for me, quite literally.

Today’s corporate job demands a whole lot of time and commitment. Being a corporate professional, how do you balance your passion with profession?

I feel that more than externally, we all need to strike a balance within to accomplish inner growth. While setting the worldly house in order, we often ignore the inner calling – now this needs a balance, in fact a lot of balance. We fail to fathom the meaning and relevance of this term and keep chasing it in oblivion. 

In the worldly scheme of things, we are all uniquely different and there can never be a generalized way to adapt to it. For instance, I enjoy my riyaz (practice) sessions at night and therefore often end up sleeping late while my mornings are rather slow yet in sync with timeliness. As long as I am enjoying what I do, be it a late night riyaz session or an evening Yoga or a stretched but fulfilling day at work, there’s no need to balance it at all.

We are all on different and unique journeys in life. Irrespective of whether the destination is the same or not, the paths are certainly different. All it requires is smart time management.

What’s your take on life and what you are currently doing adds value?

Life is what we breathe in and breathe out each moment. Life is what we live in the moments when our mind, body and soul are around positive energies. Life is all about setting your perspective, enjoying moments and knowing the meaning of your existence. Another intrinsic, in fact fundamental element of life is sound, as it is the beginning of everything.

To add value, one needs to first break out of the confines of one’s environment. While one person might get bored sitting in a balcony, someone like me would in that moment experience the different lives buzzing around. For this, it is very important that you do not do what you don’t feel like doing and follow the passion or activity that adds value. For instance, I learnt Sitar because it represents life in many ways.

Just like the cervical spine has seven stacked bones, Sitar has seven strings, each inducing a different energy with healing prowess around you. To add value, I constantly strive to know my existence, try to grow spiritually using tools like music, sound, yoga etc. In corporate life, we meet different kinds of people, which is a great learning experience at each stage. From music to yoga and professional jobs, each boosts my spiritual self.

Having lost family, friends, and colleagues to COVID, I often found glimmers of hope in music through the darkness of coronavirus. Similar is the case with Yoga, as it ensures complete physical and mental wellness and peace. Hence, I believe whatever I am doing is helping me take positive strides in life.

Besides music and yoga, you have also recently acted in a web series, would you like to share something about that project?

Being on a musical journey myself, when I was offered a role in Detective Boomrah web series, it seemed like an opportunity to live in an alternate reality for a while, more like being in a musical fantasy. Also, it was an opportunity to endorse Indian Classical Music, specifically Sitar, which I feel deserves greater popularity and should be in the forefront of emerging musical trends in the world. 

My character in the series communicates mostly through music.  For a few major sequences, a powerful raga – Puriya Dhanashree – has been used to define the story and elaborate upon the mystery. The magic of Indian classical music needs no introduction. Different ragas are known to appeal to different sensibilities of the human mind, where each raga invokes a certain mood and feeling. This is also one of the reasons why there is a time zone defined for each of them. Indian classical music recognizes nine emotions or states of the mind, ideally referred to as Ras (Sentiments), and each note cajole a different emotion.

Besides, the series has an extremely intriguing and captivating storyline wherein a man mysteriously appears in a locked room of a heritage hotel and later jumps from the roof to vanish into thin air. The concept of the series, and the fact that elements of Indian cultural heritage such as Sitar, Sanskrit verses and Khadau have been liberally used in the series, has been much loved by the audience.

In the recent past, we have seen a great resignation trend – young talent leaving their 9-5 jobs and following either their passion or doing something more meaningful. Do you see yourself going there?

At present I am quite content being a corporate professional, an artist and a yoga enthusiast. As they say, change is inevitable, hence all the roads for the future are open as long as they give me the inner sense of peace and happiness. It is equally essential that a person does not get bound by the happenings around them. My actions in life are based on the callings of my spiritual self and today I am enjoying this phase I am in. For me there are different elements that we incorporate in our life; be it yoga, music, job or other endeavours that I take up in future, these are all various elements for a holistic life experience. I firmly believe in constant learning and being a student of life.

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