Sunday, December 20, 2015

"Christmas in the Ashram," a gentle spoof on Western, Eastern spiritual traditions, irony and ecumenicism

Heard tonight on WUIS-FM while returning from Galesburg, "Christmas in the Ashram" by singer-songwriter Chris Rosser of Ashville, N.C., covered here by Tom Prasada-Rao and Cary Cooper, two other accomplished singer-songwriters, at a gig in Dallas. The one I heard on the radio had a couple of Ravi Shankar-like riffs on a sitar -- or a Western instrument tuned and played to sound a little bit like a sitar. This one is awfully nice, too.

"Christmas in the Ashram" performed in 2012 at Center for Spiritual Living Dallas

The indispensible Mudcat Cafe forum has lyrics, etc., at It's clearly a satire on Western seekers after Eastern spirituality -- who travel from "California to Bombay," in Rosser's words, "in search of peace" and get homesick at Christmas time. But the satire is gentle -- to my ears, at least -- and I think there's a lovely sense of the nostalgia so many of us are prone to at this time of year.

It seems well informed on Eastern religions, too, at least to my inexpert years. The chorus mixes and matches them with ecumenical abandon:

Singing Om Alleluia - Hare Hare Krishna
In Excelsis Deo - Rama Bolo Rama Bolo
Gloria Gloria - Govinda Gopala
Om Noel - Jay Siya Ram

And the verses are full of images of Eastern spiritual practice and California-style holiday cheer, of "tinsel in Vishnu's crown," of Christmas "egg nog in the black spice tea" and "red / Santa hats on shaven heads."

The last verse:

They sang Gospels and Upanishads
Psalms and Vedas praising God
Maybe Christ and Krishna are amused
When humans get a little bit confused

The song was first recorded to Rosser's 2000 album "Holy Fool." I don't know who recorded the arrangement I heard of the radio -- I think it was Rosser.

Prasada-Rao has also made the song his own, recording it as the title cut on a CD called Christmas in the Ashram in 1998. He's of Indian heritage himself, born in Ethiopia of Indian parents and raised in Washington D.C. According to his website, he now spends much of his time on the road.

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