We get a lot of early morning sound out here in the Sheetal Chaya area. There are the howling street dogs and even, I heard one the other day, a peacock miauling from the TB Sanctuary.
Human noises here start with a neighbor who gets up every day at 4.30 and calls out Raaadhey! three times into the still dark, finishing with something that sounds like “yeah!”
Then at about 5 a.m. Bhagavata Niwas starts a Bengali kunja bhanga kirtan on the mikes. Radha Raman Niwas frequently chimes in soon afterwards with a Nitai Gaura Radhe Shyam kirtan. Then, I only recently noticed, at about 7, if there is no interfering sound, I can hear Premananda Baba’s distinctive voice floating across the Vrindavan Research Institute as he starts his recital of Brajbhasha vani texts followed by Vrindavan Mahimamrita class. That sound comes wafting up to here from Madan Ter, close to a kilometer away.
rādhā-vihāra-vipine ramatāṁ mano me ||
May my mind take pleasure in Sri Radha’s forest playground,
which is filled with flower vines whose twigs have been touched by Radha’s hands,
whose sweet sites have been trod and marked by Radha’s feet
and where the birds become intoxicated singing Radha’s glories. (RRSN 13)
Then there are the random bells and artis and occasional festival programs and Hare Krishna Maha Mantra or others, or Rama Charita Manasa, which always seems to be going on somewhere. And another neighbor bathes out in his courtyard singing “Om namah shivaya.”
And of course I make my own private contribution to the cacophony, even instancing occasional complaints from my closest neighbors.
Most of the above is most of the time rather acceptable and even welcome to me. If there are mosques in Vrindavan (one occasionally does hear the call to prayer over loudspeakers coming from somewhere afar), they do not create a disturbance.
But teenagers in CNG tuktuks blasting Bollywood music at peak volume through the streets, weddings processions bombarding the surroundings with deafening popular music, or when competing sound systems wage a war of devotional music from the rooftops. The worst moments come when there is a secular festival and DJs blast techno music with their supercharged woofers, pulsating a base and drumbeat that seems intent on destroying every brain cell that the Creator God or Evolution has bestowed on humanity. That is the moment that I cry out, “Haram!!”
The conundrum is that in a free and secular society, the same rules have to apply to all. And even here in a town that in principle follows the idea of exclusive devotion to Radha and Krishna, no preference can be given to such music.
In other towns in India, loudspeaker wars between temples, mosques and gurudwaras have not infrequently led to violence. In some places, this has led to community decisions to curb sound pollution in order to keep communal peace. Though that is not specifically a problem in Vrindavan, over the past year, several High Court, Supreme Court and Government decisions have been brought down to curb noise pollution, including most notably the Noise Pollution Act of 2000.
The use of loudspeakers is finally being seen as an infringement of people’s fundamental right to privacy and silence, since excessive noise, sometimes sustained for hours, takes away their right to speak with others, to read or to even think or the right to sleep. Who knows how much productivity is ruined or wrecked by people who carelessly think that their right to celebrate noisily is more important than the right to have silence?
And what the other health benefits can be had by not being exposed to the incessant playing of loud music everywhere one goes have been demonstrated in scientific studies. Certainly, this does not allow for the culture of the sattva-guna, which is the only foundation for happiness.
Recently, the UP government has taken the welcome decision to seriously restrict noise pollution and to enforce the Noise Pollution Act.
Actually, for foreigners coming to visit India, the addiction to noise is baffling. In fact, the seemingly uncontested “right” of every individual to disturb and distract entire neighborhoods with deafening sound would be unthinkable in most developed countries in the world, as a matter of public courtesy if not the law.
The same applies to those disturbers of the peace who listen to music on their phones without using earphones. Consideration for the other everywhere is at a deficit, and that includes not only noise, but also the general desecration of public spaces, turning them into litter-boxes and toilets.
It also includes other kinds of pollution, such as that created by unsightly hoardings and postings, all of which create the impression of lawlessness and disorder and lack of respect for others.
Kirtan and bhajan are essential elements of the bhakti process that is taught in Braj. But how can any religion impose expressions of religious beliefs on the unwilling? In some temples, loudspeakers are set up to play outside to the public without being heard inside the temple precincts. Often loudspeakers are set up in such a way that the sound playing outside to the public makes it almost impossible to hear a speaker inside the area where he is speaking to those who want to listen. Those who want to hear can’t, and those who don’t want to hear are forced to. Other culprits are the shops that sell music CDs.
In hundreds of homes and temples throughout this town, kirtan is going on regularly by small groups of devotees who cultivate music. Vrindavan is a fascinating place. Every neighborhood, like ours, has its own unique sounds as people walk through the street singing and chanting in the early morning hours as they walk to the Yamuna to bathe or on their way to mangal arati at one of the major temples, where the bells ring, each temple, each home producing its own unamplified spiritual sounds. If one has awakened to such sounds, one truly feels the holy atmosphere.
So, though it is to be hoped that decibel levels will be controlled everywhere, particular attention should be paid to the loud playing of techno and other non-devotional music, not just by tempo drivers but also at weddings and secular parties.
It is to be hoped that the police will enforce the rules until the people themselves learn the lessons of behavior in an urban environment.
For those who are new visitors to Vrindavan, a peaceful atmosphere will make it possible for them to appreciate the temples and the visual and acoustic ambiance that each of them creates.