Dhamma Wings: A Buddhist Rock Band Spreads the Message of Equality in India
Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-10-17 |
Dhamma Wings on stage. From Dhamma Wings Facebook
Popular music has often been used as a medium to send strong messages in support of social change. A group of five musicians based in the Indian city of Mumbai has adopted this example to spread the Buddha’s teaching on social equality. Since its founding in 2011, the rock band Dhamma Wings has toured various parts of India campaigning against the injustices of the caste system through their songs.
The band was the outcome of the inspiration that founder and lead singer Kabeer Shakya received during his temporary ordination while waiting for his graduation results. The IT-professional-turned-musician told Buddhistdoor Global that his three-month monastic experience at a monastery in Bodh Gaya had inspired him to sing and spread the Buddha's message of equality. “Those three months as a samanera (novice monk) changed my life vision from that of an IT professional to a musician and singer . . . I decided to spread the words of the Lord Buddha to India’s youth, who are struggling for mental peace.”
Kabeer Shakya, lead singer of Dhamma Wings. From Dhamma Wings Facebook
After completing his ordination, Kabeer started composing songs and singing at monasteries, slums, and anywhere else young people gathered. Later, he met the four men who would help him form the Dhamma Wings: Swapnil More (percussion), Shaileah Patole (keyboards), Rahul Kamble (bass guitar) and Rohan Zodge (lead guitar). The five, who all come from Buddhist families and are also followers of the Indian political and social reformer Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (1891-1956), formed the first Buddhist rock band in India with the aim of fighting caste discrimination.
The caste system has brought immense suffering to people in India, in particular those classified as low caste or “untouchable,” and women, Kabeer explained, noting that religious hatred adds further fuel to such problems in India and elsewhere in the world. “The members of the band believe the Lord Buddha has given a way of living that speaks about zero discrimination among human beings.” said Kabeer, citing the Maurya dynasty emperor Ashoka (r. c.268–232 BCE): “Do not speak or act with ill intent toward other religions, instead it’s better to tell people what is good and healthy, and to live as a human being.”
The band also recites Buddhist discourses during their shows, such as the Parabhava Sutta (the Discourse on [one’s own] Downfall), which allows them to narrate the original teachings of the Buddha to their audience. “In our show we speak about the ancient history of India during the time of the Buddha or the emperor Ashoka. It helps people to understand the ancient Buddhist sites and monuments that still exist in India,” Kabeer said.
When asked about the impact of Dhamma Wings, Kabeer gladly explained about the social changes they are bringing through their work: “We not only sing to entertain, the real purpose is to enlighten.” He said the band is also raising awareness about the conservation of ancient Buddhist heritage sites, in particular those reported to have been found at the proposed location of a new international airport for Mumbai. Kabeer observed that as a result of their efforts, many people, including non-Buddhists, are protesting, urging the authorities not to destroy such sacred sites to build the airport.
The band has so far performed at more than 300 shows and international events, and released five albums, the first of which was titled The Legend of Bodhisattva.
Kabeer said Dhamma Wings are now receiving a lot of invitations to perform at various events. Even Bollywood stars have sung three of their songs. Recognizing their impact, the band also provides a platform for other musicians working to bring positive change in society. When performing, they usually allow regional musicians, including female artists, to perform first.
Among their other activities, Dhamma Wings have started working with the Nalanda Cultural and Arts Centre in guiding teachers and students of classical Buddhist music and drama. The band also plans to involve more female artists in their shows, and to recruit a female musician as a permanent member.
Dhamma Wings (Facebook)
Related news from Buddhistdoor Global
90-year-old Buddhist Monk recalls “Babasaheb” Ambedkar’s Conversion to Buddhism
Forgotten Japanese Temple in Mumbai an Oasis of Buddhist Calm
India’s Dalits Embrace Buddhism on Vijaya Dasami
India and Sri Lanka Commemorate the Life and Work of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar
Related features from Buddhistdoor Global
Exploring Engaged Buddhism with Professor Christopher Queen
Living Dr. Ambedkar’s Vision
The Shakya Clan in India: A Rediscovered Heritage