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Latvian Sankirtan

by Swami Sivananda

The Latvians from the Baltic Branch of the Indo-European family of nations. Their language is the best proof of their ancient origin. It is akin to Sanskrit. The Latvians have preserved their Aryan strength also in choir-singing which they foster with love. All down the ages the Latvians have created hundreds of thousands of folk-songs and they are the fountain from which they derive their ethical and spiritual outlook on the world. It has been the tradition to mark every event, from the cradle to the grave, by singing collectively in a common place. This is Latvian Sankirtan.

The Latvian folk-songs or 'Dainas' as they are called here, are in verse and rhythm. Although the creation of individual authors, the Dainas reflect the life of the nation in its entirety, and handed down and spreading from generation to generation they have assumed a final aspect which fully portrays the soul of the people. They embrace the animate and inanimate world alike and glorify all the great events of the nation.

The Sankirtan movement in Latvia began to decline owing to some evil causes, but at the present day there is a revival of it. Even the geographical situation of Latvia has not only facilitated the exchange of goods and brought the Latvians into contact with the other countries; it has also taught them to weather many a gale without losing their national individuality. In order to preserve the great spiritual inheritance of the Latvian nation, some patriots have devoted a life-time to collect and study the Dainas.

Despite their great antiquity the Latvian Dainas are recited and sung by the people on appropriate occasions with great reverence and much feeling. In the songs the Latvians find comfort and consolation when times are bad.

The Dainas owe their existence to the love of singing. It is also the source from which arose the tradition of the Latvian people to arrange song festivals from time to time. They are musical events of a high order, with vast numbers of performers and enormous audience.

In the summer of 1938, on 18th and 19th June, the 'Ninth All-Latvian Song Festival' has been celebrated in Riga, the capital of Latvia. More than 400 choirs comprised of 18,000 singers have participated in this Festival. All the singers and most of the audience were dressed in the national costumes of various districts. Choirs from neighbouring countries, Lithuania, Estonia, have attended this Festival.

In the soul of the Latvians we find vividly envisaged the idea of the universal power of song. Not only does song make life more tolerable, but the spirit of song dispels enmity while the power of song stays arrows and wards off wars. That is why the Latvians hope that the spirit and sound of their song will spread the boundaries of their own country. The song will be the bond uniting the spiritual culture of the nations, and will be the promoter of brotherhood and peace.

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