An unlikely Spanish drummer spreads yoga among Christians
Ravi Ramoneda is the kind of man who can sing Hindu mantras in a Catholic cathedral – and make more than 800 people sing with him. He can open a concert with a collective breath inward, a pause, then a humming “OM” to vibrate the windows and at the same concert, lead a rendition of the Christian ‘Our Father’ prayer. He can play the hang drums while a Muslim Sufi dancer spins barefoot in circles.
In October last year, Ravi organized 12 musicians onstage at the Basilica Santa Maria del Pi in Barcelona in his third annual concert to unite various faiths and traditions – this time performing Christian, Sufi, Hindu, and Native American chants. It didn't matter where each melody originated, they belonged to everyone, to each attendee in an intimate way, as the music helped them connect with their inner self – and each other, he said.
When not honing his skills on one of his 13 musical instruments, Ravi travels the world teaching yoga and other forms of spiritual retreat.
“He plays music and travels the world,” his 11-year-old daughter Iona said. “With his music, he heals people who are feeling bad, and sometimes he also helps people who are already alright to feel even better.”
In 2014, the first year Ravi performed in the basilica, 600 attendees gathered. That staged Ravi as one of a kind – not only for the hundreds of people from diverse backgrounds crowding the cathedral, but for the whole yogi scene, in the city and globally. The number grew to 800 the second year and continued for the next two years. In 2017, the event reached its biggest dimension yet. In 2018, Ravi took a break to plan an even bigger 2019 celebration.
“With his music, he heals people who are feeling bad, and sometimes he also helps people who are already alright to feel even better.”
Ravi was born in a Hindu community in Catalonia’s countryside. The community, named Ashram, was founded on a 3,000-foot-high mountaintop by a priest who had travelled to India and returned with a vision to connect Christians and Hindus. Ravi is the son of two of the priest’s 13 followers, raised with a deep connection to nature and in a blurred zone where only feelings, not names or spirituality, mattered.
The visionary was a Claretian priest who recognized in yoga a way to exercise his faith, and a versatile path to God for non-Christians, too. It was 1976, the year after Spain’s military dictator Francisco Franco died, ending his rule.
The adults devoted their days to a project to spread yoga around Spain and all of them, parents and children, shared daily routines of pranayama, meaning “breathing practices” in Sanskrit, meditation, purification and praying.
“It was an essentially Christian yoga practice,” Ravi said. “[The priest] taught yoga but all his background was Christian so he always emphasized the bonds between both faiths. It was all very natural all the time.”
After seven years, they were ready to return to civilization to open the first yoga centers. Their project, a dream of the priest, had finally manifested. Ravi's parents went to the Catalan city of Sabadell. The 7-year old Ravi left the nature for the first time, but his life was nothing like standard suburbia. They lived above the yoga center.
In one of the yogi weekly gatherings, a woman considered to be a spiritual master told Ravi's mother it was the time for her to have “the talk about Jesus” with her son. But the young Ravi had become familiar with Jesus from his grandmother. He loved visiting her and longed for her Bible stories.
“My grandma was a true believer until the end,” Ravi said of his late grandmother. “She was always seeking for more, seeking the truth.” She was curious about what her son [Ravi's father] was doing and learned about yoga to understand him. She studied Hinduism and visited them often in the ashram.
“My parents were believers in their own way, but I do believe more than they ever did,” he said with a chuckle. Ravi remarked his parents “had no choice” to be believers. Even the other children of his generation in school were placed into catechism classes, whereas Ravi “inherited” his faith directly from his grandmother. “Praying was such a warm moment to me, full of love,” Ravi said. “I always experienced it from the beauty of freedom.”
Following his parents’ divorce, Ravi’s mother had to sell the yoga center. Then 21, that prompted Ravi to leave Spain for India and seek Hinduism’s roots. Since then, Ravi has devoted his life to finding a way for the two religions to peacefully live with each other, as they do inside him.
Ravi found the guru who had inspired his own teacher, the priest. It was the first time Sri Bhagavan was accepting foreigners into his ashram in South India, in Andhra Pradesh. Sri Bhagavan founded the Oneness movement, which would allow Ravi to have two spiritual mothers: guru Mata Amritanandamayi on his Hindu half, Mother Teresa de Calcuta for his Christian half.
Of course, Orthodox Christians and Hindu puritans wouldn't recognize that merge as possible. How can he explain that coexistence? Ravi doesn't identify with any doctrine or dogma. He doesn't regularly go to church or to a Hindu temple, but when he does, he certainly prays.
“Praying to me is not about where I am sitting but where I am feeling inside myself,” he said. “I feel God inside me. Love is what moves me.”
Ravi found his own path to self-discovery through what we could call the music of yoga, which is mainly present in bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion. More than a dozen years later, he has made spiritual music his way of life.
“When I pray in a church, I connect with Jesus. And when I was in India, I felt the same,” Ravi said. “That love, that essence, to me it is something that only changes the name within cultures. We spend so much time fighting to prove which religion was the oldest that we miss the point that all of them actually share the core values.”