An Ode to Gandhi: in honour of his 150th birth anniversary – from Lisa Punch of Guyana + Videos

An Ode to Gandhi, from Lisa Punch

Rising Star, Lisa Punch, has graced Guyana with yet another breathtaking performance. This time, the singer decided to cross into a new culture with an ode to revolutionary Indian activist, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, in honour of his 150th birth anniversary.

On October 3, 2018, the Indian High Commissioner released a video of Lisa Punch singing Gujarati Bhajan – “Vaishnav Jan To Tene Kahiye Je”, a song which is said to be Gandhi’s favourite Bhajan. To date, the performance has been viewed 287,000 times and has been shared over 6,700 times on Facebook.   

Bhajans, which are spiritual songs originating from South Asia, are said to often be difficult to sing, especially for someone like Punch, who has had no previous training or experience with this type of vocal performance.

Punch told Kaieteur News that she was approached by representatives of the Indian High Commission to Guyana, and asked to do a performance for their commemoration of Gandhi’s birth anniversary, which is celebrated on October 1, every year.

She explained that she was nervous about doing such a performance because she wanted to ensure that she did it right. The learning process, she said, took the complete dedication of everyone involved.

She recalled that, Dass, the music teacher at the Indian Swami Vevekananda Cultural Centre, helped her a great deal – “We had sessions where I’d spend learning to pronounce the words and singing them correctly. His guidance made it somewhat manageable and easy to deliver in the end.” The song, she said, took about two weeks to learn.

A Vaishnav, Punch explained, is a devotee of the Hindu God, Vishnu. The song describes the goodness of a true devotee to Vishnu; one who abides by values of peace, love and humility. Asked how the Bhajan aligns with her personal faith, Punch said, “We are all believers in some way, whether we call it God or a Higher Power.

“However, this message is a universal one; one that speaks of doing good to others and letting our ego and pride go. It’s about being blessed because of your good deeds, knowing that good karma will fall not only on you but your mother and everyone you care about.”

Punch said that the song is a powerful and fulfilling Bhajan, one that she is happy to have been chosen to sing.

One of the most captivating aspects of this performance is that Lisa Punch is an Afro-Guyanese woman singing a song that is traditionally associated with Indian culture. This, she said, was intimidating to her, but she knew that it had to be done.

She told Kaieteur News that she spoke to her grandfather about how important it was for her to perform this song. Punch said, “I’m obviously black and I’m singing a song that my Indo-Guyanese brothers and sisters revere and that’s something I didn’t want to mess up.”

She posited, however, that she was very cautious to be respectful and not culturally appropriate any aspect of Indian culture – “I was worried about cultural appropriation, and that is the reason you don’t see me in a sari,” referring to the fact that she wore traditional African garb.

“What that says” she explained, “is that I’m aware of who I am and quite comfortable in my own skin. Yet, I can embrace my brothers’ and sisters’ culture as well. We can celebrate and partake in each other’s culture. Nothing is wrong with that.”

Punch believes that though Guyana has done a commendable job living in harmony in spite of vast differences, the country has a long way to go if it wants to become an advanced society, competing on the world stage.

She said that Gandhi is exemplary of the qualities Guyanese people should emulate. “We’re obviously not where we’re supposed to be, but we’re not where we used to be, so that gives me hope that we will move forward.”

Gandhi, she posited, was an activist who inspired non-violent ways to protest. She recalled a quote by him, which goes “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

Punch performs time after time at multiple venues. Just recently, she performed at the Blue Ball in the United Kingdom. She also said that, from Monday to Friday, she is a teacher in Manhattan.

Punch is set to star in an upcoming television series called ‘Growing Up Caribbean’, alongside renowned actress and producer, Terri Ann Peters, who is also the show’s creator.

The show is currently awaiting approval to go on air, and is likely to be carried by Netflix or Amazon Prime. Punch says that ‘Growing Up Caribbean’ will be similar to Blackish; a popular television show, which tackles a range of social issues related to the experiences of African Americans.

Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite bhajan ‘Vaishnava Jan To’ by Ms. Lisa Punch of Guyana.


Fusion Video to commemorate the 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi  

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  • FRANCIS PERSAUD  On 10/15/2018 at 12:03 am

    It was for Gandhi”s 149th birth anniversary; next year will be the 150th.

    • FRANCIS PERSAUD  On 10/15/2018 at 12:07 am

      A very commendable rendition of an inspiring bhajan. The world needs more of these cross-cultural expressions to help foster and display of cultural and religious respect and tolerance.

  • FRANCIS PERSAUD  On 10/15/2018 at 1:13 am

    I extend my profound admiration and congratulations to Lisa to so beautifully respond to the challenge. Best wishes to her for continued success as she seek to develop and refine her talents and potentials.

    The video is lovely and depicts many scenes of ‘Oh Beautiful Guyana’.
    I would like to suggest to the producers that the video would be educational if the words/phrases can be transliterated and the English meaning given below. Many persons would benefit especially HINDUS who seem to be born with an innate aversion to the teaching and learning of Hindi much less Sanskrit.I know “A language is worth learning only to the extent it is used”. What say’st – Hindu organisations of Guyana? Is the teaching and learning of Hindi a priority?
    This enhanced video may earn wide reception on television.

    The second video is cosmopolitan and seems universal in appeal. Simply beautiful. Congratulations!

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 10/15/2018 at 3:02 pm

    Beautiful video. Beautiful voice and rendition. Well done, Lisa Punch!
    Like Francis Persaud, I would’ve like to see the English translation on the video clip.

  • dhanpaul narine  On 10/15/2018 at 9:58 pm

    Lisa Punch is simply amazing. She took the time and effort to learn a difficult song and she sang it well. In so doing, Lisa has helped to bridge the divide in Guyana and could very well create avenues for better understanding.
    I would suggest that Lisa sing this song when Prime Minister Modi visits Guyana. It will show the world that Gandhi’s message is alive in a multicultural Guyana.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 10/15/2018 at 11:26 pm

    Very well performed Lisa! You should be well pleased with your performance of this much loved and respected song. If you haven’t done so already just google: “Vaishnava Jana to”. You have joined the international club of well-established performers who have sung this15th C. bhajan which sets the guidelines/norms of who qualifies as a true devotee of Lord Vishnu (‘autars’/avatars, Rama & Krishna). For someone not brought up with pronouncing Sanskrit-based (Gujarati) words, I’m sure you would have had to spend lots of intensive hours (over the two weeks) practicing and memorizing the unfamiliar words and style of singing. I am impressed to say the least that you did it is such a short time. Thank you very much for your inspiring rendition!

    To All: This song is so powerful for me that I have listened to Lisa’s and the other international version, as well as several other versions on the internet today alone after my good friend, Keith Fernandes, drew my attention to it on this blog (Thx, much Cyril; and to the Indian High Commissions in Guyana and around the world). I can never get enough of it if I listen to it once. So touching it is that a couple years ago I told my family to make sure this bhajan is played at my funeral and last rites. It resonates for Hindus the way Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah does for everyone.

    Here are a couple other versions (the first with lyrics & translation) which I love – along with touching videos. What is particularly affecting to me is the diction/pronunciation of the Sanskrit-based words. (Perhaps because Sanskrit is deemed ‘Dev Vani’ = Voice of God).

    The first one (below) has the transliterated lyrics and English translation. With the meaning the song becomes even more potent. The second one is another wonderful production with at least two seasoned voices. Both have been my favourites. Now Lisa’s and the international version are added to my collection.



  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 10/15/2018 at 11:57 pm

    I have argued that one critical way to bridge the racial/ethnic divide in Guyana is for non-Hindus to attend Hindu religious services and or become familiar with Hinduism (even some familiarity with the classical music & dance as well as the Hindi language). Hindus are the bulk of Indians and their beliefs are like a ‘black box’ and are deemed “alien” (since early indentureship as I will reveal in my again delayed book). Hindus are already aware of the Christian religion from primary and secondary schools and from the European overlords; and it is the religion adopted by the Black population. Islam is closely aligned with Christianity (as it has the same prophets, with Abraham and Moses the early figureheads) and it is straightforward. Hinduism is not so literal, simple and straightforward. So it is Hinduism which is the “alien” outsider/outlier. Attending Hindu services or having it taught in schools is critical in bridging the vast gap.

    Much of what is understood as ‘racism’ in Guyana is really religio-cultural differences. What the Indian High Commission and Lisa have done is a powerful first step in the process of understanding and healing.

    Novelist, Sharon Westmaas wrote that her best school friend was a Hindu girl, but was ‘ashamed’ to ask what her/their belief was all about. Later she (age 19, or so) interviewed an European woman who went to Guyana to assist with setting up a yoga studio. From that first interview, she said she was sold on the philosophy; so much that she went off to India, where she stayed for two years in an ashram. Today she is a practising Hindu; and even rewrote the huge Mahabharata epic over a 30-yr period as a novel – Sons of Gods – for Western audiences. So, here is someone who didn’t have a Hindu tradition became so enthused after a singular interview.
    Education of non-Hindus in Hinduism is a critical key to bring about the trust and respect between the two ‘solitudes’ in Guyana (and T&T).


  • Trevor  On 10/17/2018 at 2:35 pm

    Lisa Punch done this bhajan remarkably!

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