INDIA MY LOVE,
Through the crowded streets, polluted air, roads filled with cow dung, piles of garbage, I see your true beautiful essence and take in all of your spiritual lessons into the most sacred chambers of my heart. It is not surprising to me that my first visit to India happened to be to the most ancient city of Varanasi. The oldest city in India, Varanasi is settled on the banks of the river Ganges that's revered as sacred by the Hindus since its waters flow down from Himalayan mountains. Varanasi as a city has seen a lot throughout the centuries of constant invasions from Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist rulers. It all reflects very well in its architecture. The word Varanasi is made up of Varan (one of it’s first names given by an Islamic conqueror) and assi which means 80. There are 84 so called GHATS on the Varanasi stretch of the Ganga. The most famous ghat is the Assi Ghat where people have been worshipping the divine in their pre sunrise devotion sessions called Puja, that’s been gracing the Ganga banks since the dawn of times. A beautiful ritualistic chanting and cobra dance takes place every morning around 5 AM followed by an Indian Classical Music concert in which I was lucky enough to participate on my last day in India. (left with a bang :)!)
The purpose of my journey to India was to study the breathtakingly beautiful Indian Classical Music. I owe my first introduction to Indian Music to my partner who has been in India several times prior, learning tabla and bansuri flute.
Several magical events happened to us while in India. I was looking into taking hindustani singing lessons from a female singer and we decided to go to a local university (BHU) in search of my guru. We took a rickshaw in the morning only to discover that performing arts department was closed. A bit disappointed, we took a stroll down an empty campus street when a passing by rickshaw driver insisted that we heck out a Vishwanath temple near by. We thought why not and headed over to that temple. The temple was a true piece of art with beautiful scriptures, flower filled altars, people praying, worshiping and burning incense: a marvel of their deep spiritual tradition before our eyes. I always join the prayers of local people and this time was not an exception. Smell of incense, bells and flowers - India celebrates the divine in the most alive and beautiful manner! While saying our prayers we heard sweet sounds coming from upstairs part of the temple. The sounds of tabla, harmonium and ever so sweet Indian singing.
We followed these sounds and discovered two musicians. One was an older and wise looking sweet man and his younger student. They welcomed us to sit next to them as they noticed our interest in the music they were playing. We sat down and introduced ourselves, asking them if they knew of any female vocal teachers around. “Doctor Ragini Sharna!” they both said. They drew out a little map in my notebook and gave us instructions on how to get to her music school. Overly excited with the appreciation of such a magical occurrence, we took a rickshaw following that map to only find out there was no school to be found. That same evening we made another attempt to to find this mysterious singing teacher to no avail. Quite disappointed we kept on walking around and looking for the school as it was getting dark. That neighborhood was predominantly Muslim where women were completely covered up in burkas and men wore strictly traditional outfits. I’m not sure if it was our western clothes or we just got ourselves into the “wrong” neighborhood at the "wrong" time, but we started feeling some unfriendly looks towards us when a garbage bag thrown from the roof landed right by us (but thankfully missed us :). Right after that, all the street lights suddenly went out and it was clear that we needed to get out of that area. We decided to go home and continue our search the next day. The following morning, James had an idea to ask his tabla teacher if he possibly knew of Ragini’s music school, in the end he was a well respected elder in Varanasi who certainly knew a lot of musicians. We came to his house and to our great surprise he happened to know Ragini personally and turned our they in fact were music collaborators! Filled with excitement, we finally got on the phone with the mysterious lady of music, arranged to meet her which turned out to be one of the highest and most mystical blessings of my life! She has taught me so much about music, singing and devotion!
In India a student touches the feet of their teacher to show their respect and also, as believed, to transfer the magnificent teacher’s energy to your energy field. I found that practice so beautiful and totally adopted and implemented it to my interaction with my Gurujee ( an endearing name for your teacher in India). The level of reverence and respect people have for each other in India is astonishing! Especially student - teacher interaction. The whole world could learn from it!
Burning Bodies on Ganga!
One of the most shocking and mind opening rituals I’ve seen in Varanasi was the burning of the bodies by the holy river Ganga. It is believed amongst the Hindus that if your body gets burnt on Ganga river bank and ashes flow down its stream, you won’t have to come back through the cycle of death and rebirth anymore. It is a sacred offering of your body to the Divine Mother, or Maa Ganga as the locals call it. The eternal flame that burns the bodies hasn’t stopped for the last 4 thousand years! Sometimes you would hear upbeat drums out in the streets of Varanasi, you would look out to see a ceremonial procession carrying the departing one’s body covered in flowers and shiny silks to the burning sight. Families seeing off the deceased one with the upliftment, courage and songs instead of sadness.
When I first witnessed the burning, I was a bit terrified and shocked and even upset at my partner for bringing me to the sight. But after a few days my perception has completely changed. I realized the impermanence of this human experience and could watch these lifeless bodies being burnt without fear and with a lot deeper understanding.
Life is temporary, fleeting, precious, and to be treated with the utmost respect and reverence. To know life is to not forget about death. To make the most of it, to cherish every single moment and most importantly to know what it means to LOVE.
Thank you India for teaching me about life, about love, about devotion to music and to the divinity in everyone you meet and everything around us. It feels like the greatest download of wisdom into my soul.
With my love and humbleness,