Phew! Varanasi is INTENSE in every way. It is 9:30 pm, late considering the day started at 4:30 am for the boat ride along the Ganges (met in the lobby at 5 am) But write, I must-especially now that I have located this internet spot.
We attended an Indian classical music performance this evening that was sensational and other-worldly. Shivnath Mishra was the sitarist and he is a master of the instrument. He played with his son and his grandson. Mishra is 70, has been playing since he was 5, and we were ever so lucky to hear this performance put on just for our group at Mishra’s home and music academy. He is the 10th generation of sitar players in Varanasi and is known as “legend of the sitar”. The music was incredible and quite moving. Sitar, Tabla, and Voice.
We feel things more intensely here-everything from food to music,and from good to bad. And when music is as good as what we heard tonight, it is divine. We heard a folk piece, then a raga. The son played “Norwegian Wood” and explained how that Beatle’s hit made the sitar popular in the west. Mishra played a piece which he composed himself called “Ganga” (it has never been recorded!). This original piece imitated the flow and power of the Ganga. Indian classical music brings you inside of yourself, to the vast interior place of the heart.
Listening to this piece, I was brought back on the boat ride along the Ganga, my heart being pulled by the current, my spirit held and caressed by the ancient river mother. I am rocked and lulled and carried by this great vein on the earth’s surface. Once again, I felt touched by the rituals of the Hindus and in my mind, I watched Shiva, Lord of dance and music, move to the music, swayed by Mishra’s son’s voice. As I listened to the music, I imagined the river washing away the pain of poverty, the muck of the streets. The sweet music became the Ganga flowing rhythmically. In my mind’s eye, the music merged with the river and upheld the ancient rituals where man and woman dissolve and become spirit and creation itself. I am lost in river/music and I let go of the heaviness I carry in my heart and fill that new empty place with love. I listen and see Buddha’s 1000 petals fully unfolded.
The musicians have a deep love of music and share it with us, giving so generously. We, too, are able to feel the music perhaps as the musicians feel it. I am happy because tonight I neither love nor hate this place of Varanasi/India. Rather, I am filled with awe of the transformative power of music, love, compassion, ritual, and connection with community and place.