12.01.2008 - 12.01.2008 18 °C
The photos for this blog will be posted tomorrow...but until then, please read below:
The day started with the early morning boat ride, which Ron wrote beautifully about. So I am going to jump to some other details. Yesterday, I told Papu that I would like to find a way to give a donation to the widows living in an ashram in Varanasi. If you saw the movie "Water" which was a depiction of widows living in Varanasi, then you will understand why. Papuu made all arrangements - we went to the Nepalese Ashram located next door to the widows ashram. Nepalese monks help take care of the widows and are apparently in charge of the finances. Papuu introduced us to the head monk, so I could get permission to make a donation. Intead of money, I wanted to give something that would be of individual use. Papuu suggested blankets/shawls. This is also what I had in mind as a useful and appropriate gift. Papuu told me that he was very pleased and moved that i wanted to give something to the people of Varanasi. I told him that I was very appreciative how he made it possible for me to do it.
We actually visited the ashrams. The Nepalese monk's building is a beautiful, ancient building with fantastic wood carvings of gods, goddesses and erotic kama sutra depictions. An old man/sadhu was sleeping outside, on a bamboo mat in the sun. Snoring and very comfortable. Young boy-monks (who escaped very difficult family llives), clustered together and watched us carefully, but with smiles.
One of the older monks (20 years?) took us into the Widow's Ashram. My heart was pounding. It looked almost identical to the "Water" ashram. Blue walls. Dark, wet walls and floors. Tattered clothes hanging on a string inside. Old women, bent with age and suffering - walking past us timidly. They responded warmly to our gestures of Namaste. Fresh, bountiful produce was being cooked by a very energetic and communicative old lady, who sat close to the floor while tending to a steel pot on a hot plate. It was dark, wet, with shafts of blue light penetrating the mist. But it was also clean, peaceful and very quiet. After briefly walking through, we were taken to see the head monk for permission to make the donations.
We found him wrapped in orange clothes, sitting in a courtyard of the Nepalese Ashram. He was somewhat detached, but quickly agreed to our request to give the shawls. We have to provide a receipt, as well as 101 rupees to him as a "processing fee". This is fine.
Then Papuu took us around the city. Thousands of Shiva Lingams everywhere. Ancient linghams sitting on street corners, inside house shrines, street shrines...everywhere. Dusted with marigold petals. Linghams are stones that are only found in the Ganges (near the Himalayas). They are phallic shaped, and often put together with a circular ring which represents the divine femininity of Shiva's wife, Parvati. Lingham and Yoni - divine union of male and female.
We stopped at a Sari shop...do I need to go further? I bought a red silk sari from a very jolly rotund man who kept trying to get us to buy more. His workers were literally throwing silk scarves at us until I demanded "Please stop throwing things at me!" and I tossed them back (except for 4 which we reluctantly but happily purchased). They will deliver the sari and the tailored petticoat/blouse to the hotel.
One of the main highlights of today though, was meeting the owner of the hotel, who comes from a long line of musicians and music shop owners. He still owns the small but lucrative music shop. We talked for sometime in the lobby, and then he took us to the store to meet a professional sitar player, who is also faculty at Benaras University. He was giving lessons to a man from Spain. We briefly sat in, during which tears were flowing constantly from my eyes - he played the most beautiful interpretation of Rag Yaman. and there we were - in Varanasi, close to the Ganges, listening to the music that inspired us to make this journey.
I made arrangements for him to return in the evening to play for us...he came with an incredible tabla player - his nephew? it is now impossible to describe any further. Except their playing was way beyond anything I expected. It was mesmerizing, riveting..and just like Varanasi -- sublime. I sang with them - Rag Yaman and Bageshree. Ron made jokes about mosquitos. They were entertained, I was deeply moved. It is an event I will always treasure. There is a small tampura in the shop that fits perfectly in my arms. I think I will have to claim it...