Ohhh, it cracks my heart to read Laurel Murphy’s account of visiting holy places in India just now in 2017.
It has reminded me of my own time in India so I thought I would revisit some memories of that time.
I was in India in 1993 through Fran Peavey, a social change comic from the Bay Area who also did amazing, innovative, international work. She would assemble teams of artists and activists to come to a community for a specific reason.
In that same year we went to the Balkan region, visiting all sides of the conflict, doing workshops in refugee camps and giving concerts in Split, Sarajevo, Dubrovnik, Belgrade and Novi Sad. It was a life changing experience. In my next blog I’ll talk about that trip.
In India, I was part of the international team from Australia, US, Canada and Europe who went to Varanasi to educate ourselves, work with one another and try to understand how to help with the health of the Ganges River, Mother Ganges.
We worked with three Indian water scientists. One of whom was also a spiritual leader at a nearby Hindu temple.
We visited his temple every day as part as our water work; ceremonial bells clanging, monkeys jumping, everyone praying, music……...
We lived in his compound which was right on the gats, the steps, of the river.
I would get up in the early morning and visit different places getting my tea from a tea wala in the street. Might as well get up since the prayers at the river began way before dawn and were always so noisy and holy.
One morning there was a funeral walk going to the burning gats. I followed quietly in the semi dark as the people moved with the body in shroud through the streets, heads shaved, all dressed in white. An unforgettable experience of letting go and feeling the devotion to Mother Ganges and what it meant to give a beloved body to fire and to the river.
We had meetings which always started with song and music, we went to the sewage treatment plant which was electrically run so every day when the electricity went down, there would be leaks into the river.
We despatched to the gats every day to talk with locals about fecal coliform, too many flowers in the river as offerings and to listen to their stories. Sometimes without understanding some or any of the words, using hand gestures and signs to communicate.
We made a performance I will never forget, collaborating with Indian musicians, all of us offering a devotion to the cause of the Ganges. Through this team, an electric crematorium was built which was an enormous help so ashes could go into the river, but not partly burned bodies. The problem is that wood is very expensive and dear so often poor people cannot afford enough wood to totally burn the body. They do the most they can and then the body would be lowered into the river, adding to the disease of the water. The electric crematorium was less expensive and allowed the burning and offering to the river to was so important in the spiritual belief of the people.
The struggle goes on of course because of corruption, lack of information and the confusion of how to honor Mother Ganges who the locals believe could not harm them.
When I was there working on the health of the river which of course you notice is still in dire need, they paired me with an Indian poet who only wrote poems about Mother Ganges. We would get one of those small rowing boats with a wala who rowed us out into the river. Then we would sit and drift while he spoke poems in Sanskrit and I sang. It was a kind of bliss full of contradictions.
I did an offering one day and dunked my head. I will never forget how it felt to give myself to the river along side all the Indians. To suspend my scientific awareness and submerge with the belief I was protected for that moment.
I am alive to tell the tale.
Even though I got sick there with hallucinations, I will never forget the sounds, the smells, the people and most of all Mother Ganges.
The light on that river, the sun coming up, the way the people adore her and bath in her and pray in her.
The hallucinations were because I ate some contaminated milk sweet and down I went with the parasites.
I had been having daily voice lessons in sa re ga ma pa da ni sa with a beautiful holy man musician.
I was thrilled by the focus and depth of the study.
I hated to stop but I was not able to get out of bed so I lay all day for the last days of the trip, in my bed by the Ganges with all those prayers streaming in and oh yes did that bring hallucinations.
I learned that prayer is music and that making change using all forms of art is a vibrant reality in many parts of the world. Music is not the entertainment after, but is part of the soul of change, like science, like political activism. The vibration, the sound, the textures is given respect as on that trip to Varanasi. It clarified who I am as an artist, a musician.
I am part of the change.
Oh yes we are. And we mean to make change in this pivotal time on our planet mother.
Please don’t give up, don’t despair.
Know our power as people who respect the earth, who strive to respect all life and who sing for our lives.
Love all around as we enter the darkest time of the calendar year.
Solstice coming December 21. Stay strong and soft.
Bless you all.