Sunday, November 23, 2008

Last Day

11/13

Thought I had one more day to participate in the big festival today. Woke up at 2 AM with a foreboding feeling that I was to leave today and did not prepare for it. Jumped out of bed, washed my clothes and hung them out to dry. Packed as much as I could then tried to sleep. After 1 hour of sleep, arose at 5:30AM, went through the morning routine and a last walk to the ghat and the Ganga. Skies are not blue here, just a warm grey/yellow color. Went to the internet and to exchange money. Returned to the academy and asked one of the workers to call the tabla teacher to cancel my lesson today. Called Sony to let her know that I erred on the date of departure and that I need to be at the train station at 12:30 PM. She said-not to worry, Akkash will pick me up, take me to Mata Ji's house where I will have lunch and then take a taxi to the train station. Before I left the academy I gave all of my clothes to Grace who said she would take them to an orphanage. I gave Grace all of my toiletries, laundry soaps and food supplies, tearful good byes and then off to Mata Ji's home. After lunch I paid Mata Ji for my stay and talked about a hopeful return. Mata Ji gave me some beautiful silk sari cloth. A tuk tuk was waiting for me outside.

The train station

Hundreds of people sitting/lying on the concrete floor waiting for the train. I joined them. I was quite comfortable in my spot when police spotted me and made me get up. They led me to a clean room with benches and said "This is where the tourists wait" - segregation alive and well! Boarded the train, and planted myself in a roomy, air conditioned sleeper car. Each sleeping section has seating for 6 people with 3 tiers of bunks on each side. I shared the section with 2 polite Indian gentlemen. Arrived in Delhi the next morning 3 hours late, 9:30 AM. Found a tuk tuk to take me to the airport. At the airport, while going through security the power went out, all conveyor belts stopped. An Indian gentleman winked at me, smiled and said, "Ahh, organized chaos, that's India."

Friday, November 21, 2008

How Many Ways to Fleece a Tourist

11/12
Today is another adventure. Went for a walk this morning exploring a different way than I usually go. I ended up at an old temple that Grace and I had stopped to see when we took the rickshaw into town. Then, I had wished I had my camera. This time I had it. A man who claimed he is a yogi sadhu approached me and invited me in to see the temple. At the last alcove of an alter with the image of Shiva and Durga this yogi told me that it is expected that I make an offering. No problem, I put a 10 rupee bill at the alter. Silence, then the yogi's eyebrows rose and he began complaining about the amount. I immediately told him that if he was a true yogi sadhu he would not have any attachment to the money or the amount and that his karma service of showing me the temple would be without expectation of anything in return.

Had a kurta tailored for me at another end of town so I next walked over there to pick it up. It didn't quite fit. As alterations were made another member of the family tried to sell me some shawls. I told him that they looked like the shawls all the other vendors were selling and that if he had better quality shawls I might consider purchasing from him. He then brought out the most beautiful Kashmiri (wool shawls with intricate embroidery) and Pashmina(woven patterns from silk, wool, or yak) shawls. They were very expensive. He began the bidding at 9,000 rupees for 2 shawls. I said that was way too much and I would give him 5,000. He cried that he would make no money and that I know nothing of the value of these shawls. I said that I very well know the value and that is why I would only pay 5,000. He then went down to 8,000. I again said no, that I would pay for my kurta and leave. He then had a pained expression and complained that I was acting like his mother. I said mabe I am your mother. The price dropped to 7,500.
I placed the kurta on top of the already wrapped package of shawls and said 7,000 now or I walk with the kurta alone. I ended up walking with the whole deal for 7,000. I was later told by an Indian that I was fleeced but I don't care. He was happy and so was I. He did have the best quality shawls that I have seen since I've been in India. He then toured me through the factory where the wool shawls are hand embroidered and the silk is woven into cloth. A tour well worth the extra rupees. He then led me back to the main street.

I next stopped at a music shop and asked to look at a shanai, a wood flute played with a reed and brass trumpet shape at the other end. Westerners typically see these played to entrance cobras. That shop didn't have one so I was led down a maze of streets to another music shop ( westerners are warned not to do this). The shop keeper brought out a couple of shanai in poor condition. My eye did catch a very strange ancient looking instrument that had multiple sympathetic strings as on a sitar and 4 gut strings which are played with a bow. It was very small, about 18 inches long. I asked the shop keeper if he could play it. The owner of the shop offered me chai and said wait here he will return in 10 minutes. The instrument is called a sarangi. After waiting a half hour the owner returned with a sarangi player and a tabla player. I was served more chai and enjoyed a private concert. Not that I asked for it, it was sublime, but when they finished playing they looked at me in expectation of renumeration. I looked at the owner and he said I needed to pay the musician. Here I was handing out money again. I placed a 50 rupee note in front of the sarangi player. He looked insulted. The owner of the shop then brought out a 10 year old radio contract the musician had which paid him 750 rupees. I figured, nice try, and reached forward to take back the rupees. The musician then took the note not altogether happy. The shop owner led me back to a main road. I began walking and realized I did not know where I was. It was getting dark. I asked someone which way to the ganga. I knew if I could get to the Ganga I could find my way back. The road led to a ghat which I had to walk through to get back. This was a burning ghat. One funeral pyre was burning and another about to be lit. I next asked where the Assi Ghat was (the ghat closest to the academy). After walking another hour I arrived at the academy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Boating Along the Ghats

11/11
Akkassh came to pick me up at 4:30 AM. I had assumed we would go on one of the boats at the ghat(literally means gate) nearest us -walking distance. There was a rickshaw waiting for us. It was eerie riding on the empty roads at that time in the morning. Where we went there was going to be a sunrise puja. There were already many people bathing and praying in the Ganga. We contracted our boat. Once again, I thought we would be in a crowded boat with many tourists but this turned out to be a private tour. As the sun rose you could see many old yogis practicing asana, and saddus praying to the sun.The air was thick with mist, smoke and smog. The sun was a faint red ball coming over the horizon. Small pressed leaf bowls with burning wicks and flower offerings were floating on the river. I pulled my breakfast out of my bag and was about to eat when we drifted by some floating debri. As we drew closer I noticed it was a portion of an old decomposing human body...breakfast back in the bag. I later found out that young children and the holiest of people have the honor of being deterred directly in the river instead of being burned on a pyre. As the boatman oared down one end of the Ganga there were a few funeral pyres that were burning from an electric generator. I was told that only the very rich can afford to use this method. About 10 Kl in the other direction we arrived at the burning ghat. Massive piles of wood branches and logs were
everywhere. Many old temples with onion shaped domes were black with soot. There wer 4 large fires burning. I am told the custom of sati still continues.(A wife voluntarily joins her dead spouse on a burning pyre.) We returned to where we started, hopped on a rickshaw back to the academy at about 8:00AM.
At the academy, one of the house workers followed me downstairs where I went to practice tabla. It seems no one will allow me to be alone here. The worker insisted that I pray to an image of Saraswati before I begin my practice. This is truly a different way of learning-a discipleship. I am picking this up fast.
I have learned one kaida and am halfway through my second.( a kaida a composition of rhythms based on a simple meter becoming increasingly complex.) The singing lessons, I realize now, are not going to materialize.

11/12
Settling into a routine. Up at 4:30AM, yoga practice till 6:00AM, shower, jal neti, walk to the corner shop to purchase dahee (yogurt from fresh unpasturized milk), walk back to the academy, fix breakfast, dahee, musli and fruit, and prepare chai boiled in milk. Then, practice tabla, go for another walk, practise tabla, tabla lesson with Guru Ji, go to the internet or explore, out to lunch, more exploring, return to the academy, practice tabla, lunch leftovers for dinner, practice table, retire to my room reading or practicing m'bira. I am thankful for this extra week on my own to synthesize and process what I went through at the ashram.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Family, Politics, Love and God

I've actually returned to the states from India a couple of days ago. I was unable to post my last adventures as the power went out too frequently in Varanasi. I will continue posting my last 4 days there plus post photos. Because I type so slow I will continue posting over the next 3 days.

11/9 5:15 PM
Sony could not come today as her sister-in-law went to the hospital. The tabla instructor, called Guru Ji (Beloved Teacher) will arrive here at 6PM for my first lesson. I spent the day walking through the town. Met some interesting shop keepers where I sat in there shops, drank chai, and taked about family, politics, love and God. One shop keeper was a very engaging young man, 28 years old, named Moona. He has lived his whole life in Varanasi and is very passionate about his home and his beliefs. He calls the Ganga his mother. He said, "Many people say the Gqanga is polluted, but I say it is not polluted because it is our mother. If a mother puts her baby son on her leg and he urinates on it does she cut her leg off? No, because she loves her son and her son loves her. So too, it is with the Ganga."

7:00PM-No tabla instructor. A driver downstairs said maybe 7:00 maybe 8:00. He never arrived. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow (tomorrow to Indians means sometime in the near or distant future). Oh well, let go of expectation - I will have a different experience. Sony called later tonight and appologized for not being here. She said she will come tomorrow and I will begin tabla lessons tomorrow at 12PM.
There's a festival occuring this week in Varanasi called Deo Dipowli. It clulminates on Nov. 13 with millions of people coming to the Ganga to bathe at sunrise and then finale celebration with music and dance. This is a celebration of the new cycle of the Hindu calender..

11/10 4:30AM
Up for yoga, jal neti and a new adventure. Sony called today saying she is still not able to come to the academy as her sister-in-law is still in the hospital. Grace and I left by rickshaw to go to the embassy to register our place of residence. I arrived back in time for my tabla lesson. Guru Ji is an elderly, portly man, doesn't speak English and gummed betel leaf throughout the lesson which made it difficult to understand the little I could understand. After the lesson I went out to purchase some things and ate an early dinner at a restaurant. Arrived back at the academy fully intending to practice tabla in earnest when there was Akkash, standing at the front door. I hadn't seen him since the day I arrived here. Akkash said,"Hurry, hurry, you have to come right now." he grabed my hand and pulled me over to a car waiting for us. i asked him where we were going and he said, "to the hospital." He led the way to the room where Sony, her sister-in-law (who is lying in bed seriously ill), her S-I-L's husband, Debo Mishras' mother(Mata Ji), and Mata Ji's sister were all in this small bare hospital room. Sony had asked Akkash to bring me there to meet the family. Sony, is Deobbrat Mishras' wife, who along with his father run the academy. Deobrat and his father are away on tour in Germany. The family has been holding vigil in the hospital for 3 days with no sleep. I felt very awkward being in this hospital room with a family that I was meeting for the first time.When we returned to the vehicle I told Akkash I needed to return to the academy at once to practice tabla. After 5 min. of travel , Akkash had the driver stop the car. He got out of the car with me in tow, saying that now I had to see the Monkey Temole. Well, it was a very small temple. I think it was more of an excuser to meet his uncle at a cart next to the temple selling betel leaf. Betel leaf is a stimulant that mostly men chew. They cram it into their mouths and chew it to a liquid red pulp then spit it out in the street. I now implored Akkash to return me to the academy. On the way there he informed me that I needed to meet him at 5AM tomorrow . Sony had arranged for him to take me on a boat ride on the Ganga.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Varanasi Adventures

11/7
Graduation tonight, at last! What a long and challenging experience. Went into town for some last minute shopping. Then I dropped my clothes off at an orphanage. The kids were delighted. Went to bed early as I am leaving tomorrow at 4:30 AM.
11/8
Vishva, Chetanah and Matvi all arose early to say goodbye to us. 6 of us hired a jeep to take us to the Hardwar train station. The jeep was 1/2 hour late. The train departs at 6:20 AM and it usually takes an hour to get there. We were doing fine until we went up a road that was blocked with sewer pipe strewn in the road. Had to turn around and go a different direction. Made it to the train station with 10 minutes to spare. Train was on time. Pushed my way to the front to jump onto the car as the train stops for only 2 minutes. Went to my seat in an air conditioned car and found a woman sitting in it. She was sitting next to another woman who she said was her mother- her mother was sick and she asked if I would exchange seats with her- of course I said yes although I knew it could be a ruse. She lead me to a seat 2 cars back. It was a perfect exchange for me. I sat next to a wonderful Bengali woman who is studying to be an orthodontist. She repeatedly told me that when I return to India I have to visit a rhino conservation area in East India. She pointed out that they were special rhinos as they have one horn not 2 as in Africa. She also gave me advice on what to expect when I get off at the Delhi train station and warned me to be careful in Varanasi as there is a criminal element there. The train was delayed by a half hour but still enough time to get a taxi to the airport. Got off the train with no idea as to how to find a prepaid taxi booth. I followed the crowd out of the train station. Observed some signs stating, "Warning, be cautious as anyone could be carrying explosives." That was the extent of train station security that I could observe. As I was walking out of the station, taxi drivers began following me trying to get me to go with one of them. I kept saying ,no, and tried to ignore them. As I continued walking I now had about 15 taxi drivers following me. I finally asked one of them where the prepaid booth is and they all escorted me there. After paying for the taxi (taxi fares are regulated this way) I then turned around to the 15 beaming men, said eenie meenie miny mo, and then picked one. Jumped into the 3 wheeled tuk tuk and off we went. Arrived at the airport with one hour to spare. The jet ride was 1 1/2 hour long. As promised someone was waiting for me (he held up a sign with my name on it.) His name is Akkash, a bright, young twenty something fellow who works at the music academy. We arrived at the academy an hour later. My room is very small, plain, with pictures of Krishna and Gansh on the walls. There's a bed, no furniture. Before I unpacked Akkash insisted on showing me the town. I told him I was hungry and asked him to take me to a restaurant. He took me to all the reputable shops I should shop at. First a quick stop grocery, an internet cafe, a restaurant we weren't going to eat at, then a bookstore, then a CD store. I finally said "√čnough, I need to eat NOW!" HE TOOK ME DOWNSTAIRS TO A LOVELY OUTDOOR RESTAURANT ALONG THE GANGA. THE RIVER IS SO WIDE HERE THAT YOU CAN'T SEE THE OTHER SIDE.
Tomorrow lessons in tabla begin.

11/9 4:30 AM
I guess this is the time I will be rising daily. The call to prayer begins at this time, along with fire pujas and the Gayatri Mantra broadcast for all to hear. I've arrived in time for another big festival. It is called Deo Dipovli. At sunrise people will bathe at the Ghats (Broad, wide steps descending into the Ganga from large temples and guest houses. There will also be music and dancing in the evening.

Met a woman named Grace from Brazil. She is staying at the academy studying sitar. Today is preparation day for the festival. Went for a walk at 8AM. A sound feast- many drums flutes, voices singing, talking, yelling, firecrackers, pots and pans banging. A sight feast- beautiful fruit, vegetable and flower displays, sugar cane vendors, balloon vendors. A smell feast- urine, cow dung, smoke, dust, spices, neroli and jasmine. I know I am in a very different place from Rishikesh.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Varanasi or Bust

Just a short entry to let everyone know I've arrived safely without complications.(which is a miracle in India.) When things don't go as planned one says "hari om". The trip was a 1 hour jeep ride to Hardwar, a 6 hour train ride to Delhi, another hour in a taxi to the airport. 1 & 1/2 hour flight, and then another 1 & 1/2 hr. taxi to the music academy.
More later...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

untitled

10/27
Tomorrow is Diwali. The largest secular festival in India. Not only is it a festival of light, it is also the Indian New Year. The ashram is decorated with lights and flowers strung over doorways and archways. This festival is similar to Christmas as it is a time of giving. The ashram will be feeding 21 monks and we will be distributing blankets for them for the winter.
10/28
My muscles are organizing a rebellion today. Rested through most of the yoga sessions. special fire puja this morning with Swami Yogananda. He is 100 years old, a vibrant man who made sure we knew that he has all of his own teeth. He talked to us about the benefits of yoga and that we will all live to be 500 years old if we follow the yoga path. He then demonstrated how he could turn his body into a pretzel. Found out that this ashram is affiliated with a movement to return to the vedic traditions sans intermediaries like priests. In Hinduism the priests take over the rituals. The fire puja is the central practise and Om is the only symbol of reference.

Tonight is quite a spectacle of fireworks and bells ringing. I'm hunkered down in my room with ear plugs. Thought I would escape Shiva's Revenge but NOOO....

11/3 I've been working on my essay comparing Kabbalah to yoga and have been puzzled as to how to end the essay. I knew there had to be a deeper connection between yoga and Kabbalah but couldn't quite grasp until awakening this morning. This revelation occurred in my waking dream.

The creation story of the snake offering Eve the secret to the Tree of Knowledge is no different than the snake image coiled at the base of the spine and the rising of the kundalini energy rising through the nadis/chakra system. It is no accident that Kabbalah and yoga are so similar.The yoga path is much older than the Judeo-Christian path. The story of Adam and Eve must have been created to prevent inner inquiry and self realization. Politics and control was the leading factor in developing the creation story. Kabbalah, which continued orally in secluded selective sects, must be some transmutation of the yoga system brought over from India with allusions to torah in order to make it more palpable to the ascetic 14th century Jew. There are so many Chassidic Jews that have moved here to Rishikesh. It is ironic to think that they may have returned to the place of the origins of their story...my story.

11\6
This program is drawing to an end. This will be my last entry here in Rishikesh. Next destination-Varanasi, also known as the City of Shiva. It was previously named Benares. It is over 2,000 years old. Mark Twain said this about Benares, "Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Swastikas and Star of David

10/18
It was a little disconcerting here seeing swasti - kas everywhere on signs walls jewelry and textiles. These swasti-kas differ in that the wings rotate clockwise. We are now studying the chakras and I learned something interesting about this symbol. It has a direct relationship to the 6 pointed star (Star of David). The 6 pointed star is associated with the heart chakra and so is the swasti-ka. They both have the same meaning, balance of spirit in the body. The swasti-ka's literal meaning is to become pure and good.

Had a wonderful massage today and oil treatment on my head called Siro Harrah. Afterwards I put a scarf on my head to protect the hair and oils from dust. I walked to town for e-mail business and shopping. In a jewelry shop there stood a tall man, long beard dressed in black with tsit tsit hanging from his coat. In his hand was a lulav and an etrog. I think he mistook me for a babooshka and began greeting me in Hebrew. I responded in Hebrew. He was delighted. He held up the lulav and asked, "do you know what this is?" So i said yes, that's a lulav and an etrog in your other hand. He then prayed over these items and I joined him in a rousing shehechianoo. He asked that I join him and his wife tomorrow evening at the Chabad House in Rishikesh to celebrate Simchat Torah. I had to decline as I had classes until 9PM that night. Who knew! Chabadniks in India!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Daily Life

10/14
Was able to sleep through the whole night last night. I was much more relaxed in yoga class this AM.Today is Full Moon Day, a day of feasting and purifying ones self in the Ganga. People are up even earlier on this day for the preparations. Music and prayers are broadcast on loudspeakers, bells ringing, horns honking, the noise continues. Everyone's out in their finest clothing. The array of saris are breathtaking. This is a day of distributing food to the poor.
Here's my daily schedule:
5:30 - wake up bell
6:00 - 7:30 - yoga class
7:30 - 8:00 - meditation
8:00 - 8:45 - breakfast
9:00 - 10:30 - yoga philosophy
10:30 - 12:00- anatomy and subtle anatomy
12:00 - 12:45 - lunch
1:00-2:30 - Break
2:30 - 4:00 - techniques class
4:00 - 6:00 - practicum class
6:00-6:45 - Dinner
7:30-9:00 - kiirtan and personal development (on Mondays & Wednesday)
We also have written tests, essays and 3 levels of classes we have to demonstrate proficiency of teaching, 2 times/week. We meet for classes 6 days per week.
This, is yoga boot camp.

10/15
A rainstorm this morning knocked out the power. Nothing that I'm not use to. Beginning to adjust to the schedule here. My body is hurting, but it is also getting stronger. The teachers are very good here. Chetenah is very good at facilitating discourse in philosophy peppered with interactive activities.
Learned something yesterday about the name of someone I know.(Ira will appreciate this). In reading about Anandamayee Ma - she would seemingly, unbeknownced to her visitor, student or devotee, compassionately stage a situation for a lesson, or frame a dire situation as a positive outcome. Peppered in the text the statement would appear, "This is her leela." I asked Chetenah, "What is leela?" She responded, "Oh, that means someone's drama, being lovingly confrontational."
10/17I am told Indian summers are hot during the day and hot at night. Indian winters are hot during the day and warm at night. Noticing more changes internally. I am able to go into a deep meditation for longer periods of time. I feel lighter, feeling the pranic energy.
10/18
Today we learned to use the neti pot. It is called Jal Neti. I've always been hesitant to use it because: 1) fear of drowning 2)I wouldn't know what I was doing 3) Seemed much too foreign. I'm sold on it and glad I waited to learn how. Yogis have many rituals around cleansing. Jal Neti (nasal cleansing with salt water). One uses a teapot shaped vessel. The spout goes in one nostril, tilt the head, and the water pours out of the other nostril. There is a process of clearing and drying the nostrils afterward. Finally, the nostrils are lubricated with ghee and rose oil. One can further cleanse the throat and nostrils by putting saltwater in the mouth, lean forward, and have it flow out of both nostrils. Another neti practise is sutra neti. Thread a cotton catheter stiffened with beeswax at one end, dip it in ghee or oil, tilt the head back, and thread it through one nostril. Feed the sutra through the back of the nostril into the throat. Reach in the mouth, grip the sutra, and slowly rub it back and forth. Repeat through the other nostril.
I will forgo from performing this one.