Monthly Archive for May, 2013

The Friendliness of Orchha.

“A fable is a story, often about animals, that points out some aspect of human behaviour and often has a moral attached to it.”

Some children of Ganj mohalla (a village near Orchha) perform an old fable, “The Tiger, The Brahmin & the Jackal” in the courtyard of a village house.

This was organised by Asha D’ Souza (founder of Friends of Orchha) & Erika Trikon (a long-stay visitor). None of the children had performed in a play before, a great experience for them.

Until this generation, few of the boys & none of the girls ever went to school; the village was functionally illiterate & although many of the children now go to school, part of the reason for staging the play was to improve their literacy.

None of the kids had ever performed before, but they took to it like ducks to water & although often protesting & not paying attention, after practise they became competent & even inspired; loving the dressing-up, they also particularly enjoyed wearing the animal masks.

Update May 27th 2013: I received the sad news that Anu (Neetu’s Mother) died tragically last December; this is a bad blow & very sad; I remember her as the still strong centre of that family, the family home where the play above was performed.

Here is a photo of Anu, Chotu & Vishal & may she rest in peace!

Anu, Chotu & Vishal

I really hope the family can carry on & that the wonderful home-stays will continue!

Maya School, Ganj.In other sad news, the Maya school has closed, apparently due to financial problems that should not have been problems!

Many of the Ganj children went there; it is (was) a free school, providing transport to & from the school, uniforms & materials as well as teaching & a full lunch!

Maya School morning meeting.

 

Founded by Eeva Schultz for the children of the locality who were not able to go to school. I thought it was an excellent little school & I sincerely hope it can somehow be restarted.

LINKS:

Fable Audience a small album of the children going to ‘the play’!

Orchha Photo Albums three albums, including the 700+ photos of the village people & places by Erika Tricon; a terrific record of  three months in a year of village life.

Friends of Orchha where you go to book a home-stay in Orchha.

Video Page another presentation of the video with additional information on the fable with English & Hindi translations & links.

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Flying Carpet

(Introductory Note: This tale is part of an ongoing series of prose poems based on actual dreams first recorded in 1968 when I lived and studied in the Himalayas for six years. The series titled Night Travels to Tibet conjures the surreal and crazy juxtaposition of eastern & western cultures, people and events.

Flying dragon

Flying Carpet
Marilyn Stablein

                 At the village chai shop, the chai-wallah, tea-maker, churns a pot of salty yak butter tea.  He serves me where I sit on carpet on the floor.  Then he adjusts a knob of some kind.

                 Suddenly we’re airborne.  The carpet cruises out the door and hovers three feet above an ancient caravan trail. The driver struggles to gain altitude then halts at a stop sign.

                “Don’t stop. Take it higher,” I urge. “Cut loose! Fly like Aladdin on his magic carpet! He never stopped for signals or hovered in traffic.”

                When I look down at the carpet I see the problem. It’s ugly!   Instead of a beautiful Oriental Persian carpet I’m sitting on a cheap shag rug.  It’s not even square or rectangular, just a frayed coffee-stained remnant of the cheapest polyester wall-to-wall gray shag torn in an odd shape.

               Just my luck, I think, stuck on a low-flying funky shag remnant cruising slower than an ox cart.  We’re barely skimming the ground.  I can walk faster in my sleep.

A special collector’s signed and numbered edition of seven dream-inspired tales, More Night Travels to Tibet, printed in Nepal on handmade lokta paper, with Tibetan woodblock prints from the author’s collection, is available online at   http://www.marilynstablein.com/#!artist-books/ch1q
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Ragascape II – Swaras, Ragas, Rasas

The Path of Indian Music: this second of four Ragascape articles focuses on the central themes of Indian music including tonality, melodic formation and their relation to the character and feeling content of ragas.

Rajasthani RagamalaSwara, the Sanskrit word for tonal center, forms the fundamental basis for the Indian path of music. Although it is difficult to be precise about the etymological meaning, there are references elucidating  ‘swara’ as a tone which can shine or resonate by itself. Perhaps this means that a swara can stand by itself as opposed to a shruti, or audible element, which can ornament another note but cannot stand alone because it would not be considered tuneful. In any case, swara suggests tunefulness, and moreover, a tunefulness that arises from within. There is of course technique, however, technique alone will not suffice.  There must initially be observation and analytical presence, but ultimately there must be an inherent presence to reveal the swara in its fullness as a tonal center with an ever-expanding periphery. When fully matured, the swara shines by itself without any pillar in the same way that natural awareness or a brilliant seed syllable radiates spontaneously without any support or control.  In fact the more one just ‘lets the swara be’ the more luminous it becomes.

The main point here is that swara has a presence of its own and the experience of its  resonance must allow for the swara to reveal itself, totally open and without force.  The manifestation of swara brings along with it a natural calming of internal movement and a corresponding tuning of our own instrument as body, energy and mind. Without this fundamental relaxation of internal movement and a wider opening to the surrounding space, swara remains as a lifeless corpse.

Along with the comfort that the process of internal loosening allows for, a tunefulness arises whereby  the swara effortlessly begins to  pervade one’s entire being and the space around oneself. As one is no longer trying to improve, modify, control, or in any way alter one’s natural tunefulness, the swara takes on a life of its own and resonates without  any limit to its clarity and power.

Tunefulness never arises simply on the basis of technique  Underlying the technique there must be an internal ease which is neither too concentrated nor diffused. If it is too concentrated the swara tends to become too hard and if it is diffused, the swara loses its dynamic quality. This necessary understanding of swara is the reason why months and years are devoted to cultivating tunefulness through posture, breath control, and concentration.

Krishna RagasTo insure that tunefulness is genuine it is sometimes useful to ritualize the introduction to the nature of swara. Traditionally, a student offered a gold coin to the master, and in return the master would sing or play one note, after which the student would imitate whatever the master sang or played.  Through this ritual process of exchange the master would directly introduce the disciple to the  swaras. One may question whether this ritual is important or not. The ritual does more than just introduce the swaras to the student.  It opens the door to the whole lineage of transmission, so that one’s tunefulness no longer remains something that one has just invented but is connected to the power of the tunefulness of previous musical masters, and especially to one’s own teacher.

When awakened tunefulness arises, the whole environment is transformed into a vibratory field characterized by the qualities of a particular tonal center. As the vibration continues, the periphery expands until the sound becomes inseparable from space. When the vibration stops, the boundary between struck and unstruck sound dissolves and there is a seamless unification of one’s awareness and and disappearance of the vibration. Somehow there is a sound to this silence.

Comprehension of the ground of tunefulness brings insight into the characteristic tonal meanings of the various swaras.  In Indian music there are seven shuddha swaras or ‘natural’ tonal centers:  Shadja, Rishab, Gandhar, Madyam, Pancham, Dhaivat, and Nishad. As the second, third, fourth, sixth, and seventh have altered possibilities, we generally say that there are twelve swaras in all. When all the scatterings of mind are gathered in, absorbed and relaxed, the fundamental swara Shadja reveals itself as total balance, equilibrium, and equality. Shadja is the ground and fundamental basis for all the other notes and the perfect mirror in which all the other swaras are reflected.  Without this tonal mirror in fact, the qualities of the other notes will not be reflected. All the other swaras, when produced in front of this mirror, reveal the clarity and qualities of the respective swara.  It is not the case that we hear Sa and Gandhar, for example, as some chord, but rather that Sa, the mirror, begins to resonate as Gandhar. No other swara has this capacity.

This relation between Shadja and the other tonal centers is metaphorically significant to our own  experience.  As long as awareness is naturally balanced and we are vibrating with our own ‘SA’, all experience will manifest as some kind of reflection with our natural awareness integrating with appearance without ever distorting it.  It is only when that natural awareness appears clouded, that all experience never seems satisfactory or meaningful. On a relative level intonation of swaras can improve ones health, calm the mind, and balance untuneful vibration and energy.   On a deeper spiritual level, marga sangeet, or the musical path, was offered to the human dimension to establish an alternate path, a key to untying the knot of samsara. The goddesss Saraswati is considered as an enlightened being who bestowed the secrets of music upon Narada Muni who then propagated them throughout the human dimension.

Bhairavi RaginiThis exercise of internal balance and the resulting musical harmony ignites a creative spark fired with precision, flexibility, expansiveness, and emotive expression. Precision refers to the perfect communication that arises between body and mind and the way in which technique spontaneously responds to creative impulse. As a result, there is perfection in intonation merely through directing one’s mind at the desired note.  There is no obstacle to clarity as each swara shines the natural brilliance of one’s awareness.

Flexibility is the ease with which energy shapes itself into tuneful patterns according to the melodic structure and method. As the internal balance of tunefulness spreads throughout one’s body, obstructions are automatically removed and creative expression arises without effort. There is a sense of freedom and ease about patterning the notes as if what once felt stiff like steel is now more stretchable like rubber.

Expansiveness is the manifestation of infinite possibility once one is no longer struggling with the internal or external environment. A spontaneous flow of limitless possibility emerges and one simply rides the wave of creative experience without any judgment regarding the quality of what is arising.  The swara flows smoothly, evenly, and improvisation occurs naturally and without force. Patterns arise without any semblance of a cause– randomly, spontaneously, yet ordered with inherent meaning.

If one understands this ground of tunefulness, the architectural forms of Indian music, known as ragas and raginis can arise clearly.  Even if one’s understanding and knowledge of Indian melodic form is incomplete or limited; tunefulness will compensate and no matter how far one strays from the pure form of the raga, the raga’s fragrance will somehow pervade. This is not an excuse for ignoring the purity of a raga’s form but rather a testament to the power of having realized ‘swara’ through yogic process within the body and contemplatively in the mind. On the other hand, if one only infuses one’s play with the raga’s grammar, no matter how intricate, and ignores the fundamental source of swara; the raga will remain as only a lifeless shadow without color, fragrance, taste,or  texture.

According to the ideals of traditional Indian music, the combination of tunefulness with a true understanding of a raga’s unique melodic patterning is the process through which music really becomes a method of transformation. Within the context of the raga system each swara has a particular seat.  In fact, the seating arrangement can be said to be very important. Each raga has a different seating arrangement, and accordingly, some seats will be very stable and unmoving whilst others are always in motion.  The fundamental swara and its counterpart are generally, but not always, very stable.  There is an important relation, a kind of communication, between the fundamental swara and its counterpart which sits a fourth or fifth away. One might think of this counterpart as a minister who is always assisting the king.  Then there are numerous other relations  which are created by the multi dimensional seating arrangement. Each time a particular swara is sounded it immediately triggers a signal to another note, almost alerting it to get ready to light up. In this way lines are drawn between all the swaras in a raga creating a tight system of interconnectedness.  This dynamic relationship forms the ground upon which the character, shape, voice, face, and feelings of the raga will ripen and mature.

When all the swaras are comfortably seated and each one seemingly manifests in a space where tension and release are perfectly balanced (this is just a way of saying that they manifest in the right proportion and at the appropriate moment), the raga shines clearly through its own self potency and assumes its capacity to transform anything in its vibrational field.

Rasa LilaRagas and their inherent tonality are woven into the daily and nocturnal cycle. Just as each period of the day and night has its own particular character and vibration, correspondingly, the ragas portray moods associated with those times.  The power that  a raga  possesses to transform our vision is more evident when it is intoned at the appropriate hour.  Particular swaras seem to go in and out of focus according to the time of the day. There are numerous examples of this process and although it is beyond the scope of this work to go into those details, suffice it to say that the inclusion or exclusion of a particular swara, or its emphasis or lack thereof, is influenced by the time of day that one is playing.  Critical moments of the day such as sunrise and sunset also reveal peculiarities in the raga’s tonal system.  Similarly, ragas associated with seasons such as the spring and monsoon demonstrate identifiable patterned tonal qualities that define them as seasonal ragas. In fact the scope of a seasonal raga can become more focused according to the moment of the particular season one is dealing with.  For example, monsoon includes the very active thunderstorm as well as the moment when the sun reveals itself through the clouds after the storm is over. These are distinctly different moments-in color, mood, environmental vibe, etc. Ragas can reflect these changes.

Emotive expression in a raga is not simply a reflection of the vibratory tone of experience. We can have all kinds of experience in our lives, some good, some desirable, and some bad that most of us seek to avoid.  Each one of those experiences throughout our daily lives resonates with some kind of vibration, maybe pleasant, unpleasant, relaxing, tense, sad or joyful. If we reflect on it, we can notice some kind of tone or vibration.  Music is an attempt to infuse that vibration with emotive presence, and thereby separate the conflicting tones of ordinary experience from the harmonious balance of emotive presence. This emotive presence is called rasa in Classical Indian aesthetic terminology.   Rasa is the essential flavor of vocal music, instrumental music, and dramatic art.

RasaRasa is more than just some abstract concept and suggests something related to tactility, vision, smell, sound, and taste.  Rasa arises when the structural and defining limits of conceptualization are relaxed.  Somehow we become more “moist”, our creative juices begin to flow and we lose our grip on what to accept and what to reject.  As the dualistic context and the conflicting vibration of ordinary emotion is relaxed, an artist has the possibility of discovering an immediate wakefulness which can lift or separate the emotion from its contextual limits and arouse profound lucid feeling.

Classical aesthetics considers nine experiences which give rise to this instant emotive presence. They are actually broad categories and encompass the whole spectrum of experience.  Within   the context of Indian music their scope becomes more specific according to the melodic form one engages. The nine rasas include:

1) Sringara – love, joyful,happy-the adi rasa because there can be no rasa without love.
2) Karuna – sadness, longing, grief, resigned acceptance.
3)Shanta – tranquility,balance, sometimes considered  the goal of  all the other rasas.
4) Vira – noble, dignified, energetic, warrior like.
5) Adbhuta – wonder, surprise, astonishment.
6) Hasya – laughter, humor.
7) Abhyanka – fear, terror.
8) Krodha – anger.
9) Vibhatsa – disgust, revulsion.

If, for example, one considers sringara rasa (love) the Indian musician awakens this presence by integrating with the melodic patterning of the the raga. “Massaging” the swaras according to the balance and proportion that the raga calls for, and allowing the swaras to fall and rest in their seats accordingly opens the space for this presence to arise.  This presence will be colored with feelings associated with love but free from any dualistic or conflicting emotion.  Even when the raga suggests painful separation, grief, or loss, those feelings do not condition the clarity of the musicians’ view but become the pathways for an aesthetic presence to arise.  This may not be the condition when we are speaking of separation or painful loss in real life.  We get caught in the web of thoughts and emotions, clarity is lost, and confusion ensues.  The musician-artist, on the other hand, sheds the ‘corpse’ of conceptual context or what we may call the ‘storyline’, and reveals the archtypical juice of emotion-nakedly raw, joyful and awake.

Having separated himself, at least temporarily, from the world of desire, the artist abandons both acceptance and rejection, recognizes union and separation as waves of creative play and remains undistracted in a sea of infinite potential.  Similarly, when the musician plays ragas which are associated with the moods of the nine rasas-whether of painful longing, love, noble, or  tranquil- he is no longer a player in a real life drama trapped and distracted by conceptual context, but rather a vehicle for pure creative expression revealing a melodic patterning of swara filled with emotive presence.

In the next Ragascape article we’ll be looking at “Surbahar Sources.”

LINKS:

Narada Muni
Rasa
Shruti

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Ramen Bhattacharyya – Memorial.

evening memorial to Shri Ramen Bhattacharrya, father of Bhaskar & Ranjan.

At the end, I wished I had known him better.

This was held at Hampstead Town Hall, evening of 11th May 2013. Was jolly well attended. There were moving tributes to Ramen, there was fine music too.

Obituary Camden New Journal May 2013.

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On Mataji’s Houseboat – Banaras 1967.

Old Varanasi from Mata Dharam Das' houseboat - 1967I hitch-hiked from my home town of Preston in the north of England, to India, leaving first in December 1965 and finally arriving at the third attempt in August 1967. Kevin Rigby inspired my decision to go in the summer of 1965, just talking about what it would be like in India, how wonderful it was, almost channelling it, although of course he’d never been there and couldn’t have had a clue about the reality; apart from the fact that it was the home of the Buddha Dharma and Indians still totally understood spirituality as an alternative way of life to the materialism of the West. I was so impressed with this spontaneous spiel that I just said “well let’s go there, then.”

After a pause he said “OK, let’s go.” So we went. We kitted ourselves out for the trip with First World War Army Surplus blanket and poplin sleeping bags for thirty shillings apeice and US Army Cargo Packs for a pound, mail order from Exchange and Mart. I bought Bartholemews maps of Europe, the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent to figure out what route to take. We also bought Army Surplus bayonets and Kevin fashioned slick wooden sheaths for them to hang from our belts. We sewed shoulder straps on the cargo packs with two more straps underneath to hold the sleeping bags and that was it. I gave in my notice as a clerk at the accountants’ office, telling Kevin I’d catch up with him in Trafalgar Square in London and off we’d go. But I couldn’t find him when I got there, he’d done one of his famous disappearing tricks, so in the end I left on my own; I hitched to Dover, caught the ferry to Boulogne and headed east to Germany only to be beaten back by early winter blizzards in Europe. Then, Kevin and I separately spent the next year or so ‘on the road’ up and down the UK, youthful beatniks fomenting the 60s revolution and, of course, tripping out completely.

Kevin Rigby Birmingham 1965

Kevin Rigby Birmingham 1965

Eventually we got it together to try to get to India again in the spring of 1967. We scraped together £5 between us and had a hilarious hitching trip across the north of Europe but after being refused entry into Austria for lack of funds we lost each other crossing the German/Austrian border illegally, just before dawn. Out of my brains, I also lost my passport and was forced to be repatriated after a week in Salzburg prison but Kevin slipped through the net. He disappeared into thin air, walked over the mountains to Yugoslavia and reached Istanbul. There, after sleeping rough by Bosphorus he stashed his gear in the bushes by the water’s edge while going to get his visa for Iran, but got back to find everything stolen and found himself left with just his passport and his pair of jeans, nothing else. Determined and desperate to make it out of Europe to India however he persevered, took the road from Istanbul to the East and made his way to India, penniless, hairy and barefoot, while back in Preston again I got a job rubbing cars down for respray in a garage to pay off my repatriation costs and regain my passort. Kevin, mourned for three days by his parents to whom he had been reported dead, rose again and sent me his address at an ashram in Rishikesh. With nothing better to do I set off again and hitched to India, without a hitch as it were, this time there were no obstacles, I flew along with long, fast lifts and arrived within a single month. Only to find when I strolled into Rishikesh that Kevin had upped and gone off across India to Benares, leaving me a note to meet him at the Manikarnika Ghat there, ‘the burning ghat’ where bodies were burned by the side of the Ganges.

Nothing loath, I took the impossibly crowded train changing at Saharanpur, third class. My journal for August 1967 notes: “Kipped at Benaras station after horrific 27 hour train journey and next day up and off to find the ‘burning ghat’ just as the monsoon breaks, big drops splashing on my head and the penetrating odour of parched earth suddenly getting wet. The bicycle rickshaw wallahs rejoice in the rain, shrilly ringing their bells in a chorus of delight at the rain as people come out of shacks and huts to dance and take showers in the downpour, singing praises to the gods. Walk 4 miles in rain, go wrong way, shin deep in water, eventually get bus to centre and walk to golden temple with guides, to burning ghat; of course, no Kevin; no-one would ‘stay’ there (just dead bodies, mud and ashes). In nearby alleys cloth-wrapped bodies are being tipped in the river and slip beneath the wavelets, the ritual accompanied by chaotic brass bands, while enormous bedraggled crows hop around, one of them almost choking as it tries to swallow a dead rat just in front of me. This is India, I’ve made it, I tell myself. Then suddenly meet 3 beatniks in the street, sitting at a tiny open air chai shop under an awning in the triangular central square by the river. They wear colurful lungis, one has long blond hair, they are super cool and are making a chillum. I approach to talk and ask if they know Kevin but one thinks he’s left and gone back to Europe a few days ago. “Yes, that English guy, he decided he belonged in Europe,” confirms another “and left on his way”. Drat! So I get high with the ganja smoke and become ultra-normal.

They invite me to go back to their houseboat with them and meet the crowd, including an Indian woman who takes care of them; she is called the Mataji and is wild.

Mataji

Mata Dharam Das ‘Mataji’.

But she insists on washing my feet before smoking chillums prepared from what we used to call Indian bigstick, ganja. There is a whole bunch of freaks wearing lungis including one American guy called Eddie who’s already been living in India for several years. He is two fingers short on one hand and calls himself Eight-finger Eddie. “Got any hash?” he asks me, the new arrival. I hand over the piece that I’ve brought from Afghanistan, he sniffs it and passes it to the Mataji and after bending it and sniffing it she is clearly happy.

Eddie takes charge of things, along with the Mataji. She puts my lump of hash on a wooden block and with a big grin at me she whacks it with a curved cleaver into two equal pieces. Then she takes a huge chillum and heats it until it’s red-hot on a roaring primus stove. When it’s cooled down she ties a long, thin rope to her big toe and stretches it above her head with one hand after passing it through the chillum, then she reams the chillum vigorously, up and down the rope, with great enthusiasm, grinning at me again with anticipation. They smoke gangia here and don’t get much hash it appears, particularly the good stuff like I’ve brought all the way from Herat. This chillum is now perfectly clean and she fills it expertly after selecting a stone to block it. It is prepared with fantastic style, meticulous care and well-honed skill. Finally the Mataji crushes a red-smouldering ball of buring coconut fibre onto the top, wraps a clean piece of cloth around the bottom, folds it in the fingers of both hands, raises it to her forehead and shouts a long ritual chant ending with “BOM SHANKAR!” before puffing away to get the hash burning well with sparks flying out of the top and taking a long draw, then, as a long flame bursts out from the top of the chillum, blowing out a long roll of thick blue smoke she passes it over to Eddie. She has a fantastic vital force, a real presence, powerful eyes and a most impressive facial expression combining dignity, power and joy.

Eddie in Goa - 1971.

8 Finger Eddie

The beats, several of whom like Eddie have already been in India for years, are meek as lambs before her; a very quiet sussy scene as everyone takes one good hit and passes the chillum clockwise. Apparently this is the very first colony of beats in Benares, one of the most ancient holy cities of India. Long rolls of smoke are blown out by everyone and I do my best to get the grip right, airtight, a good draw, and emulate them.

After this hit, delicious mixed chai is cooked up in no time with creamy buffalo milk and spices to help us all refocus and Mataji and Eddie collect paisa from whoever has any, goes out to the bazaar and comes back with bags of food to cook a great dinner of delicious vegetable curry with a huge pot of rice enough for 12 on a single primus stove… followed by perfect Indian coffee. I have been well and truly initiated into the Indian beat scene!

Smoke all evening and flake out on the floor. Morning, the rain has stopped, it is all clear, I go out on the roof to dig the Ganges with shark-sized carp rolling, there are even a few genuine tourist rowing boats passing by in the early morning sun coming up over the distant opposite bank. The Ghats of the city with their ancient buildings curve away in a long curve into the far distance by the limpid water. Later, leave to check out the scene in the bazaar and drink delicious lassi in the milk shops.

Australian John McInerney - Banaras - 60s

Australian John

Benares is completely unspoilt, no Western-style buildings, hardly; all craftsman shops. Buy some polleny hash (garda) off French guy who is studying Sanskrit at the university. Eat with Australian John, an Aussie who has been 3 years in India, great style, wearing long white robes and with shoulder-length hair he shows me the ropes, how to survive on the street in India, and I buy him chapattis with free dal at 6 paisa a hit. I keep meeting him, and later at Delhi station. Buy a couple of chillums and catch the train back to Rishikesh next morning to see about studying yoga. I decide to quit trying to catch up with Kevin now and make my own way. He’s got me all the way to India on a fool’s errand and then typically disappeared again into thin air, changed his mind completely as is his wont and gone back to Europe.

So now I shall see what I shall see…”

Sean Jones  © 2013 sean jones

 

(Sean Jones has travelled widely & lived the subcontinent, mostly in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, for a dozen years before returning to the UK in 1979 and establishing a successful travel business in London, “REHO Travel” which ran for the next fourteen years. During this time he helped a lot of friends who also came back from India, helped establish Buddhist centres and the global Tibet support group network, as well as being appointed as the Dalai Lama’s personal driver in the UK for 10 years, 1984 to 1993. Sean has now retired to the Pyrenean hills in the South of France with his wife Ariane. He has two sons from a previous relationship).

LINKS:

photo album – sean jones / the flower raj.

web site – sean jones / jamyang study group.

photo album – mataji / the flower raj.

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