We didn’t plan it this way, but we are lucky enough to be here at the ashram during Navaratri. It is a nine-night festival of the goddess Durga, celebrating her in all her forms, and signs of celebration are everywhere. The ashram grounds are decorated with banana leaves and flowers, and so are homes and shops. Pale green pumpkins are split, their flesh dyed red, and these are placed at the entrances to gates, doors and shops. Fresh kolams appear every morning in front of every entrance – homes, shops, and the ashram itself.
People display dolls and miniatures on shelves in their homes: sages, farmers, children, artisans, and ordinary things like food, pots and pans. You can glimpse these dolls sometimes through open doors.
Ashram visitors wear beautiful silks, and the women wear fresh jasmine and roses in their hair every morning. I love walking by and inhaling the perfume from these garlands.
The ashram has been holding special pujas every day, honoring different goddesses, and every evening, we’ve been able to attend a classical Indian music concert. The music itself is just amazing, and our enjoyment is enhanced by the design of the concert hall. It’s on the ground floor of the library building, which is round. In the center is a kind of well, with the wall of the well providing a seat where people can let their legs dangle. Behind this well is a large stone god, and between the god and the well, the ashram placed a dais where the musicians sit, just elevated enough so everyone in the room can sit and watch them perform.
The atmosphere of the concert is casual and informal. Though people sit quietly and appreciatively, it’s fine to drift in when you like, and to drift out when you’re ready to go. Children are free to move about, and they all behave really well, perhaps because they’re not required to sit stiff and still.
I have been transfixed by the beautiful ragas we’ve heard. They often start out gentle and quiet, then build to an exciting pace and pitch. Unfortunately, we haven’t made it through a full concert. They start at 8:00 PM, and with us still recovering from jet lag, and waking up early, we tend to get really sleepy by 9:00, so we leave while we’re still capable of walking back to our room.
I’m including a couple of video clips here, so you can get some idea of the excellence and variety of the music we have been hearing.
Here’s a clip about a minute and a half long. The musicians are Ramana Balachandar playing veena; B. Ganapathiraman playing mrindangam; and Nerkunram Shankar playing kanjira.
Below is a shorter clip of another evening: Charumati Raghuram playing violin, and Anantha R. Krishnan playing mrindangam.