When filming a series of religious festivals in India in the mid-eighties I would often wander the streets at night around the time of the full moon, listening to the sounds of chanting from nearby temples. There is always more temple activity during this time, with most of the population asleep and the stifling daytime temperatures a little less intense, it was another view of India that most people wouldn’t see or hear. During the days with the millions of people all active – the sound levels were intense – however around midnight that had all settled and the peacefulness allowed for a different note to be heard.
Wandering through the streets day or night – there is always some activity and India is the land of temples. You could follow the sounds of chanting and find yourself in a temple with a group of people all playing music and chanting. The harmonious resonance was magnetic and under a full moon in the stillness of the night and the aromas of incense and herbs – it was captivating. On one occasion I met an old aristocratic man who spoke with a clear and soft tone. He was chanting along with a small group. I stayed in the temple for a few hours drifting into a meditative state then he asked if I would like to come to his house and meet his family and have some chai. We quietly walked to his house in the pre-dawn hours and his wife prepared some chai and sweets for us. Afterwards he excused himself and disappeared for a few minutes and returned carrying a large case which he put gently down on a rug on the floor between us. Without saying anything we finished our chai and then he opened the magic case to reveal the most beautiful sitar – made for a king. With reverence he gently and carefully removed the instrument from its case and proceeded to play.
Over the next hour and through the sunrise he played classic tunes for us. Together, in a heightened aural and visual experience, we watched the room turn gold as the first rays of the sun penetrated his window and flooded the room with light. This classical master sitar player left a resonance that stays with me to this day. Even though our paths crossed for the briefest time, that beautiful moment stays – his music came from and returned to a different space but for a moment its vibration and pure essence gave beauty to the sunrise and prepared the day for those yet to awake from their dream state and move into another day in the life of India.