SHANGRI LA. CHINA. 2016
The sun descends slowly behind a Naxi woman in Shangri La. Wearing stars and the moon is the general motif of a Naxi woman’s traditional dress: wide-sleeved loose gowns, blue or purple waistcoats, red caps, woolen sweaters, and long black trousers with seven round circles and vertical ears on the sheepskin cape to represent seven stars.
The Naxis consider love as the ultimate reality. If a couple in love can’t stay together, they will die for love. On their final night in this body, they buy the best wine and food, put on their best clothes, choose a nice place to spend their last hours, most often somewhere on the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, and dance all night long. Then they step hand in hand onto the road which leads to the Paradise of Love to sublimate their lives by love.
RANTEPAO. INDONESIA. 2015
Enroute to the village of Batutumonga, there is a small, anonymous, seemingly unwelcoming, monotone village. It looks abandoned, but clothes of little children hang out to dry beneath the tongkonans, which are traditional houses in which the deceased of the family are buried. You sit on a rock and take it all in: the walk up here has been long and rocky. And you see a little child peeking out of a tiny window to play with a rooster that has popped up at its window, and you snap a photo. Suddenly, the entire village comes to life as people come out of hiding, and a stern looking grandmother steps out of her house and calls you over. The village pauses as you make your way there. Is she angry? You wonder.
Then she bursts into a bright smile and shakes your hand, looking on proudly at her two-year old and invites you to come sit with her. And you do. You cannot converse because you do not speak the same language. But you talk with the eyes and smiles and gestures. And she puts her hand over your head and says something calmly. And suddenly you become a very part of this invisible little village. This is advaita.
PUSHKAR. INDIA. 2014
The story of Rampal, a Bhopa living in Pushkar, Rajasthan is a sad one. Bhopas are folk singers who used to perform using a bowed stringed instrument called the Ravanhatta for the villagers of Rajasthan in front of a scroll depicting folk tales. This performance was considered a healing ritual and involved the whole village. Now the Bhopas have no home, and live in poverty in tarp tents on the outskirts of the village making money by playing for music for travelers passing through.
I first saw Rampal in Pushkar Market, a busy street around the ghat of Pushkar Lake where cows, stray dogs, vendors, people- both local and foreigners, musicians, dancers and various artists live together in total harmony. He was playing his ravanhatta for a young Australian couple, mainly bollywood songs but they didn’t know that and it didn’t matter and he made ₹10 at the end of a 20 minute long performance. But he invited us over to his little tarp home docked in the capricious desert sand anyway, to eat under the starry night sky, in the warmth and light from the glowing red embers from a perished fire. Two chapatis shared between four of us with a little potato, served more on our plates than theirs, of course.
DALI. CHINA. 2015
It has been raining. The cobblestoned streets are dull, almost empty for China, and there’s a heavy unease in the air. Tunes float out of pastry shops where women crush rose petals and fill cookie dough balls with the same to bake flower pastries which they will sell for 10 kuai each, a perfect warm thing to eat on cold Yunnan days. It is January 2016 in the Yunnan Province in China. People walk by without a word, for such is China and its people: reserved, closed, bubbled, alone. No one talks to strangers. No one smiles at a foreigner. Everyone is alone within their aloneness. Everyone is busy going nowhere. A man plays a melancholic tune on his Erhu, an instrument also called the Chinese fiddle and originating in the Tang Dynasty. He’s an unrealized consciousness bringing us all together. He’s the inconceivable instrument of advaita on these cold windy streets of Dali, who cracks open, albeit slightly, the souls of everyone who walks past him.
BALTA. INDIA. 2016
Not many people in India know their dates of birth, and hence their age. They seem to skip through the years of life in tens. That is, for ten years, they’re 80, then suddenly they’re 90. Laxmi Devi is 80 and lives in the midst of dried red pines in the tiny village of Balta in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand with a population of 850 people. She’s frail, less than 5 feet tall, her skin is impeccably wrinkled in sharp contours like handmade Japanese paper, and she offers us to come with her for a wedding in her village in exchange for a bike ride there.
KATHMANDU. NEPAL. 2016
Followers of Shiva (babas) walk all the way from Varanasi in India to the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu for Mahashivaratri, the night on which, according to the Vedas, the Universal spiritual energy generated by planetary positions is at its peak. To allow this natural surge of energies to find their way, people stay up all night i.e. remain with their spines vertical, or in other words, stay awake. It is the night of profound stillness. In the Yogic tradition, Shiva isn’t worshipped as a God but rather as the first guru from whom knowledge originated and prayers offered to Shiva on this night has a profound impact.
A happy funeral attendee
TANA TORAJA. INDONESIA. 2015
In the tiny village of Tana Toraja in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, Torajans celebrate death like almost all cultures in the world would celebrate a wedding: with grandeur, a large crowd, meat, drinks, and dessert enough to feed a village, which is exactly what is invited to revel in the celebrations.
MUNSYARI. INDIA. 2016
KATHMANDU. NEPAL. 2016
Natives of Varanasi, India, and ardent followers of Shiva, the three sadhus walk from Varanasi to Kathmandu to pay homage to the Pashupatinath Temple on the day of Mahashivaratri. 1.5 million devotees are said to have visited the temple in 2016. The temple, located by Basmati River, is considered to be the most scared Hindu temple in Nepal and cremations happen here on a daily basis.
BAISHA. CHINA. 2016
A stroll outside the colorful, Naxi village of Baisha, toward the homes of the Bai people and away from the crowd of visitors, there is peace and a quiet diatone. Unlike on the visitor filled streets of Baisha where the sun shines, brining out the colors of the village and the tie-and-dye masterpieces hung out to dry, the sun doesn’t shine so brightly here, letting the calming shades of blue spread a calming innervation.