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  • Writer's picturePankaj Seth


Many years ago I read 'Rasa' by Rene Daumal and was enthralled at the subject of Indian Aesthetical theory and at Daumal's passionate writing which had so much beauty and depth that it was refreshing, like having a cold beer after being parched in the desert, something that I did experience in 1987 in Rajasthan on a very hot day at 50 degrees when I decided to call it a day as far as walking in the desert was concerned and was taken to a little restaurant which had the coldest beer, the most delicious, refreshing beer I have ever had. I'm sure you can imagine how good it must've felt, like a deliverance it was, a great aesthetical experience too, heavy with the rasa of satisfaction.

As I read the book, the musician on the cover of Rasa was an image which seared itself into my mind. I wanted to know, to feel what this artisan knew, had become. I wanted to meet him, or someone like him. It looked to me that not only did he have a musicality but also that he had a goal to be reached, a goal which he had reached and was now communicating this to others, to those who would listen to him sing, this Rasa-Man.

Daumal wrote...

It is still not enough for language to have clarity and content... it must also have a goal and an imperative. Otherwise from language we descend to chatter, from chatter to babble and from babble to confusion.
You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.

And then one day I met someone just like Rasa-Man. It was in 2008 on the India yatra to film Soma: The Yogic Quest. It was at the first destination, Varanasi/Kashi where I had gone to meet with Shiva-in-His-City and the practitioner-scholars at the dept. of Religion and Philosophy at Benares Hindu University (BHU).

I was in Varanasi for three weeks and wandered around the city, around the ghats at the holy Ganga and especially loved being at the sprawling, beautiful, green campus of BHU where I spoke with many, many scholars of various disciplines from the arts to medicine (Ayurveda) to ecology.

After receiving a warm welcome by the scholars and engaging in question and answer sessions, I felt that I was now on solid footing and could proceed with the filming. At the BHU campus there is a Vishwanath temple where I went to pay my respects and express thanks to Bholenath who had so kindly brought me into his fold about 30 years earlier and had now welcomed and helped me out here.

As I approached the temple and got near its upper terraces I heard a voice singing and it almost dropped me to my knees. I didn't know exactly where it was coming from so I began to seek it out by walking around until I could hear it becoming louder and distinct. In looking for, in following this voice I was brought inside the temple. Just outside the inner sanctum was this man who must've been in his 90's and looked very much like Rasa-Man. There he was, sitting, playing an harmonium and singing. It was apparent that he was completely blind just as it was apparent that he had Seen.

I approached him, sat down next to him. He was aware of someone having come nearby and broke off the singing and welcomed me and asked me to sit near. As I did so, he held my hand and asked about me, who I was. I told him that I had come from afar to make a film on Yoga/Dharma and I was drawn by his singing. I asked him to sing and he did. When he broke off singing again, I, who was very moved, teary-eyed asked him if I could record him and utilize that in the film. He gave me such a big smile, once again held my hand and agreed. And so I recorded him singing right there facing Vishwanath.

And indeed, his music, his singing became a very important part of the film. It was the backdrop of when the film speaks on The Ritual Arts, the visuals being of Dev Diwali in Varanasi. And not just a backdrop but a full-on rendition too just had to happen. I was very pleased with the result and have been told by many persons that this may be their fave part of the film.

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