With much anticipation and excitement I arrived in Varanasi for the annual Dhrupad Mela. Unfortunately neither my guruji nor any of my guru bhais were to perform there this year never the less I was keen to attend having seen many a YouTube video of previous years’ performances.
Having got off the overnight train from Delhi I headed straight to tulsi ghat on the banks of the river ganges where the mela is held to find out the program schedule. Upon enquiring I was told that it had started yesterday and so I had already missed a day due to the internet inevitably having the wrong dates.
Anyway in the end I can say it didn’t quite live up to the hype as the music ultimately was not that great. The bulk of the audience was actually foreigners, among whom the festival seems to have a kind of cult following. Some of the audience are just passing tourists (of which there are thousands here at the mo) sitting in on some local culture and others were those inclined towards Hindu culture, the hippie-ish type with dreadlocks, piercings, aum tattoos and baggy cotton trousers galore who seem to either reside here in Varanasi or flock here at this time of year for the dhrupad mela and shivratri combo. Its understandable given that most of the Indian population don’t know what dhrupad is and are more interested in listening to Bollywood or pop music.
I guess also that this is the only kind of audience who would sit through the entire night quite happily listening to the good, the mediocre and the bad artists of which the latter categories were rather too well represented for me. For most it is just meditative or exotic listening especially if you’ve had a bit of bhang lassie of which there’s plenty around on shivratri!
Of course there are a few good artists dotted throughout the program to keep you awake and the atmosphere is relaxed and informal, contrary to the heavily Sanskritized hindi of the various MCs who I may add always have wonderfully deep and resonant voices here, with a large floor seating section at the front which inevitably becomes a jigsaw of outstretched bodies at some point in the night.
To summarize it was a good experience which i don’t feel the need to repeat again.
That’s all from Varanasi, the place of all things holy…