Tag Archive: SEWA


Goa

State: Maharashtra (North Goa) & Karnataka (East & South)
Population: 1,457,723

Old Goa Well

Old Goa Well

Goa, known for its beaches and party scene, sits on the Arabian Sea in the middle of West India. It can be divided into three sections: the northern part of Goa is replete shopping and activities as well as quiet beach resort hotels and houses; the middle of Goa holds the capital Panaji which is full of restaurants and home to the Bollywood Film Festival, inland spice plantations and waterfalls; and to the south are quiet remote beaches with natural landscapes to enjoy.. One of the smallest districts in India, Goa has packed in it fair share of occupants ranging from the Sumerians to Buddhist emperors to Jains. By the 14th century, Goa had been in constant war between sultanates until the Bahmani sultanate championed them all and formed a capital city, which is now called Old Goa.

Old Goa

Old Goa

When the Portuguese colonized Goa by pushing the sultanate out of power in 1510, their European ways of living and religion spread out around the region. One can see evidence of this in the architecture of homes in Old Goa – small, colourful, quaint single-family homes and attached terraced housing.

The Portuguese introduced Christianity into their new colony and instilled its doctrine and ideals on Goans (known as the Goan Inquisition). This is evident in the number cathedrals that were erected in Goa and along the coast of the Arabian sea. Some of the more famous cathedrals are the Basilica of Bom Jesus, Se de Santa Catarina and the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. It wasn’t until 1961 that the Indian army marched into Goa and reclaimed it for their own. After almost five centuries, Goans were finally free from Portuguese rule.

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Agra – The Taj Mahal

State: Uttar Pradesh
Population: 4,380,793

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

Perhaps the most beloved site in all of India is the Taj Mahal. Built in only eight years by Shah Jahan during the 17th century from 1632, it was a mausoleum for Shah Jahan’s third wife, Mumtaz, who had died while giving birth to their 14th child. Sadly, when it was finished, Shah Jahan was then overthrown by his own son, Aurangzeb, and was subsequently imprisoned in the Agra Fort, which overlooked the Yamuna river and the Taj Mahal. When Shah Jahan died, his body was buried beside Mumtaz deep within the Taj Mahal. When you enter into the main structure of the Taj Mahal, you can see the replicas of their resting place in the entrance way while their real tombs lie down below, cordoned off to the public.

The amazing art of pieta dura work

The amazing art of pieta dura work

This beautiful structure is one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World and is built of marble and inlayed with malachite, lapis, jade, carnelian and obsidian. The main tomb area is structured with one main dome in the center topped with a lotus motif; traditional Hindustani designs and four smaller domes open up into the tomb area to provide light. Each corner of the 30 meter high base the Taj Mahal sits on, has a minaret which stands about 40meters in height and are slightly tilted away from the main mausoleum so that if there is any potential destruction, such as an earthquake, the minarets will fall outwards away from center. Their traditional use was for the call to prayer but the minarets are now closed off for safety reasons.

There are quotes from the Qur’an written on the main entrance to the tomb, the main entrance area, the mosque and the guest house. The quotes, stretching from the bottom to the top of each structure, are designed uniquely by the widening the writing so that as you look up at, it appears as the same size all the way up. Flanking the Taj Mahal are two identical buildings made from red sandstone – to the left (or west) is the mosque and to the right (east) is the guest house. To the north lies the Yamuna River venerated as a holy river in Hinduism and referred to in the Rig Veda dated back to 1100 BC. The beauty of this structure is awe inspiring. It simply takes your breath away.

Varanasi

State: Uttar Pradesh
Population: 3,682,194

Varanasi, also known historically as Benares, is considered one of the oldest cities in the world. It is also a center for education, housing the Banaras Hindu University which is the largest residential university in Asia. It’s primary manufacturing product is silk weaving, in particular gold and silver threaded silk Banarasi saris that are often used for weddings. Sarnath, only a few kilometres away is considered the birthplace of Buddhism because in 538 A.D. Buddha gave his first sermon after gaining enlightenment in Bodhgaya.

Varanasi - Ghats along the Ganges

Varanasi – Ghats along the Ganges

With about 23,000 temples, Varanasi has been called the “city of temples.” Steeped in religious history, the heart of this city sits on the banks of the Ganges, the holiest river in India and is the center of cultural Indian traditions, Hindu mythologies and legends. It is considered the ultimate location to pass away in, be cremated and placed into the river, thus bringing salvation to the individual. It is often that one can see bodies wrapped in saffron shrouds covered in marigold garlands being carried through the windy streets of old Varanasi to Manikarnika Ghat for cremation. The rawness of humanity abounds everywhere in this complex ancient city and touches all that come to the banks of the Ganges.

Amritsar

State: Punjab
Population:  1,132,761

Amritsar is in the state of Punjab which borders Pakistan and is considered the spiritual centre for Sikhs. Although the site is fraught with violent historical events that resulted in many lives lost, Amritsar is famous for the most beautiful temple called, Harmandir Sahib or The Golden Temple.  One of the many dark marks of Britain’s occupancy of India is the Jallianwala Bagh massacre that took place in 1919 where the British open fired with machine guns on the people of Amritsar killing almost 400 Indians and wounding 1200. Decades later, long after India had been liberated, Indira Gandhi headed Operation Blue Star in 1984 which extracted militant Sikhs hiding in The Golden Temple which left 83 dead.  But perhaps the more significant event that Indira Gandhi participated in was the burning down of the Sikh Reference Library which created animosity toward her resulting in her own Sikh bodyguards assassinating her only months later.  This instigated retaliation on the Sikhs and resulted in about 3000 deaths.  It is this event that the Sikhs refer to as “the great massacre”.

Sikh man at the Golden Temple

Sikh man at the Golden Temple

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Agra: Soundscapes

The Taj Mahal: From the Western side

Main Entrance to the Taj Mahal

Main Entrance to the Taj Mahal

We had rented a SUV to take us to Agra for the day from Delhi. We got on the expressway and found ourselves there within about three hours. A guide was there to meet us and give us a tour. We entered through the East gate and passed through security. I was stopped because of my recording device but our guide helped me negotiate getting through. We walked toward the main entrance gate and stopped under a tree to hear the history of the Taj Mahal and then proceeded into the main entrance way.

When we first entered it was dark and cool inside compared to the heat of the day. As we walked forward, the Taj slowly came into focus -a glowing white brilliance before us. I distinctly remember the first time I visited the Taj, I saw her beauty and immediately thought, “I can go home now. I’ve seen India.” Now almost a decade later, I know how naive that thought was because over four visits India’s many facets have slowly unfolded before me.

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

Once you’re out of the main entrance foyer there were a thousand people trying to get their picture taken with the Taj as a backdrop. We patiently waited and did the same before proceeding down the right side. Our guide pointed out how the fountains in the pools of water were the original fountains. I am not sure if that is true but I would like to believe that back then they made things to last.

I was quite ill this day so as we approached the Taj I elected to not go in. I had been there 3 other trips and knew how crowded it could be inside. The sun shone brightly and seemed to beam down on us with its penetrating heat so I chose to sit in the shade on a bench to the left of the mausoleum with a clear view and few people. Birds zipped along from tree to tree as children ran past me. Looking back over the garden area, people moved in crowds it seemed, stopping to take pictures every few feet. It was a new experience for me to be inactive at this amazing wonder of the world. I clicked on my recording device and closed my eyes to hear the expression of the Taj.
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The Taj Mahal: From inside the guest house (Eastern side)

View of the Taj from the guest house

View of the Taj from the guest house

I did not see my friends come out of the Taj Mahal after completing my soundscape recording, so I walked over to the eastern side to the guest house building. On my way there, there were hundreds of shoes piled high around signs asking people to place them on the racks—clearly there was no order to this chaos…and yet, I’ve never had my shoes stolen in India…not so far, anyway! I walked up the red steps and into the guest house. Immediately the temperature dropped about 10 degrees inside and I enjoyed watching and listening to tourists call out to hear the echo of their own voices. The structure of the building is such that there are repeated arches the length of the interior of the building and facing outwards, framed in multiple arches is the mausoleum in all its glory. I decided to record here in hope that I could capture the contrast of the red sandstone against the brilliance that bounces off the white marble stonework; the difference in quality sound and the potential absence of a guide talking. This point of view of the Taj Mahal and the calmness of the guest house is my favorite location within the whole complex.
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Map of Agra Soundscapes

Here is a map that shows the two locations soundscapes were conducted in the Taj Mahal Complex. I hope that you have enjoyed listening and sharing in my experience.
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State: Himachal Pradesh
Population: unknown

Bhagsunag is located about 2 kilometers north of McLeod Ganj in the state of Himachal Pradesh. It is most noted for its temple and waterfall which legend reveals that a demon king, Bhagsu, had tried to take some of the water in Dull Lake by Dharamsala to help the people in Rajasthan. Before he reached his destination, the snakes that lived in the area discovered that some of the water was missing and fought with King Bhagsu, making the container of water fall – which metaphorically is the water fall that remains today. Before killing King Bhagsu, they gave him one wish – and he chose to have a temple built in his honour and declared that the waterfall had healing powers. From that day, people from all over the world have come to visit the snake temple of Bhasu and swim in her waters. The actual town of Bhagsunag is quite small and functional for it’s townspeople and is often visited on a day trip from McLeod Ganj’s busy tourist area.

Bhagsunag, snake temple, McLeod ganj, waterfall, No Name Cafe, India, soundscape, goats,

Bhagsunag, snake temple, McLeod ganj, waterfall, No Name Cafe, India, soundscape, goats,

State: Gujarat
Population: 7,208,200 (2011 poll)

Ahmedabad has been at the heart of many political uprisings in the fight for independence and fair treatment. Dating back to the 18th century when the British tried to occupy the city to the Dandi Salt March in the 1930s the people of Ahmedabad have worked hard to survive its oppressors. Mahatma Gandhi took residency in Ahmedabad along the Sabarmati river from 1917 – 1930 and established the Sabarmati Ashram which is now a museum and the headquarters for the Gandhi Portal.

Ahmedabad is very well known for its crafts and textile industry and many of its citizens are thriving through non-government organization (NGOs) that assist laborers and factory workers to be paid fair trade value. Other NGOs such as the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) are working hard to protect, educate, and empower women in the greater Ahmedabad region. The word of their groundbreaking work has spread across some parts of India and beyond its borders in an effort to unite women. Ahmedabad is also considered an educational center in Gujarat and has many universities and colleges for higher education.

The diversity of soundscapes in this city expresses a full spectrum of lived experience from the stillness of Gandhi’s reflection to the generocity of citizens to the determination to keep traditional foods alive to the absolute fortitude and relentless passion to educate, empower and inspire woman and men to choose their destinies and create the change they want to see in the world.

Ahmedabad: Soundscapes

Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram

Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram

Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram

We arrived on a private bus to the ashram and we were all ushered into the entrance and asked to pool around our “guide” Ashoke Chatterjee. Ashoke gave us an overview of the ashram and where things were located – book store, museum, Gandhi residency – then we were asked to follow him. We stopped by the Sabarmati River where many gatherings by the river had taken place and that sometimes people bathed there as well. It was a beautiful sunny day and kids ran around a bronze statue of Gandhi sitting cross legged in the middle of a grassy open area of the grounds. Our group arrived at the structure where Gandhi had slept, spun wool, and planned the Dandi march. The building was simply laid out and before we entered we were asked to remove our shoes. Looking into the room, the simplicity reminded me of his philosophy of life – so clear, direct, and unencumbered. There was a stillness, a quiet feeling of strength – the kind that comes from being grounded in principals and chosen action. Trees speckled the area towards the river and birds were chirping, flying from tree to tree. In the distance the home of Miraben – a British woman who participated in the freedom struggle alongside Gandhi – sat close to the river’s edge.
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Old Ahmedabad: The House of MG

House of MG

House of MG

I travelled by auto-rickshaw around 4pm to the famous hotel, The House of MG, both to record this area of town and see where Gandhi stayed when he had returned from South Africa. It was a pleasant place with tiled floors and arched hallways with plants, large bowls of rose petals and marigolds. I went to the roof top to record and found myself in a circular room with a giant God/Goddess mobile. They were wood carvings of Saraswati, Ganesha, Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna and Hanuman. As the man in a white shirt and tan pants swept the floor, I greeted him by putting my hands together and bowing slightly, saying “Namaste”. He smiled and put his hands together. I walked through this area and headed for the outdoor terrace. In the distance I could hear the distant sounds of traffic and the lilting call to prayer from the local mosque – the Sidi Siyad Masjid. I placed my recording device on the wall facing the street and began to record.

This recording was able to capture a typical background sound one would hear if distanced from the immediacy of the chaotic street hustle and bustle. The fact that The House of MG is a gated hotel, gives one the sense of oasis from the busyness – which by the very nature of the cost of the hotel – would reflect the privileged or upper class experience of the Old City of Ahmedabad.
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Diwali: sand art

Diwali food prepared by Draksha

Diwali food prepared by Draksha

We had been invited to the home of Draksha for Diwali which is the Indian New Year’s celebration.  We were taken by bus to the outskirts of Ahmedabad to a suburb called Vasna.  We arrived at a light yellow apartment complex and we were taken to the top floor where we were greeted by a beautiful floor sand painting and blessed with red kum-kum on our third eye.  We were asked to remove our shoes and entered into her living room space that was about 8ft x 8ft.  Some of sat on pillows on the floor, others tiered their way on a deep sofa and even more of us sat on chairs.  Our hostess brought in plates of food – Indian sweets and spicy pappad (pappadam).  We passed the food around and asked questions and found out our  hostess was an actress performing in semi political plays regarding women’s rights.  As time went on, we began to move up to the rooftop.  In the distance we could hear firecrackers exploding from all around.  As the sun slowly sat behind the buildings, we lit candles and sparklers enjoying the light they brought.  Some of us retreated back into the main foyer area by the sand painting only to find one of our cohort, Andrea Palframan, contributing to the sand painting in her amazingly gifted way.
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Vishalla

Vishalla entrance

Vishalla entrance

After our Diwali visit with Draksha We loaded ourselves back on the bus and headed toward a tribal restaurant called Vishalla. Vishalla was created out of the desire to preserve tribal foods in the greater Ahmedabad area that were being forgotten. A mother / son endeavor created the first Vishalla restaurant which was then destroyed in a natural disaster. The government would not help the Patel family to restructure their restaurant but independent investors saw the value in preserving tribal foods and donated enough money for set up costs and to buy the land the restaurant now sits on. Vishalla’s ethos is based on promoting freedom – therefore the structure of the restaurant is open with no doors, there’s no lighting except by lantern, musicians play openly in different parts of the restaurant and the seating areas are communal in style. The vision of this restaurant was to portray a typical Indian village, including eating at low tables sitting on rugs, eating on “plates” made from leaves, and enjoying endless servings of complex flavourful vegetarian foods.

When we arrived we had to wait for some time to be seated. We sat on large bench like structures talking and enjoying one another. I stepped away to a less populated area and began to record this soundscape. You can hear the Diwali celebration in the background along with chanting outside the restaurant grounds.
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SEWA

SEWA

SEWA

I had chosen to work with the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and we visited their Ahmedabad headquarters, the SEWA Bank, the Rudi no Radio station and a tribal village in Manipur, Ahmedabad. The SEWA Academy is located in Manipur and is the location where SEWA trains videographers, conducts literacy classes and also runs the community radio station called Rudino Radio.

We travelled for about an hour outside of Ahmedabad and finally arrived at the SEWA academy. We walked through the building structure and looked at the pictograms that were painted on all the walls – put there to assist those who were unable to read to grasp the fundamental ideas of the empowerment/disempowerment of women.

SEWA Academy

SEWA Academy

The building was shaped like a large square with the center area open for group teachings. The actual structure was a little bit in disrepair with chipped paint in places and dark water stains along some of the walls. We then went into the studio to view their equipment and meet the women who were running the station. They were interested in our thoughts of their programs and interviewed each of us on air. Then they played one of their radio programs for us. After that we were led into a sound room where an air conditioner was turned on and four women joined us. We asked them questions about their own path to Rudi no Radio and after some interviewing that was conducted by Nancy Coldham, we were asked to sing something from our country. Caught off guard, we scrambled for something that we all knew and decided to sing “You are My Sunshine”. When we were done, they said they wanted something more nationalistic – like our anthem. They recorded us singing “O Canada” and seemed pleased. The soundscape that I recorded here was of a music program they were currently broadcasting.
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Manipur

After we had left the SEWA Academy, we travelled for about 20 minutes into the tribal village area to meet with the villagers who SEWA has involved in their communication and literacy project. We arrived in a SUV on the dirt road, dust swirling up behind us. We got out of the vehicle and were invited into a family’s home. Inside there were three families living in a relatively small area. It was designed as a communal living space with three rooms to sleep in off the main area. Treating them as separate residences, a couple of families had painted their sections of the common area in different colours. We were told we could enter one of the rooms – the walls were lined with silver plates propped up high on the walls. There were cabinets of dishes and clothes and a small table in the middle. We asked if this was where people slept and were told yes – 5 people slept in that room. The room was about 12ft x 10ft – a pretty tight squeeze by western standards. Something else that was notable was the lack of beds in the room.

Manipur - Tribal Village

Manipur – Tribal Village

Soon we were asked to come out into the main courtyard and sit at the doors of the temple. Women, men, and children poured into the courtyard and the brightly dressed women sat row upon row on the temple entrance area with us. Kids and others looked on standing around the fenced area to see us and be included. We began to ask them questions about what their lives were like, what foods they grow, what their concerns were. Our leader, lectured them on the importance of not allowing their girls to marry young. Her voice was strong and intention clear and the women nodded with her every emphasis. When asked if he felt threatened by the empowerment of his wife, one of the men standing along the fenced area replied “No, if my wife is educated then she can work – this is good for our family and helps our community” I asked the women what they liked most about Rudi no Radio and they said, the music, the singing. So I asked them if they could sing a song for us.
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Map of Ahmedabad Soundscapes

Here is a map of the soundscapes conducted in Ahmedabad. I have also included the Lemon Tree hotel where we stayed as a point of reference. The blue markers are not hyperlinked to the soundscapes, but give brief information of what each location is. I hope you have enjoyed listening and sharing in my experience.
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State: Uttarakhand
Population: 102,138 (2011 poll)

Rishikesh or the Gateway to the Himalayas is located very close to the holy city of Haridwar and is virtually a “carless” community nestled along the river Ganga. Rishikesh is the point where the Ganges flows from the Himalayas into northern India. Because of this Rishikesh is also considered a holy city and is completely vegetarian by law. It is the home of many yoga centres, and spiritual centres that preserve Vedantic studies (study of the Vedas).

Rishikesh, the beatles, meditation, India, Meditation caves, soundscapes, music, holy city, ashram,

The famous British band, The Beatles visited one of the larger ashrams in Rishikesh – the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram in 1968. They recorded around 50 songs while living at the ashram, some of which can be heard on their album White Album.  The ashram has been closed for many years, but here is a picture of the meditation caves that are spread out around the perimeter of the ashram grounds.