From December 27th to January 11th I attended an artist in residence program in Haridwar, India. The residency in entitled "365 Hairdwar" and is residency whose focus is upon spirituality.
I became interested in this residency because I am currently working through my own sense of spirituality. Being that I am not a practitioner of organized religions, my spiritual practice has been very organic and not very structured. Growing up in a western society I feel that there is a very narrow viewpoint on what can be considered a spiritual practice. In the west we commonly associate one god, or higher power. But what I found so fascinating about the East was this undeniable infatuation with all of life being equally important. There are many gods, many prayers, many mantras, and many avenues of appreciation for the lives that we are given.
When I first arrived in India, it was very late and I was alone. I landed in New Delhi and I immediately became overwhelmed with visual and emotional stimulation. My first rickshaw ride was one to remember! The traffic was nothing like I had seen in the West. Everyone honks their horns to let you know they are around, and the lanes are viewed as guidelines rather than strict boundaries, and stray dogs are everywhere!
I arrived at the train station and naturally, was very lost.... I eventually befriended a lovely girl from Mumbai who was a graduate student in Microbiology and she helped me find my train. After a 15 hour plane ride, I endured a 7 hour train ride to arrive in Haridwar.
Upon my arrival the sun was shining and the energy in the city was amazing. I met up with my host from Azimvth Ashram and we went straight to our home. The architecture was incredible... all the rooms in the houses led directly outside and the smell of dhoop filled the air.
On the first night I went down to the Ganges river to attend the evening prayer ceremony. I had never seen so many people gathered together for one moment of spiritual practice. The Ganges is viewed as holy water. Shiva himself pulled the river from the sky and gave it to the people. It is believed that when one bathes, dips, drinks, or worships the water, that good fortune and health will come to you and your family. I was infatuated with the use on mantras, community, dance, fire, light, flowers, colors, energy and warmth.
Every morning I participated in a morning session consisting of sun salutations, mantras, breathing exercises and om chanting. I learned different stories of the many gods of Hinduism, and the true perception of a yogis practice.
The days were split between studio time and adventure. I went to places like temples, schools, ashrams, museums, natural landscapes, markets, and took in all of the history of guru teachings that I could in such a short time. The people were so intrigued by me interest that everyone was very open, they shared their stories, and many invited me to their homes. After attending a fire prayer one particular evening, the priest invited me to his home for tea and lessons. There he provided me with many readings (all in Hindi but I WILL get them translated) on the foundation of Hinduism.
From a community standpoint, I was inspired by the artisans practice, and how most have one job that they are the master of. From natural dying, to jewelers, seamstresses, maids, shoemakers etc... the people of Haridwar live in a very dependent manner and they all utilize each others skills. I became interested in the mala (a series of 108 beads that are used for meditation and prayer) and using the beads to create a mosaic. I went to a dyer and had him hand dye wooden beads and tulsi beads to work with. I noticed that gathering materials for a non functional art piece was much different from anything I had experienced in the west.. To get a piece of wood I went to the furniture designer who wasn't keen in selling raw wood, as his business is to sell completed furniture. I enjoyed the process of gathering materials and just using what I could find to make something. While I am not incredibly found of the piece that I made, it is embedded with symbolism and my personal experiences.
One of my favorite things that I did while in India was have a personal prayer ceremony. You see, any object can be a spiritual object, it just is a matter of setting good intentions. We has a priest visit the house one afternoon to give blessings to my beads, and glass orbs. I have attached a video below as an example of a traditional fire prayer.
To read more about this work of art and my experience at 365 Hairdwar check out this article!
I honestly know that this experience has changed my perspective on life but I can't even find the words to share with you to make that feeling resonate.. One thing I know for sure is I fully intend to spend as much time in India and I can. Partially for the food ;p But mostly because I am attracted to India's way of life, the level of being present in the moment, living happily, and loving unconditionally .
My world has opened up from experience another culture so closely <3 And what I learned the most was how much I actually don't know...How I have been sheltered by one society, one culture, one of which that I don't feel I belong sometimes, or even resonate with... so that has guided me to make goals of experiencing as much of the world through making as I can.