I traveled to Ratlam from Varanasi by train a few days ago to attend a wedding which means over 24 hours of journey. I take train all the time but usually I avoid train journey if it is more than 13-14 hours but this time I had to take this 24 hours train because I had no other option as my ticket was booked by the person getting married and we were going to travel in a group which is always fun. There are several classes in Indian trains such as general class ( no reserved seat for any passenger), Non-AC sleeper class, 3 AC, 2 AC and 1 AC and usually I prefer 3 AC as it is the cheapest comfortable class but this time my ticket was booked in Non-AC sleeper class.
The journey from Varanasi to Ratlam was kind of okay, and to be honest I never got bored because I was with my friends. The journey from Ratlam was kind of an experience. When the train arrived at the Ratlam station we saw that our car was locked from inside and there were people sleeping on our seat. We asked them to open the door but all of them were pretending to be not hearing us. Finally we had to enter in our car through another car’s door. When we asked those people sleeping on our seat to leave they just did not want to hear us. All of those people had wait-listed tickets which means their seats were not confirmed yet.
We requested them first, then started shouting and finally we had a fight with them. Finally after 45 minutes of requesting, shouting, fighting and war, we got our seats:) I had already traveled several times in Non-AC sleeper class but this time it was an unique journey as I saw something that I had never seen before. In Non-AC sleeper class, anyone is allowed to come hence all kinds of services are offered by unauthorized people. Someone comes selling chai, someone comes selling books, someone comes begging… but this time I saw snakes in the train.
I saw a group of snake charmers showing snakes to the people and asking for money and people were offering money to them as snakes are related with Lord Shiva and are considered holy in Hindu religion. I was really surprised but was laughing at the same but it seemed really strange to me. Snakes in the train and no one to stop them? Anyways, I was able to film it. Enjoy!
Shivratri is the wedding anniversary of Lord Shiva and is the biggest festival of Varanasi. It was celebrated on the 30th of March this year. Actually the date is decided by the Hindu calendar therefore it changes every year as the Hindu calender is a lunar calendar. As per the Hindu calendar Mahashivaratri falls on the fourteenth day of the dark fortnight of Phalguna (February/March).Â I had always wanted to document this festival and I got this great opportunity this year. There are several temples in Varanasi which organize a wedding parade of Lord Shiva on the Shivratri day. I went to the a very big temple named Mahamrityunjay Temple which is famous for its parade.
I tried to contact the mahant of the temple who is supposed to be the organizer of the parade or at least a very important person of the organizing committee for sure but he told me straight that he did not know anything about who was organizing it. I was surprised to hear this. Anyways, I contacted several other people at the temple but nobody seemed interested enough to just tell me who was organizing the event and whom should I contact to get the permission for filming. Very strange people. I talked with at least 20 people but same response that they did not know who was organizing the event.
Finally I gave up with this temple and went to other one called Tilbhandeshwar Temple which is also one of the biggest temples of Shiva in Varanasi. People at this temple were very helping. They provided me all the information I needed and permitted me to come on the festival day and film inside the temple. I was really happy to have the permission. I showed up on the festival day around 8 am and was really surprised to see that preparation had already started way before I arrived there. There were already hundreds of people at the temple dressing up and preparing for the parade.
Since this festival is very important to the people of Varanasi and everybody wanted to participate in it, there was a committee formed to chose the right characters for the parade. There were all kinds of characters participating in the event such as all the gods, goddesses, demons and ghosts also. There were characters playing ghosts and demons also because it is said that Shiva had all kinds of followers even ghosts and demons and they had also participated in his wedding. It was really an amazing atmosphere there. People seemed so excited for the parade.
There were four makeup people who were doing making of the characters continuously and there always people in the line waiting for their turn. My friend Lane from Seattle who came to with me just to watch the parade finally ended up playing Parshuram. The people at the organizing committee were so happy to see a foreigner and they asked him if would also like to become part the parade and as usual Lane was up for it. I interviewed a few characters and the best interview was with the person playing Shiva. He was really interesting person. He said that he had playing Shiva for the past eight years and when I asked why only he, he said said that he takes this character very seriously and calls the Lord Shiva inside his body hence people respect him and want him to play Shiva.
Lord Shiva on his horse
There was something else interesting about him that not only he but his whole family was actively involved in the parade. His real son was playing baby Shiva. After the makeup, the person playing Lord Shiva went to the temple to get blessing and this is time when he is supposed to call the God in his body. The parade started right after this. All the characters had sat on different animals horses and started the parade. The parade went to many different neighborhoods. I don’t know how but thousands of people showed up in the parade. There was loud music, people were dancing, snake charmers were showing snakes and people were firing crackers to celebrate the event.
There were free bhang stalls also. Bhang was distributed because it is offered at Shiva temples and is considered as the blessing. The parade was on road for more than four hours. The parade ended back at the Tilbhandeshwar Temple around 6 PM. After the parade arrived at the temple, the person playing Shiva did a symbolic marriage with his real wife which symbolizes marriage of Lord Shiva with Parvati. After this marriage rituals were performed and finally the event ended. It was really interesting to see how people were treating the characters like the God himself. They were touching the feet of the characters. I was able to document the event, actually I filmed it also:) So happy to have done it.
It was Shivratri on the 12th and I was super excited for it. Shivratri is the biggest festival of Benares. Actually it is celebrated because it is wedding anniversary of Lord Shiva. There are more than six thousand temples in Varanasi but 11 out of them organize a wedding parade of Lord Shiva. The parade starts from different temples and end near Vishwanath temple (golden temple). The most popular and biggest parade starts with Mahamrityunjay temple and is the last parade of the day. I also went to see the parade with my friends and it was just awesome.
a character sitting on a horse
Since Bhang is associated with Lord Shiva and is part of Benares culture, most of the people of Benares consume a little bit of Bhang for the festival as blessing of Lord Shiva. They take a bath in the river Ganges, do some rituals at Shiva temples, offer bhang and later consume it as blessing of the temple. The whole city is decorated with lights, free bhang drinks are served everywhere, people come out…its so fun. I love this festival. It is said that all kinds of characters had participated in Lord Shiva’s wedding like Gods, Goddesses, ghosts, demons, devils, headless, crazy, lepers, one legged, one eyed, animals… so the wedding parade also had all kinds of characters.
There were people wearing masks of ghosts, someone was dressed as a God, someone was a Goddess, there were snake charmers, hijras, cows, bulls, goats, dogs, horses, elephants, people were smoking ganja…it was crazy. There was one guy dressed as Lord Shiva and was leading the parade. He was too high in bhang, actually he was almost sleeping while walking. I had seen the same guy at last year wedding parade also and I think they intentionally make him consume a lot of bhang because he was sleeping last year also. He was not able to walk, would get fainted sometimes. He either walking so slowly with his closed eyes, or was dancing or would get fainted. I am sure Lord Shiva did not get fainted when he was going to marry, but Benares makes people fainted by its bhang:)
Lord Shiva fainted
He was carrying a trident and a Damru and was wearing a Dhatura garland. He would do Tandav dance for like a minute or a few seconds and then get fainted. People would start shouting Har Har Mahadev (chant of Lord Shiva) and Jago Baba (wake up baba, baba is another name of Lord Shiva in Benares) as he would get fainted or would fell asleep and again this guy would wake up and would start dancing. There were thousands of people shouting Har Har Mahadev, it was so loud and I was just loving it. I don’t really know he can someone be alive after consuming that much of bhang as he had consumed.
There was loud music, people were playing drums but the I loved the Nagada drum most. Nagada is also very Benares intrument and is used for wedding and cremation parade both. We are the champions of Nagada. Josh wanted to consume bhang and he did not ask me before buying it. He just went to a shop and bought a glass of bhang lassi and drank it. He thought that it would make him high immediately as alcohol does but in fact bhang takes sometime to react. After a while he asked me again to drink more bhang lassi and I took him to a good shop but I did not know that he already had consumed bhang before.
After finishing more than half glass of bhang lassi he said that bhang doesn’t make him high and I said that it would take some time. He asked me how much time and I said that at least 2 hours and then he told me that he had already drank a glass of bhang lassi about an hour ago. I told him not to drink his second glass but he said he could deal with it. I knew that two glasses of bhag was too much but he thought it would be okay for him. It has been more than 48 hours since he drank his second glass and he is still in his room sleeping. I asked him if he would like to drink another glass of bhang and he said never in his life again.
elephants were also there
Many people have made several documentaries about Benares and its festivals but nobody has ever made any documentary about this festival. I was planning to film the festival but could not because I was busy with Josh’s project and I could not collect enough resources but now Josh wants to help me in making a documentary about this festival and I am really looking forward to it. I will try my best to make a movie about this festival and I know it will be super fun. The festival is over now and now I am excited for next year one. Har Har Mahadev.
I was watching news on India TV news channel today and it made remember of my best video of the day prize I had won on India TV three years ago. Actually once I and Lane went to see the untreated sewage discharge in Nagwa, Varanasi and Lane had a digital camera and used his camera and captured the video of the untreated sewage mixing in Ganga. Later I sent this video to India TV news channel and selected my video as best video of the day and I won a prize a color TV. I was so excited to have won this prize and actually I did not have a TV at that time and no money to buy it so the prize was really nice.
I contacted India TV and they asked me to send them a bank draft of Rs. 2300 which was supposed to be a tax which is given on lottery winning amount. I was so happy for the prize and I decided to give them Rs. 2300 as tax. I sent the money and then sent me a letter saying that I had won a TV and I could get it at the nearest Sansui TV store. Actually this latter was written on Sansui’s letterhead because Sansui was the sponsor of the program. They had mentioned their Varanasi office address on the letterhead and I went to the address mentioned.
When I arrived at the address, I came to know that the office was closed an year ago. I immediately contacted India TV again and they asked me to contact Sansui Mumbai office. I contacted Sansui Mumbai office and they asked me to contact their Lucknow office. I contacted Lucknow office and they asked me to contact them after a week. I contacted them again after a week and they told me that no Sansui dealer in Varanasi had the TV model I had won so I would have to wait again. I again contacted them after a week but same story.
I contacted India TV to make a complaint and they told me that their responsibility was only to collect money from me and send it to Sansui, that’s all, now it was Sansui’s responsibility to give me the TV. I was shocked to hear their answer. I told them that I would go to police if they don’t help me and they said I was free to do so. I was continously in touch with Sansui Mumbai office, Lucknow office, Varanasi dealers, India TV and nobody was helping me. The letter they had given me was only valid for three months and now I was going to pass this six months and I was really worried about it.
I called to the Sansui’s Lucknow and Mumbai office and told them that I was going to police and they also said it was up to me. Their Lucknow office would tell me again and again to contact them later and I just did not know what to do. Lucknow office was telling me that they were running in shortage of TVs because of the festival season. Finally I decided to go to the police to register my complaint so that I could have a written evidence of me contacting Sansui and India TV before expiration of the document. I went to my nearest police station and asked them to register my complaint.
But their response was more shocking than India TV and Sansui. The policemen told me that they did not know under which act they would register the complaint. I told them that my complaint should go under act for cheating but said they were not aware of such act. They asked me to contact the bigger police station. As I was about to leave the police station, one of the policemen sitting there called me and asked if I knew someone at the bigger police station and I said no. And then he told me that if I did not know anyone at the bigger police station, then my complaint would not be registered.
I was shocked to hear this. I finally gave up on this idea of registering a complaint and contacted Sansui’s Lucknow office again and I was pretending to be so polite with them this time. Finally after spending over six months I got my prize but I had to go to Lucknow to get it. I took an overnight train to Lucknow, got my prize there and brought it back by a bus. I am sure that I had spent more than Rs. 1500 on telephone calls and trip to Lucknow. I was not that excited for a color TV but I was more excited for a prize I had won but I had to go through some serious trouble to get it.
I have made several videos after this incident and I would have loved to send it to India TV but I just don’t want to do anymore because their approach after taking money from me was just as crazy as it could be. I just could not believe what India TV, Sansui and police did with me.
I have got a project from an American institution that makes videos to make people aware of HIV and AIDS. Their name is AIDSvideos.org. They want me to make videos for them in every possible Indian language. They have twenty seven different kinds of scripts in five different Indian languages so it seems like a long term project. They want me to do two kinds of work for them- translate their scripts in different Indian languages and then make videos of them. There are twenty-two official languages in India so if I make their whole videos then it will take at least few years to complete it.
Our camera setup
I had made a Hindi video few days ago using their script for Sanjeevani Booti but it did not go well. There was a American student named Allen Roda from New York university staying at my place those days who had a very nice camera. We used his camera to make the video. Since I did not have a teleprompter and the script was so long, I got the script printed and put it at both sides of the camera so that speaker could read it. It all went well and it looked fine on the small camera screen but when I played it on my TV then I could easily see the problems. The speaker’s eyes were moving from right to left every time he would go from one page to the other one. It did not look professional so I have decided to make other one.
Ravikant in front of camera
But still I have some problems. Lane and I looked for some software that work as a teleprompter and we found some that worked perfect with English script but the problem is that they do not work with Hindi or other languages. I don’t know how to solve this problem. But one thing is very sure that if I do not have a teleprompter then it will be very hard to make long videos. The script is eighteen minutes long and it is very hard for anyone to remember this whole script and start speaking in front of the camera.
I was so excited for this project but the teleprompter problem has become a huge issue for the speakers. They say that they will not be able to remember the whole script. By the way I did some translation work by translating the script in Bhojpuri. It was also a hard job because Bhojpuri is spoken in lots of different districts with different accents and different words therefore I tried my best to write in a very simple Bhojpuri that could be understandable to everyone. I am sure that this will work fine but again the problem is that I have not been able to start making the videos. Hopefully Lane could find a way to fix this problem. I am also talking to people and searching online to fix this problem. I want to start this project soon. I am so excited for it.
This video is a award winning video on India TV news channel. I sent this video to India TV news channel and it was selected as the best video of the day and I won a color TV. Even though I had to pay twenty-five percent tax and had to make phone calls worth almost a thousand rupee and wait for six months but finally I got the television. I was not expecting for this much trouble but I had to do all the things. Even I had to go to Lucknow and bring the TV to Benares by bus. I used bus becasue I was scared of the police. They are always in the trains and at the railway stations looking for a new customer. If they see you travelling with anything big, new and expensive then they want a party from you. But I did not want to share my happy moments with the people who make others sad.
I made this video with Lane two years ago when he is was in India. We went together to the sewage discharge point in Nagwa and used his camera to make the video.