Auspicious Sight is one of several definitions for the Sanskrit term “darshan” a ritual act of connection with a Hindu deity through an intense meeting of eyes. Darshan is part of a morning and evening Aarti ceremony held at dawn and dusk in Hindu temples where the deity is worshiped with candles, flowers and incense, which follows a loud and sustained clanging of bells. The term “darshan” has been used more widely to describe a meeting with “or sight” of a revered person or pilgrimage to a sacred site. Like so many aspects of Indian culture, the term has accumulated broader and subtle dimensions of meaning than it’s original devotional ritual content.
From the first time I experienced darshan during a morning Aarti at the Swaminayaran Temple in Ahmedabad in 1999, I have found it to be an extremely profound experience. The intense sustained ringing, often up to ten minutes, (or so it feels) is one that I feel completely enveloped and inhabited by. Auspicious Sight is a response to an unexpected evening Aarti I came upon in the narrow alley behind the guest-house where I was staying in Varanasi. As I listened outside in the dark, the sound was riveting and unusual, with a sense of dimension and subtle variation of timbre. While listing, my sense of perception and awareness become heightened. I began to notice the subtle movements in the dimly lit alley, bits of ephemera, scraps of fabric, string, a piece of wood, a plastic bag caught in electrical wire, inanimate things that in their silence seemed in tune to the pulsating and rhythmic sound. The humbleness of the objects seemed to be contrast to the enormity and grandeur of sound and I found their presence, slightly moving in the hot evening breeze, uncannily beautiful.
I returned during the next several days to film from dawn to dusk remaining within the radius of the intense sound, some days windy, others stifling still. In the editing process the objects seemed further animated by personality and suggested narrative, some buzzing with frenetic energy, others waving farewell. Some objects take a deep and sudden breath, some a shallow sigh. The green bag which functions loosely as a “chapter marker” is fruitlessly trying to escape entrapment and seems to finally give up, either in release or resignation. I chose a few objects to return to throughout the day to watch the play of light and to passage of time, bracketed by the morning and evening Aarti.
A devotee of the temple, seeing me listening outside the temple many times, generously invited me inside to witness and record the sound which was further magnified by the acoustics of the interior space. To my surprise rather than a ringing of bells as I was accustomed to, at the exact hour of 8pm, each devotee suddenly appeared and picked up metal object that they intensely banged on, like a small band. Exactly four minutes later they stopped and moved to the door of the shrine to chant and sing. The metal instruments were accompanied by kettle-drums and bells. I was later informed I had experienced an authentic and rather rare Aarti. .