A Message from Maa – The First Note

The First Note

The sun peeped out shyly from the eastern horizon, spraying its orange hue onto the deep purple sky. Roosters began crowing, and temple bells announced the early morning prayers. The 3000-year-old temple town of Varanasi was waking up to yet another day.

About a kilometre to the west of the historic Kashi Vishwanath Temple, the neighbourhood on the Durgakund Road, near the Sanatan Dharm Inter-College, was waking up to its daily morning alarm of classical music. From the traditional haveli-style house of the Chaturvedi’s, the notes of Raag Ahir Bhairav reverberated, blending with the strumming of the tanpura. In a simple yet tastefully decorated room on the first floor of the building, Mohona sat on the floor on a chatai. She was engrossed in her singing. Facing a resplendent statue of Goddess Saraswati, Mohona transcended from the aalap to a relatively faster rendition of the early morning raag.

Mohona was the daughter of Shashidhar Chaturvedi, the most senior priest of the Vishwanath Temple. Clad in a simple white cotton saree with pastel-coloured floral motifs, Mohona was busy in her singing. It was a daily affair—her riyaazin the morning. After years of practice, she struck every note with effortless ease. Even as music streamed out of her house, her father along with his team of priests was waking up Lord Shiva with shlokas and hymns in the sanctum of the Vishwanath Temple.              

Mohona was a widow in her fifties. With streaks of silver peeping out of her thick flowing hair, her mien exuded maturity and grace. She looked beautiful in her dusky complexion despite her age. Her eyes were as bright as they had always been. She had been named by her mother, who was a Bengali lady from Allahabad. After finishing her riyaaz, Mohona would prepare to meet her young students, who learned classical singing from her. She held a Master’s in Music from the Banaras Hindu University. Additionally, she had been a disciple of Pandit Anang Maharaj, a renowned vocalist in Varanasi during the eighties. 

Mohona may have been a teacher, but she was first a mother. As her students arrived and greeted her in the traditional Indian style, she found her thoughts returning to her daughter…

What was Sagorika doing? Was she reading that diary? Had she even received it?

Photography: @focusraghu_photoartist
Location: Varanasi, India


haveli: a traditional mansion in India.

Raag Ahir Bhairav: an array of melodies in Hindustani classical music that is usually sung early in the morning.

tanpura: A string instrument used in Indian music.

chatai: a floor-mat made of bamboo 

aalap: The opening section of an Indian classical music performance.

riyaaz: practise of music, often a rigorous daily ritual.

shloka: a poetic form in Sanskrit. 

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