A Maha Shivratri memory of Banaras

What triggers a memory? The senses – the smell or the taste, the sound or the sight. And some memories are more vivid than others.

Every Maha Shivratri I am reminded of the year of my Boards. It was 2nd of March – exactly two days before the Class X exams started. As was my practice, I had woken up early and was studying while in bed.

It was the silence before the dawn – fading night, a city gearing up to wake. The city of Shiva – Banaras or Varanasi. The era before the high-rises. Sound of traffic much lesser than now.

I remember hearing the daily sound of azaan mingling with the sound of temple bells – somewhere beyond the walls of Banaras Hindu University campus. But that day, it was accompanied by the strains of bhajan. The voice of the Melody Queen breaking my concentration while I was trying to decipher the meaning behind the poetry of Nightingale of India. Interestingly, the music album was for Lord Rama and not Shiva.

By the time the music ended, the business of the day had started. The day of prayers and meditation as well as celebrations. Sounds of Har Har Mahadev reverberated all around, temples big and small decked up, the intoxication of bhaang giving way to the revelry. By noon, the crescendo was as high as the sun itself as the city celebrated its most revered resident God.

By the evening the mood was sober in the house, the fear or the stress of the Boards had doused the festivities. Parents had made the trip across the city to look at the venue of the exams (it was different from the school I attended) and the countdown had started.

But why was the day special? Because it ended with a surprise – Mother while making the trip to the city also made a visit to the nearby music store. And found the music cassette that I heard that early morning through the loudspeakers of the faraway temple.

I still have that cassette, apart from the CD that I bought later. The album is part of my playlist both on iTunes as well as Amazon Music and we play it every Ram Navami as well as Diwali. But the music always takes me back to that special morning of Maha Shivratri in my hometown Banaras.

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