Sand & Stars

“Who knows for certain? Who shall here declare it?
Whence was it born, whence came creation?
The gods are later than this world's formation; Who then can know the origins of the world? None knows whence creation arose;
And whether he has or has not made it; He who surveys it from the lofty skies. Only he knows- or perhaps he knows not.”

- Extract from the Rig-Veda

The Stars and the vastness of the celestial sphere, the roof of the world twinkling in a verticality set against the horizontality of a desert consisting of an infinitude of grains of sand, these billions of elementary particles creating an aggregate (floccule) whose expanse, since Antiquity, would be the source of creative challenge for humanity.

It is often said, “there are as many stars as there are grains of sand”. This notion indeed does not appear far removed from scientific reality.

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, one of the 100,000 in the universe, has anywhere between 200 to 400 billion stars, not to mention the more than 100 billion grains of sand per cubic meter, as per the scientists. Thus, we find ourselves confronted with an infinite source of constant questioning for man in the face of a longing for vastness and eternity.

The ancient world was the first to be confronted by the notion of material and spiritual building blocks. This nomadic and pastoral ancient world, as much in the heart of the expansive desert as in the Mediterranean insular aridity, that examined the movement of constellations for centuries and recreated the breath of nature and wind.

The prehistoric times left us ossicles seeped with 100,000 years BC, flutes created from vulture’s bones, lithophones in varied types of stones, bullroarer to imitate the sound of wind, and surely also the vegetable-based instruments that have disappeared over time.

As Pierre Guy Stephanopoulos would explain to us in his talk: “the great Neolithic revolution that started around 13,000 BC, was to bring to the initial agro-pastoral communities of the world and to India which constitutes a melting pot of cultures, new instrument families that have lasted to this day”, like the satara (flute with two tubes) or the launeddas (double clarinet made of reed from Sardinia, the Mediterranean basin that continues to be infused with the founding Greek philosophy).

Cassiopeia is one of the 88 constellations in the sky, and also a legendary figure in Greek mythology. The constellation symbolises the Ethiopian queen, the legendary Queen of Sheba in Greek mythology, wife of Cepheus and mother of Andromeda.

In History, the Queen of Sheba or Nəgəstä nəgəstä Sheba (in Ge’ez, the sacred language of Ethiopia) is also called Makeda, Balqama, Balkis in the Quran. She is the queen of the South in the Bible and Cassiopeia in Greek mythology. She is described as a beautiful woman considered as a person with deep wisdom and highest intelligence.

She will be incarnated in this festival by the poetic and frenzied art of the Azmaris and the Griots of African and Christian Ethiopia.

The Gods are up above in heaven and men are on Earth, but whether it is in Greek mythology or Indian mythology, deities and humans constantly meet and get attracted to each other in a constant game of power and love.

Symbolised by Lord Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu at par with Prince Rama, the bansuri flute of the great maestro Hariprasad Chaurasia and his melancholic breath appear to open the heart of the Earth and create the verticality of a cosmic breath (prana) enveloping the celestial sphere.

You’re the sea; I’m the fish.
You’re the desert; I’m the gazelle.
Fill me with your breath, I live on it,
I’m your reed, your reed.
- Rumi

In the kingdom of Marwar, kingdom of death at the gateway of the Thar desert, the nomadic man’s feet have treaded the marble of the palaces of the Rajas as much as they treaded the arid rocks of the desert lands. The noble and disdainful expression of the dromedaries adorned with pearls (an image conjured up by the traditional song “gorbanh”) is there to remind us of this pastoral movement whose remnants linger on around Jaisalmer.

From Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur to the Thar desert of today, the Manganiyars, the caste of professional musicians have preserved the vestiges of a chivalrous and sacred art. The poet, in a seductive trance in the firmament of the stars, recites the beauty of a denuded, lunar, and contemplative world.

The starry sky that she beholds is the same as the one over the African Sahara where the Tuareg people wandered for centuries. Men and women of the desert know the value of life, a vital gesture of daily life that needs to be preserved from the blanket of sand.

Those who have wandered across centuries between resignation and contemplation, valleys and dried waterways and abrupt dunes, understand the ephemeral nature of the moment and the enormity of time.

Thus, for the first time these two traditions are coming together in India for a unique creation between the musicians of Barmer embodied by the great singer Gazi Khan and the ensemble that has come from Tamanrasset at the heart of the Algerian Sahara.

And then, as part of the innovative shifting that characterises this festival, the live cinematographic approach of Vincent Moon and Priscilla Thymon transports us to the Sufi universe of Ajmer.

In a new scenographic creation, the qawwali of the great Sufi maestros of Rajasthan presented in a concert will come in contact with the intimate universe of a ceremony of trance projected simultaneously.

Ancient poetry will also be masterfully incarnated by the feminine art of the young artists inspired by the richness of a sacred legacy of Ariana Vafadari singing the poems of Zarathustra, and from the great Andalusian tradition of Zainab Afilal or the Lithuanian harp of Indrė Jurgelevičiūtė up to the Sardinian tradition of Elisa Marongiu; the many ways to approach a new perception of enjoying music in the splendour of these historical sites.

Alain Weber
Artistic Director