A journey through northern India included a visit to Bodhgaya, where we found a tree considered sacred because it had grown from the tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment. We also spent time in Varnasi, along the river considered sacred in Hindu traditions. I was deeply moved by people’s interactions with the river as they performed cleansing rituals and completed daily chores along the ancient Ghats. At the time we were there, the river was receding, leaving the huge stairs caked with piles of mud. These were steadily cleared back into the river by teams of workers, steadily completing this annual task amidst those who were laundering, praying and mourning. It is believed that if one dies here, they will be re-born at a higher level in the caste system, so there are many people who come here to die and many who mourn their lost ones. I retain a poignant memory of a half burnt corpse submerged with the remnants of ceremonial fabric; firewood is expensive on the burning ghats, and if a family doesn’t have enough, the half burned remains are strewn into the river. Struck by how polluted the river was, we were surprised and delighted to see the rare fresh water dolphins from a boat floating in waters lit quietly by the dawn. We went on this journey in 2005 to celebrate 30 years circling the sun. I created this series of watercolors the following year.
This imagery also inspired The Making of Dust, a mixed media painting created in response to the poem of the same name by Drew Myron