It was a strange night. I had been assigned to attend a classical music concert. Deadline pressures were catching hold of me and I felt a few hours off to take in the concert would be risking my time; but, reluctantly, I gave in. I thought if there was music, perhaps a few minutes wouldn’t be a waste. I was in a state of inner turmoil, but it’s a wonder how sometimes things turn out for the best when you least expect it. The classical music night was for praying and calling for inner peace. I stayed until the end, for the full three hours, wishing somehow that the night would never end.
The evening’s strangeness did not end there. Climbing the large stone steps with my photographer friend, we came to the doorway of the concert’s venue, the monastery called Asheshwor Mahabihar. In the inner open space of the monastery, the musicians and candles were at one end, while the people who had come to enjoy this glorious night filled the rest. We were all gathered for Shanti Mahotsav (Celebrating Peace) and to be a part of one man’s prayers for peace through candles. What lay ahead proved peaceful until the end, and the magic of the night we still carry with us.
Our call for peace was lit up with special candles made by Candle June, a Japanese artist. Candle June has been making original candles since 1994. He has conducted his Peace Praying Candle Journey, which he calls his “Candle Odyssey”, at such tragedy-found places as Hiroshima, Ground Zero in New York City, London, Afghanistan, Cambodia, and China. Here in Nepal, the country of his friend and musician, Bobin Bajracharya, he came to light candles for inner peace for all Nepali people. Countries are full of chaos and uncertainty, like we are in, but the artist believes that inner peace of self is most important and that peace in one’s self stimulates harmony with others. Candle light has some special power, making the mind calm and peaceful, the artist says.
On the day before the event, the arrangement of large and small candles around the musicians and their instruments at the monastery was created by Candle June with street children. Pasa Ob Pucha, a non-profit organization founded by Nepali students returned from Japan, organized the event together with singer-musician Bobin Bajracharya. A main purpose (the ‘Helping Hand’ aspect) of this group, is to create employment opportunities for the street children by teaching them to make candles. For the evening ceremony, a special friend of Bobin Bajracharya also assisted, by playing bass. With his identity left undisclosed until later and the type of music unknown, the musicians began getting ready.
Milan Tandukar (one of the finest classical violin players in Nepal) sat drumming small bowls containing water, playing jaltaranga, a soft ringing sound similar to raindrops. His brother, Milesh Tandukar’s hands danced magically on the madaal and a contented look expressed his passion. Classical and instrumental music have a deep meaning, allowing you to contemplate. A friend said it would sound even better with eyes closed. When I tried that, I found my entire self reacting to the beats with a sensation I never felt before. It was like a new form of music. Radiantly, Bobin, with four international albums to his name, joined his siblings. His perfect Newari and sense of humor and charm sounded good to a non-Newar like me. This was a music man’s language. Finally, the secret person was disclosed as Alok Maskey, a passionate musician and owner of Jatra Restaurant in Thamel. The foursome was then introduced as ‘Laya’, an ensemble reunited after a long time. Somehow, their tunes sounded like friends lost and found again.
The combination of the sounds, the energy flowing among those present, the flickering candle flames and smoke, enhanced the laughter, delight and strangeness of the fun-filled young hearts who had made the candles. As the wax dripped slowly down, one could feel the pleasure of childhood radiating from them. The harmonic foursome created classical and contemporary tunes while I and other locals and guests, some young and some elderly, strangers and acquaintances alike, sat glued with contentment in the chill of the night.
Our hearts were at peace. The atmosphere, the musicians and their wonderful music, the cloudy starless night above our heads, the colorful candles, smiles and connection between all participants in this event put us in that peaceful mood. Candle June lights candles in free concerts with the intent of spreading peace through intimate gatherings and candle light surroundings, where everyone shares the moment as equals.
The proceeds from the sale of the candles that the street children and Candle June have made go to provide scholarships for the children. Whatever amount raised, big or small, Candle June’s gesture seems like a small thing. But, it’s a great gesture, a national from one country praying for peace in another.
A chat with the author of ThamelThrough Time Recently, I had the chance to meet Benjamin Linder; the American...