When visiting in Varanasi in first site, often it is a tourist trap when somebody knows somebody who is doing or making something; original and traditional; and you are offered to come and have a look. In India everyone has a “relative” who is being the best of the best, just see, no buy. this tourist trap attitude applies mainly when you come for 2 days visit to this ancient town, but it is complete different story when you come and stay for a while, get to know the right people in town, that are amazingly open and friendly and are more then happy to introduce you to the real people of any tradition and profession.
We are led through the front gate into a patio, being greeted by a few cows standing there staring dumb at their new guests, and then further to another door. The opening is so low that we have to carefully bow our heads, even Lin. The room is like entering the exotic cave of a mysterious wizard, bottles after bottles from top to bottom, in different shapes, sizes and colors, covering all the walls.
And the smell, ~ the powerful but smooth fragrance of flowers and herbs caressing the senses, softening every cell of the body. Mmmmmm….
This is the workshop in Varanasi of Ashwhini, a real magician and an eternal student as he himself states, of the secrets and ancient knowledge of aromatic oil in Ayurveda tradition use. He is 6th generation in his family learning the profession; yet another person with burning passion and deep pride in his profession which we are lucky to get to know in this city (see Study tabla in Varanasi).
We start out getting a interesting introduction to the making of aromatic oil, how the raw material which can be anything from roots, stems, leaves, flowers or seeds from plants, fruits and trees, harvested at carefully chosen times when the plant is most potent and energetic, and is distilled with water over and over again till the liquid is reduced to a fourth, and then mixed with a thick paste of the plant which is a very arduous task to make, together with base oil ( Ashwhini uses sandalwood oil) which is stirred for a long period to let the last moisture evaporate. In short, from large volume of raw matrial going through a long and tedious process, you get a few bottles of concentrated oil, revealing the essence of smell so concentrated that even less than a drop on your skin can smell for days (even after shower!).
Some oils are purely perfume oils while others are made as herbal remedies for health purposes or for influencing moods, either by taken internal, rubbing or massaging on the skin, or via bath or steam.
While explaining, Ashwhini puts small tests of the oils on our skin, each time on a different spot, or let us smell straight from the bottles, covering us all over in different fragrances. One smell after the other; some more deep, rich, interesting, while others are strange, sharp, less attractive, all depending on personal preference. Overwhelming and so intense that our smell-buds get totally numb after a while, but in a fascinating way. And the knowledge and wisdom in the burning eyes of Ashwhini and his slow manner of talking and expressing himself, mirrors that behind each word lays a lot of thought, reflection and personal truths. This is a person who lives in full awareness. The conversations therefore soon turns into sharing thoughts about living a conscious and meaningful life filled with passion for what you do and awareness of who you are.
The beautiful hours we shared with Ashwhini at his studio in old town of Varanasi, was a life-enrichening experience, and as it turned out we were to meet each other many more times after this. Unique meetings we will treasure for years to come, with a special man filled with life, wisdom and good karma. The beautiful perfumes we chose will for sure be cherished reminders.
Thank you, Ashwhini.