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Dust rises from the hooves of cattle returning to a village at sunset. Smoke from open fires wreathes in ribbons across the fields. As the evening shadows begin to lengthen, people, animals and birds all return to their homes to rest.
This time of day is known in India as “godhuli bela”, or “cowdust time”. It is the sacred time when Lord Krishna brought his own cattle safely home. In paintings, he is often seen meeting his beloved Radha in the evening, as peacocks call, bright green parakeets chatter loudly in the neem trees, temple bells and muezzins call people of different faiths to prayer.
There are many devotional songs and poems devoted to this twilight hour. It is seen throughout India as an auspicious time for engagements, weddings, even business ventures. But it’s also the time when mothers call their children home, to avoid evil spirits. And when those same children are told not to whistle, for fear of inviting evil in.
In this hypnotic sound tapestry – recorded in Gujarat, the Kumaon hills and Madhya Pradesh – we hear cows and other animals being brought back to their village, the loud clamour of birds, the eerie noise of crickets.
“It is that fantastic time of day,” says writer and academic Rajendrasingh Jadeja, “when the cowdust raised transforms the scene from stark, sharp light to a fantasy world.”
That fantasy world has been captured in art, music and literature. Painter and art critic Amit Ambalal, poets Jayant Parmar and Mahek Tankarvi, and musician Sugna Shah, are among those who talk about the religious and cultural significance of twilight. We also hear the poetry, prayers, lullabies and ragas depicting this magical time “when the earth does yoga”.
We were able to interweave the atmospheric sounds of the cows coming back home with conversations and descriptions of this special time of the day as well as poetry & music written for cow dust time. It was an really enjoyable programme to work on.
“Some years ago, we bought a reproduction of a painting of Krishna, Radha (his beloved) and the cows from the Prince of Wales Museum in Bombay. It’s called Cowdust
Time, and on the back it tells the story of this time, when cowherds bring their cattle back home and the dust they raise blends with the smoke of the cooking fires to create a smoky effect in the villages. It’s a particularly lovely time of day. It’s also seen as a particularly auspicious time, good for engagements, marriages and business deals. And a good time for reflection, prayer and meditation. Various people talked about how – at the same time that people are going to the temple or mosque to pray – birds like parakeets all flock back to their trees, and their loud chattering is like another form of prayer of thanksgiving to God,” she adds. “And one writer and academic, Dr Rajendrasinh Jadeja, likened it to a time when the earth does yoga.”
The programme has been well received and here are some comments that have come in…
What a lovely programme! We were both entranced by it. Thank you so much.
Seductive and richly other. It drew me in. Lovely. Beautifully put together
Really lovely programme. We listened to it in the dark, sitting on an Indian rug, and it was like a meditation.
It was wonderful. I do not overstate when I say there were tears in our eyes, I can’t remember when I saw my husband so visibly moved.
I’ve just listened to it and found it both beautiful and enlightening, and a wonderful counterbalance to the way I was feeling today. I’ve made some notes from it towards what might become a poem – not difficult, of course, because the programme is pretty much a poem in itself
I’m writing to let you know that I thoroughly enjoyed the Between the Ears feature ‘Cowdust Time’. I always make a point of tuning in to Between The Ears because of the eclectic content. While I’m listening, I’m usually doing something else – tonight I was preparing tomorrow’s dinner – but, I stopped chopping carrots and just listened. A really beautiful programme – congratulations!
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