Diã is a Los Angeles based indie folk/Baroque pop artist whose stunning vocals and lush ukuleles have been winning over listeners across the nation. Raised on a Hindu Ashram she grew up singing ceremonial ragas as a child. Diã recently went back to India where she visited the places from her past, spent time meditating, writing music and exploring the local towns. Below is her travel diary documenting her fascinating travels and how being in such a spiritual place can boost creativity throughout her music and songwriting. Today Diã is also premiering her beautifully cinematic new music video for her single “Phosphenes.” Watch below.
Words and photos by Diã:
This spring I went to India to revisit the ashram where I spent the earliest months of my life.
The property lies four hours north of Mumbai, just a couple kilometers from the Indian Ocean. Tiny temples are dotted along the way to fishing villages that line the coast, but no one goes swimming. I am there before the monsoons; it is hot, the land is dry so the sky is filled with vibrant orange sunsets each night. Inside the gates, there are a dozen small shrines tucked around every pathway; each one honoring a different god or goddess.
The days begin at 4:30 am when young Vedic priests chant the guru gita and light musky, earthen incense as they ring ancient iron bells to wake everyone. The schedule is set around morning, midday and evening prayer, chai and seva (chores). We eat outside, on a cowdung floor, sitting in endlessly long, single file rows and are served rice, dahl and subgee out of giant metal pails onto plates made of leaves. We fill our bottles each night when the water spout is turned on and take laps around the grounds, sometimes visiting the sacred cows who produce trace amounts of gold in their milk because of how the sun hits their humps.
I make friends with Pamela, an Australian woman, who introduces me to dandelion coffee and gives me a foot rub as my birthday gift using the coconut oil Indians apply as a mosquito repellent. I meet a kindred spirit named Nayan, a young man who lives on the ashram and acts as my fixer for all things; he takes me on escapes to the nearby city of Valsad where I search for fabrics and have a dress made in emerald green. I reminisce with devotees who knew my parents and they enchant me with tales of the heyday in the late 1970’s when our guru gave shaktipat with a peacock feather. Sometimes I cut vegetables in the morning, or help the local women who make handicrafts. I discover a respite from the heat on the massive upper terrace of my residential hall where I play the lacewood ukulele I brought from home and look out across the grounds as if I’m swimming in the sea of sound bouncing off the cool speckled stone floors.
I make a pilgrimage to the holy village of Ganeshpuri where our guru took his mahāsamādhi. It is Navaratri, the nine day festival of the goddess. I walk across the parched riverbed, always fearful of the wild local dogs, to a tent filled with offerings of fruit, flowers and fire. I am overcome by the Sanskrit chanting of the priests as they proclaim the thousand qualities of the Devi. I recognize my vastness in the venerable text:
She whose mere look enlivens the world.
She who does everything and who bears everything.
She who destroys everything and who is ancient.
She who is the repository of ten million desires and who grants the objects of desire.
Venturing back to Mumbai for a day of sightseeing, I witness the pulsating city mostly from the windows of the car: the Gateway To India built for Queen Elizabeth, espresso for the first time in weeks at the Taj Hotel, a failed attempt at the Bombay jewelry district. I am exhausted and elated. A red thread has been resewn between me and this place. I search for it everyday to be sure it has not come undone.
Phosphene is the phenomenon of seeing light without light actually entering the eye. I think of the function of memory. Of endless threads. Of our capacity to hold the things we can no longer hold, long after they have faded from the three dimensional realm. They are India, they are lovers, homes, friends, flights, bodies themselves. Omnipresent and eternal.
This song was written about all of that, and a person who saw me more wholly than I was able to, the way India reminded me to see. I filmed this at an exploded and abandoned salt mine in northern Arizona. It is a love affair with the remnant of something that now only exists in its elemental form.