Sunday, August 03, 2014
Varanasi the ageless city
One looks around and sees history
Be it Damascus or Istanbul two other old cities I had been to and our own Varanasi one can take good photographs and hope that the history would stick to its digital frames
I know it would never but that’s the best way to bring a feel of such a place
Varanasi or Kashi or Benares that’s three names for you has the Ganges India’s holiest river flowing through it and is the centre around which the city and its history grew .
The Kashi Vishwanath temple stands by the side of the river in a narrow alley reached after walking with cloistering crowds ,claustrophobic shops selling flowers, incense ,sweets ,to be given as an offering to the lord .
The presence of huge bulls hardly deters ones progress as one learns to walk around living and non living things in Varanasi as true to its soul it’s a place where the fine distinction of life and after life melds and disappears into nothing ness
This is all the more truer in the burning Ghats of Harish Chandra where legend says the most honest emperor Harish Chandra who would never tell a lie whatever be the need for it is tried by the Gods with all sorts of humiliations and finally his son dies and he dorns the garb of a Dom or funeral pyre helper as he has no money to cremate his child’s body and it is said the Harish Chandra worked in these very ghats
As the dusk settles down the river flowing melancholy none of the filth that bordered its banks could be seen but only the reflection of the burning pyres which danced in the ripples to show man that life and death is as transitory as the ripples which would never last but for the moment
This silent espousing of the philosophy of life for the attuned is Varanasi’s uniqueness
It silently whispers to your soul and if one were to catch that silent murmuring one would see beyond its dirt and squalor
cleanliness is definitely next to Godliness in fact to me cleanliness comes first and so thinks our new PM Shri Narendra Modiji who is representing this holy city in the Parliament and who is lit with a passion to clean the Ganga river .
The Daswamedh Ghat is a bigger burning Ghat .
There are many Ghats or bathing places with steps dropping down to the river .
Some were owned by erstwhile royal kingdoms some by ashrams .
On the banks sat the priests with huge matted umbrellas to protect the faithful from the blistering sun or at times the rain or the frost in the winter
The relatives of the departed come here in hordes to perform rites for the loved ones .
Ecologicaly and mathematically sound principles .
We took a boat that was rowed into the river by a talkative boatman who told us all about the rituals and festivals of Ganga ma
Far on the distant opposite bank one could see the silhouette of Ramnagar which was the Varanasi royal families palace
HRH Vibhuti singh was the present incumbent who’s day of honour was during the boisterous Ramlila celbrations when the epic of lord Ram and his quest for his Sita across the seas enacted with so much accuracy and finesse lasting for more than a month
The whole place was a stage with areas marked as Ayodhya the forests where Ram Lakshman and Sita would retire to ,with Sita kidnapped by Ravana from Lanka across the ocean down south Rama Lakshmana with their army of monkeys retrieve her back after a righteous war and kill Ravana and his ilk .
Across the river opposite Ramnagar the area is actually called Lanka and today it s a busy market near the sprawling hundred year old centre of learning the Benares Hindu university and it is here that Ravanas effigy is burnt on the penultimate day of Ramlila
Muslim citizens of the city consider it as a honour and their right to build this effigy as it has been over the years
They are as much part of their Hindu brethren in the celebrations as Hindus are for Eid celebrations when they hold Iftar parties .
The glowing arathis and lighted lamps that float in the river as night falls is a scintillating spectacle to be watched for aeons .
And then all becomes quiet with the distant embers blowing sparks in the burning Ghats
The cool winds blows over the unhurried pace of the river to wait for another day in its long past .
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