Friday, 25 April 2014


Courtesy Wikipedia
       There is a marriage ritual that requires the mother to seek a water body and fetch some water from there to bathe the bride or the groom. It was my brother's wedding. It was almost dusk. Treading the soft soil by the river Ganga, my mother dipped her 'ghat' or 'pot' to fill it with water. At the same time, conches echoed into the evening stillness, cymbals clashed and bells rang. The air was filled with shlokas (hymns) and incense fragrance. We turned around towards the steps of the bank and were witness to a spectacular show of spiritual reverence. Three priests in complete synchronization were performing the evening 'arti'  and spectators, mostly tourists, sat around engrossed in the show. Gradually there was a build up and the music was reaching a crescendo, and all around the onlookers were caught in it's grip, carried away by the fervour and intensity and sat as if in a trance. Such was the magic of the ethereal experience. And such has been the allure of Varanasi since time immemorial that has drawn luminaries, saints and scholars. Varanasi is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. 

    The old city of Varanasi on the banks of river Ganga, like many other old quarters of cities, is a labyrinth of twisting and turning lanes with homes and shops stacked on either sides. Although  these streets give a chaotic feel, they hold a charm of their own taking one to a bygone era. I remember a picture of Varanasi as a child, leafing through the pages of an Amar Chitra Katha (must have been the one on Adi Shankaracharya), of the many steps of the bank leading to the river Ganga with platforms in between. Ascetics and sages sitting on these paltforms meditating or offering discourse. I've come across this scenario many times later in paintings and photography. Varanasi is synonymous to spiritual enlightenment for the seekers. The numerous temples in the city are thronging with devotees. It is the Kashi Vishwanath temple that draws the most of the faithful. Pilgrims offer puja in the temple and then take a boat ride to the middle of the Ganga to offer earthen lamps and flowers in leaf bowls to the river. My sister-in-law, who belongs to this place, tells me that an evening boat ride during Dev Deepavali is a sight to behold. Thousands of lamps light up the river, floating stars on earth, with the arti taking place in the many 'ghats'. It is surreal to witness this from a distance with the blowing conches and bells ringing. I hope to be there one day on this occasion to be part of it.

   For the others, there is of course the thrill of shopping for the best Banarasi brocade sari, much sought after for weddings. While you are busy shopping you might as well pop in some 'pedas' to give you that extra sugar. How can one forget the Banarasi paan after that? The roads like I said, are extremely chaotic with all kinds of wheelers pushing their way through as they please nonchalantly. Driving around is definitely not for the faint hearted. In the middle of all this chaos stands Banaras Hindu University like a sweet haven, tranquil and orderly. The brainchild of Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, BHU was started with the aim of eradicating poverty through dissipation of scientific knowledge and inculcating a thirst for knowledge. The campus is shaded by the many old trees and has a spacious feel with wide open green fields. The various departments and hostels are housed in heritage buildings that were financed by the business houses, royal families and philanthropists.

      Varanasi is a good place to explore the heritage, traditions and Hinduism as well as the surroundings. A place that has given India saints like Kabir, Ravidas, cultural icons like shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan, educationists, and even a style of Hindustani classical music famously termed Banaras gharana, my only wish is that this city be preserved as a heritage city.

This post was written for A to Z Challenge.


  1. have been to varanasi many times for my official work.....thanks 4 sharing

  2. Awesome...well written di...i can feel and correlate with every word of your's ..its never enough to read about the place which is closed to your heart...

  3. Nice read. Definitely one of the most luring places in the world.

  4. Hi,i am just impressed by the facts presented about Varanasi [though old name Banaras has its own Ras!]. This magical city has always charmed me.That is why i attempted something in my blog...


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