April 6, 2016 § Leave a comment
Varanasi is one of the major cities of Uttar Pradesh. A shabby city, mind you.
On the other hand Banaras is the only city of its kind in the world.
It does not conform to any standard of a city, per se. It is like any other 2nd tier city-potholed roads, traffic jams, and bad infrastructure. Name the flaws and you have them. But you don’t go to Varanasi for Varanasi. You go there for Banaras or Kashi.
This place has an ethereal quality lacking structural beauty. Lacking the luster of a city and seeming as if covered in dust of non-existent fervor, Banaras has an inherent stability, equilibrium though dynamic in nature. Dynamic because there is a movement beneath all that non-sensitiveness. The place never reaches its stable state. It is not supposed to either. Very true to its essence.
All the life and activity is visible in the old area of the city where the ghats are. This is the central area of attraction. The entire area is a maze of uncountable passages, seething with life and death alike, with the destination being any one of the supposed 100 ghats and the finality being the quintessential destination through the ultimate passage-Banaras. Many say there are more than 300 ghats. This doesn’t matter. The place is full of stories without a beginning or a confirmation. After all it is considered to be the oldest living city. Word of mouth has never been reliable or left untouched without a personal flavour.
I am not keen on describing the ghats or recounting various myths and stories. The oddities will be palpable as the ghats and the lanes are explored. The only way to experience them is to be there. What fascinated me most was the calmness of the place and the people. You are not expected to have an opinion there. For me this city is neither cheerful nor miserable. I felt neutrality and acceptance here. Usually at a place you are supposed to have an opinion about it or feel something about that place. There is an underlying imposing nature of that place. Rudrabhoomi rids one of judgment. You can feel nothing about this place and there is not a sense of conclusion within you. Only an observation. People have an opinion which they gladly tell you when asked but if you disagree they will agree with your point. No sense of assertiveness as well. Not that they lack conviction but they don’t care. This don’t care attitude with a constructive theme is what stood out for me. You are not termed as ‘cold, unemotional, uncaring, unsympathetic etc’ if you don’t possess an extreme sentiment. A live and let live attitude is pervasive here. I found this liberating. Another person found the same aspect extremely negative. In his words- “There is no spark in the city. Nobody is keen on life.”
This is the city of Lord Shiv, the eternal shakti (power) as she/he is called. This is the city where Hindus come to die and end their cycle of rebirth to attain complete freedom from karma or oneness with the ‘shakti’. This outlook is maintained in every local here and every devout who comes here. For the first time death did not overwhelm me in the customary modus operandi. The magnificence of death and its romanticism, more than its counterpart appealed to my core.
In the end, Banaras can be put like this – Place where people come to pray for tranquility after death, before and during life.
- To really understand this, visit Kashi. This juxtaposition will be most evident when you see the lights of the evening prayers being lit to revere River Ganga as the life-giver at the Dashashwamedh/Rajendra Prasad Ghat and just 3-4 ghats down the line you see the never-ending funeral pyre of the expired ‘lit’ at the Manikarnika Ghat. The myth goes that the day there is no fire burning at Manikarnika, that day will be the end of the World. Another glaring contrast is the two-way queue from Manikarnika Ghat to the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir . It is infinite live or a complete cycle.
- The city has its share of orthodox rituals going on. I did not get a chance to see the darker side of the place hence that aspect is not covered here.