Varanasi has witnessed the approaching and going of many empires and dynasties, kings and queens, all leaving their mark for posterity however in the end overshadowed by its magnificence
Photos of Varanasi on social media usually fetishize trishul-wielding bare sadhus with ash on their our bodies, pilgrims taking holy dips within the water of the river Ganga, corpses burning on the ghats, and cows roaming round within the bylanes. A surfeit of such depictions constructs this vibrant multicultural place as basically Hindu, as a substitute of celebrating the variety that thrives there. Issues on the bottom are sometimes fairly completely different from the best way they appear on-line.
Along with the large Kashi Vishwanath Dham challenge inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that’s drawing hordes of devotees to Varanasi, there may be a lot else to absorb. Even a brief encounter with this historic metropolis affirms its wealthy pluralistic character constructed over centuries. I used to be there simply two weeks in the past, and stood transfixed by the attractive mixture of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Muslim and Christian influences – nearly a microcosm of India itself.
Aside from experiencing the Ganga Aarti — a feast for the senses and a gateway to the chic — I went to the Sankat Mochan Mandir. Being there was particular as a result of this temple established by Goswami Tulsidas, who composed the Ramcharitmanas, has been internet hosting performances by some excellent exponents of music and dance together with Kelucharan Mohapatra, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Rajan-Sajan Mishra, Ghulam Ali and Birju Maharaj.
Whereas their annual Sangeet Samaroh is scheduled for April, I discovered a bhajan mandali immersed in singing and taking part in the harmonium and manjeeras after I paid a go to this December. I additionally got here throughout small teams of individuals huddled collectively, speaking animatedly, taking part in playing cards, and having fun with mithai. This sight bolstered the social and cultural position of faith in folks’s lives, along with its non secular, emotional and political significance.
I additionally made my solution to Sarnath, the place Gautam Buddha gave his first teachings after enlightenment. The archaeological websites and the museum obtained me to decelerate and mirror on how lucky I’m to reside in a rustic the place I can entry these locations so simply. Whereas circumambulating the Dhamekh Stupa, I bowed in gratitude to the numerous individuals who should have labored on setting up, excavating, restoring and sustaining these constructions.
One of many world’s most interesting collections of Buddhist artwork is housed on the Rubin Museum in New York Metropolis, and I’m not exaggerating after I say that being there felt like being at a shrine. The Sarnath Museum might not be as fancy or well-funded however what makes it sacred for folks like myself is standing the place the enlightened one stood, and renewing our dedication to stroll on the trail he confirmed us to finish our personal struggling and to learn fellow sentient beings.
Sarnath occurs to be the birthplace of Shreyansnath, the 11th Tirthankar in Jainism, whereas Varanasi is taken into account to be the birthplace of the 13th Tirthankar named Parshwanath. I used to be in a position to cease by on the derasars constructed by their followers for a quick darshan, because of Ola bikes that provided me an inexpensive and environment friendly mode of transport throughout my keep. A uncommon stillness descended upon me as I quietened my stressed thoughts and dwelt within the current second.
Aside from these, I managed to include Gurudwara Guru Bagh — which commemorates Guru Nanak’s go to to Varanasi — and St Mary’s Cathedral in my itinerary. On the gurudwara, a sort gentleman helped me tie a material round my head earlier than I went in to kneel and provide prayers. The cathedral had a extra festive ambiance as I confirmed up on the day of Christmas – folks consuming chaat, lighting candles, and having fun with the nativity scene on the lawns.
I didn’t get to pay my respects on the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir and the Gyanvapi Masjid. I’m assured that neither Bholenath nor Allah would thoughts since I did say hey from a distance. The large crowds ambling down the newly constructed hall made me take a rain-check, and head straight to the Kabir Chaura Math. It’s an oasis of calm, a stark distinction to all of the chaos that it’s surrounded by. I believe that this place, which celebrates the life and work of the 15th century poet and mystic Kabir Das, doesn’t function on the to-do record of most guests.
He has been a fantastic supply of inspiration for me. I usually consider this couplet attributed to him: “Kabira Khada Bazaar Mein, Maange Sab Ki Khair/ Na Kahu Se Dosti, Na Kahu Se Bair.” (Standing within the market, Kabir seeks the well-being of all/ He cultivates no allies, he makes no enemies.) This isn’t the voice of a fence-sitter however the knowledge of somebody who refuses to take part in energy video games. He prefers turning inward quite than becoming a member of a camp.
These phrases remind me of one other beloved poet, Shantideva from the 8th century, whose textual content Bodhicharyavatara (An Introduction to the Bodhisattva’s Means of Life) travelled with me to Sarnath. In one of many verses, which Raji Ramanan has translated from Sanskrit into English, Shantideva says, “Having departed from this life/ And from all my friends and relatives, / If all alone I must go elsewhere/ What is the use of making friends and enemies?” Certainly!
Taking a look at Varanasi by a slim ideological lens based mostly totally on one’s allegiance or antagonism in the direction of the ruling social gathering – is a disservice to what the town has to supply. Its historical past is just too huge and spectacular to be documented single-handedly by even essentially the most realized of historians. It has witnessed the approaching and going of many empires and dynasties, kings and queens, all leaving their mark for posterity however in the end overshadowed by its magnificence.
The writer is a contract author, journalist and e-book reviewer.