Holy city, holy places

Varanasi Travel Blog

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Varanasi view

Varanasi, on the banks of Mother Ganga, is the Hindu city to die in, to obtain instant enlightenment - moksha. It runs for about 8km along the river, which is lined with ghats. We walked downriver from Asi Ghat. Men bathed in their underwear, a few women bathed fully clothed. To bathe here in the Ganges, the elixir of life, brings purity to the living. The water looks filthy and is heavily polluted from upstream industries. Water buffalo wallowed, goats and kids wandered. Boatmen touted for business. At Harishchandra Ghat, where huge piles of wood were neatly stacked, three funeral pyres burned on the bank. Just behind stood the electric crematorium for those who cannot afford the wood. Burnt by wood or electricity, the ashes are placed into the holy river, bringing salvation to the dead. At the dhobi ghat, the washermen pounded away at hundreds of items of clothing.

The Dhobi Ghat
How do they get them back to their right owners? Boatloads of pilgrims moved up and downriver, looking at the sights, and sometimes disembarking for a while on the opposite sandy shore. The river is low now, but is half a mile wide when in monsoon flood, and apparently covers the ghats.

At 5.00 we took a twilight boatride. We were rowed 4/5 km downstream to Manikarnika Ghat, the main burning ghat - apparently they burn 400 bodies a day there over all 24 hours. A "dom", one of the untouchables who oversees proceedings, clambered on board and told us something of the Hindu view of life and death and immortality - for a tip, of course, which he said would go to buy wood for the funerals of the poor. Then we were rowed back to Dashaswamedh Ghat to watch the evening "aarti" ceremonies. The pandas (priests) swung huge flaming pots and moved in unison.

The stupa at Sarnath
An excellent sound system relayed the pre-recorded chanting over the town and river. We lit our candles and watched them sail downstream in their banana leaf containers.

Next day we drove 10km out to Sarnath, a site holy for Buddhists, where in the 6th century BC the Buddha preached for the first time. We passed the Sunbeam Academy, - "Unparalled Studies, Unrivalled Activities, Undisputed Leadership." Then the Thelma David Memorial School, - "Discipline, Decorum, Decency."

Sarnath was peaceful. It's a museum area in well kept gardens, with lovely dahlias and roses. Among the Indian and foreign tourists, there are Buddhist monks, nuns and laity coming to pray at the Damekh Stupa (the alleged site of Buddha's first sermon) walking round clockwise or prostrating in front of it.

Evening aarti
Nearby, more worshipped at the Bodhi Tree, an offshoot of the one at Bodhgaya, where the Buddha attained enlightenment. All such a contrast to the bustle, noise, pollution and litter of Varanasi and its 3 million inhabitants.

PS From the Hindustan Times, late Lucknow edition, 22 Jan

"Petitioner Sonan Singh accused successive governments of neglecting eunuchs' interests and demanded special treatment, like the Minorities/Women/Socially and Educationally backward Classes/Physically Challenged categories, in education and jobs."

 

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Varanasi view
Varanasi view
The Dhobi Ghat
The Dhobi Ghat
The stupa at Sarnath
The stupa at Sarnath
Evening aarti
Evening aarti
Watching our candles drift down th…
Watching our candles drift down t…
Varanasi
photo by: rotorhead85