“Hello! Want a boat ride?”
“No, thank you.”
“Come, I’ll show you where Lord Shiva attained salvation.”
“Thank you, not interested. I’m a Christian.”
“Great. Come, I’ll show you where Jesus came to hide after escaping crucifixion.”
“Here? In India?”
“Yes, they say he’s still alive. Come, let’s find Jesus together on a boat.”
It doesn’t matter which religion you are from, it doesn’t matter which country you’re from, it doesn’t matter which skin colour you’re born with, Benaras will always have something special to offer to you – and in all probabilities, it will be a scam.
Have you ever heard about the infamous Banarasi Thugs? Well, in my opinion they all sit along the ghats dressed in saffron to rob us in daylight. Widely believed to be the earliest inhabited city in the world – Benaras enjoys the fortune of being situated by the holy river Ganges. The mythological mother of Bhishma wept in the battlefield of Kurukshetra when she saw her magnificent but defeated son resting on the bed of arrows, but the greater tragedy of her life only began when humankind started settling down by its side to depend on it for trade & existence. The holy books attribute the river to be the path to heaven after a man’s death if he was virtuous, and hence his ashes are spread across the Ganges to assist a soul’s ascendance to Swarga. It was always supposed to be based on merit, Vyas has argued in his greatest scripture – The Mahabharata, but the greed of a man is such that he will even sell off his God to ascend to paradise in afterlife. What irony.
During a close relative’s death is when a man is the most vulnerable. One will obviously never say no to spending money during this time. For a few, it is the genuine foolish belief that a mere thousand rupees will actually facilitate their deceased loved ones’ path to heaven. And for the most, it is just the fear of being judged by the society if they ever even try to negotiate on money matters during the last rituals to be performed for their related departed. Hence, the Benarasi Thugs conveniently come into the picture like guardians of heaven and make it easier for the deceased to meet with God.
“Rs. 5,001 for the whole procedure, my child.”
“How much time is it going to take, Pandit Ji? I have a flight to catch in 3 hours.”
“Don’t worry, I can do it faster for Rs. 8,001.”
Yes, that should help, indeed. The Pandit Ji would now persuade Lord Vishnu to let the carcass enter the gates of heaven by bribing him with an extra 3,000 bucks. I was sitting & smoking on Manikarnika Ghat close to where this retail purchase/sale was taking place. After Lord Vishnu’s rates were fixed, the quintessentially obese Pandit Ji started his express chants to please the 33cr gods who may have a cut somewhere somehow coz the journey to Vaikuntha (God’s heaven above the mortal’s heaven) has a lot of brokers in the middle.
I was not surprised to see that the entire procedure had finished in merely half an hour and the person would be able to catch his flight easily now. Thank God, his father would rest in peace. Or rather thank the Pandit Ji, without whom even the God would not be convinced on whether the deceased was meritorious in his life or not.
There must be more than 50 different ghats I must’ve seen during my afternoon walk extending till the evening on that day, serving different purposes to people looking for various gods. Some topless Spanish people looked to find salvation via weed, while an NRI family had traveled all the way down to its native country to rinse off its sins via a dip in the Ganges.
The extremely affluent Gujarati family, this, has a propensity of visiting once every five years because they don’t wish to take any demerits into afterlife. Sounds legit.
The more famous the ghat, the more expensive the gods become. They come the costliest to you at Assi, followed by the second-string gods at Dashashwamedha. The Jainis & the TamBrahms have their own ghats dealing with their own gods, because maybe they are too blue-collared to mingle with the mainstream Hindu gods swarming at most ghats.
You can even find Jesus at a couple of places, just as the boatman promised in the excerpt shared at the beginning of this text. Not too sellable in this part of the world, Jesus is hot cakes in an independent democracy called the Vatican City – about which I read somewhere that it is capable of ending the world poverty twice over if it uses the money in its reserves. Do you see the pattern here?
Who is your God?