Mark Twain has said - "Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together!"
Burning Ghats in contrast to the glittering Ghats, Ghats which are an irony! The Ghats and river Ganga are here since forever, even before mankind. The place might have many names- Kashi, Benares, and Varanasi but there is one soul, a soul difficult to understand, easy to connect, positive vibes to breathe from and a collective feeling to cherish forever.
"The city illumines truth and reveals reality. It does not bring new wonders into the scope of vision, but enables one to see what is already there. Where this eternal light intersects the earth, it is known as Kashi" – said by Diana L. Eck
People are the streetscape here at Varanasi! They add beauty to the ageing buildings, dilapidated structures, and cramped lanes! Like a typically unplanned sprawling Indian city, Varanasi attracts attention mainly due to the Aarti at Ganga Ghats. In a span of 5 days in Varanasi, I witnessed the Ghats thrice which to me were still less. I wish I could visit more.
Epic Cycle Rickshaw Ride & witnessing the Magnificant Ganga Aarti from far for the first time.
I was excited to take a ride in the highly glorified Cycle Rickshaw of Varanasi and the ride was really epic. It was thrilling to see bikes, cars, buses and cows all trying patiently to find their way towards their destination.
[Ghats in Varanasi are riverfront steps leading to the banks of the River Ganges. The city has 88 Ghats , Most of the Ghats are bathing and Puja ceremony Ghats, while a few are used exclusively as cremation sites.
Most Varanasi Ghats were built after 1700 AD, when the city was part of Maratha Empire, The patrons of current Ghats are Marathas, Shindes (Scindias), Holkars, Bhonsles, and Peshwes (Peshwas). Many Ghats are associated with legends or mythologies while many Ghats are privately owned. In Hindu traditions, cremation is one of the rites of passage and the Ghats of Varanasi are considered one of the auspicious locations for this ritual. At the time of the cremation or "last rites", a "Puja" (prayer) is performed. Hymns and mantras are recited during cremation to mark the ritual. The Manikarnika and Harishchandra Ghats are dedicated to the cremation ritual. (Wiki)]
The evening Aarti starts at 7:00 pm at Dashaswamedha Ghat, so we managed to do a small ride before that and anchored by 7alongside the Ganga Ghat to witnes the magnificent Ganga Aarti. One can see the pyres burning throughout the days and nights at Manikaran & Harishchadra Ghats.
Our Boat being way too big, we couldn’t see the Puja from up close. Aarti is carried out in various stages - Aarti with incense, Incense smoke, Aarti with tiered lamps. A group of priests daily perform Aartis here to worship to Fire wherein a dedication is made to Lord Shiva, River Ganges, Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the whole universe.
After the morning visits to Sarnath, Dharmarajika Stupa from the pre-Ashokan Era, Ashoka pillar, the Ganga Ghat evening visit was difficult to understand. Mostly ruins & silent prayer places at Sarnath, we were struck by Paradox already!
[Morning Raag] at River Ganga.
Ganga was silently flowing and the few Ghats were starting to wake up, it felt as if everyone was waiting for the sun to peep out of his cozy blanket of clouds. The sun rose slowly changing the color from blue to an orangish shade. As mere spectators we couldn't do much, just experience everything around. Singer Bhonu emerged from one of the boat with a melodious morning Raag, Bhonu is well known in the Ghat as someone who gives melodious unplugged versions to the morning spectators. The sound of water crashing coz of the oars gave the Raag its perfect beat. His voice still rings in my ear. There were people bathing on the Ghats, fires were still smoldering and a slight mist over Ganga.
Elahi ! It was one blissful ride; it was one of those morning rays which make you feel one with universe! I have inhaled them and I know how it feels!
Dreamers are the moon gazers and believers the sun gazers. That soulful experience to watch sun rise, it gave way to dreams, belief, assurance, a chance and everything you have dreamt of in the previous night. Squinting through the light, you start believing in freedom, you start understanding the language of earth and everything to do with the dreams. As someone has said you discover the great longing of life to hold and be held.
The wow factor was spoting "The leaning temple of varanasi" (Just like leaning tower of Pisa) It is hard to miss this, famously and largely photographed Ratneshwar Mahadev temple. They say it is believed to be 400-500 years old. The leaning is probably a fault in foundation or the silt, but of course there are legends involved.
A chance meeting with our early morning rickshaw guy helped us in discovering a small town Lallapura & the authentic small silk factories. We witnessed some of the best handloom work of Varanasi.
During the day we visited the house of India’s 2nd Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri at Ramnagar. The caretaker narrated few mind boggling stories while we roamed around this typical rural house with pride. We left the place with a heartwarming & a happy feeling.
Ganga Aarti few feet away
Leaving my fellow companions who were shopping I headed straight to the Ganga Ghat to witness the Aarti from close. It was an awesome feeling to see the same from just 10 feet away. Delightfully dressed priests performed the Aarti, the sound of ringing bells, the fragrance all around, floating diyas & the cool breeze I will never ever forget in my life. Witnessing such things makes you believe in the power of positive energy, believe in the power of a prayer, believe in the power of a mother, and believe in the power of the universe.
The trip ended with these extraordinary vibes this place gave in, the intense experience I will carry it with me when I depart. I feel happy and blessed that I could witness the most colorful, picturesque, mysterious, progressive and regressive, ancient and modern city in my little life!
“It is so difficult, this thing to be on fire and still somehow be at peace! Be filled with wonder and still be touched by peace! Live in the moment and forever still be at peace!” – Gauri Argade
All hail to the universe!
For video compilation of the trip click – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dh54rMYnn78&t=3s