Varanasi Diaries: #Entry 4- Arati at Dashashwamedh Ghat

The two times I had seen Dashashwamedh Ghat , it was the epitome of peacefulness and serenity with few souls , probably tourists wandering here and there clicking photographs and selfies. Some Godman had permanently settled themselves in the steps of the ghat and were quite oblivious to the daily happenings in the trance of their Gutka’s and bidis. Oh and you cannot forget the cows! But this time it was different, every inch of the ghat steps was filled with people waiting patiently for the Ganga Arati to begin. The young and the old, the tourists and the locals, the rich and the poor, the newly weds and those who have seen many ups and down in their lives; were all gathered together to witness the homage paid to the river Ganga.

Visitors awaiting the start of the Ganga Arati

Vendors sold garlands and lamps which can be offered by the people during the ceremony and floated in the Ganges afterward. My friend told me that each ghat had it own separate community which conducted the arati every evening. In the Dashashwamedh Ghat, it was the Ganga Seva Nidhi . I could sense the heat of the full beamed lights even though it was the cold month of January. The speakers were on full volume playing ‘Radhe Radhe which continued for a good sixty minutes.

A pandit engaged in prayer before the start of the event.

Suddenly out of the sea of people, I saw five pandits emerge. They were the ones who would conduct the ceremony. They took some time off and meditated before beginning the actual ceremony. Dressed in beige dhoti and magenta kurta, surrounded by yellow lights, they looked majestic in this royal ambiance. What more they even have live singing of the bhajans! With the people ready and awaiting this grandeur experience, the stage set; all that was left was for the arati to begin.

The Ganga Arati in action

With Bhajans in the name of Lord Ganesh, Ganges, Lord Shiva and Lord Krishna the arati went on for almost an hour after which just as people had emerged in flocks from all around to witness the event, they left in a jiffy and went about carrying their own businesses. The completely occupied ghat became unoccupied and desolate in a matter of hardly ten minutes.

We decided to head back to our hostel after a long day’s sightseeing. But before that Lassi was on our list. It is a shame to come to Varanasi and not try out some of the delicacies the city is so famous for. After trying out some amazing lassi, we even stopped at the paan shop; after all, Benarasi Paan is world famous, right? The temple of Khichdi Baba fell on our way to the hostel. Interestingly, my friend told that the eyes of the Khichdi Baba are always wide open and close only once a day when Khichdi is offered to him.

Benaras is full of stories and legends. One trip is not enough to uncover them all. This was my last visit to the Dashashwamedha Ghat during this trip, but I hope I would return someday again to witness the grandeur of this place again. We had a long day ahead of us and decided to call it a day. Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Sarnath and Ramnagar Fort were also in store for us as part of our sightseeing- and we did have to get up early to cover all these places. More about them in my next post.

Varanasi Diaries: #Entry 3- The Chase and the Walk

Much that I love Varanasi, it can be annoying at times ; when the roofs of the houses are so close that you can almost hear someone singing ‘Tip Tip Barsa Pani’ while taking a casual walk on a certain roof, when you are taking a bath.  Nevertheless, after a quick refreshing bath, I found my friend engaged in giving directions to our friend who was almost going to join us five hours later than the allocated time. She hurried downstairs to help him finish with the check -in procedures, while I stayed back to soak in a view of my temporary neighbourhood. I saw a boy desperately taking a walk in anticipation and trying to free his kite that was stuck in a tree and was the prime reason of a fight between four baby monkeys. He smiled at me, understanding that I was a tourist and we started speaking about monkeys, kites, the city and its beauty. After bidding him goodbye, I figured out that I did not even know his name!

Monkeys out on a morning stroll

I turned around to the sound of my friend coming in. After settling down he told the unique story of a certain Mr. P (read Pee) Man, who went on stopping the whole bus at least twice enroute from Delhi and got lost. The bus had to wait or travel miles in the opposite direction to find that passenger and get him aboard each time. Needless to say, all passengers were equally irked with Mr. P Man. After resting for a while we embarked on our mission of finding food in the narrow lanes and by-lanes of Godhulia. Our search finally brought us to a South India fast food centre where we gorged on yummy Dosas.

The Dosa Man

We went to see the royal observatory –Jantar Mantar- whose twins sit in Delhi and Jaipur . The intricate wall designs and architecture transported me back to an era gone by. The glass stained windows overlooking the Ganges in white- washed walls was a scene to behold in its true sense. But alas my trance was short lived as I tripped over a manja (kite flying thread). A few minutes later, my friend tripped over it too. And like good, responsible citizens we thought of putting an end to this tripping business and started collecting the never-ending manja thread. Finally, we managed to gather a huge spool of thread and deposited it with the least interested people at the reception before heading upstairs to look at the observatory.

A glimpse of the interiors of the Jantar Mantar

After taking a few photographs we saw some curious pairs of eyes looking at us. Some started running towards us with great pace. All three of us were surrounded by Monkeys – of all sizes. I could hear ‘Bhaag Bhaag’ behind me through clenched teeth. We started walking fast and I could feel a monkey catching onto my coat. Then we started running full- fledged and heaved a sigh of relief when we managed to come downstairs alive and unharmed. Following the Great Monkey Chase, we took a walk along the ghats and opted for a boat ride on our way back. It was by then time for the Ganga Arati, which we watched before finally heading back to our hostel for the day.

Scenes from the Ghats I

For a while I closely started making a mental note of the names of all the Ghats; but after sometime I got so lost that I thought it was best to enjoy the scenes unfolding in front of me than memorizing history. What struck me was the beautiful wall art and graffiti’s. They were of all shapes and sizes. Some had only letters while some depicted designs or even scenes of Indian mythology in various hues. Tourists were learning how to fly kites from the locals and it seemed they enjoyed it a lot. A little further ahead, boatmen were cleaning their boats, cows and washing their clothes simultaneously. Looking at a very colorful structure I climbed up some stairs, only to be chided by the locals for not opening my shoes. It was a temple and one which looked very beautiful and unique with a bright red roof nestled between endless stretches of beige color ghats. At some point scenes of cows, buffaloes and dogs hit my eyes; but the very next moment it shifted to beautiful paintings put up for sale right in the middle of a certain ghat. Then came the burning ghat where someone’s soul was being put to rest. Finally after a long but interesting walk, we reached Assi Ghat and boarded a boat. I was even interested to try my hands at the oars but my friends probably did not want to die by drowning in the Ganges.

 

Wall Painting: Scenes from the Ghats II
Scenes from the Ghats III
The Boat Ride on the Ganges

We were well on time for the Ganga arati to find seats for ourselves. What followed next would be etched in our memories forever. At least, I would not let my friends erase it from theirs for a long time.

Varanasi Diaries: #Entry 2- The City of Temples

I woke up the next morning to the sound of the alarm I had set on my mobile phone. It was a day to explore and witness the grandeur of the city of Varanasi- a day to explore the temples of education and faith. My friend, who was on a vacation to Kolkata, had two huge suitcases accompanying her. She wanted to drop them off at her hostel and this was the perfect excuse for me to go to the Benaras Hindu University (BHU) also known as the Kashi Hindu Vishwavidyalay. BHU is one of the oldest universities in India and one which is extremely coveted for its high standards of education.

Kashi Hindu VishwaVidyalay/ Benaras Hindu University (BHU)

We skipped breakfast and hastily got ready to go to the campus and boarded an auto for Lanka (not Ravan’s Lanka), of course, and reached within fifteen minutes through the rugged and rustic roads. We preferred to walk it down to her hostel and she explained some of the major buildings that fell en route. We arrived at her hostel where some familiar faces greeted her. After accomplishing the task that we initially came to BHU for, we set out for exploring the city. My friend insisted on trying the Malaiyo, (a sweet dessert made of malai and topped with dry fruits). Initially I thought it might be heavy, but one spoon of malaiyo and I instantly fell in love with it.

Malaiyo

After a hearty breakfast, we proceeded towards the Assi Ghat. I had heard that there is a Morning Arati in Varanasi which takes place in Assi Ghat but we just could not manage to get up on time to witness it. Nevertheless, it was as beautiful as I could have ever imagined. Lines of boats were parked near the shores. A few handfuls were out on the waters touring tourists and photographers. I saw a flock of birds encircling the sky at a distance. They were making a wonderful pattern over the sky. The temples in the ghat were filled with devotees and a few people were sitting and sunbathing in the January sun on the ghat. We stayed there for about half an hour before making our way out.

Tulsi Manas Mandir

We got on a hand- pulled rickshaw to take us to some of the most famous temples of the city. The Durga Mandir with its own temple pond attracted my attention a lot. Unfortunately, as is with most temples, photography inside the premise was not allowed. I went inside, took a tour and came outside. It was a beautiful red colored temple. We then moved onto the Tulsi Manas Mandir.  The walls of this temple were inscribed with versus from the  Ramcharitmanas in Sanskrit. Outside the temple, miniature statues depicting scenes from the Ramayana was positioned at frequent intervals of each other.

Photo Courtesy: Sumedha Bhattacharya

I was rather interested to take a photograph of me in a yogic position and requested my friend to click a photograph which she obligingly did. Our next destination was the Tridev Mandir where all three deities – Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh– are worshipped. Interestingly the stairs of this temple had carvings resembling Mughal architecture.

Tridev Temple

We made a quick stop to Godhulia because I wanted to buy some little curios for my family back home; and what better than the main market of Varanasi to help me decide on the gifts to bring back home. After finishing my shopping, I even took a minute out to visit the Brihaspati temple before heading back to the hostel.

Brihaspati Temple

We reached Zostel around 12:30 pm and decided to take rest before venturing out for lunch. Also, we were to be joined by another friend of ours. His travels were very unique in its own way and would make anyone burst out laughing.