Painting a pacific picture that emits a radiant yet soothing vibe, the dusks and the dawns in the city of Banaras are pretty much the same. The busy town banked by the Holy Ganges, in spite of continual sprint & scuttle, secretes a sense of vitality that seems indispensable to the place. The mildness of the still waters and the chaos swarmed around the ghat construct a fine concoction of two facets, equally admirable.
While Banaras holds a religious prominence in its expanse, it has also been touted as a mystical place to explore. The consecrated waters of Ganga putative to wash one’s sin; the air that resonates marigold & delectable puri-bhaji; tiny shops on the pavement selling souvenirs indigenous to the region; the relentless tailbacks of rickshaws & tongas amid clogged streets and the sedentary Sadhus on the ghats who apparently seem to have known all about human agonies and charge only a few thousands to lead you to your path of salvation! Banaras has always enticed me for its liveliness.
Banaras has seen and taken a lot for decades. Words would hardly do justice to the aura confined in this 5000-year-old city. It has been believed to be the biggest cremation ground on earth for who will be cremated in the sacred soil of Kashi will be liberated from every cycle of birth and death and attain ‘Moksha’.
The most primitive thing in Vanarasi is perhaps the evening Aarti where the spectacle is peculiarly huge. The sight when thousands of diyas are set afloat in the holy Ganga is sure to entice your soul. The priests oscillating gigantic brass lamps to worship holy deities and pilgrims submerged in an earnest prayer. Bequeathed with magnificent scale and enchanting hymns & mantra, the air tends to infuse a verve of spirituality within oneself. Divine. Sacred. Sacrosanct! Such is Banaras.
The heritage – The architectural intelligence bestowed in the age-old temples and monuments embraces ancient tales be-holding their existence. Varanasi is encircled by a sacred path known as ‘Panchakroshi Parikrama’, which occurs within 5 kms radius of the city. The pilgrims walk past this circumference on foot and visit an array of 108 temples on their way. Other tourist spots include Vindyanchal – one of the 64 shaktipeeths in India, Chandra Prabha Sanctuary & Chunar fort.
The Craft – If you have an itch for art and craft, Sarai Mohana village is a place that has the finest artisans in the country. In a world which is predominantly reliant on radical machines to manufacture fabric, the craftsmen of this village still use good old handlooms to weave every thread with supreme skill & dexterity. The resultant masterpieces of Banarasi Sarees have, thus, become one of the most celebrated motifs across the globe. The golden brocade and finest quality of silk used in making one saree takes almost 10- 15 days (per piece) to extract the refined texture. No wonder, it is considered one of the most prized possession for every Indian woman.
The sunsets – I prefer sunrises to sunsets. Sunsets are usually unnerving to me but the one that Banaras gives you is strangely different. Especially the one that you experience on a boat ride, right in the middle of the sparkling waters. The crystallizing rays of the setting sun gradually merge with the hues of blue water, only to show up the next day. Just when the boatman scrolls you through one ghat to another, the serenity in your eyes multiplies manifold. The boat ride in Banaras is one of the best things to do and should not be missed at any cost.
The Food – One of the first few things you must treat your taste buds with is ‘Banarasi paan’. Thanks to Indian cinema for bringing this gem to the culinary hall of fame. Wrapped in fresh betel leaf and loaded with huge dolops of kalakand, the goodness served in this world famous paan is to die for. Even though the street jaunts sell the generic foodstuff – like puri bhaji, kachoris and khullad ki chai, it is the quality extended by fewer restaurants here that makes the dining spread worthwhile. Amongst famous few are Baati chokha on Puran das Road, Deena Chat Bhandar, The great kebab factory, Pizzeria Vaatika Café and are worth a visit.
Over the years, mankind has not left a stone unturned to temper the real essence of Banaras to serve their ulterior motives, both at financial and emotional levels. Be it pilgrims releasing their tension and life’s sins in the Ganges, along with oodles of waste and litter; or the priests who have made a well-connected posse to advertently squeeze money out of people’s pockets. Little do they know how God has an unconditional reverence that only demands faith.
The rationale to interpret Banaras is still to be devised. The treasures impregnated in its primaeval being seem to have never come to the surface. Surmounted by such transcendent ambience I dare not call the holy land spooky, but there is something tensed about Banaras. Extremely intense & palpable. Maybe because we have not been our best selves to the universe. Maybe this is how HE is reciprocating to indicate how the world needs to have a better understanding of humanity, adulation & reliance.
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