Friday, March 7, 2014

Varanasi Diary, Day 2: The city that lives for the dead

Diffused sunrise from the hotel balcony

1st March: The sunrise in Varanasi is supposed to be a spectacular sight from the Ghat side as the onset of activities among the populace starts with a Surya-Pranam (prayer to the sun god) at the bathing steps. We were not as lucky as the sky was still cloudy and the sun refused to appear although it did wash the area with light diffused as if from a bright ceiling-lamp. The morning started with a stroll down the Ghats and then up the stone-steps of Daswashyamedh , the holiest ghat, for the vegetarian breakfast at a road side eatery & down the same steps again for a stroll upto the Manikarnika Ghat where flames on the pyres have never ceased since the crematorium’s inception centuries, if not civilisations, earlier. Varanasi is considered among the frontrunners for the oldest city in the world dating back to 8000 years. Frommer’s travel-guide on India has a quaint quotation of Mark Twain on Varanasi. When Mark Twain travelled to Varanasi in early nineteenth century, he found the city “older than history, older than tradition, older even than legends and it looks twice as old as all of them put  together.”

The bank opposite
The burning ghat had seven pyres simultaneously lit & the corpses , neatly decked and covered (parceled if I may obliquely state), went on arriving. The ashes  were taken away three hours later for immersion  in the river. On the north corner of the ghat, boats were anchoring themselves . These were boats full of wooden logs that were being delivered at the ghat itself. By this team the sun was beating down upon us . The heat from its rays felt  as high as that of the flames on the pyres. We decided to head back to our hotel in Chousatti ghat for freshening up with a bath, a shot of gin and a light lunch.
Aarti at Daswashyomedh Ghat
As evening dusked its way , we headed for the daily performance of Aarti (evening prayer) at the Daswashyomedh ghat with  synchronized aarti from five Pujaris(priests) followed by the Bhajans (devotional songs). The chaos and the bustling from the city where people from all communities, caste, creed, regions of India (and abroad) congregate here daily was surprisingly absent during the progress of the Aarti only to be drowned by the chorus of the Bhajans blaring over the loudspeakers ,soon after.  

Varanasi traffic

Back inside the chaos of the city after the performance, we called it a day after a quick Thandai (a cool drink made of milk & hemp leaves) at a shop and a trudge on the rickshaw amidst a drizzle & Varanasi traffic.  The sky seemed to be clearing after the cessation of rain as we made plans to visit Sarnath, the next day.

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