Many years ago a Kashi Yatra was considered a difficult journey from which many would not return. It was also considered like the final journey. With all the worldly developments, today it is considered an agenda on a travel itinerary. Like I had mentioned in one of my earlier blog’s, I firmly believe that there is nothing called coincidence, incidents in life that are to happen will happen, the only aspect that will separate or join them is ‘Time’. Like every project planning is inherently uncertain in nature, Life’s Master Project Plan is only uncertain to the individual. After having lived in Kolkata for 25 years, I had never visited Benaras or even thought about it. However the last one year there was an inherent urge to spend some time in Varanasi. Just to clarify, Kashi is known by many names. No one really knows how old this place is. Historians could have defined an age based on various tests and findings. I certainly think it is much older than what we know of. IIT Kharagpur recently declared ”Varanasi, the holy town has been a continuous human settlement since the days of the Indus Valley Civilization, around 6000 years ago.”
Someone had told me many years back that one cannot be in a place until the place wants you to be there. Although at that time I had taken it with mere shake of my head, over the last few years, I have been keenly observing this phenomena of being at places when one least expected, meeting with all kinds of people(who somehow was there at that ‘Time’), expecting to meet someone and the person not there(and deep within I really did not want to meet the person!), coming across different kinds of information which made no sense at that ‘Time’, gaining skills which will have no use in this life(atleast at that ‘Time’ it looked like)………. and as ‘Time’ passed by each of these prior events had something to contribute to the present, stuff that looked stupid and made no sense, just fell in place – The Master Project Plan. So the time has come for the visit to Kashi, the visit that will ignite invisible sparks within……..
The Varanasi plan was for about 10 days. The few people who came to know of the plan, asked “Ten days????? What are you going to do ?” I do not know was my answer, which was true. I had some plans for some photography and sight seeing, apart from that nothing really for 10 days. Was travelling along with a cousin who is an experienced professional photographer. We arrived late in the evening after a long train journey, a ‘negotiated auto’ drive and finally arriving at Godaulia Chowk, where our guest house representative met us to take us to the stay. After walking for a couple of minutes on the road, we got into the narrow alley. In the dim street lights one gets to see closed shops on both sides, resting cows, dogs both moving around and lying and some casual walkers. Since our guide was in a rush had to keep pace with him and our luggage, and ensure that we do not get lost!!!!
The next day morning stepping out of my hotel alley, into a main alley, I was confronted by a speeding two wheeler. To avoid being hit I quickly jumped aside; as I raised my head to look, my eyes made contact with the large black eyes of a calm huge cow whose eyes had the un-said words ‘ बेटा, लगता हैं नए हो बनारस में. कोई बात नहीं , एक दो दिन में आदत पद जायेगा.‘(looks like you are new in banaras, don’t worry you will get used to this in a day or two). Slowly took the space between the cow and the right wall to move forward, to find another speeding two wheeler almost in front, this time kind of squeezed myself to the wall and the bike passed through. Like the cow before this time there was a dog facing who had saved itself from the bike. Again the unsaid words ‘ ज्यादा फिकर मत करना, सिर्फ सामने से हट जाना ‘(don’t bother much, just don’t get in their way). Another step and almost missed stepping into dog excreta, so the next few minute were spend in hop, skip, and jump saving oneself from different forms of excreta, slush and what not. By this time reached a slightly wider place in the alley and heaved a sigh of relief, looked above to thank who ever, and lo behold, so many monkeys around, watching all the fun, chuckling to themselves, these beings think that they are the most evolved and call us primates!!! Bringing the vision down to eye level, was wonderstruck with numerous shops on both sides of the alley. From eateries, serving local delicacies, to provision stores, to hair cutting saloons, to shops selling musical instruments, clothes, artifacts, and the list goes on; amongst these were people’s houses. However the most interesting was the numerous small temples, almost every shop or house had their own exclusive small temple. After spending couple of minutes more managed to reach the main road leading to the Dashashwamedh Ghat, supposedly the most happening ghat after Manikarnika…
Walked slowly down to the Ghat and had the first glimpse of the Majestic Ganga. The mighty Ganga arises in the imposing Himalayas, as Bhagirathi from the foot of the Gaumukh Glacier at Gangotri, about 3900 m above sea level. (note : Gaumukh is the second largest glacier of India after Siachen.) The Bhagirati is joined by the Alakananda at Devaprayag. From Devaprayag the river acquires the name of Ganga, flows south then east through the Gangetic Plains of Northern India and then Bangaladesh emptying itself into the Bay of Bengal through the vast Ganga delta wherein lies Sunderban. Sunderbans, a complex ecosystem comprising one of the three largest single tracts of mangrove forests of the world. Apart from this it is also noteworthy that the Ganga is the third largest river in the world by discharge.
The Dashawamedh Ghat is the popular and busiest amongst the ghats. The name Dash-Ashwamedh is too have been derived after yagna or offerring by Lord Brahma that consisted of 10 horses!
Slowly walking down the steps of the ghat one gets the first glimpses of the Sadhus and the Panda’s (also know as Tirtha purohitas). As the feet soaks in the cool waters of the Ganga, there is an associated quick flow of coolness through the body. Cupping both palms together to form a bowl, I quickly gather some water,……. it is crystal clear despite all the activities of devotees having their quick dips nearby. It is said that the waters of the Ganga have an inherent capability to keep itself clean. After spending a couple of minutes decided to visit the Lord at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Walked from the ghat towards Godaulia Chowk, the entrance to the temple comes on the way. It is said that there was no road here earlier and this used to be confluence place of the Ganga and Godaulia river(before 1863). The Godaulia was originally a stream by name Godavari that drained from the Veni lake(now this place is called Benia), and the city of Varanasi was derived from “Baranasi” the capital of the Kashi kingdom, a magnificent city which had walls 12 leagues around(a league is about 5.6 km).
Kashi yatra cannot be summarised in one episode…. so will come back later with more,until than लोकाः समस्ताः सुखिनो भवन्तु (Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhanvantu)