ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design

2. Varanasi, where present meets the past

Sunrise on ghats
1 / 11
Varanasi for ever
Holy bath
3 / 11
Varanasi for ever
Aarti
4 / 11
Varanasi for ever
Kashi's Lingas
5 / 11
Varanasi for ever
Sari drying on the ghat
6 / 11
Varanasi for ever
Milkmen in Varanasi lane
7 / 11
Varanasi for ever
Cremation Ghat
8 / 11
Varanasi for ever
Benares by the river
9 / 11
Varanasi for ever
Dashashvamedha Ghat
10 / 11
Varanasi for ever
Ghats
11 / 11
Varanasi for ever

Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” – Mark Twain.
Nonetheless, if you like museums, Varanasi is not the city for you. There’s no monument under which you can reckon the past – but every single stone is deeply entwined in it. With the city to the side and the river to the other, along the banks where the sun rises, life swarms about and you are spellbound by the infinite rituals celebrated everyday by thousands of pilgrims. As the goddess Ganga placidly flows, you meet the Gange, her holy temple where freedom dwells and the future is at hand.
Benares, another name for Varanasi or Kashi, attracts and repel western travelers. Walking between her narrow and shady alleys congested with people and animals, watched by the still eyes of stony idols, you feel like you’re landed in a different time and dimension.
An Hindu, instead, sees the city with different eyes. In common they share the majestic views of the ghats, funeral pyres made of wood laved by the river; alleys facing small temples, mosque’s minarets outlining against the Hindu golden domes. And, of course, the somehow charming, motley chaos of little markets.


To start appreciating the holy city of Shiva, you need time and open-mindedness. If you don’t have time enough, arrange a boat trip at dawn, and you will start figuring out what I’m talking about. Devotees bathing in the golden Gange, cheerful children playing on the banks, colorful saris hanged to dry and good-natured cow buffaloes soaking in the river… and this is only the beginning! There’s always a number of holy men meditating and priests chanting their Vedas in front of ancient, decaying palaces. In every corner there’s a temple with statues covered in flowers, and the lingam are omnipresent. These are symbolic representations of Shiva resembling a male reproductive organ.


For the Hindus, Benares is a door leading to other dimensions known only by symbols and myths. The city is an avatar for the whole civilization. For a pilgrim, Varanasi has to do with everything that is sacred and blessed, the quintessence of every holy destination, of every river and every god. Shiva chose this city as his home and he never leaves it, transforming it into a crossroad between the material world and the spiritual one. If you die in Varanasi, you’re free from the life cycle.
It is said that this is the place where the flaming linga (Jyotirlinga) appeared as a pillar of light.

Once Brahma, the creator, and Vishnu, the preserver of the cosmic equilibrium, discussed on whom of them was the most powerful. As the quarrel was getting worse, a giant pillar of light emerged from the earth. Brahma went looking for the upper end of the pillar as Vishnu went downwards. But the quest was in vain. After several years, the two gods reunited where everything started. Vishnu admitted the incredible supremacy of the pillar, but Brahma lied, telling the other he was able to see the end of it.
And thus from the scorching fire appeared Shiva, who praised Vishnu for his honesty and cut one of the heads of Brahma, staining himself with the blood of a Brahmin. Brahma’s skull attached to the hand of Shiva, who started his atonement pilgrimage.
After centuries he returned to Varanasi, and Brahma’s skulls fell off his hand. The holy myth of linga starts and ends in Varanasi, even though there are many other places where it is said that the jyotirlinga has appeared (3 in the same city and 12 in India) – but Varanasi is the only city worshipped for it. This is Kashi, the city of light.
There are many stories, and each pilgrim knows only part of it. But everyone of them can feel the power coming from this marvelous city of lore and tradition. Maybe we don’t share their faith, but getting in touch with their knowledge might help us exploring the mystery that lays between the earth and the sky, where Varanasi welcomes every traveler of destiny.

Book recommendations:
If you want to know more about this city, read “Benares, the City of Light”, by Diana Eck. Between the novels, I recommend Mishra Pankaj’s “The Romantics” where the authors creates a bridge between India and the western world, and Raja Rao’s “On the Ganga Ghat”.

 

Credits
Morning on the ghat and Holy bath by Nomad Tales
Aarti and Ghats of Benars by Parha Sarathi Sahana
Kashi:linga by Aleksandr Zykov

Sari on ghat and Manikarnika ghat di Vasenka
Milkmen by Fabrizio Cornalba
Ghatss by Christopher
Dashashvamedh ghat by Adamina

  Creative Commons License

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