Slowly Down the Ganges

Kashi, Benares, Varanasi - Its all here kids playing cricket where ever they can, birds, dogs and cows competing for the bits of food swept up by perpetual teams of sweeper women

Older than history,
older than tradition,
older even than legend,
and looks twice as old as all of them put together.
-- Mark Twain

 

  • Ganges Image Gallery

    All senses are awakened in India. Cows block tiny passages, or lay idly in front of high speed internet shops. Signs advertise daily airport dropping and ayurvedic cures for your ailments. On the ghats, beggars, Sadhus, pilgrims, touts and tourists mingle easily. Bright red spots show the trail of betel chewers; cow patties and pigeon droppings lie right next to an impromptu samosa stand. Sadhus wait under their umbrellas for the faithful to arrive, or troll the steps posing for tourists and extracting their baksheesh.

    I start each day with a pocketful of carefully hoarded 10 and 20R notes never pay exact amount for anything, always break a 100 [$2] or 500 bill. Yet by days end, its gone given to Sadhus, random guides, altar attendants or for puja.


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    We approached through labyrinthine alleys and the Vishwanatha Gali or lane, then down the ghat steps to a large rowboat. First we drifted down to pass by the flames of the burning ghats at Marnikanika Ghat As we found later, such grounds are usually held to be inauspicious, and located on the fringes of cities, but the entire city of Shiva is regarded as Mahashamshana, the Great Cremation Ground for the corpse of the entire universe. The ghat is perpetually crowded with funeral parties, as well as the Doms, its Untouchable guardians, busy and preoccupied with facilitating final release for those lucky enough to pass away here

    Lying at the centre of the five tirthas, Manikarnika Ghat symbolizes both creation and destruction, epitomized by the juxtaposition of the sacred well of Manikarnika Kund, said to have been dug by Vishnu at the time of creation, and the hot, sandy ash-infused soil of cremation grounds where time comes to an end. In Hindu mythology, Manikarnika Kund predates the arrival of the Ganga and has its source deep in the Himalayas. Vishnu carved the kund with his discus, and filled it with perspiration from his exertions in creating the world at the behest of Shiva. When Shiva quivered with delight, his earring fell into this pool, which as Manikarnika - "Jeweled Earring" - became the first tirtha in the world.

    Our boatman then rowed back up the slow current to return in time for the evening Aarti ceremony at Dashashvemedha Ghat - A recent tradition, temples host outdoor evening aarti service attended by tourist and pilgrim alike 7 Brahmins preside on altars overlooking the river; most of audience rows up in boats

    Afterwards they progress through a series of hymns, chants with extreme bell ringing, conch blowing, drums, then incense and flaming candelabras. Streets lively in evening as we returned to our car and hotel

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