Varanasi - a holy experience

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Varanasi was on top in my list of must-see places in 2015. Had spent hours reading books and blogs about the city, people and the ghats. I knew the spiritual importance of the place and the holy connection it shares with the Hindu religion, also have learned that Sri Adi Shankaracharya stayed in this place and composed Manisha Panchakam and the Kashi Panchakam during his stay. Finally, in December 2015, my dream to visit this place came true.

In summary, I took a holy bath in the river Ganga, visited a few temples, strolled along the ghats, saw the bodies burning, met local people, witnessed the Ganga aarti, tried local food, lassi, Banarasi paan and took some photographs.

There are hundreds of great articles which cover Varanasi in detail. Also, there are dozens of articles about water pollution, dead bodies, blind beliefs and making fun of naked sadhus. It would have been nice if the place was less polluted. However, Varanasi in 2015 is not like how it was before. I see Varanasi as a great place, despite all that. I respect people of every religion and their culture. In this post, have described the place very less, but have shared the pictures and moments I remember.

Early morning at Dashashwamedh ghat, approached an old boatman. Made a 400 rupee deal. Started a long two-hour boat ride to capture the morning life.

Blue life at Ganga. These birds are already hunting for food.

It was a manual boat so the ride was cool and lazy. A motor boat is not that great if your primary objective is to take photographs. The boatman was ready to go in any direction I wanted. While I was busy capturing the ghats and the river, he was explaining the importance of them.

A new day had just begun. I could see people taking holy bath in the freezing river, a man feeding the dogs, boats around, panoramic view of ghats, shopkeepers getting ready to open their tea stalls and a lot of other activities. Below are few other photographs. Some of them were captured from the boat while others from the banks of the river after I asked the boatman to stop for a small tea break.

Bathing in Ganga is considered sacred. Many believe that their sins get washed away.

"King Bhagirath did Tapas (deep meditation) to bring the Holy Ganga to earth in order to wash the ashes of his ancestors and free them from sin. Bhagirath's wish was granted and Ganga was released from the heavens to earth. But the speed at which she descended to earth was capable of destroying everything on the way. So, to save the world, Lord Shiva slowed her down using his long hair. The already holy Ganga was considered even more sacred since she descended directly from Lord Shiva's head. As the sole purpose of her coming to earth was to wash the sins of Bhagirath's ancestors, people believe that a single dip in Ganga washes their sins" - as narrated by the boatman.

The Holy Dip. This man said that he takes a dip every morning and prays god for the well-being of his family.

On the way back, just in time, sun was checking-in. It was beautiful to watch, a warm feel, much more than this photograph.

The golden Ganga at Dashashwamedh ghat soon after the sunrise

This was the view from a roof-top restuarant.

Roof top view of Ganga

In Varanasi, getting locked in a luxury hotel room for hours won't be any fun. Wandering through the narrow streets is the best way to explore. I experienced it.

Ghats of Varanasi

Varanasi is known for the ghats. Ghats are the riverfront steps leading to the banks of the River Ganga. There are more than 80 ghats in Varanasi. Each of them has a little story behind. I saw twenty of them, but the most important ones to visit are Dashashwamedh Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Scindia Ghat, Maan-Mandir Ghat, Lalita Ghat and Assi Ghat.

Ghats of varanasi

Strolling through the ghats in the evening is the best thing to do. Capture the sunset, watch the boys playing cricket on the riverside, buy a painting, have a cup of tea, sit, meditate, relax, watch the tourists, talk to holy sadhus or do whatever you like. Here are some of the moments I captured.

In the evening, paintings exhibited in a ghat grabbed my attention. Prices of each were different. I did not buy any. However, the shopkeeper allowed me to take a picture.

For Sale. Paintings from the students of Banaras Hindu University.

In my next post, will write more about my experience in Varanasi and share pictures of Ganga Aarthi and Manikarnika Ghat.


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