Wednesday, December 23, 2009

First trip to Varanasi

So finally I got to see the city that I have been longing to see since a long time - Varanasi. But I had never thought that the city would actually be my home for coming 1-2 years. My family shifted there 2 weeks back and it was my first trip to home since then. After having visited the place, I have mixed feelings.

Varanasi is like a very big village. The roads are broken and narrow. Even the main roads are in a similar condition. Then there are all these small side alleys branching out from each road. And if you enter them, you would find that they keep on stretching to reveal countless homes, both big and small, and shops. At times, they narrow down and at other times they widen up. Because of the roads, the city just looks too conjusted. In fact more conjusted than Agra or Meerut or even Kanpur.

But this discomfort eases out once you visit all the temples and ghats on Ganga. We first visited the Kaal Bhairav temple and then went to see the famous Kashi Vishwanath temple. Kashi Vishwanath is secured like a fortress not just because of its importance but also because of the fact that it is bordered by a mosque on one side. While walking through the alleys,you could see the tomb of the mosque standing tall against the temple. There were around 3 security checks at different places following which we reached the main temple. After all this, I was expecting some grand statues or big shivlings only to find a small shivling, sorrounded by garlands and drowned in water and milk. That 1 minute darshan just didn't invoke any relegious sentiments. You stand in a queue, touch the stone, take the prasad and then go out of the temple. That is it. I have always wondered how blindly we put our trust in an object as inanimate as a stone. Is this the way to connect to the god ? To me, it sometimes looks like an easy escape route to convince yourself that you are still devoted to the almighty.

After that, we went to the dasaswamedh ghat, passing through a narrow intricate networks of cobbled streets lined on both sides by shops. Every evening at 6:30, Ganga Aarti takes place at the ghat. And this is something that you would not want to miss. We hired a boat, and witnessed the whole aarti from the river. Five preists with big diyas, hundreds of people sitting on the stairs behind them with temples and halogen lights and other edifices forming the background, and many other people sitting on other boats making the forground is a spectacle in itself. The yellow colour of lights and fire in the dark black night is mesmerizing. I regret not taking my camera there. But I would certainly go there again the next time with a camera.

We took a small boat ride along the ghats. From the distance we could see the Manikarnika ghat. This is the place where the cremation takes place all day long. And even through the night. In fact, it is the only place where cremation takes place at night. From the distance, we could see 4 funeral pyers burning at the same time. The bodies once burnt are then drowned in the Ganga.

The next day, we went to see some more temples. And on the last day, we went to Sarnath, the place where Buddha gave his first sermon. Its around 8-10 kms from Varanasi and takes around half hour to reach there. We saw the place where Buddha gave the sermon. In that place stands a stupa - Dhamekh Stupa. On one side of it are the remains of the ancient monastries. This is where an Ashoka Pillar is present. On the other side is the main Buddhist temple. And on another side is a Jain temple of Shreyansnath, one of the Jain tirthankars. Varanasi is a holy city not just for Hindus and Buddhists but also for Jains. Four of the tirthankars were born in and around Varanasi.

But the main attraction of Sarnath for me was the Archaeological Museum. This is where you could find the Lion Capital, the national emblem of our country. You can also see other artifacts, some as old as 3rd century B.C.

The city of Varanasi might not be a good one to live in(I do realize that it is actually too early to make some comments) but it really desrves at least 1 visit. There are enough places in the city to consume at least 3 days. I would really suggest everyone to go there once. See the temples, boat in Ganga, relish the sunrise and savour the chills of the sunset.

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