Gangaa Taranga Ramaneeya Jataa Kalaapam
Gauree Nirantara Vibhooshita Vaamabhaagam
Naaraayana Priyamananga Madaapahaaram
Vaaraanasee Purapatim Bhaja Vishvanaatham.
Adore Shiva who is the Lord of city named Varanasi,
Who is the lord of the world,
Whose tress-locks are held together by the beautiful waves of Ganges,
Whose left is side is adorned continuously by the presence of Sri Gauriji,
Who is dear to Narayana,
And who absolves the pride of Kamadeva (Ananga).
(From Kashi Vishvanath Ashtkam)
I have always had a deep desire to have an intimate view of the city so closely interwoven with the attributes of Lord Shiva. Yes, I am talking about Kashi or Benaras or Varanasi which is one of the most sacred and ancient cities on this planet. The city that is closest to the heart of “Bhole Baba” (Lord Shiva) who loves aimless wandering here and there rapt in his own thoughts, caring a damn about life around him. No wonder, the denizens of this city have developed more or less the similar traits.Full of life and masti (happiness) we can find them enjoying “Kachauri and Jalebi ” (hot favourite dish of localities) at every nook and corner of the city side by side representative of Lord Shiva-the bulls.
I was in Varanasi to meet my sister in law working at BHU(Benaras Hindu University). Back at Allahabad I was dying to take a break from the hectic writing schedules. So when I got the invitation from my sister I was on cloud nine. Sometimes we need to break the chain of episodes of monotonous life. I should tell my readers that my relatives belong to Varanasi but missed connections and rush of life prevented me from landing in the city. I have been to the city numerous times but failed to mingle with happenings there owing to concerns of life.The city that I admired and loved a lot was still a stranger until the present visit.
The train journey was a fascinating one. I love to visit via passenger trains and not express trains in short journeys. That allows me to have a glimpse of the simple life of ordinary citizens. Most beautiful was the sight of Ganges as the train crossed the Jhunsi Bridge. The serene waters of Ganges was quite a rejuvenating experience. The greenery that prevailed on this route was another thing that gave me undistorted pleasure. I really enjoyed various eatables on various stations be it “garam aaloo pakodas” at beautiful Gyanpur station or hot tea at Madho Singh Station!! The train compartments on this route are full of interesting activities with sellers selling one eatable or the other.
The most beautiful thing about these cute small stations is that they take you back to India of 19th century. They have retained their rustic touch amidst the currents of globalization. The stations still use old mode of ensuring smooth departure of trains. Some of them still have mud made platforms instead of the cemented ones. The arrival of the Varanasi station put an end to this short and beautiful journey.
The auto ride from Varanasi station to BHU make me realize that face of city has changed a lot. The rustic touch I intercepted in the train journey gave way to hi fi glamour initiated by the waves of globalization. The big shopping malls selling branded jeans etc., the big car showrooms, the high profile restaurants and girls in trendy dresses driving fast latest brand of vehicles with or without male partners were enough to make me realize that the city has given way to latest changes. It was on the way to become a clone of any Western city. Thanks to ancient roots in form of huge number of temples scattered in the city the switch-over is a slow one.
My sister was happy to see me. She informed me about the monkey menace. She told me that a pack of “chura and matar” (Poha-Green Pea Dish) was lifted by the monkey some days back. She had brought it to prepare morning snacks for me !!! That’s why I found most of the main doors in her locality closed !! However, this explanation was a facade.Varanasi, of late, has become hunting ground of Mafias. The daughters and sons of wealthy citizens are abducted by them and are left only after being delivered a huge ransom. The impact of their menace has made the citizens to be extra cautious. The doors remain shut !
I had an opportunity to visit Sampurnanand Sanskrit University there. The auto ride from BHU to that university was pretty melodious one !!! I came to hear many interesting so-called bhojpuri (local dialect in Varanasi region) songs like “lagai deeha cholia me hook rajaji ” (fasten up the blouse hook) with passengers that included pretty girls as well !!!! It was a pretty interesting sight to note huge crowd outside a theater showing a Bhojpuri movie !! After all, visiting a theater in disc age is not at all a a desirable option. Anyway, the mind came to recollect the taste of delicious Benarasi Chaat(an edible made of mashed potato) which I came to taste on landing in the city. I am great lover of Aaloo Chaat. Not a single shop be it in Lucknow or Allahabad has missed my eyes !! However, to be honest, the taste that Benarasi Chaat offers is simply nonpareil.
The university had now arrived. It’s a Sanskrit University but I found that “Mukhya Bhavnam” (main building ) is old British age building !! Just after that main building there is the statue of one of the British principals R alph T. H. Griffith !!! As per historical records the Britishers passed a resolution in year 1791 for establishment of Sanskrit College. This college in the year 1958 attained the status of University via the efforts of Sampurnanand. The place still retains the charm of ancient age !!! The university’s office is devoid of basic facilities but the staff tried its level best to solve my problem !! I returned back from there with pleasant experience to see students discussing whether they should go in for “Jyotish ”(Astrology) or “Vedanta” (Branch Of Upanishads) or “Sahitya” (Literature) under a Vata Vriksha (Banyan tree)? Even the Benarasi Paan (betel leaf) that I was now chewing could not prevent me from smiling !!!
On the second day of my stay at Kashi , attended a lecture on Srimad Bhagavatam held inside the premises of BHU. My brother in law who works at BHU hospital made a memorable remark that you rarely find busy souls like doctors and senior medical college professors involved in making of such functions. The thought that “it happens only in Varanasi “flashed though my mind once he finished his remark !!! On way to Malviya Hall I noticed that attendants who have arrived with the patient were sitting in open at the premises of OPD. The hospital authorities at both Medical College in Allahabad and BHU Hospital in Varanasi should make proper arrangements for people who arrive with the patients.They should not be left at the mercy of Lord.
At the Malviya Hall where this lecture was organized is a very well maintained building.I was informed that Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya -the great Hindu reformer- used to stay here. I must say that doctors did a brilliant job. I found one group involved in musical rendering of Srimad Bhagavatam in Ram Charit Manas style. I was informed that it was first such attempt to sing it in that style !! A prominent citizen of the city recycled Sanskrit shlokas into language used by the Ramcharit manas !! The other group was taking care of the refreshments.
The students from music department of BHU made the evening quite a musical one.Someone from them sang this beautiful bhajan: Ek Radha Ek Meera, Dono Ne Shyam Ko Chaha, Antar Kya Dono Ki Chah Me Bolo, Ek Prem Diwani Ek Darash Deewani ( There are two lovers of Krishna Radha and Meera, Both are in deep love with Krishna, Now tell the difference in love of these two noble ladies ? One seeks deep love and the other seeks constant presence of the beloved ! ).The bhajan led to the lecture, whose essence was that ultimate aim of lower self is merger with the Greater self via the path of knowledge or path of devotion.
After attending the lecture not enough time was left to have the darshan (view) of Bhole Baba at New Vishvanath Temple inside the BHU premises.In fact, Lord Hanumana was more interested in seeing us than Bhole Baba (Lord Shiva) !! I was having a deep pain in one of my legs but I asked my brother in law not to miss the darshana of Hanumanji at Sankat Mochan Temple. Soon we were there. It was Saturday so there we a long line of devotees.
On the final day of the stay at this sacred city, I had planned to eat Kachauri Jalebi but my sister was adamant on making me taste home made Chola-Bhatura.She is a great cook.I had to give way to her delicious Chola Bhatura but since I had woken up early in a mad desire to eat Kachauri Jalebi I decided to have a morning walk on the streets of Varanasi. They say mornings of Kashi and evenings of Lucknow are awesome !!! True. The bells of temples added new dimension in the morning period !! The divinity seem to reverberate in the atmosphere ! !
However, the kid inside me asked the brother in law ,” The city’s landscape is filled with modern buildings but I fail to understand why the civic authorities have failed to construct proper roads ?” Some of the main roads are in very poor shape. Imagine the plight of new comer having a ride in overcrowded auto moving in fast speed on these routes. I saw one of the lady passengers asking the auto driver to take care of the potholes but that stupid driver cared a damn for advice !! My brother in law didn’t answer my question but asked me to take note of the fact that Varanasi has fallen in love with hospitals ! ! In his area alone there were numerous huge hospitals offering quality treatment !!!! The morning walk ended with some jalebis (sweet dish) minus kachauris within my belly !!!
In the evening that followed my great wish to see Ganga Aarti(prayer offered to Ganges) got fulfilled. We were soon at Dasaswamedh Ghat- one of the oldest and holiest Ghats of Benaras. The atmosphere there was so heavenly.The serene waters of Ganges,the chants of shlokas, the bright and beautiful faces of people gathered there and the spiritual stillness that permeated the ghat all combined to give an unique experience that’s very hard to define in words.
People from distant lands also looked so involved in the happenings there. I saw many of them in state of meditation !!! Some of them were busy clicking images while some of them were eager to drop a burning diya into the Ganges !! The Ganga Aarti was indeed a breathtaking one !! Such a pleasing sight for the eyes !! What else can eyes have more better than that ? When the Aarti finished, I felt a journey to paradise has ended !!
We were now at Godowlia.This is close to the Dasaswamedh Ghat. A wonderful place so full of life and colour. There was a huge crowd involved in various activities !!!! I was taken aback by the sight !!It appeared to me that whole city has arrived at Godowlia !! I mean this type of crowd in cities like Allahabad come out only during Dussehara but here I find same number of people at Godowlia without any specific purpose.However, I smiled inside.That’s the real spirit of Banarasis. They enjoy the life a lot. As I sipped the hot tea at one tea stall famous for special tea at Godowlia, I came to see life gaining life !!!