City of Gods – A trip to Varanasi

Varanasi is an Indian city situated on the banks of the river Ganga in the state of Uttar Pradesh. It is also know as Kashi in India and is the holiest of the seven sacred cities in Hinduism. It is said that if a Hindu dies and is cremated in Varanasi, he is bound to get moksha or salvation. Varanasi has another star attraction. It is one of the best places for a street and documentary photographer to be at. The hues, the unplanned compositions that form into you eyes when you turn your head to any of the directions in this city full of chaotic symphony of the never ending flow of humans, chanting hymns or yelling at each other who are the very citizens and guests and finally pilgrims and travelers in the very “City of Gods” – this one place a true photographer has to experience.

I was actually passing by the city where I was to meet my aunt, Rani, my dad’s younger sister before we left to Delhi for Diwali. It was exactly 18 years that I last met her as she had never left the holy city during the time. She was one of the inmates of the Ramakrishna Math in Varanasi. She volunteered her life to social service and thus was in the Math since then. For going a family life, a normal life to be precise, she helps in the Math’s hospital in the Radiology department, taking care of inmates and other patients alike. I found it really hard to understand what went to her mind when she took this decision of her’s, but now, when I pen down about, I understand the state of mind she is in and actually meaning of what her sacrifice.

The next day we arrived in the city, I made a trip down to the ghats i.e the different openings to the holy river where people perform various rituals.

Banks of Varanasi

Banks of Varanasi

I choose a relatively “free time” when the crowd on the banks will be a bit less engaged as I was not really sure what my plan was and what would be the atmosphere. As I reached one of Ghats which were more or less the certain opening to the banks, I walked down to see if what I had seen in several motion pictures about this very city matched to what I was seeing now..

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Getting ready for the evening aarti

This is the supposed venue of the evening aarti. This aarti or prayers are offered to the river Gangs. When I reached the venue, which was around 5:30 in the evening, I saw this particular place being set for the prayers. I was very keen to see this ceremony as it has the priests hold huge lamps that used to be blazing with fire and turning them in ways indeed scary. As it wasn’t time, I wandered a bit more into this ancient city

Life in rewind at Prayag Ghat

As I reached Prayag Ghat, I switched on to my 35mm lens because I seriously felt I had time traveled 50 years or beyond backwards, looking at my surroundings. All looked so very antique. Everywhere I turned my camera, I could find a magnificent composition awaiting my release. It would be less to say that I actually saw most of the scene in monochrome. That was the scene there. Utterly a street photographer’s paradise. The slow by equally fast paced people, some offering prayers, other going about with the work, made the perfect subjects to my composition.

Palaces of the Holy CityAs they came. As they built palaces from dust..

I managed to get a nice little boat ride down the Ganges. As I went down stream, many huge and magnificent, what looked like forts but was corrected by my boatman that these were palaces, appeared on the banks. As I asked my boatman more about these huge palaces, he told me that earlier during the days of kings and princes, these kings and princes used to come down to the holy city to offer prayers. And as they came, they occupied a certain part of the bank and built their palaces or forts. I really wished if I had the opportunity to walk into these structures and have a look at the architecture. ‘Truly luxurious pilgrimage’, I thought…

After a long day. Seen on the banks of the holy river, their means of life

Few colorful boats, on which depend the lives of thousands of people, the residents of the “City of Gods”

Different stairs of life..

As I went down the holy river, I took random snaps to what seemed to appeal to my eyes. I saw  this wonderful flight of stairs and pressed the shutter. Its after I came back to my room and that I realized that the it was a foreigner lady who was dressed like those who had come to India, probably as a tourist, and was now smoking weed.

   Sunlight reflecting in the waters of the river Ganges at Varanasi

All that remained was faith.

The boat ride along the Ganges brought me different amazing sights to me and my camera. One such sight was this cluster of temples. Their appearance seemed they were quite ancient. It was amazing to see that these structures of faith withstood the test of time. All thanks to the faith the people had in them.

Western Wave

Different people we meet on the river of life

These were a few of the numerous tourists who visit Varanasi every year. People have a very wrong misconception that tourists come here to enjoy themselves, wear bright yellow and orange clothes which have the letter ‘Om’ printed on it and smoke some weed, which is completely untrue. Yes there might be a few people life that. But there is a huge fraction of tourists who actually come to study the ancient but amazing religion & culture, those who come to this photographic paradise and others who actually are enlightened by the different teaching of the religion. If you ask me if these people where in the second list of people I mentioned, I really couldn’t say with out a personal chat with them. Anyways it was delightful to see people from different parts of the world come, interact and mix with this amazing culture of India.

As the cycle of life ends, another starts

This ghat (Harishchandra Ghat) is a famous one for cremations. It is said that if a person dies at Kashi, he is bound to reach heaven. Though its a lovely though, this process has left the river very dirty. Many things like plans to clean this holy river have come into action. Let’s just hope that they do it on time or else this beautiful piece of nature will slowly meet its end.

A much polluted river Ganges

Much of the river has been polluted by the dumping of sewage, partially cremated bodies and other junk which has adversely affected the marine life as well as the people who are dependent on this huge ecosystem. The governments, both from the past and present, claim to be working on the improving the condition of the river but not much of this “work” seems to be seen in real as in paper. The Ganges River dolphin or Susu, lives in one of the most densely populated regions of the world are one of the endangered species and suffers loss of habitat due in large part to the creation of dams and irrigation projects on the river.

Aurangazeb Mosque

There has always been religious tensions between the different religious communities and Varanasi is no exception to it. The two blasts, in 2006 & 2010, has put the region on alert. People still fail to understand that innocent people are the ones that suffer in the political and religious clashes which are orchestrated by few selfish people, during the present times and even in the past. People stop being human by such deeds.

At Pragya Ghat

The sun setting on the “City of Gods”

And thus ended by trip in the City of Gods. I believe religion is good when it is treated as the same way as culture. We have and Indian culture. An American culture. In Indian itself there are so many varieties. Why not see religions as a means to understand what you fellow human being thinks of the supreme power, the one I like to call “The Energy”. Christian name and worships him as they way they do. Hindus do it their way. So do Muslims and all the rest. Why don’t learn all these different way and live in peace, just way you adjust to the thoughts and needs of members in your family? There is a lot to learn in this world. And what finally remains is the truth and knowledge.

With this, I take my next road to some other place, near or far, waiting for that perfect moment to strike – both in my frame and the thoughts in my mind the next time it write

TG

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