The holiest city of Hinduism
Varanasi is considered to be to longest continously inhabited city on earth. For a Hindu Varanasi is the holiest place in the world and also Lord Shiva has found his favourite place in the universe here. There is no way a city could be loaded with more importance.
It is the biggest wish of Hindu to find his final station of life in Varanasi, to be cremated at the ghats and to merge with the holy river Ganges. These, publicly shown, cremations take place 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
But against all odds, the mood in this city is not dark, sad or calm.
Life at the ghats
In Varanasi life takes place at the ghats. The Indian term “ghat” refers to the steps leading down to a holy water, in this case the river Ganges. Every ghat in Varanasi has got it’s own name and meaning. There are 88 ghats in Varanasi.
People meet here for many occasions. Especially religious ceremonies and rites are held here, like the washing. Dive in to the river three times and all your sins are blown away! Isn’t that a great feature of the river? No wonder that so plenty people come here to take a bath in these disgusting, dirty waters.
Apart from the performed religious rites the people also us the ghats for more profane things, like washing dishes, washing laundry, peeing, taking a shit, to meet and greet, to see and to be seen.
That all this functions at the same time can be traced back to the healing forces of the river – or the strong, unbreakable belief of the Hindus. For me it is unexplainable why the city is not destroyed by Lord Shiva – who must see every day how the holy river is becoming a holy stream consisting of garbage, urine, shit, dead animals, dead humans, oil, plastic etc. There must be some secret forces who hold everything together.
In Varanasi, unlike in other cities in india, where life on the street ends, when it gets dark, the ghats bloom. There are light shows, there is music, there is action going on. There is a strong vibe which is not good and not evil. There are still religious ceremonies with candles and prayers.
And every evening the famous ganga arti takes place at the Dashashwamedh Ghat.
Nowhere else in India you will see so many holy men like in Varanasi. They appear in different variations. Naked, dispossessed Sadhus, dressed in Orange, simple dressed spiritual seekers.
They all sacrifice their lifes to God. Some have been rich men before. So their sacrifice of abandoning all their possessions is earnest. But there are also pretenders, liars, fake holy men. And sadly you will find plenty of them. Bold men who open their hand and hope that others will fill it. It is not unprobable that such liars have been harsh criminals in another state, then fled to a holy place like Varanasi. This phenomenon is a big problem with the holy men in India. Sorry for the real spiritual seekers, who devote their lifes, but don’t trust anyone! It is too easy to become a holy men in India.
The other side
An excursion to the other side of the river can be an experience. You can find tranquility here and see the city from a different angle. You can still hear the soundscape coming from the ghats without being in the middle of all the trouble. From a save distance you can observe all this hustle and bustle.
But be aware that the stream can bring one or another piece of a dead body to this bank. So this excursion is not for the faint-hearted.
The city of the dead is a surpring vivid, pulsating, colourful and happy place. Like the river, which is always on the move, the city also never stands still, but is singing, dancing, painting, daying, living, changing constantly.
Plenty of street artists make the walls along the ghats their colourful, continously changing open air exhibition.