Monday, April 14, 2014

The Seven Kashis

Varanasi, better known in India as Kashi, is the world's oldest city, and has been the oldest continually habituated place.

Kashi has several other sobriquets - the world's most congested city, the holiest city, the most densely populated city, the city with the worst traffic, and more - depending on the view of the visitor. And each visitor that lands in this amazing city has a different experience. There is something magical about the city that keeps pulling people back again and again - in spite of the ignominy that expects only death-related visits to be associated with this wonderful city.

For me, Kashi isn't one city, but Seven.

The 7 Kashis -

- The Kashi of the Ganges
- The Kashi of the mystic
- The Kashi of the damned
- The Kashi of the foodie
- The Kashi of the citizen
- The Kashi of the artist
- The Kashi of Shiva

The Kashi of the Ganges - Ganges, the holiest of the rivers in India, takes on a whole new persona as soon as it crosses Sangam at Allahabad. At Kashi, The Ganges is not just a river. It is the epitome of the city itself. Ganga is the first thing we look forward to on reaching the city, and the joy one experiences while gazing at the mother is inexpressible. Lifetimes can be spent on the ghats, and the Ganga's majesty is one of Kashi's greatest assets. Or rather, according to mythology, the reason Kashi is where it is, is because of the river! They're intertwined. The pitch of the boat, the swish of the oar, the plonk of the fish, the drift of the diyas, there is nothing like Kashi's Ganga anywhere in the world! Words don't do its majesty justice. From a new born's first bath, to the body's last rites, Ma Ganga is the heartbeat of Kashi, and of millions of its children from all over.

The Kashi of the Mystic - Mysticism is an integral part of Hinduism, and the home of the mystics is at Kashi. For all those people who're taken over by an urge to explore Hinduism, Kashi is their school. The same people who would gawk at a Naga Sadhu elsewhere wouldn't think twice if he is seen in Kashi, and that is quite amazing! From Aghoras to Nagas to Tantrics, Kashi is home for all. Annapurna feeds them all, at any time of the day or night. The banks of the Ganges, the sand bars in the middle of the river, the Temple itself, the forests surrounding the city, there is no dearth of places for the Mystics to practice his Sadhana; and they joyfully do so!

The Kashi of the Damned - From time immemorial, Kashi has always been the place to go and die. Hindu mythology is replete with sayings attributed to various gods and gurus, that when one leaves the body at Kashi, he attains Moksha and is freed of the endless circle of births and deaths. While the number of people taking that sentence at face value has reduced, there still are thousands of people waiting in Kashi for the call to come. While most people who wait are invalid, aged, and homeless, there are people who are still have strength in their limbs and spirit in their hearts, but yet choose to stay on at Kashi - lest the call come when they take a break to some other place! Rajas of erstwhile kingdoms have bestowed buildings on these damned, and since no one goes hungry in Kashi, food for their survival comes by each day without fail. Some of these buildings look right out onto the Manikarnika ghat, and the residents know they will adorn the palanquin shortly.

The Kashi of the Foodie - While Kashi is a Moksha-Sthaana, and most people go there searching for solace and peace, it is also a place for amazing tastes. There are various kinds of solaces people look for, and those seeking solace in food will love Kashi as well :) From the bread smeared with an entire packet of Amul butter in the mornings, to Chats, Marwari Thalis, various cuisines for lunch and dinner, and Rabri, Jalebi, Lassi for dessert, Kashi is a foodie's delight! There are restaurants of operated by people from all parts of the country, and some by foreigners as well! Whether you're a Tamilian, or a Gujarati, a Bengali, or an Italian, you will find food from your region for sure at Kashi. And for those who would rather focus on the spiritual aspect of the city, Annapurna will feed you satvik food every day at her abode - for free. Stay there for a week, and you will only scratch the surface of the number of great food places in this city.

The Kashi of the Citizen - Residents in cities which have a heavy influx of pilgrims and travelers are quite different from those in other places. Their levels of patience and business acumen are of a whole different standard, and Kashi-vaasis are right at the pinnacle! For thousands of years in known history, Kashi has been full of people streaming into the city without a break, and making it their own. And the citizens understand this. Bearing with the eccentricities of the travelers, they go on with their regular work, and that is no mean feat! The number of police on the streets, the rush of the traffic in the lanes, the complete lack of privacy in the city, and the never ending flow of people, can't be easy to bear for a person who lives and works in Kashi. But they bear all this with a smile! You have to experience this firsthand and you will agree!

The Kashi of the Artist - Photographers, Painters, Dancers, Musicians, Actors, Filmmakers, Artisans, everyone has a connect with Kashi. Irrespective of their religion and their belief, they find inspiration in Kashi, and it is no wonder that they keep going back again and again to rejuvenate themselves. The banks of the Ganga, the temple of Vishwanath, the bylanes of this amazing city, and a boat ride at night, make up the absolute antidote for any ill. Artists who especially are influenced by India, stay on at Kashi and work with tremendous passion. It is quite common to see painters and photographers at work, covering every aspect of Kashi's day and night. The hotels right on the banks of the Ganga make for phenomenal stays as well.

The Kashi of Shiva - The different facets of Kashi keep changing through the ages. But what is consistent is the Kashi of Shiva. The oldest city in the world is Shiva's Kashi, and he always keeps his promise of not letting Kashi die away. The other layers of Kashi will engage with a pilgrim's senses for one visit or two, but what keeps calling back again and again to this wondrous city is the presence of Shiva. Every heartbeat of Kashi, every moment, is full of his presence. There is a tingling one experiences when he thinks of Kashi, and that keeps calling him to come back. It is this presence of the lord that brought together some of Hinduism's greatest saints and Gurus at Kashi. Shiva at Kashi is Regal. The Lord. Viswanath.

There are other Kashis one could experience depending on what appeals to their intellect. These are my Seven. And I have to go back soon :)


Vamsi Chada said...

A vibrant atmosphere with positive vibes all over the place. A nice description of how it is seen from different eyes. A place where you can disconnect from the external world and enjoy life in its purest form. From food to art to deities, everything in Kashi.

Satish Patnaik said...

Adi.. It is compelling me to plan a visit and experience the various facets of this intriguing place you have so beautifully depicted as seen by your eyes and heart.