Long, lean bamboo poles with bamboo baskets dangling on the upper tips stood in clusters on Madhis (the platforms on both sides of the steps leading to Ganges.) on various ghats of Ganges at Varanasi. This is a common site on ghats in the Hindu month of Kartik. Every evening Diyas [earthen lamps] are lighted and placed in these baskets in the memories of ancestors, the symbolic significance being that these lamps light the path of the departed soul upto heaven. These are known as Aakash deep or Aakash kandeel. The tradition is said to run from as long as people can remember.

As twilight descends, the ripples on Ganges water hitherto bathed in golden sunlight, dancing merrily get sombre.Sky overhead dons it’s inky blue night gown and Ganges flows placidly absorbing the calm greys of atmosphere. Groups of men and women with their pooja baskets start gathering near these bamboo poles.

This was the Kartik month of 2016 and we were on Nepali ghat at that evening. Preparations for lighting diyas were on. The hanging  baskets were lowered with the help of thin ropes attached to pulleys and baskets. Diyas taken out, filled with oil and fresh cotton wicks,  the lighted diyas placed inside basket and the basket once again pulled up on the poles.  The dangling baskets facing the sky and the flickering lights of Diyas paying homage to departed souls, women making rangolis near poles, chanting shlokas, praying with folded hands, lighting few more diyas on ground near each pole in the name of Gods and Goddess…. the entire scene filled the heart with peace and content. It was like a bridge of bonds and emotions has been erected from earth to heaven.The lighted baskets overhead moved slowly, rhythmically on the tune of winds. It felt as if the souls of ancestors are expressing their happiness, bestowing their blessings. What a beautiful concept of remembrance, gratitude and duty.

It is said that corresponding to the Diya in Aakash deep one more Diya is lighted on the ground near the respective pole. As if denoting that the lineage is alive and continuing. This one Diya is essentially lighted while rest are optional. one can light as many as one wants in the names of kul devtas, devis and other Gods.

On one of the ghats these Aakash deeps were lighted in memory of martyrs, who lost their lives defending our country  during various terrorists attacks.

We also witnessed lighting of Aakash deeps at Ganga Mahal Ghat on the terrace of Krishna temple. on ghats the poles were erected on Madhis (मढ़ी) near the steps of Ghats and the reflection of lighted Diyas could be seen in the Ganges water. View of Aakash deeps on terrace of temple from the ghats looked like a group of fireflies.

Aakashdeep are like lighted verse of prayers reaching zenith.

This month long event culminates on the day of Kartik Poornima.,when the glorious moon steps out in it’s most magnificent form, smiling and assuring the lamps that the journey of light will go on for ever.

 

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All pictures by Sunder Iyer.

Sunday 20th april 2014…we met these kids at the ghats of Ganges in Varanasi.  They were in the age group of 8 to 10. We were sitting on the steps of one of the ghats when they approached and requested us to offer coins to the mother Ganges (by throwing coins into waters).

Since I can remember I have seen people following this ritual of offering coins (money) to the holy Ganges as a  way of paying obeisance, showing respect. When trains, buses or other vehicles crossed a river bridge people make a point to offer coins, throwing it through windows. Quite a common scene.  And when the water levels are low, one can find children of fishermen in their boats waiting for such offerings and the moment one threw a coin they will jump into the water to get it. As a kid I watched the entire process with utter fascination. I felt awed by the courage and expertise of those young boys. I wondered at their sense  of precision to guess where the coin might land in water.

As the kids were playing and swimming around us asking to throw coins , we kept talking to them. All of them enjoying bare bodied. One of them who talked a lot seemed the smartest.

What is your name?

Vicky

and your brother’s?

 Mithlesh

 How your name is so modern while your brothers…

Actually my name is Aditya but I like to be called Vicky.

That brought a smile on my face.

Sunder was also talking and playing with the kids in the waters. He asked, you seem to be an expert, teach me some swimming…the kid smiled with pride and said…no, I don’t know much…When I too asked him to teach swimming to uncle, with all the seriousness of a professional came a reply,  yes I can teach but…but there should be some charges (haan, sikha sakta hoon par sikhane ka kuchh lagega)…Ohh….

The kids were taking dives from the steps of ghat and from the boats anchored nearby. They were now assured that they will be paid for this.

Sunder told Vicky, I am asking aunty if she dives like you I will pay her twenty rupees for that.

Vicky said,  Oh no! she will hurt herself,  for us it’s altogether different.  His confidence charmed us.

Sunder once again said,  Ok, diving from the steps could be dangerous but she can dive from the boat, then there won’t be the risk of hitting the steps.

This time Vicky stared at sunder with all seriousness and asked with a pause, ‘ unko dubone ka irada hai kya?[ do you want her to drown]

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Kids definitely are the most honest lessons in happiness. They teach us to enjoy the moment as the next might not be same.The time spent in the company of these kids was refreshing like the cool waters on that hot day.

 

 

 

 

                        

 

                  

 

The lone boat floating away in the mist, I feel your spirit within me. I can sense the tug, the steering as if encircling within your arm, you are trying to take me …..but I still sail directionless.

…and the boatman…the vast expanse of waters do not scare him, not he waits for a traveler for the company, he travels with these waters and the sky above without a destination. The far off banks do not beckon him. He simply sails towards nowhere, where he belongs. He is one with the limitless. He never wishes a bank or a harbour to anchor. The world there does not exist for him. Beyond the limits he sails, oblivious of everything. A journey within, towards you, to nowhere…far…far away.

I can listen to the call ‘beyond’ but know not how to head to be with it. Will you take me there…

(picture by- Sunder Iyer)

Nowhere on earth, the day unfolds in a way it does in this sacred city of Benaras. Bathing on the ghats on the sacred hours of dawn is like participating in an ethereal, divine phenomenon. As the sun emerges on the eastern sky on the far end of horizon, it pays obeisance to holy mother Ganges. The city of light, Kashi glows with divine radiance. It’s the moment of transition from mundane to the divine.
Sitting there on the ghat facing the stretch of ganga upto the reach of vision, one can feel the pulsating energy of unseen in the flowing waters. Ganga here is as if a flowing form of shiva’s energy. Despite the numerous activities going around you and the prevailing disorder and chaos, you can be with yourself here. The tolling temple bells, blowing conches, the mingled impact of mantras and shlokas recited in many voices ,the backdrop of pinnacles of age old temples, the sky as if arching to take a dip in ganga on the faraway bank, you can listen to that beckoning from another world, can feel the soul lifting and soaring. The presence of ‘beyond’ becomes so real. It takes time to get acquainted with your own new self.
On ghats every person is a testimony to one’s own journey and search. Every symbol present there is what it is but at the same time points towards a bigger unseen reality. Everyone is influenced by the manifestation of spiritual force in own way. One day when we arrived at Assi ghat, an old man sitting on the stairs of the ghat was addressing Lord Shiva loud and clear. Naked upto waist, oblivious of his surrounding , gazing towards river he was saying , “are bhole baba, kah to diye ki kashi chhod ke nahi jayege par kuchh kashi ki fikr bhi karoge ki nahi ki bas bhole ban sab takte rahoge” As per mythology Lord Shiva had given his words never to leave kashi, that is why kashi is also known as avimukta. Old gentlenman was referring to that fact and was ‘warning’ the lord that it is not enough just to be present in the city, he should interfere into the changing scenario as well and take the matters in his hands. Well, this is living devotion. At the ultimate level of devotion the devotee as if becomes one with the God.
Kashi is where divine manifests itself. One can visualize, experience and feel it. Even when we are not able to comprehend it we love the vibe and let us submerge in it. That foreigner couple appeared to be experiencing something like this. I saw them sitting on the ghat for about two hours but seldom caught them talking. They were lost in themselves.
There was this family from south India on Kedar ghat……husband and wife in late forties or early fifties and their parents. Father was so frail and fragile that my eyes stuck there, lean, thin and unable to stand without a support on the wet and slippery stairs of the ghats. Despite the cloudy sky and mighty current of the Ganges, the ghat was full of people from all over the country. I was wondering how did they manage to get that old gentleman down the steep stairs of Kedar ghat, the couple held father from both the sides tightly and gently made him stand in the water. It was a bliss to watch the old gentleman……eyes sparkling with uninhibited joy of experiencing the fulfillment of a long cherished desire. The pull to get absolved of all the wrong doings, to get purified by taking a dip in Ganges is so great that no odd seems big enough to stop oneself and the faith is accepted unquestioned. The holy faith commands an unflinching regard. It would not have been easy for the family to bring the old gentleman on the threshold of the divine city but they did all within their powers to fulfill his wish. Standing on the last step the mother was watching the scene. She could not restrain the tears of joy. The son now held the gentleman by waist and he took the holy water in his cupped palms, poured on his head and splashed on his face. Gradually a calmness spread over his whole being. His face was so calm as if he has experienced nirvana. Bowing to mother Ganges with joined palms he was ready to go back to steps. The whole thing was mesmerizing . It was experiencing Kashi.
That day while travelling on boat from Assi to Raja ghat ,we had several such experiences.every where we were reminded of that vast ,unseen,limitless world of divinity which exits and breaths in every atom on this earth.mind id invariably pulled to the invisible dimension.
Number of boats plying to give tourists a glimpse of the ghats but you get attracted almost with a magnetic force to that faraway boat slowly floating on the water with only the boatman on the board, as if that can take you across to the world beyond. A plethora of symbols which assert the presence of that world, which drags you to the circular complex lanes inside your-self, instigating you to get lost in the maze and then find the self.

(pics by sunder iyer)

That morning while on way to Hogenakkal from Bangaluru we stopped on this bank of Cauvery river. Morning was still pretty young but fully awake. Multiferous activities, morning chores were taking place at the bank of river. Some were lying leisurely enjoying the oil massage, others were taking bath. The shepherd boy was taking the goats out to pastures. Fishermen were pushing the coracle in the water for fishing. Despite all the activities the atmosphere was lulled to serene quiescency. The river was flowing calmly, the small ripples glistening under soft sun rays. The rocks submerged in water appeared to be in deep meditation. At the other bank stretched the green forest beyond which the hills stood out majestically. I stood on the rock in shallow water seeping in the serene splendour, imbibing the quiet. It is always a wonderful feeling to feel at peace within.

The small rock I was standing on, was only a feet or so above water. One tip of the rock was smeared with turmeric and vermilion. At the bank under overhanging boughs of ancestral trees was an idol of some goddess, may be Goddess Cauvery. The lone goddess and the worn out faded paint of idol somehow created  melancholy feelings in my heart.

She might have been brought here accompanied with the echoing sounds of conch shells, bhajans and shlokas. In our culture every river is a mother deity and an embodiment of a philosophy, nurturer of art and culture. Not only various civilizations have flourished on the banks of river but to this day the river banks act as stage for performing arts and showcasing our traditions and culture through many fairs and festivals. That lone idol fueled my imagination to weave a live and throbbing fair/festival on the bank of cauvery………..fresh young laughter reverberating the atmosphere, the music of jingling ornaments, the colorful aanchals, flowers, kumkum and now she sat there alone rapt in silence perhaps guarding the scene till it is once again alive with footfalls…………….the guardian angel.

 

 

 

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all the pics by Sunder Iyer