poojas on ghats

 

 

These kids on Ghats of Varanasi, engrossed in offering jal [water] to Shivalinga, made me  think… what would have been their thoughts about God, worship or prayers. I felt they have imbibed it as a part of life, part of belief system from the elders in the family and the people around them. The unquestioning trust…. the purest form of devotion.

 

 

The lady here is performing ‘Tulsi Vivah’. Tulsi is the herbal medicinal plant Basil but it is considered to be a sacred plant by Hindus. The plant is worshiped like Goddess in Hindu households. Lighting a lamp near tulsi plant every evening is a ritual followed by almost every Hindu family. Tulsi Vivah celebration in the month of Kartik, specially on Ekadasi is considered to be very auspicious by Hindus all over India. On ghats of Varanasi during last five days of Kartik month this ceremony is conducted by many groups of women. There is a mythological story related to this ritual.

 

 

On several places on ghats we observed these squares made by flour. These were divided by twenty five smaller squares. These were kind of Chauk. On some places pulses, rice and other seasonal grains with colored cloth pieces were kept in each square while at other places flowers and sweets were kept. We could not ascertain the significance of this ritual but even then it filled the heart with a kind of reassurance. Unnamed, unknown it might be but faith can always be felt inside our souls.

 

 

The moments of silent communication with God — serene and peaceful. Prayers , the bridge of kinship with Lord.

 

 

From the depth of slumber,
As I ascend the spiral stairway of wakefulness,
I whisper
God, God, God!

When boisterous storms of trials shriek
And worries howl at me,
I drown their noises, loudly chanting
God, God, God!

by Paramhans Yoganand

All pics by Sunder Iyer.
Dev Deepawali …. 2016.

Rangoli, Alpana, Kolam,Muggulu, Puvidal, Mandana , Chauk….. you can call it by any name but different patterns adorned on ground on various auspicious occasions all over India speak one language and that is of celebration, welcome and devotion.

In South India drawing the geometrical patterns at the entrance and Pooja room is a daily ritual. Different states have specific design patterns for specific occasions and specific Gods too. In South India these patterns are drawn with dry powder or wet paste of rice powder while in North India it is made with dry wheat flour. With the passage of time various other mediums are also being used to draw Rangolis. Innovations and experiments with new design patterns are also seen but the spirit of these motifs still reverberate on the same tune.

The design galore on ghats of Varanasi on Dev Deepawali day was spectacular.The magnificent display of patterns, designs, colors and lights was mesmerizing.Ghats after ghats one could see old ladies to young girls busy in drawing designs, filling those with colors, decorating with diyas.  Witnessing  three generations involved enthusiastically to fill the world with beauty and sacredness gave a deep reassuring feel. Air was filled with Shlokas, Bhajans.Innumerable lighted earthen lamps in flower bowls floated slowly, rhythmically, steadily on quiet Ganges. These tiny dots of light on wide  waters of holy river bathed in inky darkness filled the heart with gratitude and peace. Big round moon in the sky smiled benevolently  as if granting boon.

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All pics by Sunder Iyer.

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.

This time in Varanasi we stayed very near to Harishchandra Ghat and invariably spent evenings sitting on the steps of the ghat. Taking a seat on the steps of Ghat and watching the life and death happening around you is an incredible experience. Usually in all other cities the crematoriums are kept away from the bustling life around by erecting high walls etc. Death is not allowed to be mingled with life but in Varanasi it’s entirely different. Here life and death co-exist.

Boys played cricket on the steps and their boisterous shouting echoed in the atmosphere intermittently, hawkers sold their items, groups of people sat sipping tea, playing cards, tourists and pilgrims walked across continuously and in close proximity a pyre was lit, the flames leapt into the air, sparks sprang around and a body was being disintegrated into ashes. Family members stood around waiting while other mourners sat silently on the steps. Another corpse lay on the earth near water, wrapped in white cloth.  Relatives stood near it while woods were being piled to get the pyre ready. A crowd of people with a corpse wrapped in red saree were descending the steps.  A boat laden with logs of woods was drifting in waters towards Manikarnika Ghat perhaps. The ashen grey sky on the other bank of the river appeared to be closing in. Watching all this some how I did not feel disturbed, rather a feel of calm acceptance slowly spread within. Watching a corpse burn away on the ghats as if is like burning away the fear. It’s like burning away the trash, the apprehension piled inside. My own reaction left me intrigued rather than disturbed.

Why was it so?  Why I felt differently about death there on the ghats of Varanasi. Perhaps because here death is not shunned. It’s not kept apart. The smells of death here mingle inseparably with the smells of life. Death is here for everybody to see and life along ghats move on, gazing at the subtle smoke rising from the funeral pyre I was getting attuned to death. Ever presence of death midst the bustling life initiate us to confront/face our morality. It did not scare me. It did not frighten me rather this ever exposure to death somehow felt like preparing me to accept our transient morality. It initiates us to face the reality. Encourage us to live life to it’s fullest. To embrace life in a way where it is not consumed by the fear of death.

Varanasi is a place where people come to breathe their last. It is a staunch Hindu belief that dying here in Varanasi ensures freedom from the cycles of rebirth. Hindus from far and near arrive here and await their end. Some go on with their daily routine of taking bath in the holy river, praying and worshiping while waiting for the end. Others, who are too weak and incapacitated just keep lying and praying to Lord to free them from the bondage of life.

Here we learn to live side by side with death while everywhere else we run away from death. Here death for us is not merely an abstract concept but  a visually real presence. Death is deeply ingrained in everyday life.

The diesel fumes belched out of engines of wooden boats carrying laughing and enjoying tourists mix with the smoke rising from the funeral pyre, the rituals of getting blessings of mother Ganges by newly wed couples are performed side by side the cremation rituals..it somehow imparts the essential meaning of life…the harmony in juxtaposition.

Karl jung said when man’s conscious thinking is in harmony with the deep truths of unconscious revealed in mythology, fear of death is no longer overwhelming. Being comfortable with one’s own morality one can release the anxiety of death.

 

and I felt perhaps liberation means being free from the anxiety of death. Varanasi  truly does liberate.

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Manikarnika Ghat also known as mahashamshan. literally means huge crematorium

 

 

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on Harishchandra ghat in front of a temple of goddess this fire burn continuously perhaps a pyre symbolically

 

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stairs leading to the idol of goddess above. Dogs are always present here. Looking at them I remembered the story of king Harishchandra.The ghat is dedicated to this king. When Satyavadi raja Harishchandra gave away his whole kingdom and had to work as an assistant to a dome[a person looking after the affairs at the cremation ground}, a faithful dog always gave him company. Are these dogs still keeping on the tradition of their ancestor……

 

 

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Boat carrying logs for pyre……death making a way for living

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show must always go on

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Shiva’s Kashi

 

All the pictures courtsey Sunder Iyer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were rowing towards Trilochan ghat when my glance was arrested by this imposing mosque standing on the Panch Ganga Ghat. I asked about it to our boatman Deepu. He told us that the famous Bindu Madhava temple earlier stood at the place. Aurangzeb,  the last mughal emperor got the temple demolished and erected this mosque .
The Bindu Madhav temple is presently housed in a simple nondescript building. The exterior of the building is just like any other house in the lanes of Varanasi. Inside in a low ceiling non ornamental hall at the farthest end stands the revered deity. The deity here is made of saligram stone. Due to the mythological references this temple holds great importance for the pilgrims visiting the holy city.
There in the temple we met two pujaris, Sri Ashok kumar Joshi and Sri Murlidhar Ganesh Patvardhan. There were other pilgrims and travelers too and the priests talked to us in length about the history and Mythological references of the temple.
It is said that when Aurangzeb ordered the demolition of the original temple ,the then pujari somehow took the vigraham of deity with him and kept it hidden for a long time . Later on the idol was placed in this building as near to it’s original place as possible.
This Madhav temple is one of the Panch Madhava temples in India. The other four are
Beni Madhav at Prayag
Kunti Madhava at Pitapuram near Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh
setu Madhava at Rameshwaram
Sunder Madhava at Thiruanantapuram, Kerala
The mythological story related to this Panch Madhav Kshetras goes like this.
Twashta was one of the Prajapatis created by Lord Brahma. He had one son named Vishwarupa. Vishwarupa was very noble and was jitendriya. He once started doing great tapa. Indra became afraid that Vishwarupa might take his kingdom so resorted to all kind of tricks to destroy and disturb his tapsya but all in vain. Then Indra chopped Vishwarupa’s head with his vjrayudh. Indra also lured Taksha to help him in chopping heads of vishwarupa.Vishwarupa is said to have three heads.
On hearing the sad end of his beloved son Twashta got enraged and started homa to creat a massive Asura from his krodhagni. Twashta named him viratasura and ordered him to defeat Indra to avenge the death of his elder brother.Viratasura defeated Indra but later on the treacherous Indra befriended him and killed him . Thus Indra acquired the sin of Brahmahatya ,which is considered to be worst kind of sin. To absolve himself of this great sin Indra consecrated these Panch Madhava temples .
So it is believed that a pilgrimage to these Panch Madhav Kshetram has a power to absolve one off all one’s sins.
Sans any fanfare the simple quiet premises, heartfelt discussions with pujaris and other pilgrims, my experience in Beni Madhav temple left me positively energized.

To me this temple represented the philosophy that the exterior,our body is perishable while the inner substance, the soul is immortal. The quintessence of our being lies in soul not the body.

 

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Panch Ganga Ghat and the mosque above. The minarets of mosque are not very high as is the case usually.

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The deity at Bindu Madhav temple

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The two pujaris in the temple

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some other pilgrims

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all the pics by Sunder Iyer

It must not have been more than 10 in the morning , ghats at Varanasi were simmering under the blazing summer sun. While walking along the ghats you don’t find any shade so we were in a hurry to reach the small tea shop near the Kshemeshwar mandir at the ghat. From our last visit we remembered that this chaiwalah erects canopy by stretching bed sheets that provide adequate shade. Sitting under the shade sipping the hot tea,  enjoying the activities on the ghats and communicating to the quietly rippling Ganges had been an enriching experience. The memory of the last visit as if propelled us towards the shop. But Alas ! reaching there we found that the chaiwallah was wrapping his canopy and was ready to leave . His earthen oven was standing silent and cool. I conveyed my disappointment to him .
He smiled and said , ‘Madam, you go to the lane upstairs. You will get tea there and it’s cool too there.
As I was feeling a bit tired due to scorching heat, I decided to take rest behind the wall of the temple. It was shady there and the cool breeze flowing from Ganges  across the open gates of temple was very soothing.
As we were talking to the chaiwallah, an old man ascending the steps after taking bath in the Ganges stopped listening to our communication and then he too sat on the platform of temple.
While Sunder roamed around clicking the shots I struck a conversation with that old gentleman.
He was Gopal ji. a rickshaw puller. When he was about fourteen years old due to some property dispute some relative threw acid on the hands of his father . His hands were damaged and Gopalji had to wear the mantle of the bread winner of the family. He started pulling rickshaw at that tender age and is still continuing with that. Presently he must have been in his mid sixties. Got married his younger sister and brother. The younger brother too left for the heavenly abode some four years back.  Gopalji is living with brother’s family but has to eke out a living too.
During the course of conversation I asked him ,” You have lived a hard life. just fulfilling your duties, responsibilities. Did you never feel like having a family of your own, having some one your very own?” A smile spread across slowly on his face. Something for a fraction of second as if glowed in those placid eyes.
He told,” Could not spare much time for myself. Got the younger brother married. Had the responsibility of ailing father and mother. Time just slipped out of my hand.”‘
I again asked him,”Did you not feel like complaining to God that He chalked out such hard and drab existence for you.”
And pat came the reply seeped in Hindu philosophy. “Why complaining to God? It’s our own doing. must have neglected my duties and lived my life frivolously in the last birth. Only I have to reap what I sowed. After a brief silence he continued,” and as far as having some one of my own is concerned, I don’t deny that during youth I felt the pangs of desire some times but now ….on the ghats of Ganga Maiya often I meet people with whom I bond well till we are together and then we part ways. Life should be lived like that phase by phase. Clinging to it gives pain. Just go on moving like our Maiya here.”
Inculcating deep philosophy and living the same one need not be a man of letters, academician or a sear. An illiterate rickshaw puller can some times do more justice to these deep lessons. Or was it the Beneras impact.
After a heart felt enriching conversation, we invited Gopalji to have a cup of tea with us in the shop upstairs in the lane. After that we parted ways but the meeting will always be engraved in my memory.

 

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pics courtesy 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.

 

 

 

 

                        

 

                  

 

Lolarka Kund near Tulsi ghat in Varanasi can be traced back to the Purans. Reference of lolarka is found in Kashi khand of Skand Puran. The description says that Lolarka is located at the confluence of Ganges and Assi.

Presently it is a pond about 15mt below the ground level and steep stairs from three sides descend to the  rectangular water pool .On the fourth side there is an arc shaped gate on a high wall. Water through this gate flows into a nearby well.

On lolark shashthi, falling on sixth day of the bright half of Bhadrapad, corresponding to later half of August devotees in large numbers throng at the kund to take a dip. The popular belief is that if issueless couples take a dip in the pond on this particular day, they certainly will be blessed with a child. The custom is that couple take bath together tying their knot and then leave their clothes and all other possessions on their body at the time of taking bath there at kund only. While worshiping at the kund they have to offer one fruit also and then they are not supposed to eat that particular fruit whole of their life. After birth on next lolark shashthi the child is brought there for God’s blessings.

The most sustainable feature of our culture is definitely faith and what varied way of expression we have got. Every thing is steeped in symbolism. The things, the customs and traditions are not just what we perceive through eyes, the meaning goes much deeper. This custom of leaving clothes and all other possessions on body there on the steps leading to kund, does it not instigates /inspires or asks the couple to leave their differences, ego and clashes there itself. It beckons for a new beginning with renewed faith in that supreme power and in each other.

Lolark Kund is located in Bhadaini near Tulasi ghat. The day we visited the place was quiet and gates leading to pond were also locked. We were told that gates are unlocked for public on Lolarka Shashthi only. Near the well is a small temple and a covered verandah. Inside the verandah earthen furnaces in a row were the mute testimonies of the activities of the festival days when people from far flung places visit the place and stay and cook here.

Lolarka is a holy seat devoted to Sun God. Literal meaning of lolark is trembling. The  story  in vamana purana which throws light on this name of lolarka aditya goes like this.

Sukeshi, the son of demon king vidyutkeshi was blessed by lord Shiva that he could neither be defeated nor slain by his enemies. Happy with his devotion Shiva allotted Sukeshi an aerial city between heaven and earth. Under the pious leadership of their devout king the demons became very righteous and holy. This was not  in keeping with the duties allotted to asuras by virtue of their birth. Besides that the glory of the aerial city of Sukeshi started to outshine the brilliance of sun. This invited Surya’s wrath. With his angry glare he sent the aerial city reeling down to earth. As sukeshi was Shiva’s ardent devotee, some celestial bodies call out to shiva telling him that his devotee is falling. Shiva’s anger was directed towards Sun. He focussed all his fire towards him proving that his single stare has more brilliance than his fire. Such was the fire of shiva’s anger that the trembling sun hid at the cool, holy confluence of ganges and assi to avoid lord shiva’s wrath. This mythological tale not only establishes Shiva’s supremacy over sun god but also postulates that Shiva did not give much importance to the rule of karmas by virtue of varna rather he believed that one’s destiny is guided by one’s karmas.

Fire and water are two most revered elements of Hindu religion, hence the place of their meeting was considered to be one of the most sacred places on earth. Both these elements are essential to fertility perhaps that lies behind the faith of boon of fertility i.e. birth of child.

The temple near the pool, on the same platform is located the well.

The Lolarka Kund and the steep steps descending to  the pool

The earthen furnaces [chulha]where devotees cook during their stay here

The Arc shaped gate through which water from the pool enters the well.

PICS: 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)

As 4.30 am alarm cooed in the darkness of room, we jumped out of the bed. By 5.30 we were at Assi ghat. Assi is the ghat nearest to BHU campus and after the new extension perhaps it is the most convenient and spacious one to seep in the aura of the place.
The dawn was yet to break. Atmosphere was wrapped in that translucent mist which added to the mystique aura of the place, but even at that early hour the place was pulsating with a feel of awakening. Yes, awakening inside out. Old bent forms with pooja baskets and bags had started flowing on the ghats ………those fragile contours/silhouettes of body forms appeared exuding a kind of firmness……..perhaps, it was the firmness of faith, the driving force was the belief which made them carry on their daily ritual of bathing in Ganges in brahm muhurt, irrespective of vagaries of weather….be it biting cold or lashing rain, they tread on their path unfailingly day after day…….where from they derive such strength?
The belief is that this brahm muhurt snan is the most purifying one which will absolve them of their sins. If anywhere on earth the unquestioning faith can be felt and lived, it is here, in Benaras, the abode of Lord Shiva.
As the morning unfolded, Assi got busier. The pitra paksh period was on. The fifteen days of the dark phase of ashwini mas are an important phase as per the Hindu religion. This period is devoted to remembering , thanksgiving and praying for the peace and wellbeing of the souls of the departed ancestors. It was an amazing experience to watch people from far and near to arrive on the banks of ganga and follow the rituals with intense devotion.
Those two aged gentlemen, may be in their early sixties and seemingly from a humble financial background were there from a neighbouring state chanting shlokas dictated by the pundit in chest deep waters, with full faith. At that advanced stage of their lives, it certainly must not have been easy for them to travel to the place, physically as well as financially. I simply wonder the force that drives them to these ghats. It is believed that performing these rituals at river Ganges in Benaras helps the souls of the departed ancestors attain peace. Do all of them really hold to their belief, so many questions popped up in my mind but just one look at their faces and all my doubts, apprehensions were laid to rest. The peace, the serenity that prevailed on their faces, the satisfaction of performing the ritual was so evident. For me, the entire experience was truly enriching. One could feel that long held sigh of relief of their ancestors and they definitely might have felt the blessings being showered on them.
Hindu religion believes in immortality of soul. The body perishes but the soul never dies. After death the soul houses another body, another form, till it attains liberation from the continuous cycle of rebirth. The rituals are performed with the belief that the souls of ancestors still exist on earth. we may not know them, see them or find them but it still binds us. We can not shrug off our indebtedness to them. They contributed to our lives and wellbeing of the earth in their own ways, now its our turn to pray for their wellbeing, wherever they are, in whatever form……bird, animal any form of life, but the bond continues. What a reassuring and beautiful feeling, the cosmic bond.

 

 

The lord

 

 

 

 

 

under a tree

 

prayers on pitr paksh

 

for the ancestors

 

 

 

The offering of food is considered to be accepted by ancestors if a crow arrives and devours the food.The crow is considered to be a messenger from the world of spirits.

 

A world beyond beckons……

 

 

pics by sunder iyer.