Varanasi. The oldest continuously inhabited city in India – and possibly, the world. Hindu lore says the city was founded by Lord Shiva himself and stands on his Trident (weapon) making Varanasi the holiest of the seven sacred cities of the Hindus and the Hindu religious and cultural capital. In addition to the predominance of Hinduism, the city is also the place where Siddartha Gautama gave his first sermon to his disciples, making Varanasi the city where Buddhism was founded. It is also a holy site to the Jains and Sikhs.
I spent a few days in mid-November in Varanasi. In those few days, I only lightly touched on all that is Varanasi. Which just means . . . another trip will be planned to return and spend a lot more time there.
The views from my hotel room near the Dashashwamedh Ghat.
Varanasi sits on the northern banks of the Ganges River, rising from the river on ghats. The ghats are a steps leading down to the river. There are close to 100 ghats in the city – most are bathing ghats. Some are associated with religious myth or legend, and some are privately held or associated with Temples that sit above them.
At almost any hour of the day, the ghats are crowded with people who have come to pray or to bathe in the Ganges. Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges cleanses one of their sins.
Over the few days, a friend and I went in a small boat out onto the Ganges in the early mornings and evenings to witness and photograph the cermonies and rituals performed on its banks. The images included below are are my impressions of life lived on the ghats.
A lone gentleman at prayer.
Children collecting “recyclables” along the ghats.
Early morning at Kedar Ghat.
A riverside Shiva Linga (a representation of Lord Shiva used for worship).
The devout light candles and set them afloat in the river, offering a prayer – a ritual we saw performed hundreds of times.
A woman washes her laundry among the worshippers.
A man prays into the rising sun.
Three men – three ways to pray.
Novice monks look over the river and ghats from their school.
Study time near the river.
The boats gather near the ghats to collect the faithful, and the tourists, to view the evening Aarti ceremony from the river.
The crush of people gathering for the Aarti cermony.
Lastly, with the evening Aarti cermony in background, we tried in vain to re-create a photo that our friend Karl Grobl made in 2009 in the bow of a small boat (Karl’s photo is here). We tried twice – and never got it (in our defense, neither of us had actually seen the photo). We had far too many candles. The poor girl could hardly breathe from all the smoke. And I am kind of surprised, in retrospect, that we didn’t catch the whole boat on fire. But I do like some of the “out-takes” . . . and no one went into the Ganges either evening.
The second evening, our model brought a lot more candles – and a friend to help her set them up.
Varanasi was the last stop on my trip to India. I have at least one more post about the city . . . stay tuned!