Kashi, the Holy City

It is said that all Indians must make a pilgrimage to Kashi once in their lives. Not so long ago it was still a long, dangerous journey and was mostly reserved for the last part of your life. Now, through the glory of modern transportation, that dream is easily realised. The city is called Varanasi (and Benares before that) but was traditionally known as Kashi, which was the name of its ancient kingdom and its capital. The name comes from Kashi Vishwanath, an important temple devoted to Shiva. It seems that Bindu Madhav (Vishnu) was there first and that when Vishwanath (Shiva) arrived he had asked permission of Bindu Madhav to also take up residence at Kashi. It is thus the holiest city amongst all Hindus, whether Shaivite or Vaishnavite. It is a unique city built along the bank of the Ganga. Kashi is lined with bathing ghats where Indians come to dip into the holy river for her blessings on themselves and their ancestors. There are two burning ghats, which are continually ablaze because of funeral pyres. The larger and more famous of the two is Harishcahndra Ghat, named for the virtuous king whose story is similar to the biblical story of Job.

I spent three days in a Math on the Panchaganga Ghat. I was the only pilgrim staying there and was warmly received by the elderly Brahmin couple who were its custodians  I visited various temples but only a fraction of them as Kashi is really a temple city, having thousands of temples of every size. The city is also famous for lassis (a yogurt drink) and sweets, both of which I enjoyed. I visited Sarnath, the birthplace of Buddhism. It was here that the Buddha gave his first sermon and taught the basic principles of his philosophy, which would become the world faith that bears his name. Sarnath was patronized by the great Buddhist emperor Ashoka. The capital of the column he built there, featuring four lions, remains the official symbol of India to this day. I also travelled to Vindhyachal to visit Ashtabhuja Devi temple. This is one of the important 51 Devi (Devine Mother) sites or Shakti Peethas. The 51 sites around the country are the locations where pieces of Sati’s body fell after her self-immolation (another great story that also includes the origins of the famous Virabhadra, after whom we have the popular yoga posture).

Close to the river, Varanasi is a labyrinth of small alleys lined by tall buildings. These roads are so narrow that cars and rikshaws cannot enter but two-wheelers still try to push their way through the numerous people, cows, goats and dogs. The highlight for me was coming to Mother Ganga for the first time. I took a boat ride along the ghats at sunset and witnessed the devotion of so many at her banks. Morning and evening Ganga arati is celebrated daily but during the evenings, hundreds come to participate. Naturally the climax of this trip was taking a dip in the holy river.


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Hayley
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 06:12:47

    I want to go!


  2. Nisha
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 07:17:06

    That is excellent! it sounds lie you will have visited all of India by the time you are done with your trip…


  3. Vishnu
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 08:38:10

    Thank-you for letting us experience your journey. I really enjoy your insights .
    Take Care and safe journey.


  4. taijiyoga
    Apr 02, 2012 @ 22:20:53

    How far is Sarnath from Varanasi or Khajuraho ?


    • Sri Satchmo
      Apr 04, 2012 @ 08:55:40

      Very close, Sarnath is right outside the city; less than an hour by car. You can even go by cycle rikshaw but it would take much longer and not so comfortable.


  5. Andrews SP
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 13:09:58

    Wonderful Journey!! Amazing the sights and sounds of Great India!


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