The Holy Ganges
Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
351Trip End Ongoing
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Where two rivers meet is most auspicious, similar to nerve channels and their synapses meeting or two veins meeting to flow to the heart or the brain. Similar to two roads meeting and becoming a highway.
At the confluence of Varuna and Asi Rivers with the Ganges lies the sacred city of Kashi, the Luminous, known as the City of 1,000 Temples, the Holy City of India, and known as Varanasi.
I met Lu and Lee at the Old Yogi Guest House, where we were all staying. Lu was from southern Brazil, where her family immigrated from Germany. Lee was from Taiwan. Both were very friendly we enjoyed the slow boat ride together.
First, the body, covered in a shroud, was immersed in the river and bathed. As this was taking place, a funeral pyre was constructed with wood brought from across the river on boat. The body, once placed on the pyre, was further covered in wood and doused in vegetable oil. On top of the pyre, the family placed red tikka powder and marigold garlands. Next five men, including a priest who carried a smouldering bundle of grass from Shiva's flame, circled the pyre five times, representing the five elements--air, fire, earth, water, and space. The priest then alighted the pyre, which burned vigorously.
Once the body was cremated, the remains were thrown into the Ganges, who accepted them with equanimity.
The result was hundreds of years of turbulence and strife, which continues today with periodic bombings and attacks to mosques and temples. Aurangzeb destroyed the most important temple in Varanasi, city of Temples, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, replacing it with a mosque. Today, dozens of armed police and metal detectors guard the temple, keeping a relative peace.
Nevertheless, I met a couple of young men on the banks of the Ganges. They were enjoying a walk together. One was Hindu. After talking for a while, he asked me: "Do you like Muslims?"
His friend beamed as I looked at him. His friend was Muslim.
We dodged holy cows, other rickshaws, large trucks, dogs, pedestrians, and heaps of trash along the way. In the Muslim Quarter, the holy cows were noticeable absent, as I reached the silk factory at dusk.
On the banks of the Ganges, I met sadhus, who were resting from their weary journeys around India. Grish, a sadhu from Tamil Nadu, had traveled for twenty-one years, walking all of India. He looked pensively at the Holy Ganges as he told me stories of his travels and the holy mark that magically appeared to grace his third eye.
Varanasi was full of bustling activity. At dawn, the Call to Prayer issued forth from the mosques, dogs roamed the streets, vendors prepared their wares, and dawn createed a glow on all the buildings. During the day, the streets were crowded with thousands of people. At night, weddings paraded and fireworks exploded in the sky.
One day, I walked the old quarter, full of labyrinthine narrow streets. Occasionally, the holy cows and bulls would run and people would duck out of the way. Once I was hit, but just a glancing blow, and luckily the holy bull was unhurt. I followed the streets using a compass yet not worrying where I was. Eventually, I would get somewhere, wherever that may be--getting lost is just a figment of your imagination and worry when roaming these old streets because ultimately there is no destination--roaming is the goal.
One week in Varanasi along the River Ganges was an intense feast for the senses; whether you like that intensity or not is up to you and how you relate to it.
Where I stayed
Old Yogi Guesthouse