Posted on: December 26, 2017 By: MG
What you don’t understand you don’t love, and what you don’t love you don’t respect, and what you don’t respect you don’t preserve and feel proud of.
I feel somewhere our culture is so vast and in-depth that it sometimes becomes difficult to understand it. And to add to it, people responsible for making it reach to all did not make life any easier for us. As a result many of us have no idea of the profoundness of what we have inherited as a culture.
Banaras Ghats had been beckoning me for long. In fact the city of Shiva takes the top place in my wish list of the holy cities I wanted to visit across Bharat. Banaras, the 3000 year old city, I believe the oldest in the world, is called by many names and each name has a historical and cultural relevance. The confluence of the tributaries to river Ganga, Varna & Assi gave it the name of Varanasi, Kashi came from Kasha- means something shining or brilliant, Kashi Vishwanath from the revered Jyotirling KashiVishwanath Temple and Banarasi came from the Pali version of Varanasi which later got corrupted to Banaras in the Moghul era.
The more I saw the city the more I understood about it and the more I got connected to it’s rich heritage. Came to know that it was here that Ram Charitra Manas was written by Goswami Tulsidas, it was here that classical music had its centre known as the Benarsi Gharana, Lord Buddha gave his first sermon here at Sarnath, the 23rd Jain Tirthankara lived here and it was the seat of learning ( BHU- the largest residential university in South Asia), poetry, music and culture.
But at same time also felt low when I came to know about the loss of some of the most brilliant pieces of architecture and culture of the 11th & 12th century as majority of the temples were destroyed by the Muslim invaders. The temples were built again in the 13th century to be razed to the ground one more time during Aurangzeb’s rule. The ones standing at present were built in the 18th century. Understanding this leaves you with a question lingering in your mind, why would one culture want to destroy another? A similar state was experienced when I had visited the world famous Hampi last September.
The Ganga Aarti darshan in the evening at Dr Rajendra Prasad Ghats was a spiritually soaking experience. Thousands thronged the ghat, some occupying seats next to the ceremonial place on the ghat and some like us on the boats. The priests in a synchronised way conducted the Rituals where thousands chanted along with them the Aarti. The entire experience was spiritually enriching and it kind of reflected the strength which made a culture still thrive Inspite of being trampled time and again.
The visits to Kashi Vishwanath temple, Sankat Mochan Hanuman temple, Kal Bhairav Temple and the morning Aarti were equally blissful though the many pandits pestering for various kinds of rituals and their commercial approach on your way to the temple tend to take you off your spiritual journey. But when you are attached to the higher the lower doesn’t hold ground for long. Our anchoring to our spiritual quest made us stay on course and the insignificant things around us got sidelined on its own.
We also took a rowing boat to see the 40 ghats where I did test my rowing skills with the raw oars of the typical ghat boats. Most of the ghats have been named after a person, the ones who built them. So kings and royalties from all the county had built ghats for themselves and for the people of their kingdom when they would be visiting Varanasi. The most striking was the manikarnika ghat. Three aspects of this ghat were told by the boatman which I can recall. He said that during cremation once the pyre is lit then come what may, the fire never gets doused even if it rains or a storm comes, second there is always a cremation going on through out the day and third you light another pyre from an existing pyre. He continued to mention that every year thousands of people come to Varanasi to breathe their last for it is believed that one who dies or gets cremated in Varanasi will get salvation from the cycle of birth and death and finally become one with Lord Shiva.
Every process of living, right from birth, to giving a name, to education, to architecture, to medicine, to marriage to death has been clearly thought of and explained in those four books thousands of years ago. The more we are able to understand our culture the more we’ll respect it and the more we’ll take pride. Coming back as a more proud Indian than ever.
Tomorrow I will share more about the modern city and the second reason for my visit to Varanasi.