Varanasi….where to begin? It is the oldest living city in the world, dating back some 6,000 years. The population is approximately 70% Hindu, 20% Muslim and 10% Christian. With only 3.5 million people it is smaller than Dehli but just as crowded and noisy.
Our guide said that a visit to Varanasi is to see the life and boy were we right in the middle of it moving along with the crowd and trying to avoid being run over!
A common sight was cows wandering freely
or finding a resting place on a narrow street. Cows are sacred to Hindus, and we learned that killing one can have dire results. While it is not necessary to own a cow, it is important to provide it food as that may bring a blessing from Krishna that ensures good karma. According to Hindu philosophy, karma is very important as it determines how one is remembered.
As luck would have it, we were in Varanasi during Chhath, a women’s festival, which made our visit quite memorable.
At nightfall scores of people lined the banks of the Ganges to enjoy fireworks, music and performance.
Next morning was the last day of the festival, and the scene was quite different. Women had been standing in the water since 3 AM and would remain until sunrise.
Again there were huge crowds, but they were much more subdued than the night before.
Then, when the sun rose a little after 6, the air filled with women’s prayers to the sun god asking for good luck and long life for sons.
Prayers finished, many of the women went into the water to bathe, and it was touching to see their joyful faces.
Taking this all in from the vantage point of a river boat was very moving to say the least, and it felt a little irreverent to be recording with my camera.
Varanasi is known as the city for burning. While some people were paying tribute to the sun god, others were saying good by to a loved one. Some four hours after cremation began ashes were gathered and sprinkled in the holy river. Observing was indeed sobering.
By the time my friends and I processed all that we’d witnessed along the Ganges our emotions were drained. More than that I cannot say.