Monday, April 03, 2017

B - Benares - An Evening in Benares

Been There ... Done that 

An Evening in Benares   

Elsewhere all across the Indian subcontinent ... 

It is that time of the evening as the sun sets down after leaving its traces of dense orange blush across the grey sky.

It is that time of the evening when the cows come home (In the literal Indian sense) and settle into the cattle shed.

It is that time of the evening when the birds withdraw into their nests and get adjusted to the dark

It is that time of the evening when the bats fly helter-skelter at supersonic speeds to grab their supper, 

It is that time of the evening when the frogs start croaking, trap and eat up the mosquitoes for supper

It is that time of the evening when the snakes emerge out of their abodes and eat the frogs for supper,

It is that time of the evening when the woman of the household lights the lamp besides the tulsi plant in her backyard.

It is that time of the evening when mother summons her children playing in the courtyard to …

Assemble for ‘Shubham karauti’ ,  ‘Sandhya Vandanam’  or  ‘deva aarti ‘

‘Shubham karauti’ ,  ‘Sandhya Vandanam’ ‘ ‘Sandhya aarti ‘ and the various names of that  quaint ritual conducted in Hindu  households every evening as the sun downs signifying the end of yet another day.  

Thanks’s giving is a daily ritual in this country.  

That is when conch shells are blown, temple bells are rung, lamps are lit, and camphor and incense sticks are burnt. That is the time when the entire family gathers up in prayer for thanking the powers to be for yet another day gone peacefully.  ..                        

But nowhere else is it as Serene , Divine , Grand and Glamorous all at once as the one on the Dasaswamedh Ghat in the old city of Benares . 

If you are in Benares and it is about dusk, then you would see the touts and tourists alike headed to Dasaswamedh Ghat . 

The Old city of Benares criss crosses into lanes with ancient arcthitecture that have weathered the  various upheavals of history .

The city itself is more than 2000 years old and has been the sacred pilgrimage site of the Hindus.
Situated on the plains , it is the only place where the holy Ganges flows placidly and towards north.  Anywhere else  the river right from her origin as a glacier in Gangotri in the himalyas  flows down furiously  across the plains where she melts into water and inundates various tributaries   over a 2500 kilometer distance before she submerges into  the bay of Bengal.

Hindu Civilizations have lived and thrived  on her River banks.  She is worshipped and the mother Goddess   and thousands of shrines, monasteries and temples have been consecrated across the plains where she flows.

Every evening most holy places like Haridwar, Rishikesh, Benares and  Kolkata conduct the Ganga Arti ritual .  Before it was commercialized into a Bollywood style choreography,  at dusk every Peeth ( religious institution)  that had a base on the river bank conducted a thanks giving ritual with lamps and blowing of the conch when the sun went down.

In Benares it is a daily ritual and thousands of tourists as well as pilgirms attend the Ganga Arti at the Dashaswamedh Ghat at the time of the sunset.

It gained popularity and glamour after the Prime minister of India, who incidentally is the parliament representative from this constituency brought with him the Prime Minister of China to the Ganga Arti.

Five or seven young good looking Pandits who study in the local vedic college perform this choreographed ritual with lighting of brass lamps, blowing of conch shells, burning of incense sticks set to hymns, music and rhythm.

The entire ritual lasts about forty five minutes. Many tourists are lured to watch the Arti from the boats moored in the middle of the river. 

There is music played, hymns recited, incense sticks and  camphor shown around in huge Brass lamps by the young and fit Pandits, dressed in Saffron and off white traditional wear of the Priests.    

One can sense a training in choreography from the bollywood style that is followed here. This is what differentiates them from the other Ganga Artis that are simultaneously conducted across the ghat. The next one is just a few hundred meters away. 
As much as it adds glamour and a sense of grace and rhythm to the ritual, it does not take away from spirit of the ritual itself. 
It invokes a sense of serenity and awe among the pilgrims as well as the tourists.     

The Arti itself signifies thanksgiving for the day gone by to the powers above.

Come rain or shrine  this ritual is performed across the river banks  by various religious groups perhaps in not so a grand manner as the one at the Dasaswamedh Ghat, but in their own small ways  as an upholding of an ancient ritual.

That is the magic of an Evening in Benares.

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