Banares, City of Light

I am reading Banares: City of Light by Diana L. Eck. It has a very philosophical view of the City of Varnasi and pretty much everything you see, smell, taste and feel within the old city. Sometimes I catch myself just walking quickly through the cobbled streets, not looking at anything, focused on what I am doing and where I am going. But if I stop, open my eyes and look at everything that is transpiring, there is a tremendous amount happening.

The narrow streets of the old city are busy not just busy with people but also with activity; and, they are very very old. Other people: travelers, pilgrims and Indians have walked these streets for thousands and thousands of years and in all this time nothing has changed. It seems as though time is irrelevant here; like it means nothing.

Vehicles cannot come into the streets of the old city because it is too narrow and there are too many people. I like this; it means there is a quiet market feel to it. There are colours, people, silks, pipes, food, brass, tikkas, candies and anything else you can think of. You just have to open your eyes and find it.

Thousands of people pilgrimage to Varanasi. It is the holiest of Hindu cities and it is also the most Indian of cities. The Western world has no place here. I like that. The book I am reading had a very good quote in it. It makes me feel like a pilgrim to the city like the millions of other Hindu people. It connects me to them:

There is no happiness for him who does not travel, Rohita! This we have heard. Living in the society of men, the best man becomes a sinner! Therefore, wander! The feet of the wandered are like the flower, his soul is growing and reaping the fruit, and all his sins are destroyed by his fatigues in wandering. Therefore, wander! The fortunes of him who is sitting, sits; it rises when he rises, it sleeps when he sleeps, it moves when he moves. Therefore, wander! (21)

I was talking to a Hindi cleric in the photography shop. He asked me what my favourite thing about Varanasi was, the thing that stands out in my mind the most. I told him it was the spirit of the city and he was surprised. He said: “You can feel it?” My reply” “Of course I can.” He said: “You are very lucky because most Hindu people can’t feel it.” I am indeed very lucky to be able to feel it because once you feel it you see the place differently, the people differently and you are not afraid because the unknown is known.

Those who come to Varanasi go there to die. There are wives who have lost their husbands, the poor, the lost and the sick. Thousands of people come to embrace Siva in their death. To them time is irrelevant. Their next life and the Ganga are all that is important. The city itself lays between two holy rivers and because of this Varanasi is though to be the most holy city on Earth.

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