Mark Twain said “India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend and the great grand mother of tradition.” When he visited Banaras (Varanasi/Kashi), he said that the city looks “older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together."
To showcase the grandeur of India, I often use the above quotes when I am presenting at international conferences. I find these quotes deep and captivating and therefore I decided to explore these sayings and use my soul-searching time i.e. (summer break) to visit the cradle of human race (India) and the place older than history and tradition, which is incidentally the holiest city and the ultimate pilgrimage of Hindus, Kashi.
Before my visit to Kashi, I read a lot about the city and observed that every author, poet, essayist, journalist quotes Mark Twain when they write about this land. I thought that I would write differently but soon I realized that we are all one, and that the city of light invokes similar feelings in all human hearts, and so I truly felt that Mark Twain spoke for all of us who have travelled to Kashi, even though he visited very many years before us.
Kashi stands as symbol of Hindu renaissance and has been a learning hub for over 3000 years. The richness of Kashi knows no bound in terms of philosophy, knowledge, religion, devotion, culture, arts, crafts etc. Hence, it is the cultural capital of India. It is said that Ayurveda originated here and so did the famous Benares Hindu University. Other specialties of the city include Banarasi sarees, silk, paan (betel leaf) and the langda aam (mango).
Kashi is also known as Banaras or Varanasi. Varanasi is the modern name of this ancient city and comes from combining the names of two main rivers (Varun and Assi). However, little is known about the origin of Kashi but folklore says that the city is very dear to Lord Shiva and so it sits on his Trishul. It is also said that this is where he moved in with Ma Parvati after marriage. Kashi is considered the core of the universe and locals believe that it was created before time.
Sadhguru states, Kashi “was created as a place of knowing, and the whole town was created in a certain form – in seven layers. One had to penetrate through these seven layers. The city was constructed as a tool for enlightenment where if a person went through the seven layers, by the time he reached Manikarnik, he would be a realized being. Before leaving the body, he would have already risen beyond the play of five elements.”
Mythological storytellers state that the mighty Ganges after passing through the tresses of Lord Shiva expands into the city of Varanasi and has the power to wash away the sins of mortals. Hindus like me consider the city so holy and pure that we believe that those who spend their last days in Kashi attain salvation and freedom from the cycle of birth and re-birth. Sadhguru purports that at one point in time “the center of Kashi was a powerful energy form, which created a tower of light.” It is said that the actual Kashi is an energy form above the city.
Therefore, I was excited to be on this land that is mentioned in the Vedas. As I set foot into Kashi, I realized that no amount of reading could do justice to this ageless land. The local populace seem deeply connected with their city and contented with all they have. No one wants to move out of the city for better career or life prospects. It appears like they know that regardless of what they own, they will taken care off. Their strong faith and contended outlook towards life is truly noteworthy.
Just like how our phones sync with our computers, I believe the city of Kashi can sync and recharge us at the same time. I also observed that it is capable of showing temperance as well as a variety of moods. The peace and quiet of the early morning Ganga Aarti and the bustling bazar of the city are just two contrast examples of what the city has to offer. In addition, each ghaat (bank) of Kashi has a different vibe and a story to tell. Although, there are 88 ghaats in Kashi, which are mainly used for bathing, religious ceremonies and prayers, few are also used for cremation purposes.
A boat ride on the mighty Ganges makes you contemplate at a deeper level about your minute existence as a human in this cosmos, how insignificant your problems are and how limited your time is on the planet. Witnessing birth (ceremonies for a newborn on one ghaat) and death (cremation rituals of a departed soul on another) turns into a heavy boat ride experience.
Nevertheless, Kashi is and will remain mystical, magical and eternal. It has intrigued and attracted people from all walks of life in the past and will do so even in the future. Race and social status will always be irrelevant here. The seekers, voyagers, and explorers of truth, knowledge, peace, and meanings will keep roaming around the winding alleys and steep ghaats until the city answers their calling.
Such is the beauty of Kashi, The city of light, ignites enlightenment and no one leaves this spiritual city empty handed. This is how Kashi trades as the spiritual, and cultural capital of India.
#varanasi #kashi #hindu #ganges #bhu #india