Yes my journey in India was beginning with a great excitement in my heart. After discovering Nepal for 3 months, now I was in the lands of this great country with which I would fall deeply in love eventually. I didn’t know back then how a magical period of 6 months was waiting for me in the embrace of mother India.
Once in a while I pick cards for guidance and this card above was the one I’ve picked just before entering to India. ‘Spiritual Growth’. It was exactly defining my heart’s instincts after I’ve engaged more deeply with my spirituality in Nepal. The card was saying;
“During these times you may feel a mixture of many feelings like confusion, excitement, fear, wonder. You renewed your connection with the Divine and you wish to grow, learn and meditate on a full time basis. Surrender to your fears. Trust that you are supported, loved and guided each moment. Trust that the same power that brought you to your spiritual path will also take care of everything else for you.”
The journey totally took 14 hours from Kathmandu-Nepal to Varanasi-India. I used Sunauli border chech-point to pass through. Varanasi also known as ‘The city of Light’ is located at the east part of Uttar Pradesh state in North India.
Varanasi is one of the most famous and the oldest inhabited cities of the world. It has been a cultural centre of northern India for several thousand years and has a great location on the bank of river Ganges.
The city is known worldwide for its ghats (above) that are the steps leading down to the river. There are 88 ghats along the Ganges and just behind the ghats there are many shrines, temples and palaces. Apart from their religious significance these ghats are also home for the residants to spend time or even dry their washed sheets or clothes. I had gone for long walks along the river from one ghat to another and observed the life around here for some days.
Varanasi is the holiest of seven sacred cities of Hinduism. It is believed that the city is the adobe of Supreme God Shiva that is –according to Hindu mythology- one of the three principal deities along with Brahma and Vishnu. Nearly, 70% of the population follows Hinduism. Pilgrims come to the Ganges and perform ritual ablutions to wash away sins in the sacred waters. They present offerings to the river with flowers, candles and incenses.
Hindus believe that dying here and getting cremated along the banks of the holy Ganges river allows one to break the cycle of rebirth and attain salvation. This makes Varanasi a major center for pilgrimage. Manikarnika Ghat is the primary site for Hindu cremation. Adjoining the ghat, there are raised platforms that are used for death rituals. Huge piles of firewood are stacked along the top of the ghat. You can watch cremations but always show reverence by behaving respectfully. Photography is strictly prohibited but I could secretly take these two photos above.
Watching the ritual of cremation can be a powerful experience. This was my second experience after visiting Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu, Nepal. The trinity of birth, life and death carry equal importance here. I really respect the way that death is entirely accepted. My experience here became even more intense as I saw the mother cow there on the ground (seen in the front side of the photo above). It was apparent that she has just lost her baby after the birth. She was in grief near the dead body of her baby just beside her. I prayed for them that they both would become free from their suffering as soon as possible.
Pind Daan is a ritual commonly performed near Ganges river. (seen above) It is believed that even after death, the pull of love for one’s friends, relatives or the materialistic world force the soul to stay behind. This ritual is believed to be the process of freeing the spirit of dead from the cycle of rebirth and it provides the ultimate relief to the restless soul.
Aarti is a Hindu religious ritual of worship in which flame is offered to deities. A group of priests perform this every evening at Dashashwamedh Gath as a dedication to Shiva, Ganga, Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire) and the entire universe. During the ritual, songs are sung with bells when the light is being offered. Hundreds of people join this ceremony every night.
After Aarti finished I gave my offerings to the holy Ganges and prayed this time not for myself but for the well-being of mountains, rivers, forests, air, earth, animals, plants, all living beings. I prayed for the awareness of human kind for abandoning the cruelty and egoism and for generating understanding, love and compassion in the hearts. I handed down my candle with roses to the Ganges.
Just one line behind the ghats there starts the narrow labyrinth like alleys that are gateways to the colourful sights, sounds and smells of this unique city. There are countless shops. You can easily get lost that’s why I recommend you to use an offline map then you can be free without being concerned of getting lost.
Frankly speaking, to begin from Varanasi to my travels in India was an intense start. As it displays perfectly the chaotic spirit of mother India. Thankfully Nepal prepared me for this in some ways. Unbeliveably crazy but interestingly harmonious traffic, earsplitting sounds of constant horns, huge amounts of people on the streets, many cows and so thin, poor dogs in the alleys, trashes everywhere, the smell of urine in the air, all blend together to form the character of ordinary life of India. Some visuals surprise, some amaze and some can be heart breaking. Many emotions arise as you see many faces of life.
Walking in the little alleys or streets you come across with many temples dedicated to different deities. The sounds of the bells, chantings, prayers fill the air with their tunes. The diversity of colours in the temples, the depictions of Gods, flowers, candles, offerings all create a mystical ambiance. Then you learn cleanness is perceived quite differently in India. Here it fundamentally means the purification of energies. For this they use incenses and some dried plants.
Varanasi is a musical centre where some forms of Indian classical music was developed. Many musicians from all over the world come here, choose a master and practice instruments for months. Just randomly you can come across with talented musicians playing on the ghats and listen to different ragas (musical modes in Indian classical music). You will also see many shops in the alleys that sell a wide range of musical instruments like; rudra veena, sitar, tambura, sarangi, tabla and bansuri.
Varanasi has the privilege of having Sarnath (above) which is seen as one of the four main places of Buddhist pilgrimage. It is just 10km away from Varanasi. This is where Lord Buddha –after enlightenment- delivered his first teaching on ‘four noble truths’ and the teachings associated with it.
Then time comes to say goodbye to holy Varanasi and hit the road again.