Varanasi: An enchanting experience
Fascinating, captivating and enchanting, the ancient city of Varanasi is a bewitching and a surreal experience in itself. For a seeker and a traveller, it boasts an old world charm, that’s on full display at it innumerable ghats stretched over many kilometers along the banks of river Ganga.
The name of each ghat is carefully painted onto the medieval walls. Evenings are adorned with splendid and resplendent Ganga aartis taking place at each ghat. While witnessing it, one feels spellbound by the rhythm and coordinated movement of the priests who perform these rituals. Even beyond the ghats, the sound of bells from temples thronging the alleys and cobblestone streets is eternal. Though most famous as the Temple Town, its identity is not limited to that, as every other street has a distinct flavour, history and folklore to offer.
Since time immemorial, Varanasi has been able to woo kings and commoners, historians and travellers, pilgrims and tourists alike. And latest to fall in love with the city is actor Soundarya Sharma whose experience of a shoot here has been more than amazing. “The city is mesmerising, cannot be explained in words. It is a world of its own and takes one to another energy level. The purity and the tranquility activates your chakras automatically.”
A confluence of art and culture, this land has been called home by the likes of Buddha, Jain Tirthankars, Kabir, Tulsi, contemporarily art lovers and historians such as Rai Krishnadasa, musician Gopal Mishra, Omkarnath Thakur, Ravi Shankar, Bismillah Khan, Girija Devi have kept this city relevant in the spheres of fine arts. Fondly recalling her association with the holy land, Shovana Narayan, Kathak dancer, says, “I grew up on stories of Benares as my mother was from Banaras Hindu University. Personally, I am so fond of Kabir Chaura, a neighbourhood in central Varanasi, where the mystic poet, Kabir Das is said to have lived. Every lane housed illustrious artists in the 1960s. On a stroll in the neighbourhood, one could hear musical sounds emanating from windows and doors of each house. I remember visiting Sitara Devi’s ancestral house, and Alaknanda jee showed me a dance form and I was enraptured. I have beautiful memories of the old cultural city.”
More than everything else, Varanasi had a mysterious spiritual pull, the lure of experiencing the divine. Young Sitar and Sarod duo Mohan Brothers - Lakshay Mohan and Aayush Mohan believe Varanasi is an incredible city that is soaked in culture. “Whenever we have performed there, it has been a very spiritual experience. We have wonderful memories of one of our performances at the Ganga Mahotsav and the serenity that we felt there was something that we can never forget. The rasiks (music connoisseurs) are highly receptive and have a deep admiration for art and culture.”
While the city holding a special significance in Hindu mythology, many believe it is the most sacred place to attain salvation. While it is a reminder of the unbreakable cycle of birth and death, yet it forces you to absorb the vibrant life that is all around us. “Varanasi is also known as the dham of Moksha. It’s also said that if someone dies on the holy land of banaras he attains salvation.” Shiv Sadhika Ma Vishwaroopa, Astrologer and Numerologist
Author Anuradha Kumar Jain, beautifully sums up the city, ”The boat festooned with garlands of marigolds; the gently lapping waters of the Ganga; the deliciously cool breeze; floating diyas illuminating the gathering dusk; the sound of chanting carried on the wind; the perfectly synchronised movement of the pujaris; smoke rising from the multi-tiered lamps in fantastical shapes. The ghats are brightly lit, even garishly so at places, but somehow it all fits into the magic of the night, into the palpable, living faith that permeates the very atmosphere.”
Must visit places
Varanasi is a delight for foodies and its street food is claimed to be one of the best in this part of the world. Soundarya says, “The food here is so authentic. I love the jalebis, kachori and sabzi. The lassi with malai is out of this world. Deena Chaat Bhandar is my favourite.” Also a conversation about these delights would be incomplete without paan. “The food is brilliant too specially the Kachori Sabzi and meetha paan,” says Lakshay.
While on a trip to Varanasi, visiting a weaver’s village is a must. Watching locals weave the most amazing Benarasi sarees in India is not only delightful but also adds to your knowledge about authentic Indian weaves. “ Banarasi sarees and bangles is a different vibe altogether. I bought many sarees in rani and white colours. In fact I visited a weaver’s village and really enjoyed watching the process, “ says Sharma.
Visit the sacred Kashi Vishwanath Temple
The glorious temple commemorates the mighty Lord Shiva and is a part of the 12 Jyotirlingas. Miniature shrines of various Hindu deities encircle the main hall of the temple. And at the centre of this hall, stands brown stoned Lord Shiva on a silver platform.