From the spellbound evening aarti on Dashaswamedh Ghat to the devotional music blaring in the background, Varanasi, India left me speechless and amazed.
The unbroken smell in the streets of Varanasi, India allows you to detach from your own thoughts and to merge with sensations that arrive. As you will walk towards the ghats, you will see the road outside ghats (Dashaswamedh) are sprinkled with shops and hawkers selling fragrant items. Walking past a florist will make you breathe in the marigold and rose smell; you will breathe in the sweet smell of cold milk served with almonds and saffron while crossing a thandai shop. When you will look back at these shops, the different items they sold, the distinct smell of each thing will leave you emanated, encouraging a meditative state.
Ganga aarti is the most magnificent event I have ever seen in my entire life. Absorbing the electric touch of ghats while seeing young pundits, donning a dhoti and a kurta, dancing with gigantic multi-tiered brass lamps while praying to the river with thousands of people getting awestruck and gaping in awe; for a moment I got detached from my thoughts and emotions, all I could feel was that I am at the top of the world. The aarti starts at 7 pm and lasts for 45 breath-taking minutes, ending up on a crescendo, leaving everyone transfixed. A serene silence prevailed over the ghat as people return to their homes. It feels like as if the river had said goodbye to the night. No more activity, except for those who slept along with it tonight, forever.
You can see life in its entirety at the ghats of Varanasi. The liveliness of Dashashwamedh, the quiet humming of Nishad ghat, the royalty of Darbhanga ghat & the grief of Manikarnika Ghat. You can spend the whole day walking & rowing from ghat to ghat wondering how life and death are near to each other. My favorite ghat was Tulsi ghat where Tulsidas wrote an epic poem in the 16th century, Ramcharitmanas, considered as one of the greatest works of Hindi literature. I actually felt that bygone era and his presence in the atmosphere. There is still fire in my heart when I think about it but no words to describe it.
Ganga breathes life into the holy city and is perhaps the reason why many Hindus wish for their ashes to be gifted to Ganga, to partake a bit of life after death. People from different places come to Varanasi, India to undergo the thread and cremation ritual. You can sit down at the steps of the Ghats and gaze into the Ganga for long, only to realize the joy of being alive.
Hop on a boat into the wide (I suggest early morning), the moment you splash in the cold Ganges, it feels like you are about to have an experience you can’t wait for.
The boatman’s in Varanasi, India are a great conversationalist, they tell you stories while rowing the boat, if you are lucky, they sometimes sing too.
While you are in the boat, you will cross different ghats and you will weave through a maze of funeral pyres hissing, steaming, and children playing with crackers in the pyres on a blue night sky. You will hear the clang of bells vibrating inside your chest and a wave of boiled water-like heat consuming everything in its reach, you realize how detached you are from your own body.
At some point, you will feel free from the opinions you had for years and you will gain/start seeing the world from a whole new perception.
The ghats burn 24/7, burning hundreds of bodies a day in plain sight—rowing out there will make you realize how commonplace death is. You will feel how we all would one day be there, one way or the other. How limited our time is on this earth and how extremely small our problems in life are when you can feel life in every little thing around you.
It makes me happy that during my little time on earth, I found my love for writing and have been able to touch a few lives.
A constant smell of incense stick, continuous sound of the shank (counch) and echoes of prayers with colorful reflection on the river’s scalp left me with a fearful and hopeful thought.
I felt my existence in Varanasi, India and at the same time, I was lost. I didn’t know who was holding on to my soul or was that me who met myself for the first time. I went back to my hotel as the river reached and merged into the infinitude of the ocean. realize the joy of being alive.