Benaras – Mornings and Evenings

Mornings

It was still dark in the wee hours of that December morning as we stepped onto Daseshwamedh Ghat. The thought of sunrise over River Ganges was enough to get us out of bed and brave the cold at a temperature of 4-5 degrees centigrade. With teeth chattering and every exposed part of the skin going numb, we stood there looking around eagerly. A boat owner would come up asking if we wanted a boat ride like it had been happening every time we landed at the ghats.

And, soon someone approached, the requirement was discussed, the price negotiated, and we were rowing away into the darkness through the calm waters of River Ganges.

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Pic 1: The morning fog that ensured limited visibility.

So focused we were on sunrise, that we failed to anticipate the fog that could shroud everything on a cold winter morning. As darkness gave way to morning light, we found ourselves engulfed in a sphere of haze where we could see nothing more than each other’s face. Forget the Sun, we couldn’t even see the ghats from the boat. The cold seeped into our bones as we realized our folly and the fact that we had wasted Rs.1200 on the boat for no reason.

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Pic 2: When the fog started lifting and we could see the ghat through the haze.

We spent the other mornings walking the alleys and ghats, and visiting the Kashi Vishwanath temple. The latter I had to do twice, accompanying both my sisters on separate occasions. The less I say about the temple, the better it is. Not for my faith in the presiding deity of Lord Shiva, which I have enough, but the touts that seek out people like us, who have no patience or inclination to wait in the never-ending serpentine queues. The likes of us put up with them and their unreasonable demands only for a quick entry to the temple. Ironically, it’s people like us who encourage them and their unscrupulous activities – I plead guilty!

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Pic 3: The only time when the Sun made a brief appearance in the afternoon.
Evenings

Our daily evening ritual at Varanasi was simple – watch Ganga Aarti and then binge on the street food. The evening Ganga Aarti or ceremonial worship of River Ganga is a well-orchestrated activity that is a must see at Varanasi. An elaborate make-shift arrangement is made every single day, which is again dismantled after the show is over.

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Pic 4: Ganga Aarti with the tiered brass lamps.

A dedicated team from Gangotri Seva Samiti sets up seven elevated planks on which they sprinkle flower petals, mainly Marigold and Rose, making a gorgeous carpet out of them. Against each plank, they arrange several puja paraphernalia, including a layered brass lamp, flowers, incense sticks, conch shell, and so on. The team also manages the hundreds of devotees and tourists that gather every evening at Daseshwamedh Ghat – the place where the Aarti happens every evening.

We learn that the Aarti is performed by learned pundits of Vedas and Upanishads who are handpicked from institutes that impart Vedic Studies, like Benaras Hindu University (BHU).

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Pic 5: A moment during Ganga Aarti

The well-organized series of activities making for the Aarti left us stumped and we wondered how much of a practice might have gone into this. The Aarti began by blowing of conch shells and rhythmic chanting of holy mantras. Thereafter brass lamps, incense sticks, and other items were synchronously used one by one, as bhajans (hymns) played out in the background.

One can see the Aarti either by sitting on the stairs of the ghat, from the boats facing the ghat, or from the canopy of Ganga Sewa Nidhi office. We watched the Aarti from three different places on three different days. The first day was from a boat. The next day we decided to participate in Ganga Puja, which happens just before the start of the Aarti. We booked our slot by paying a fee at the Ganga Sewa Nidhi office. The Aarti Pundits conduct this Puja and it also guarantees a special seat right behind the Aarti platform.

We were also pleasantly surprised to find that a photographer had clicked our pictures while we conducted the Puja. His purpose was to sell the pictures to us, which he successfully did so at Rs. 20 per picture. We were delighted.

The food we binged on every evening consisted of a wide variety of snacks, from samosas to chats to pakoras and all kinds of stuff, deep fried in oil. Unhealthy, but who cares. We hardly ever do this in our city of Bangalore, rather there isn’t any scope to do so with the almost non-existent roadside food in the city. And, not to forget the sweetmeats – the pedas, the gulab jamuns, and of course the one and only Malaiyo.

My mouth waters as I remember these lip smacking food items and to think that I am a non-foodie….

Author: neelstoria

Traveling, Gardening, Trekking, Hiking, Storytelling, Writing, Nature, Outdoors, Yoga, DIY

25 thoughts on “Benaras – Mornings and Evenings”

    1. Thanks Abhay. Good to see you. Hope you are doing well too. I have been a little irregular with my readings in WordPress in the past 2-3 months. Been caught up with life! And yes, Benaras is a must visit, hope you get to go there soon 🙂

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  1. Beautiful narrative, Neelanjana! I think the Rs. 1200 was well spent for the stunning fog shrouded vistas it delivered. And I’ve never read such a detailed descriptor of the Ganga Aarti – thanks for that!

    I skip the temples at most of the religious places for the same reason – everything is commercialised in the name of faith…

    You have done so much travel and, consequently, experienced a lot of food across cuisines. You hurriedly skip round it every time you reach that point…😄 I think you would do us readers a good turn by indulging us in some delectable phrases! Would you mind giving it a try once? 🙂

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    1. We got cheated with the Rs 1200, not because all we saw was fog, but because later on we took boat rides for as less as Rs. 800. I do visit temples if they are iconic due to the mythology associated, like Dwarika or this one, or if they are well known for their architectural designs. Structures don’t interest me that much though. The commecialisation in the name of faith is quite indigestible though.

      As for food….you got me there! I do enjoy the different cuisines and sometimes make a sincere attempt to explore them too but I hardly ever take care to remember the details or to even click pictures. Maybe, i will do that the next time – food is important afterall!

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  2. Really wonderful entry. It made me want to go back there again. It is a testament to how wonderful Benaras is that even with the annoyance of the touts, it still holds a very special place in my heart and likely yours as well.

    It sounds like your experience was similar to mine. After getting your bearings, it’s a great city to just have a daily routine. I also went to the evening aarti most nights (I was never up early enough for the morning one), would grab street food and then go to dinner afterward. In between I’d spend my days wandering and would often have an afternoon nap only to be awakened by either bells or the idli seller coming through the lane… Good memories – thanks for bringing them back for me and sharing your own.

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    1. Benaras was indeed special. I do hope I get to go back again. I am so glad that we decided to spend 4 full days there. While planning, most people told us that it would be an overkill. But we felt even 4 days was less.
      Our routine was similar too, we never took a nap in the afternoon though. We just kept loitering here and there, going back to the hotel sometimes in between for a little while maybe to get something or only late into the night just to sleep. It helped to stay just a few meters away from the ghats. I also crossed the place you stayed at (Marigold Guest House) several times, each time mentioning that to my sisters 😀

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  3. Did you visit the Manikarnika ghat? That is one place I would like to spend more time in Kashi. Me too not a food and still loved the street food there. Can’t resist my sweet tooth. I didn’t know the name of most of the sweet, had to point out and try different sweets.

    And if you read books do try City of Light by Diana L. Eck. One of the well researched books on Kashi.

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    1. Oh yes, I very much did. I Manikarnika very overwhelming. My next post will be on the ghats. Have you written about your visit? I would love to read it.
      Hope you had tried Malaiyo, but of course only if you visited during winter.
      Thank you for recommending the book. I will try to get hold of it.

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      1. I visited Varanasi as part of a long road trip from Bangalore -> Hyderabad -> Jabalpur -> Khajuraho -> Prayagaraj (Kumbmela) -> Varanasi -> Bodhgaya -> Ranchi -> Sun Temple, Konark -> Vizag -> Bangalore.

        Thats a long post to write and still pending for a year now.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. W.O.W!! That’s quite something. It’s like half way round the country. And such a wonderful trip that must have been. Also, covering Kumbmela – one experience I too want to have someday. I will wait to read whenever you write.

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  4. Very nicely written. I felt as if I visited Varanasi again. Thank you for lot of inputs which I was not knowing so far. Dismantling of evening aarti arrangements every day is a news to me. Yeah I also felt the same regarding touts who robs the innocent pilgrims by exploiting their lack of time and patience. Why can’t the administration make premium Darshan as it exists in Tirupati and other popular temples in South.

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    1. Thank you Ramasamy Sir. I am so glad that you could remember your visit. Perhaps I have spent a little more time and so i could explore more. Though I still feel I need to go again. In Kashi Vishwanath temple, I too thought about Tirupati and wondered the same.

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  5. The first Indian restaurant recently opened in our little Florida community. It seems authentic and we have enjoyed reading about it. We may never be able to visit India, but your posts are helping look for new menu items. My mouth is watering.

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    1. Do you stay in Florida? I just came back from Miami and really really loved it. I have eaten in Indian restaurants in many places in the USA and many of them were really good. I remember a place called Saffron in Raleigh, where I thought the food was better than many good restaurants in India.

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  6. Wonderful narration. As you might know, we Bengalis have special place for Banaras, especially after Satyajit Ray movies. Aparajito (undefeated) and Jai Baba Felunath (The Elephant God) are the two films which he shot at the ghats and alleys of Banaras.

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    1. Oh yes, we sure do. Also with the likes of spiritual gurus like Lahiri Mahashaya, who have lived there. Plus the significant Bengali presence, with Bengali being spoken as a language there, names of shops, etc. are also written in Bengali.
      Thank you, Indranil for visiting and reading. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Really loved reading your series on Benaras. I’ve never been there. Looking at the pictures I would echo your sentiment, in that it doesn’t appear to be the kind of place I would like visiting (not a big fan of crowded and narrow unkempt streets). But I can sense that it’s got this strange charm that makes you eventually overlook that aspect. The Aarti at the Ghat looks beautiful and the food looks delicious!

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    1. Benaras is simply fascinating. I had been planning for a long time and it turned out to be much more than I had expected. I still haven’t written it all. The stories of the narrow alleys remain. I know have to go to Benaras once again. Once is not enough 🙂

      Thanks for reading 🙂

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