This is Ganga kinara, the Banaras waala. On an official trip across Uttar Pradesh (again!!!), I got a chance to wash all my sins of my life. During my stay in Varanasi, i visited the Sankatmochan Hanuman Mandir (which is in a locality named Lanka!) and the Kashi Vishvanath Temple and also witness the Ganga Arti that has been a daily ritual on the banks of Ganga for centuries. This is where i washed of all my sins completely by dipping my hands in the water. No I did not take a dupki (implying a holy dip) in the water, simply because its too polluted. A lot of people did, like members from the group of Sikhs from the pic below. The faith people have in the river, its Godliness has to be seen to be believed. The whole atmosphere is such that I am sure even an atheist will end up praying here.
Diyas (clay lamps) being set adrift into the river as prayers for Ganga Maiyya (Mother). Apart from fulfilling any wish you may have, this practice helps the river look beautiful at and after sunset. You can see, lines and clusters of such diyas (mostly set adrift from the boats) and there is a general warm orange-ish glow on the surface of the water, none of which was unfortunately captured by my phone camera.
Preparations underway for the Maha Arti. There are 6 small ‘pattas’ on which young pandits perform the actual arti. One large bed is set out behind them where all the singers and musicians are seated. The preparations take well over an hour as the 6 things are decorated with flowers, lamps and so on. All this while a dteady crowd keeps building up and they are kept engaged in the proceedings by the bhajan kirtan.
The audience. Some people hire boats and get the best seats in the house – front view of the entire setup, while others take up the stairs, floor, ledge and other chairs provided for the devotees.
The Ganga Arti. The feeling i had during this was of peace, inside me. Outside it was loud, noisy. Listen to the din in this video. I think this is why it is called as divine. This is why all those foreigners call Varanasi a holy city. Guess this is why religion exists, it manages to create this escape from life.
I was to experience similar peace 2 days later, at the Dargah of Sheikh Salim Chishti at Fatehpur Sikri, near Agra.
Having done all the vidhivad poojas and offerings in temples across Varanasi, i reached this place which claims to fulfill any wish if you offer a chaadar for the mazhaar and tie a thread on the windows. Again once you are in the chamber, around the mazhaar, there is some sort of coolness, an eerie silence despite the noise around that just engulfs you and you forget what you had planned to wish for (believe me its difficult to decide that when your wishes are driven more by greed than wants). Legend has it that Emperor Akbar and wife Jodhabai was able to get a child only when they conceived in the saint’s house and hence in respect of that this dargah and the entire city of Fatehpur Sikri was built. The Chishti family till date stays nearby and are buried in the grounds next to this dargah.
Both the places, the most amazing (and common) thing was the belief amongst the devotees. And they believe everything thats said about the saint – like how his 6 months old child could speak and ask his father to give Akbar an audience. One may argue i believe Ramayan and Mahabharat too, but that's mythology, this is history and closer in time. But if we have people believing in Satya Sai Baba’s miracles in 2011, might as well believe a 400 year old act.The devotees are very sure their wishes will come true. So even i’ll believe that.
Now all i have to see is if my pilgrimage results in collaboration or conflict between all those i have prayed to. In the next leg of my pilgrimage, i hope to pray at a church and a gurudwara (hopefully at Amritsar)
Love and Engineering
I am hoping someday, someone will explain to me why the Taj Mahal is a romantic place, a monument of love and so on. To me, it was just a rich man’s indulgence, albeit a brilliant piece of engineering. Amazing symmetry. Most importantly,the platforms, the various ledges around the monument, distance from the main gates, there is something very “made for photography” about it. or maybe from painting point of view. Whatever it is, it must have taken some amazing level of imagination, visualization, design , planning, scheduling and implementation to build what is after all someone’s grave. You know, we always heard of songs and poetry praising the Taj Mahal as the monument of love and all that, but there are some poems that have also called the Taj Mahal an insult to the poor man’s love.
If you ask me, the real monument of love is the fort at Fatehpur Sikri. From what i learnt, Akbar had 3 official wives and 365 unofficial wives (and he still needed help with getting a child !!!). In those days, wives were apparently very obedient, especially when the husband is an emperor. so when Akbar moved his home and office from Agra to Fatehpur Sikri to be closer to the Sheikh Salim Chisti’s house, they all went with him. Now if you see this house, you will see most of it is designed to ensure all wives (atleast all official ones) stay with the utmost care, in surroundings reflecting their own backgrounds (they were Hindu , Muslim and Christian. My guide was sure there would have been a Sikh one as well, had Sikhism existed at that time). I think that much effort for people who are alive is a greater indication of love than a beautiful grave!
The Hawa Mahal , the tower of which was used by the Hindu wife to pray to the sun, by the Muslim wife to see the moon on Eid.The queens spent most of their days in this place because it is very well ventilated and and accessible to the courts and Akbar's rooms and all other entertainment avenues – like the game of Chopat played with young girls as the figurines that move from cell to cell.
Akbar’s bedroom. This one had bed made of stone as, as per the guide, a wooden bed would broken more often, what with the 300 odd wives Akbar had. The platform in front of the bedroom was where Tansen would sit and sing for hours together. His competition with Baiju Bawra also took place here when it seems Tansen’s singing of some particular song led to lighting up of earthen lamps and Baiju Bawra’s rendition of Raga Malhar bought about rain. Some people believe this. There was a very interesting air cooling system in this room where water could be stored under the bed and flower petals were put into it spread the fragrance.
Akbars offices – Diwaan – e – aam and Diwaan – e – khaas. The gardens you see earlier used to be the grounds where crowds used to stand and listen to Akbar speak from his throne in building in the centre. Guide says Akbar had a dabbang voice and one could hear it to the point from this snap has been taken. I think acoustics of the place were effectively used if that is true.
Buluand Darwaza and the Jama Masjid.
This monument was by far the best of the historical ones i have seen. Neat, clean well maintained. There are some 84 classrooms (see all those small arches?) where until recently children of poor people studied.
Akbar later again shifted to Agra and then to Delhi due to political reasons but often visited this place. The entire city around, the marble dargah were later built by his son.