‘SHIVA’S CITY OF LIGHT
Varanasi, built along the banks of the holy River Ganges, is the earthly dwelling place of Lord Shiva. Called Banares by the British, it was originally known as Kasi, the City of Light,and is said to be the oldest existing city on earth.
In the ‘Shiva Purana’ it is written that Kasi is supported by Shiva’s trident, and that it has the power to aosorb and destroy man’s negative Karma. It is the holy of holies of the Hindu world.
The aged and dying come to Varanasi to live out their remaining days until death, when they are cremated on the banks of the sacred river. To be cremated here ensures one of a positive rebirth in the cycle of reincarnation. Pilgrims from all over India bring the ashes of their loved ones to Kasi, scattering them into the hallowed river’s water, in the belief that their sins will be cleansed.
Known as the “City of Burning and Learning,” Varanasi is a cultural center of India, renowned for classical studies and music. The entire length of the Ganges is lined with bathing ghats, platforms, temples, and palaces built years ago by Maharajas from each state of India. Pandits, or priests do a swift business on the riverside dispensing blessings from their platforms, placingtikas, marks on the foreheads of pilgrims signifying the third eye, and uttering the appropriately auspicious prayers.
Early each morning thousands of people make their way to the Ganges to salute the rising sun while immersed in the waters of salvation. The water is thick with floral offerings placed by pilgrims in reverence to the holy river. Following the bath, they walk through the colourful crowded bazaars along lanes that twist and turn to the most revered of temples - Kasi Vishwanath. Vendors fill the narrow streets hawking religious articles of every description. Nearby is the largest cremation ghat in India, where hundreds of bodies are consigned to the flames each day. A thick shroud of pungent smoke lies heavily in the air, its aroma tingeing the atmosphere with a constant reminder of human mortality and Shiva.