Showing posts with label Ganges River. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ganges River. Show all posts

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Meet The Sun

The little room with yellow walls barely contained me. From its tiny balcony on the second floor I looked out over a field to a city street that curved and ended on the shore of the Ganges River at Varanasi, India.

One year ago, each morning before dawn, I dressed, gathered my camera and hurried outdoors in the dark to witness the chanting and prayer rituals of young men and women gathered facing the river. Dressed in shimmering silk and flowing cotton fabrics, the fragrance of devotion emanated from their being. Their gleaming hearts shone in the dark as they reverently performed their ceremony.

The Gange River is so holy it is deemed to be a goddess. In the darkness, girls sang and intoned with sweet notes of sacred love as the young men, in synchronized movements waved urns of incense billowing fragrance, blew into conch shells and created arcs of light with flames of lit oils. I stood nearby and watched, becoming more exhilarated until the conclusion when the first glimmering of daylight shone above the river.

I am typically not a morning person and usually labor out of bed around 7:30 AM.
But during my time in Varanasi the daily ritual of joining the group of devotees by the Ganges, worshiping something ancient, ever-flowing, and holy before turning to meet the sun as it rose above the horizon . . . well, it was not a chore but rather a blessing.

I miss Varanasi.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


Cows roam freely and are everywhere in Varanasi, India. Photo at night.
It feels as if lifetimes have come and gone in the short span of time I have been in India. The crush of humanity, brightly colored and diverse, mostly in squalid conditions has made my Italian sojourn seem far off and long ago. I have walked narrow passages and skirted around cows while stepping over piles of manure, seen men pissing in the stinking streets, had my eyes dazzled by women in colorful saris of every color and shade, walked past many temples and smelled fragrant burning incense, become vegetarian by default and a chai drinker, and been bombasted by fireworks so loud and frequent during the festival of Diwali that dogs in America probably heard it and quivered. I have drifted in a rowboat on the Ganges River at evening with an American friend and made personal rituals, leaving candles floating in the night water, and visited cremation fires by day and watched bodies burn on pyres of flaming wood. Friends have been made, including a young man who drives a rickshaw and works 16 hour days to support his wife and two boys. Many people are like him—working long hard hours. He told me it would look bad if his wife worked, that he would meet with disapproval from family and so he does what he must. And he always greeted me with a smile, and often looked me in the eye and asked, “Are you happy?”

Lighting candles in baskets with marigold blossoms to float in the Ganges River.

I arrived in Pushkar, India today after the longest train ride of my life—22 hours. That in itself was a sort of lifetime experience. The train was full . . . so densely packed that it was four hours late on arrival, probably because it could not go fast. I was in a more costly air-conditioned sleeper car that squeezed six berths in each compartment and the coach had perhaps 12 such compartments. The only clean items were the sheets they gave. The bathrooms would make some people ill on sight. Imagine the second class coaches. Anyway, I am going native and roll with the punches. I made friends with a family sharing my compartment, and they helped me when I arrived at the station, staying by my side until I got a rickshaw to the bus station where I caught a bus that was similarly packed with people. Now I am in Pushkar and arrived just before an important festival, and this might be good luck.

Herding camel, Pushkar, India

Sunday, November 08, 2015


View of the Ganges River from a Hindu Temple on its bank

How different Varanasi India is from Venice, Cinqueterra, Florence, and Rome, Italy. No longer the neat cobbled passages and thoroughfares. No longer the testimony to grandeur in high art and architecture and civic pride. Varanasi is a cacophony of sights and sounds with seemingly no order. The dense population of 3 ½ million people that live on the bank of the Ganges River are too many for the resources that exist. “Often referred to as Benares, Varanasi is the oldest living city in the world. These few lines by Mark Twain say it all: 'Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together' ".  "Hindus believe that one who is graced to die on the land of Varanasi would attain salvation and freedom from the cycle of birth and re-birth. Abode of Lord Shiva and Parvati, the origins of Varanasi are yet unknown. Ganges in Varanasi is believed to have the power to wash away the sins of mortals."

Street life
Just being here is giving me spiritual insights and transforming my consciousness. I know that I must let go of my agenda and surrender to the Divine. Even having a slight agenda is not permissible. I will give an example in a moment.

The streets teem and if you are in a hurry or expect orderliness and sophistication, reality will dash these hopes in a hurry. Almost every inch of the roads and passages are with people or beasts. All the traffic is dodging other traffic, and even people must skirt around each other. Pedestrians much watch not to step in waste left by animals or trip on an upturned stone. Sometimes a strong stench is inhaled as the gutters often are sewers flowing to God knows where. Shops are everywhere, as are street vendors cooking tasty treats and offering the ubiquitous chai tea. I sometimes think to myself that the garbage and sewage are too close for comfort. Yet the people are lively and do not hesitate in living. To be in the street is also to be accosted by a rickshaw driver or someone who wants to show you something.
Daily pre-dawn prayer offerings

Now, my story about surrender:  Every morning I go before dawn to the banks of the Ganges, at the foot of Assi Ghat to be among worshipers and also to take photos in the supernal light and try and capture the poetry there. I begin at a pre-dawn ceremony of young men and women, set on a stage. The lads stand in a line, performing a prayer ritual that entails specific movements, swinging lamps, waving fans and blowing on conch shells. The young ladies stand aside, singing and chanting. Then I wander the river banks as the light changes and the sun rises over the horizon. It is a perfect time for picture taking. The other morning I sat near groups of colorfully clad women praying and making offerings, and sometimes stepping into the river to bathe. It is thought to bathe in the holy river is to wash away ones sins. I took photos as the sun rose over the opposite bank. I also took pictures of holy men while the sun rose. Alas, when I returned to the hotel, all the pictures I took from that morning were mysteriously missing, but photos from earlier remained. I had seen them all on my camera, but now, those from the morning were gone. Frustration came over me at the thought of losing some gorgeous photos. At last, I surrendered to the Divine and said, “Please accept my loss as a sacrifice to your holiness.”


I have wondered what the lesson is and think that the holy spirit is so strong here, the devotion so great, that my agenda of picture taking was reprimanded. Perhaps some holy beings were offended in some way and asked that the pictures be cleared. Truly, I have been gracefully guided to surrender while in Varanasi.
Smiling girl with the ever present holy cows.