Five Days In Kashi - A Personal Journey






"The city illumines truth and reveals reality. It does not bring new wonders into the scope of vision but enables one to see what is already there. Where this eternal light intersects the earth, it is known as Kashi." - Diana L. Eck


On 18th January 2022, with the entire family down with Omicron, I opened my birthday cards and gifts to find an envelope with air tickets and a hotel booking for Kashi. At that time the possibility of making a trip on 1st February seemed remote though since the inauguration of the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor I had voiced my desire to visit it – soon.

It was meant to be! 
We landed at an aesthetically designed, neat, clean and efficient Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport that was awarded the best airport in Asia-Pacific in 2020 by Airports Council International.


As we had approached Varanasi, we had flown over lush green fields and thick tree groves. However, driving through, it was evident that this was yet another unplanned suburb. Thankfully the skies were blue and the winter air crisp.




Homes, hovels all higgledy-piggledy in various stages of neglect and disrepair. Non-existent pavements and then ear-piercing car honking to warn and avoid collision.
Open drains, cables draped and snaking from one electric pole to the next - an urban disaster.


 

 
How and why did we allow this to happen? 
This absolute desecration of a city considered the cradle of our civilisation. 
Post-independence, centuries after Aurangzeb destroyed our temples in sheer bigotry, what was the city municipality, local and state governments doing? 
Why were the wealthy gentry of Varanasi not invested in the upkeep of this historic city as are those across the world?

“Madam, pareshaan mat hoyiye. Bas dus minute deejiye main aapko naye flyover se hote hue, kuch dikhata hoon”, said Shankarjee, our driver for the next few days. Then bringing us to what looked like an airport or a corporate office but the architecture very much in keeping with the environment, he said, bursting with pride, “Hamaara Manduadih Station”.

So, between Shankarjee and Shambhujee, our guide, “Acchi jodi hai hamaari” we took in Kashi, every bit of it, as much as we could. 

Keeping this state of affairs in mind one can now begin to comprehend the monumental task of undertaking the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor. 
From the Chowk, we learn how the road was widened, shops and homes pushed back with ample monetary compensation to owners whilst a wide pedestrianised path leading to Kashi Vishwanath Mandir was carved out.

To keep the focus on the gateway that leads to the Mandir, buildings of all shape, size and hue along the way have been given a coat of Dholpur pink. That, when one reaches the spectacular gateway one must but pause.

Massive Police bandobast and security greet you at the entrance and around the periphery of the Mandir premises. But the process is seamless and polite. 

The enormity of what has been achieved couldn’t strike one harder as one walks on clean stone floors, surrounded by a corridor of filigreed arches, the resplendent gold domes glistening in the winter sun.
Earlier, the temple area here was only 3,000 square feet. It has now become about 500,000 square feet accommodating 50,000 to 75,000 devotees at a time.

As we complete our darshans, make our offerings and whisper our wishes in Nandi’s ear...everything, just about everything seems possible.



 


The gateway from the Ghats, uniting the river to the mandir will soon be complete adding a certain majesty to the space.
The area around is being paved but not before an elaborate drainage system is 
being laid...and this is only the first phase! 



 

A wonderful, hopeful beginning indeed to reclamation and restoration. 

Then through narrow lanes, all swept and clean, jostling with cows, dogs, motorcycles savouring halts for kulhad chai, kachoris or that heavenly cloud, malaiyo.



 
Discovering art on the walls ....

 





...and architectural gems scattered so casually. Temples buried four stories deep, filigreed doors and windows, precariously perched balconies on weather worn brackets.  


 





Till one reaches the Ghats...from there, the sight of Ganga allows one's lungs and heart soar out to the waters, the breeze and magic of Kashi. 








A subdued Aarti in these Covid times but mesmerising, nevertheless. 






Among the many amazing things about Varanasi, is its people. They seem to be grounded and connected with faith and contentment to their city. 
 
We heard consistently from street-food vendors, saree shop owners, boatmen, guides, hotel waiters, taxi drivers.... 
“Yogi jee toh aayenge. Koi doubt nahi hai. Seat kum ho sakti hai par ayenge toh Yogijee”

“Itna kam keeya hai. Itna. 
Pani, bijli, safai, law and order”

“Sab apna apna tyohaar manate hai. Dunga fasaad ka koi darr nahi. 
5 saal mai ek bhi dunga nahi. 
Congress aur doosri partiyaan bhatakti phirti hai. Bahut try kiya dunge karne ke liye”
With some glee, “Bilkul fail!”

“SP toh musalmaano ki party hai. 
Inka ek ek aadmi bahar ayega vote dene”

“Par BJP supporter election vaale din dheele ho jaate hai. Over confidence ki bimaari hai”

So many said that they will go from house to house getting people out to cast their vote. 

The one overriding sentiment was that the various government schemes reached everyone. The minorities availed of every benefit. 

Said with some derision many times over -
“Arre chaar chaar biwi hai, queue mai kadhe hone ke liye. Bees bache line laga lete hai par mushkil se 7-8% BJP ko vote denge”

As for PM Modi, he’s Hamaare Modi jee. Their very own. 

Truly Kashi has waited 74 years for this man and his vision to restore it to its former glory. 

"When you come here, you will not see only faith. You will also feel the glory of your past here. You will see how ‘pracheenta’ (ancient) and ‘naventa’ (modern) come alive together. This whole new complex of Vishwanath Dham is not just a grand building. 
This is a symbol of the Sanatan culture of our India." 

Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India.

 


Comments

  1. Truly mesmerizing. From the snaps it looks a tough task for doing what they finally did. Rightly put in the end Pracheenta and navinta come alive today. πŸ™ Determination of Modi and Yogi made it happen. Great writeup. πŸ‘

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  2. Nandini ma'am no one better than you could have described this revival of soul of kashi, soul of India , under vision of our great PM Modi ji.

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  3. Thank you, Di, for taking us along to this journey through Banaras.

    When Mark Twain visited the city, he said:
    Banares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.
    I think, the last part of his statement was too pointing to the urban disaster.

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  4. beautiful description.... your emotions, photos and words, actually transported me to Kashi!!! πŸ₯°πŸ₯°πŸ₯°

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  5. Have never been to Kashi ( have plans for this year if all goes well) but can imagine the dirt, soggy floors, flowers n sweets of offerings made spilled all around while one tries to navigate around it all. Its a scene so common in almost all Hindu temples. Along with this a meekly conditioned psyche of the inhabitants and the devouts to let things be as they were would have been a herculean task for those who commenced upon the humongous target to cleanse the alleys and make room for a larger number of people to get the darshan. We Hindus need to learn to combine cleanliness with devotion. Big achievement of BJP this Kashinath corridor. πŸ‘πŸ‘

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    Replies
    1. Could not agree more. Perhaps this reclamation will bring in new thought and civic sense.

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  6. Always wondered why we don’t look after our Kashi and give it the status of the Vatican or Mecca !
    Guess we were waiting for someone who felt strongly about it. Modi hai to mumkin hai !

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    1. I had visited Kashi in 2014 and believe it or not the road leading to the temple was so filthy that I turned back without visiting the Vishwanath temple.

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    2. I can only imagine what it must have been like...but now is the time to revisit :-)

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  7. Thank you for sharing these beautiful pictures and experiences from your trip Nandini

    This corridor project is a restoration that Gandhiji hoped for and Modi did

    May our civilisational history be restored to their rightful place in our sacred cities and hearts

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  8. Beautiful pictures, very well described, would visit before end of 2023.

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  9. Beautiful pictures and very well narrated as always Didi. So proud to have our PM taken up this project.
    Not visited Ayodhya or Kashi but will make it soon..

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  10. Opened your blog after ages. It was good to read your latest.

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