Thursday, November 22, 2007

Holy Varanasi


The first time I heard the word ghats (Bengali: ঘাট ghaţ) which refers to a series of steps leading down to a body of water, is none other than the ancient city of Varanasi. Kalai, my Indian friend from Ipoh told me that the British called Varanasi, Benares and that Hindus believe that a person who passes away here will go to heaven. The Hindu God Shiva is said to live here once and it is no wonder that this ancient city becomes a holy place to the Hindus just like Mecca is a holy place to the Muslims and Hindus want to come here for a pilgrimage. It is said that more than a million pilgrims visit Varanasi each year and the last time I was here, the railway station was practically swarmed. There were people everywhere and later, I heard some people come here just to die. I remember seeing many deaths occurring here. Funeral processions are a norm and at the bank of the River Ganges (Ganga) where this holy city stands, cremation is carried out openly and while you can witness a body being cremated, you are not allowed to take a photo of it. I remember taking a boat ride in the river Ganga during which our guide was disappointed to find out that we would be going back the next day. Otherwise, he said we could go for a dip in the River Ganges. Females take their bath in the early morning and the males take theirs at the later part of the day and Hindus believe that bathing in the river will remit sins.

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