I just lately returned to Varanasi after a number of years to spend a weekend at a pageant celebrating the unimaginable legacy of one among India’s best poets, philosophers, and humanists — Sant Kabir Das. Via folks and classical music, recitations and lectures, the pageant revived the enduring message of affection that transcends the confines of human relationships and speaks of a typical humanity, celebrating it in all types, colors, and flavours. Kabir has astringent qualities — even searing verses that deflate pomp and ceremony related to wealth and energy remind us that it’s mud that we got here from and to mud we will return. There’s sharp sarcasm in his verses, mocking the delusions that permeate our lives. There’s additionally a deep sense of piety and devotion that pulls from a way of marvel and the actual fact that we exist, that we predict, and that we love. For Kabir, the miracle of life validates religion in God, no matter be His title. Maybe it’s not coincidental that Kabir lived his total life in a metropolis that was already historical, on the banks of a river hallowed by the religion and devotion of numerous generations and whose slim lanes, temples, and masjids, ruins, and gaudy dwellings grew to become woven in its wealthy tapestry. He wrote within the language of the town — a lyrical medley of Bhojpuri, Awadhi, and Poorvi — which continues to allure the customer.
Reliving Kabir’s legacy took me far-off from the deeply contested and infrequently fierce communal politics that dominate the discourse in our capital. Unusual that Varanasi is a metropolis the place one is rarely very removed from the lived symbols of the traditional Hindu religion, but we not often come throughout the ugly assertions of its narrowest of slim identities. However the poison is starting to seep in and that’s worrying.
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Routine in Varanasi
A few years in the past, within the Nineteen Sixties, I spent a few months dwelling in Benares, because it was then recognized, with a widower uncle who, after retirement, was doing his Kashi bas, or dwelling out the remaining years of his life within the holy metropolis. He had a each day routine of a morning stroll to the sacred Dashashwamedh Ghat to take a dip within the holy river. This is able to be adopted by a stroll via the town’s slim lanes to the Vishwanath temple, to make an providing, say a prayer and do a pradakshina, or a stroll across the temple earlier than heading to the celebrated Kachori-wali Gali, or the lane filled with halwai or sweetmeat retailers, the place one might take pleasure in a scrumptious breakfast of recent puris, a vegetable curry, topped with syrupy jalebis and rabri. This grew to become my each day routine too, gently persuaded, as I used to be, by my uncle.
The breakfast was the half that I waited for even whereas going via the each day ritual of bathing within the river and praying on the temple. Individuals nonetheless take a dip within the Ganges however it’s now closely polluted regardless of the ministrations of the Namami Gange river cleansing undertaking.
All these reminiscences got here flooding again as I walked the streets of a metropolis extra congested, densely populated, and over-built than fifty years in the past. And but it retains that hard-to-describe air of serenity that sits over the chaos under. Maybe the generations of pious pilgrims and devotees that come to the town and those that dwell in its sanctified lanes, have created an ambiance of congealed piety that permeates the town. It’s the similar feeling one will get whereas doing the parikrama of Mount Kailash, retracing the steps of thousands and thousands of pilgrims which have, for numerous generations, traversed the traditional route for an encounter with the divine. Mount Kailash already has a spot within the historical Hindu scriptures — the Puranas. A spiritually receptive pilgrim quickly connects with the devotional cost left behind by his predecessors. Varanasi, too, has that cost.
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Development at Kashi Vishwanath temple
That sense of connecting with one thing transcendental evaporated on my go to to the Kashi Vishwanath temple. The place has turn into an enormous development web site.
As an alternative of the maze of slim lanes of the Kashi Vishwanath temple, there may be now an enormous courtyard, lined with newly-built coated corridors on its 4 sides. An enormous arched gate is being constructed with a large flight of steps main into the courtyard. It should open out on a large boulevard rising from one of many ghats and resulting in it in a straight line. Lord Shiva has now been imprisoned in a monumental stone simply as Lord Rama has been in Ayodhya.
Maybe a lot of my fellow residents might even see this redevelopment as befitting our historical religion, breaking out of the confines that they imagine have been imposed by the so-called ‘Abrahamic faiths’. I see this as diminishing the very wellspring of religion, which has made Varanasi the particular metropolis that it’s. One must be light with historical past. One must be respectful of the legacy left behind by the previous generations. And although I used to be discouraged by what I witnessed across the Vishwanath temple, my encounter with a brand new technology of younger musicians, poets, and storytellers, who celebrated the message of Kabir and conveyed a message of frequent humanity that we so desperately want right this moment, left me hopeful.
We want religion within the some ways we think about God, however recall what Kabir stated: “Stop on the lookout for me right here and there, I’m all the time subsequent to you.”
Shyam Saran is a former International Secretary and a Senior Fellow CPR. Views are private.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)