Sunday, February 19, 2012

Melting Stone

Visiting a place always gives you a reason to love or hate it but as they say; you can’t ignore it. Varanasi, one of my favorite cities of India, is no exception to this. It is one of the ancient places on earth which was visited by people from far lands of the world and from different time lines of human history. Like most of the ancient Indian cities, landscape of Varanasi also includes various landmarks representing people and their unyielding ideas of life and death and of course, in India, ‘life after death’.

Ghats of Varanasi, stretched parallel to the ancient river Ganga, are one of those landmarks. These Ghats, like any other landmarks of the city, have also changed themselves for us. In fact they have changed themselves radically enough to challenge you to recognize them as they were, in past, when they were built, when they were ‘present’ of the past.

Roaming around various parts of the city, I managed to reach these Ghats after sunset. I was told that I must see ‘evening aarti’ (evening prayers) which was supposed to be a spectacle on these Ghats. So I was there and they began it with their lamps waving in the air. Chanting started in the background and was coming from loudspeakers tied to the poles stuck in these Ghats.

If you look at these Ghats and what surrounds them, you will find that consumerism has tainted them or I must say ridiculed them to its core but I can say the same for anything and anyone these days. You will find these Ghats covered behind the veil of consumerism and their promotional tools. I was wondering that, in past, when pilgrims or Sadhus used to take a dip in Ganges and return back to Ghats, what must have welcomed them was the beautifully carved walls of the temples and stone staircase of these Ghats as opposed to flashy banners, hanging bluntly on walls, offering cheap cell phone connections.
I believe that when we visit any place which has a pre-history, we want to go back into past and experience it as it was or as we are told it was. Something similar was in my mind when I have planned to visit these Ghats. I wanted to discover if there were doorways, some sort of wormholes which can transport you back in time to look at these Ghats expanded along the river, helping pilgrims connect with the ancient river.

I stayed to witness ‘evening prayers’ and shared this vision with thousands of other eyes, present there, looking at waving lamps. Sooner I realized that I had too much to cover and had very little time in hand hence I decided to follow the trail of the stairs connecting criss cross lanes of these Ghats.

The captivating beauty of these Ghats is entirely different when you visit them at night. As I covered these Ghats one after another and clicked few snaps, I was sure that there are indeed secret passages, present there, which can pull you back in time and give you unyielding glimpse of these Ghats.

There were those portals amongst the people sitting there. They were there amidst the waving lamps and smoke and flames. They were triggered by the chants coming from the loudspeakers and were taking shapes because of the concentrated gaze of thousands of eyes there.

------ May be they were there because I was looking for them :)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Clouds above us....

This is the day I realized that I have becoame a part of something that set a number of events in motion; my visit to Yoga Vedanta Kutir in Allahabad has done so.

Yoga Vedanta Kutir is located on the banks of Ganga (Ganges) in Allahabad (An ancient city of historic importance for both India and world and fortunately my birth place. I came to know about ‘Yoga Vedanta Kutir’ through a number of beautiful souls, (Dustin Shultz and Trevor Hall) who has done a lot for this place and constantly doing it.

I had the address of this place in my hand and I was wondering how difficult it should be to search it in a city that is also my hometown but as it was located on the banks of Ganga, I had doubts in my mind because my upbringing had restricted me to go to riverside on occasions only, also as I was visiting the riverside after 7 years since I moved out of my hometown, I had my share of uneasiness in my own hometown, perhaps I was missing a company, therefore I asked Vineet (A friend, who is like a younger brother to me and still lives in Allahabad) to accompany me.

We have visited this place on a day during Monsoon in India, My home town was covered with dark clouds and giving us signs to reach there before it starts raining but my parents told me that this season the clouds are not pouring water in Allahabad however I always like the idea of dark clouds above my head J

We have reached there by an ‘Indian Tempo’, a wonderful ‘public transport system’ of my hometown. I have taken a photograph of the conductor convincing pilgrims of ‘Triveni Sangam’ to board his taxi.

The entrance of Yoga Vedanta Kutir has a staircase going downwards connecting to a small room, this small room leads to various sections of the Ashram including a number of small rooms which Swami ji uses for teaching ancient yoga to the people of the city and children (disciples) of the Ashram. Also there are a number of trees inside the Ashram  and one of them provides shelter to a small stone platform. The cold touch of stone platform, sheltered under a tree on a cloudy day, gave me a chill.

I met Swami Atmanand Saraswati, who was teaching Sanskrit to the children of the Ashram at that time and was so welcoming to us that I am meeting a brother after so long. The children were surprised to see us for another 10 minutes since we have reached there. Swami ji asked one of them to prepare tea for us, which I refused as I do not take tea and thanked him for it.

I gave sweets to swami ji to distribute it to children who were a bit hesitant but full of energy that you can feel when you are around them. They went inside their small rooms to wear their yellow shirts, which was as beautiful as they were, perhaps they were feeling shy in front of the camera.

We had a long conversation with swami ji ranging from ‘how can we make this world a better place for us and people around us’ to ‘how important it is for us to take care of these children who are here from different parts of this country’ including a fact that they do not have anyone else other than this Ashram to call their own. The reason behind sharing this visit to the Ashram, is that there is a lot that can be done for these children and the place and if you are a person who believes the same, you are welcome to contact me to help make it possible.