Legend has it that gods descend from heaven to celebrate their own Diwali in Kashi and ghats are lit up with lamps.
As Salman Rushdie says in Midnight's Children: “Banaras was already old when Buddha was young.” With its curious mixture of the ancient and the contemporary, the sacred and the profane, a trip to Banaras is like taking your five senses on an adventure. “Where else can you find death and closure existing smack in the middle of everyday hurly-burly, urchins playing, washing drying on the banks of the river, worship, rituals and tourist-hungry touts all together in a state of chaotic co-existence?” asks Riitu Chugh, strategist, account planner and story-maker, adding, “Every little nook and corner has a story to tell.” This is a place where the word Mahadev, meaning God, is used as a default expression to communicate a myriad of emotions - it can be a greeting, an apology or nearly a prefix or suffix to any expression. The prospect of being in Banaras for Dev Diwali - which falls on Kartik Purnima every year, seemed incredible. Legend has it that this is the day that gods descend from Heaven to celebrate their very own Deepawali in Kashi and hence the ghats are lit up with millions of lamps to celebrate the occasion.
We flew from Delhi and since we booked ahead of time - flight tickets were reasonably priced. It's an hour long flight. You can also opt for overnight trains. One needs to experience Subah-e-Banaras at Assi Ghat where there is a Ganga Aarti that takes place as the dawn breaks over the river. Accompanied by shlokas chanted along and a yagna that occurs in tandem - the experience is at once sublime and surreal. It is followed by a classical music recital where morning ragas are performed. You can also see the most unusual sight of hundreds of locals and tourists doing yoga on the ghats. How can one miss a boat ride on the river Ganga both at dawn and at sunset? Try floating lit diyas in the river and experience the joy it brings. Do a guided walk. There are plenty of options to choose from. Pick yours and immerse yourself in another world.
If you want to taste the local delicacies, try Aloo- Puri - Jalebi for breakfast. The jalebis are infused with rose-water. Palak Patte ki Chaat- spinach or palak leaves coated with besan and fried to a crisp and used as a base for the chaat with sweetened curd, spicy and sweet chutneys creating multiple flavours and textures that explode in the mouth. Malaiyo — or milk foam made in winters feels like fairy food as it melts in the mouth. Also do not forget to buy a Banarasi silk saree or dupatta or fabric if you want to bring back a piece of Banaras with you.
Talking about the places to visit, The Kashi Vishwanath Temple located at the BHU campus was first on my list and I cannot forget the Panchmukhi Mahadev (Shiva with five faces) idol in this temple. It is mesmerising. I could not take a picture as photography is prohibited.
There is a quaint little place called ‘Dosa Café’ located close to Dashashwamedh Ghat. It’s in a house that opens onto a tiny lane that always has crowds moving back and forth from the ghat. A little room at the front of the home has three tables that seat four each, and that’s a squeeze. An array of dosas are available — each one can be custom-made in butter/ghee or olive oil. The charming young lady chef also offers a chocolate truffle idli on her menu. I must say that the dosa I had here surpassed all tastes and I have had more than a few dosa experiences. Crisp, but not overly so. It was substantial enough for me to sink my teeth into. Flavourful like nothing I have had. The chocolate truffle idli seemed like sacrilege — but tasted sublime. Also every morning there is a particular cow that comes by and waits patiently outside or even attempts to stick her face in till she is given her dosa by the owner and sent on her way. The day I visited — my animal-mad friend and travel companion did the honours.
The author is an artist, illustrator, photographer, writer, columnist and a traveller with a keen interest in art and culture.