Are Kashi and Varanasi the same

In Varanasi, people and rivers meet. There, on the holy river Ganges, every Hindu wants to die. There are over 2,000 temples here, and every evening there is the same ritual in honor of the river

BY GUNDA SCHWANTJE

Varanasi, Benares, Kashi. This city has three names and is one of the oldest in the world: older than Jerusalem and Athens, it saw Babylon perish and Tikal. Varanasi nestles on the banks of the Ganges in the great plain in India, or rather the Ganges was drawn to Kashi, the city of light, on the way from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, the river only turned north here, almost flowing backwards when he saw Kashi. That is what mythology says.

Varanasi. This is a feast for the senses. A frenzy of colors. Is chaos. A never-ending multicolored stream of bodies flows through ancient alleys. Saffron yellow. Carmine. sky blue. Green like bamboo. This is how women's saris shine. Eyes that slide by, thousands of faces. The beauty of Indian women. Outstretched hands of beggars, some have crippled limbs. A person without legs is rowing through the maze on a board. “Madame, boat, you want boat, Madame? Cheap! Need room? Silk? ”The mantra goes on all day. Silk merchants store in their colorful displays. Drink tea. Varanasi is world famous for its silk. In the dust a woman: she only sells garlic, only piece by piece, rarely a bulb. Tailors work in dim shops the width of a bath towel. A washer is using a heavy iron to iron white shirts on the ledge of a house wall. This is his business. In every niche a shrine, under the rare trees, in every alley in honor of the god Shiva, blood-red and orange-yellow and freshly adorned with marigolds. Internet cafes. Dogs that have scratched off all their fur. A holy bull trots up an alley. The current presses against the wall of the house and past him. Plastic garbage, dirt. Feet without shoes. Sewage and urine flowing to the Ganges. Images flood the brain. A sahdu, he is a holy man in an orange cloth and wears the trident Schiwas, presses the tika, the red mark, on the forehead of tourists in saris. The scent of incense sticks mixes with the smell of cow dung on this scorching day. Cymbals, tablaas, and recitations from Sanskrit texts resound from the loudspeakers of the temples: This results in the sound of Varanasis, underlaid by the beeps of the rickshaws. A heavily pregnant woman with a baby asks for alms. Eyes that meet. A laugh. The taste of Varanasis is bittersweet.

The holy city - over 2,000 temples are here. The capricious god Schiwa chose Kashi as his residence when he was looking for an earthly home with his bride Parwati. And it is Shiva who takes the destructive force of the goddess Ganga in the Himalayas, where the current falls from the sky on Shiva's head and then slowly runs down the Himalayas into the plain through the braid of his curls.

The mighty Ganges with the brown water masses is sacred to the Hindus, and at the ghats in Varanasi, a five-kilometer-long bank fortification made of steps and platforms, you can see believers from all over India and Hindus from all over the world bathing when the day breaks. Then the sun gives "Mother Ganga" - as they call the river of heaven - a dull golden tone, and Kashi shimmers in gold and red and mango. They, believers and pilgrims, come to ritual purification. They wash themselves clean of sins in the holy stream and want to achieve better karma in the next life. A good 80 percent of the more than one billion Indians on the subcontinent are Hindu. There are said to be sixty thousand on average who bathe in the Ganges on a normal day in Varanasi. The believers stand in the water up to their waist, in prayer, withdrawn, embraced by the river. They give garlands of marigolds and their sorrows to the holy water. They scoop up Ganges water in small copper jugs and take it with them. Some drink from the holy stream.

The river has a problem. In Varanasi, the Ganges has already left the industrial and megacities of Kanpur and Allahabad behind and has taken in the Jamuna, a large tributary that comes from Delhi. Wastewater is being discharged everywhere, even untreated. The Ganges is a sewer. A dead cow with a threatening belly is floating in the river. She's been bobbing there for three days. Between the bathing spots. Hilarious children jump into the water from a platform. A herd of water buffalo has taken a seat in the river, and one ghat further Dhobiwallahs, as the launderers are called, wash enormous amounts of clothing in the river, later shirts and trousers hang on the balustrade to dry, saris flutter in the wind.

There is a ceremony in honor of Mother Ganga at Dasashwamedh Ghat. Every day. As soon as the sun has set. Priests wave oil lamps with flowing movements and greet the river. Sanskrit mantras, ringing bells and rhythmic drumming are part of the ritual. Hundreds of lights from wooden boats are set in the Ganges in small leaf boats. The current gently takes the flickering flames with it, in the long bend they slowly rock away in front of the dark horizon. The opposite bank was never settled. As if a fairy tale was being told, an old man appears that evening in a magical, very small wooden boat adorned with blue sequins and lights, which has plastic water bottles as stabilizers. He watches the ceremony from the water. Reverently. The flames shimmer all over the river.

The last trip. For centuries the fires have been burning, uninterrupted, day and night, at the Manikarnika Ghat. And this place is so intense that it is believed that it will always be that way in the future. This ritual is completely untouched by time. Archaic images. The dead man's eldest son has shaved his head down to a strand, has a white cloth tied around his waist and is now bare-chested at the stake. The dead lie between tree trunks and kindling, and the keepers of this place, untouchables, stir up the fire. Slowly the person burns. He jerks a little between the logs, as if to make himself comfortable. Eight more pyres light up the night.

It is only in Kashi that the Hindus can free themselves from the cycle of reincarnation through death. God Shiva knows the mantra that is necessary for the crossing, for the transition into nirvana, and whispers it to the dying when the soul separates from the body, the Hindus believe. Here death is welcome, it is a happy event. Around 70,000 people are cremated at the Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi every year. And death is always present in the city.

A stream of stretchers is constantly threading its way through the flood of people in the alleys. The dead are carried to the Marnikarnika Ghat with loud shouts, and after they are burned, the ashes are poured into the river. "Mother Ganga" picks up everything, washes everything away.

At dawn of the following day, a few steps behind the piles of wood at Manikarnika Ghat, hundreds bathe. Babies scream, women brush their long hair, men shave after the ritual bath, while the untouchables do their work. Life and death is public, is a smooth transition on the Ganges in Kashi, Benaris, Varanasi.