Kashi revels in riot of colours and ash

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Kashi revels in riot of colours and ash

Saturday, 30 March 2024 | Sharmila Chand

Kashi revels in riot of colours and ash

Amidst culinary delights like Varanasi chaat and Malaiyyo, the city’s gastronomic offerings add flavours to the sensory tapestry of Kashi. Yet, as Varanasi embraces modernity, a call for collective responsibility echoes, urging all to preserve the city’s pristine charm amidst its eternal embrace of divinity and tranquillity. Sharmila Chand experiences the city firsthand and captures its spirit

I am standing at a height in one corner overlooking HarishChandra ghat and the day is Ekadashi. The site is eclectic with hundreds of devotees and tourists dancing to the tunes of the huge DJ set up. As the music pauses for a few seconds, the sound of damrus fills the air. Young boys are playing drums and damrus while sadhus and babas, dressed in various fancy ensemble, are lost in the revelries. And soon I see clouds of gulal and bhasm in the air. Traditionally, as the legend goes, it was on the day of ‘Rang Bhari Ekadashi’, Lord Mahadev brought Goddess Parvati to Kashi after performing Gauna (marriage ceremony) and played with gulal. From that day till Holi, the festival is celebrated with full gusto. On the second day of Rang Bhari Ekadashi, it is said, Mahadev played Holi with pyre ashes and that’s how the tradition of ‘Bhasm’ or ‘Masan’ Holi has been going on which holds significant cultural and religious importance. I realise how the festival is deeply rooted in local traditions, it is indeed the celebration of culture, tradition and spirituality.

Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple

Early morning I went for darshan. The entry is well organised and I was happy to be there for my sojourn. Situated on the western bank of the Ganges, Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas or temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. The main deity of Kashi Vishwanath Temple is Lord Shiva, also known as Vishwanatha or Vishweshwarar. 

Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple

The Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple is situated by the River Assi and was built in the 1900s by the freedom fighter Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya. It is dedicated to Lord Rama and Hanuman.

Durga Temple

Durga Temple dedicated to Goddess Durga is renowned for its vivid red color and intricate architecture. It houses an imposing idol of Goddess Durga and is one of the main temples in Varanasi. Close to the temple is a huge Durga Kund.

Subah e Banaras

Early morning programme at Assi Ghat is my favorite of the immersive experience. As the first rays of the sun glow on the Ganges, there is chanting of mantras followed by Arati, Surya Namaskar and then Hindustani classical music. That’s not all, there is one hour yoga after the music where tourists and the locals perform seriously.

I thought that was the final event of the morning rituals but no, the moment yoga ends, a group of locals start bhajans and kirtan which goes on for another one hour. While all this is going on, tea vendors are busy making tea and boatmen are busy at their job, tempting tourists for Ganges boat ride.

Evenings at the Ghats

Evenings are very eventful again. There is famous Ganga arati at different ghats. Then there is also Cultural programme at Assi Ghat. As dusk descends, the ghats of Varanasi come alive with the vibrant Ganga Aarti. Priests, clad in traditional attire, choreograph the ritual with synchronised movements, accompanied by the rhythmic ringing of bells and chanting of hymns. The magnificent ritual looks resplendent with huge brass lamps lit with oil and the priests chant the holy mantras that reverberate in the entire location.

Kashi Food Trail

One thing you cannot miss about Varanasi is its food. Every city has its own style of preparation and flavours. Varanasi chaat  and Kachoris are no exception. Gol gappas taste totally different with lot of matra filling. Aloo tikki and samosa chaat comes loaded with curd, matra and chutneys. Tamatar chaat is of course unique to this city.

There are several joints for kachoris. I tried at ‘Chachi ki Kachori’- kachoris-sabzi and jalebis. It is situated on the mall road in front of Banaras Hindu University gate. As per the locals, the shop was run by an old aunty chachi, who passed away handing over her legacy to her sons, who now run the shop.

Tamatar Chaat is a local version of aloo chaat and is made from a mashed mixture of boiled potatoes, tomatoes, onions, green chillies and fresh coriander leaves. Spices like pounded ginger, red chilli powder and garam masala are splashed into the dish making it deliciously fiery. It is served in a dona, a bowl made with palash leaves. Deena Chaat Bhandar at Dashaswamedh Road is a good option.

Head to Gopal Mandir Gali for Choora Matar in the morning. Made of flattened rice soaked in desi ghee and cooked with spices along with green peas, raisins and saffron, Choora Matar is a famous breakfast and evening time snack in Varanasi. Spices like black pepper, garam masala and hing are added to this dish to enhance its flavour.

Malaiyyo - Unique Sweet of Banaras

Makhan Malaiyyo or Nimish is a popular winter season street dessert in Varanasi. Influenced by Persian cuisine, Malaiyyo is prepared by churning the milk slowly to create a creamy texture. The milk foam is then flavoured with saffron and cardamoms and garnished with pistachios and almonds on the top, served in kulhad. You can have at Neelkanth and Kachori Gali.

Lassi is one drink you will find everywhere in the city. Blue Lassi at Bangali Tola is quite famous though I had a very nice one at ‘Pahalwan Lassi Bhandar’ at Lanka and Chowk - made with malai cream and garnished with fruits and trimmed pistachios, it is truly delicious though very heavy.

Pizzeria Vaatika, Assi Ghat

The day you feel like having continental, go to ‘Pizzeria Vaatika’ a simple cafe that serves amazing authentic pizzas, pastas and yes, delightful coffee with a delightful view of the Ganges. 

Keshav Tambul, Ravidas Gate

How can you not have paan ? Want to try the famous Banarasi paan? Keshav Taambul near Ravidas Gate offers one of the best paans in Banaras.

Tea Is No Mean Drink!

Tea in kulhad is a special item in Kashi . You ask locals where to have tea, and you will get a whole lot of different tea stall names in which Pappu Chai wala will many votes. I found my favourite at Assi Ghat who would brew and boil the tea for good 15 minutes, after mixing a whole lot of ingredients. If you are in a hurry, you can move on because this fellow will not change his pace or style. For a tea finicky person like me, it was the best I’ve ever had and I thanked my stars for the extreme fulfillment I got. One day he didn’t show up, I missed him (his tea, of course), the only reason he didn’t put up his stall was “I didn’t feel like making tea, so did something else.” Well, what could I say, he was so right.

To conclude, while the ghats have been given a face-lift, facilities (like Sulabh toilets) have been provided and there is regular cleaning done, it is the responsibility of visitors to maintain some civic sense. Unless the local communities, tourists, cafes and clubs come forward to adopt areas and maintain the aesthetics, it is not possible for the administration alone to do the needful. Conscientious efforts are needed to keep the ghats clean, that’s the least we can do for such a spectacular city that reverberates divinity, calm and peace — forever embracing one and all! 

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