Namaste again, well we made it to Varanasi and for the first time I have experienced the grace and energy of the city of Shiva. Before sharing our beautiful spiritual experiences, let me share with you some of the surface layers of entering this vortex of energy and consciousness.
Varanasi is one of the oldest cities still inhabited on Earth. Varanasi was a city when Ephesus, now an impressive set of ancient ruins in Turkey, was still a vibrant metropolis. The known history here of continuous inhabitation goes back at least 3,000 years. The Ganga river runs through it, and along the banks for about half a kilometer in width and several kilometers long is a marvelous, medieval, winding, labyrinthine series of tiny little alleyways and lanes which are full of shops, temples, locals, tourists and people on pilgrimage. There are also cows, dogs, puppies, kids playing, motor cycles and push bikes, all trying to go through spaces as wide as your average winding hallway. Crossing the road is a perplexing exercise, you kind of weave between moving vehicles in a way that makes sense to me only when I feel into the unity consciousness, and I am sure that the traffic in India works because of the intuitive field that the drivers and other road users enter into when they start their journeys. The whole place is fascinating, crowded, noisy, crazy, colourful and lots of fun.
Our hotel is about a 10 minute drive out of the city, in the Cantonment area, which is a more modern part of the city.
Varanasi is even larger and more crowded at the moment as the city is playing its role in a very large religious festival that happens from 14 January and goes for about 6 weeks. It is called Khumba Mele. It is the only religious festival that can be observed from satellites in space. Millions of people take part in it, flooding into Allahabad which is at the confluence of two rivers Yamuna And Ganga, and with the mythical Saraswati river. It is where many of the great Gurus currently embodied in India are gathered. The 14th January is one of the dates that the astrologers have set as the first of the main bathing days. Up and down the Ganga people are getting as close to the river as they can. In the holy city of Varanasi the population has swelled, streets are closed, and accommodation is nearly impossible to find.
Varanasi is famous for a few things, including the number of people who get cremated here. In the Hindu faith, Varanasi is considered a tirtha, or a bridge to the inner world. If you die here, you get taken straight to their equivalent of heaven. So if people are going to die they often come to Varanasi to do so. The burning ghats and cremation grounds on the river are busy yet peaceful places. Shiva famously used to meditate in the cremation grounds, and so do some of the sadhus who follow his ascetic ways.
All of this is the backdrop to the miracle of miracles, which is the river Ganga, and the jyotish lingham which resides in the Kashi Vishvenath temple right in the heart of the medieval city. In the next letter I will share with you the spirituality insights which have made our journey so rich in this city of Mahadev.