First published in Learning & Creativity magazine in August 2015.
Time stands still on the stone steps by the river;
a silhouette takes a dip and emerges from its waters,
hands folded in obeisance to the rising sun.
A moment of transition from mundane to divine.
A marigold garland drifts by with ash in a plastic bag.
With a conch’s cry, the temple city quivers to life,
a flower boy approaches and with him a frail form
in white, a prayer basket trembling in her hands.
Oblivious, she faces the river, chants mantras,
lights the flower lamp and sets it afloat.
A song comes as a boatman begins his day.
The sun rises from the saffron tinted waters,
lifting the veil from Shiva’s abode. The air thickens
with smoke from funeral pyres and cooking fires,
the skyline of soot-darkened temples their backdrop.
In the sacred city of Varanasi a union of opposites—
suffering and liberty, birth and death, sacred rituals
and the unfolding of daily life. I walk the ghats,
that are alive with rhythmic sounds of cleansing
as washer men thrash laundry against stone slabs.
A holy man—his body smeared with ash—
lifts his hands above his head in prayer,
another, with Shiva-like dreadlocks,
sits in deep meditation at the sunken temple.
The air echoes with the clamour of temple bells.
Pigeons take flight. I sit beneath a canopy
and watch the river of life gasp for breath
at the confluence of the city of light and death.
In the year 1931 on March 31st a girl was born to Ramchandra and Varada Moghe. The eldest of six siblings she grew up in Theosophical Society and did her schooling and graduation in the Rajghat Education Center of the Krishnamurti Foundation, a beautiful 300 acre campus full of trees, overlooking the confluence of the rivers Varuna and Ganga, on the outskirts of the ancient pilgrimage city of Varanasi.
Fortunate to be born in that time and place, she became a part of the rich cultural heritage of her birthplace. Her home was a hub for Music, Theater, literature and she grew up listening to music maestros like Siddheshwari Devi, Kanthe Maharaj, Gohar Khan , Bismillah Khan.
Many personalities from politics, music, art, theater, literature visited TS and she was fortunate enough to Listen to them. Famous writers of hindi like Jaishankar Prasad, Munshi Premchand , Sarojini Naidu stayed and worked from there. The family was closely associated with J. Krishnamurti, and many others.
Her father taught at Basant College and her mother , a homemaker and a B.Sc graduate from Ferguson College, Pune , among other things, designed first of the kind science workbooks for small children in Hindi .
After post graduation from BHU her Job took her to Rishivalley in 1953. She frequently visited her parents and later married a lecturer of science who taught at the boy’s college run by Krishnamurti Foundation now called Rajghat Besant School. My dad was a close associate of J.Krishnamurti and worked for the Krishnamurti foundation.
Her last visit in 1959 was the end of her romance with the city of Banaras for the time being.
Now after 45 years My Ma took a sentimental trip down the memory lane with my brother who was born in TS Varanasi.
It was an emotional experience and not a religious one. Although the city had changed considerably since her time, she was able to go to places where she spent her childhood and yearly youth, the molsary, mango, neem trees under whose shade she played with her friends, the house where she stayed and the school and college where she studied.
Ma was married in Sarnath ( it was an inter caste love marriage ) . She was unable to take pix of the beautiful Sarnath due to some problem but fondly narrated to us about the majestic yet serene stupa and the excellent museum which shows the rich display of Buddhist and bramanic culture. The temple of Buddha with lovely wall paintings depicting the life of Buddha by Japanese painters and the Bodhi tree where Gautam Buddha attained Bodhisattva.
The Ashoka pillar still stands there in Sarnath shinning beautifully even after so many years. Photography was not allowed at many places even near the major temples in Varanasi , the Kashi Vishwanath temple and the Sankat mochan Temple.
At the age of 79 my ma has a spirit of a child and she managed the cope with the travel, crowd and narrow lanes full of bulls and cows and people, the heat and dust in spite of her very frail health to look around and make the trip a memorable one for her.
I am glad she was able to fulfill her desire and it was a joy to watch her describing all the details with so much happiness. Now she wants to take us there and that is one trip I am looking forward to.
I am sharing some of the pix with all of you , A snapshot journey down the memory lane through my mom’s eyes. Hope you will enjoy.
Mom could not take many pictures in the city due to her health condition and as she puts it , she wanted to absorb it all in her eyes rather than in the camera so most of the pix are from the ghats and TS, Rajghat compound .
Banaras has many ghats but some of them are famous for religious purposes. The boats are called Dongi in local language and the house boats are known as Bajda , the boat man is called mallhar.
A ghat is a very special type of embankments that are actually long flights of wide stone steps leading down to the river where people can take a holy dip.
Dashaswamedh ghat, manikarnika Ghat, Manmandir ghat are some of the famous ones. Manikarnika is where the cremations take place and also the last rites and rituals for the dead are performed by the Hindus.
After the breathtaking beauty of Ganges Ma took some pix of TS and Rajghat which are a treasure for all of us.
The buildings of the Theosophical Society were designed by Surendra Nath Kar an architect from Shanti Niketan. and the sculptures and reliefs at the Vasant college were created by Rudra Hanji fondly called Rudrappa , a friend of my grandfather. The old Banyan tree is a memorable part of ma’s childhood. The Montessori school where she is sitting on the steps is now an assembly hall. The steps were designed in a way so that children of the age group 3-4 could easily climb them.
The bridge on the river is the oldest and was the only bridge during ma’s childhood.
The Varuna river has been turned into a small Nalah ( a dirty river stream where all the drainage water goes) The pic shows the confluence of Varuna and Ganga .
Ma will complete 79 years on 31st march this year and I am delighted to travel back to her roots through her.
Thank you ma for the pix , for all the interesting stories, for the delicious mithai 🙂 and the prasad from the temples. It was the most memorable day spent together.