Varanasi — the spiritual city of India — can be a shock to the first-time visitor. Crowded and noisy, slow traffic, beggars and vagabonds, meandering bulls and cows, overarching religiousness, wholesale dead bodies, cremations, etc. But then, it’s not easy to grab the essence of one of the world’s oldest living cities.
I love this place because it’s full of chaos and order at the same time. I have been here several times and have stayed at different locations. This place is a boon for you if you’re on a soul-searching spree.
Ghats in Varanasi are riverfront steps leading to the banks of the river. The city has 88 ghats. Most of these ghats are bathing and religious ceremonies, while two of them are used exclusively as cremation sites.
Dashashwamedh Ghat is probably the most spectacular ghat. A group of priests daily perform — in the evening a religious — ceremony dedicated to the lord, the river, the sun, the fire, and the whole universe.
Hindu cremations customarily take at Manikarnika Ghat and Harishchandra Ghat. A per the mythology, it’s believed that the deceased attain salvation if they’re cremated here.
If you’re fortunate, you may also get to meet one of the mystic saints of Hindu belied — the Aghori. They engage in post-mortem rituals. They often dwell in charnel grounds, smear cremation ashes on their bodies and use bones from human corpses for crafting skull cups and jewelry. Their practices are contradictory to orthodox Hindu system. They’re alleged to possess healing powers gained through their intensely eremitic rites and practices of renunciation.
A walk along the ghats is also fascinating to experience. If you’re feeling a bit daunted and would prefer to be accompanied by a guide, go on this riverside walking tour offered by the locals.
Death in Varanasi is a blessing for a devout. The ghats in here symbolically represent the five diverse elements that constitute the human body, and the doorsteps of heaven, as per Hindu mythology.