Wednesday 1 February 2023

Varanasi- A Sketch Travelogue

Ganga Aarti in Assi ghat
Varanasi or Kashi is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and one of the most important pilgrimage centers for Hindus. The legend of Varanasi goes back 10,000 years to the oldest Hindu epics including the Puranas, Vedas and Mahabharata. Archaeologists have discovered pottery dating back to 1000 BC and as late as 1500 AD. It is a city on the banks of the river Ganga.

Sketch from the plane window.

I traveled with my mother to Varanasi or Kashi in November 2022.  I took a boat ride in the evening on the river Ganga , around sunset, and did a rapid sketch.

You may like to read my blog post on the Brokpa tribe of Ladakh. 

Ghats from the boat ride in Varanasi
Staple Benarasi breakfast- kachori, subji and jalebis. So scrumptious! The kachori is not the hard shelled ones I am used to in Mumbai or Pune. These are like pooris but with a dal (lentil) stuffing.
Staple Benarasi breakfast

Durga mandir at Durga kund, Varanasi.
I loved the colour of the temple. This is an 18th century temple constructed in stone but painted with this colour.
Durgakund temple in Varanasi

Benarasi tea is quite renowned and every nook and corner there are tea stalls selling tea with similar taste and quality. Benarasi Chai is milky with lots of ginger and sometimes cardamom. This tea seller told me that for 6 litres milk they add around 500 ml water. All tea stalls serve tea in earthern mugs. I loved Benarasi Chai and most importantly it is not cloyingly sweet like in some other places. This tea seller called Kashi is the owner of Kashi tea stall on Assi ghat road.

Chai wallah in Kashi

Kashi, the chai wallah in Kashi
Our guest house owner informed us that this 500 yrs old Ramnagar Durga temple is the only temple in Varanasi which was not destroyed or desecrated by the Islamic invaders or British colonialists. It is around 12 kms from Varanasi in a quiet village. I was stunned by the intricate carvings, depicting different scenes from Hindu mythology. Of course, my sketch doesn't do justice at all to the sheer beauty of the temple but I had to capture the memory. See some poetry carved in stone.
Ramnagar Durga mandir, Varanasi

Ramnagar Durga temple, Varanasi

Ramnagar Durga temple, Varanasi

Ramnagar Durga temple, Varanasi

A must see on anyone's trip to Varanasi is the Aarti offered to Ganga river also addressed as Mother Ganga. Aarti is a ritual oblation of light, incense, flowers, etc offered to Gods and since Ganga is worshiped, there is a morning as well as evening Aarti offered to her. We attended the Aarti on Assi ghat. Seven young priests wearing uniform clothes offer light, water, flowers and incense sticks in a graceful motion in complete coordination and sync. It is a spectacular display accompanied by percussion beats and chants. I did some sketches capturing the postures of the priests and the different items offered to the river. Swipe to see the video of the Aarti.
Ganga Aarti in Assi ghat, Varanasi

Ganga Aarti in Assi ghat, Varanasi

Ganga Aarti in Assi ghat, Varanasi

Ganga Aarti in Assi ghat, Varanasi
Give me Red!!
There is so much colour, especially bright ones, around temples in India. Sketched this stall selling pooja items like coconut, red cloth and flowers while waiting outside a temple in Varanasi. Touched it up later.
Outside a temple in Varanasi

Outside a temple in Varanasi

One very popular thing to eat in Varanasi is Benarasi Paan, which is betel leaf parcels with a stuffing of areca nuts, gulkand (sun cured rose petal jam) and a few other additions. Betel leaves are a good digestive and are eaten after a meal. I sampled a paan at the Keshav Paan Bhandar, a very old shop where four old men sat and made these little leaf parcels.

Keshav Paan Bhandar, Varanasi

Flower seller outside a temple.

I had such a sublime and splendid morning. My mother and I watched the morning aarti on the Assi Ghat at 5.30 am and thereafter took a boat ride to see the sunrise. I sketched away and she chanted the Rudram Chamakam. Such a beautiful experience it was to watch the golden sun emerging on the river while Varanasi slowly woke up to another day.

Sunrise on a boat ride in Varanasi

I am happy I could take my mother on this holy pilgrimage and could capture beautiful memories in my sketchbook. 

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