Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Portrait of India- Part 2 Varanasi, Mecca for hindus

From Delhi we flew to the spiritual capital Varanasi, the oldest living city in the entire world and the most densely populated, which has welcomed pilgrims since the 6th century b.c.  words, photos and even videos can not describe the quality of  what that feels like.  it  was like going back in time 2000 years ago except with the addition of motorized vehicles and wall to wall people. i realized these people never have a moment of silence or privacy/space from others during their entire lives- it's no wonder they are so expert at going within to meditate into stillness and finding peace by dunking in the water of the Ganges. interestingly enough, i recently read that there is virtually no bipolar disorder in India.  you would think the overcrowded conditions would result in mental illness but it turns out  that an over focus on material gain causes mental illness while human connection and divine purpose prevents it. but there are different problems here.  on our visit to the birthplace of Buddhism where Buddha gave his first speech after his moment of enlightenment under the tree, there was a 5 year old girl holding a starving baby, begging outside the museum.  it was a haunting image that will never leave me- like one you see in those adds for aid relief in which the scrawny body of the baby has a huge head and big eyes of suffering.  it jolted me to my core and i was literally shaking from the sight.
from the museum we headed to the banks of the Ganges on which Varansi sits.  this is the mecca for Hindus- they are all dying to die there because they will go more directly to  the paradise of their afterworld.  as we rode through the streets to make our way to the river this is what we saw-

it is a sea of humanity on utter chaos, yet they all seem to have a direction and purpose in the midst of the noise, dust and confusion

as we made our way to the banks of the ganges for our sunset riverboat paddle i was greeted by a swarm of girls selling little paper bowls filled with candles and marigolds used for sending your wishes into the river.  up until now i had only come across boy hawkers and beggars who are politely aggressive, if that makes any sense.  of course i had done my part to support them, buying their trinkets and handing out money and candy.  but, seeing these young girls touched me in such a deep way because mostly for this trip the theme of the role of women kept coming up for me. so, even though the little candles only sell for 10 rupees each (25 cents)  i bought 5 for 500 rupees ($12.50)  from the oldest girl in the pink dress, knowing the mothers were right there sitting on the steps and would use the money for family expenses.  well, i'm sure none of those girls had ever seen that kind of money but i wanted them to feel empowered. by the time we returned from the boat ride an hour later, word had spread through the area and it felt like every kid in Varanasi was there waiting for me to get off the boat and hounding me for more.  it was a challenge to make it back to the bus and an elder man was shooing them away from the bus- you'll see this in a pic.  when we got to our point on the river i lit my 5 candles, one for each girl, and made a wish that they come to know some of the goodness i have and that i come to know some of the goodness they have.  the divine joy of these people is palpably intense and was catchy.  here are pics of the ganges experience. there are various ghats along the river, steps leading down to the water for different everyday functions- bathing, laundry, praying, cremation and ritual~
i'm having a problem loading Ganges photos so i will publish this and follow up with a new post~
sorry for the technical difficulties.  it got messed up from a video that wouldn't load.

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