Dawn greets me with a garland of muses. Enveloped inside the fire of love and trust, I swish through the thick air around me, slicing through throngs of sounds, smells, and crowds. As eyes, gaze upon the joyful sparkle around me, mine are transfixed by the maze of sensory beauty before me. My friend, an elder on a soul journey, gives me a glimpse into the mystic revelation of the architectural wonder of this ancient city of Benaras. He remarks, “Hold in mind at all times, that you are entering a sacred mandala. At the nucleus of which is spiralling, rocketing out, shafts of powerful divine energy. A life force so powerful that if unprepared to receive, anger, arrogance, frustration and all the shades of depleting emotions, is all that you will encounter. If uninitiated, you meet thugs, arrogant priests, and enraged people, in power. On the other hand, if your being is a vessel ready to receive the light, you will experience peace, wonder, joy, wellbeing, humor and equanimity. So, remain vigilant of this duality. Drop inward and shield yourself away from the forces that throw you off balance. Tune inward and listen keenly to your inner antennae.” And I do so. 


The crowds separate to lead me to a wooden boat, down the ghats of Benaras. Stepping upon the triangular platform, I am requested to dance, as the boat flows across changing landscapes – ornate ghats flanked with anchored boats, and bathing pilgrims. An occasional corpse floats across the river, though majority lay cradled in the fires of burning wood. Oil lamps with flowers, whispered with prayers for the soul of an ancestor, or a beloved, float by. Soaring eagles, tolling temple bells, loud venerations, tourists with the camera in hand, all pass me by. I feel the nourishing temperature of the soothing warmth of a beautiful morning sun. I am dancing and emoting to the songs, that I am singing aloud. I see lotus blossoms on the waters, with my inner eye. I pluck them. I splash its waters and cool this body with it. The Sun becomes my lover. I speak out to him. He receives my love from that intangible corner of the universe. I feel his presence. Lowering these bashful eyes, I turn away and call out to the birds soaring in the skies above. They, my messengers, carry love notes across this vast, blue expanse. I beckon my Krishna to see the joyful river. I pull him close. We jump into the river. Splashing each other with the river waters, we giggle and laugh heartily. I awaken to the rising angst of desire. All illusions dissolve. His absence torments me. I sing him a line. The melody awakens heat in the body, and shivers inside winds of wanting. The pallor and the plea heighten a desperate urge for an instantaneous return to equanimity. She suddenly appears. She, an apparition. She, my Sakhi, my endearing friend, who knows me intimately. Our bond and trust, naked, akin to the compassionate voice inside of me. She listens to me with empathetic, non-judgmental eyes. Returning into the cradle of peace and well being, our boat passes the ornate ghats. My dance speaks to the pilgrims, half wet, half dry. They let out screams of applause from inside the river. These voices are swallowed by the wide expanse and the unending river banks. The noise dwindles and settles into silence. I remain neutral amidst both. In a state of trance, eyes half closed, I see a grey corpse float by. This lifeless body appears like a beautiful, regal, grey bark, bobbing upon water. On the other bank, throngs of men, women and children, in prayerful veneration of the same waters. It is all, most surreal. I am a witness to a circle of life, death, life. The words, Kashi Vishwanath, Ruler of the Universe, gathers new meaning for me. I feel the presence of Lord Shiva. I prostrate to him in humility and complete surrender. Flowing upon the breadth and bosom of the Ganga, I am transported into the light. 

हर हर महादेव शंभो काशीविश्वनाथ गंगे । 

[ Photo courtesy : Santosh Sivan ]