Photo taken from Wilkepedia Commons.  The Ganges at Varanasi.
Varanasi is where the River Varuna meets the River Asi, perhaps the oldest city in the world I was told.
 In the early morning I was on the tourist bus with the guide explaining things and after a tour around the city, the bus led us down ton the River and onto a boat where we were rowed around the ghats. It was a place where people did laundry and bathed and also burnt their dead. It was very early morning just before sunrise and a thick fog or smoke form the burning hung around the atmosphere. It was also the time of prayer and we could hear the bells and chants. It was as if everything, every sound just impregnated the air and lingered before rising. It hung low and we could almost feel it in our bones.

The guide pointed out the house where a man of a very low caste kept the flames (the Eternal Fires) and all those who wanted to cremate had to go to him to obtain the burning coals to light the wood. The family of the dead had to buy the burning coals from him and he charged as much as seventy rupees (in 1982) for a piece of burning coals. As a result of this, he lives in what is about one of the best constructed buildings on the banks of the River.

The River here is so different from Rishikesh. There it was so clean and clear. Here the water was visibly dirty and the guide explained that although he was Hindu, he would never touch this water because it was so polluted by the sewerage that was emptied here and all the dead bodies that were cremated and some thrown here.

He was quite an original as he also warned us to stay away from beggars, fake-tourist guides and he said the place was swarming with thieves. He pointed out the Golden temple and he said ‘I don’t believe that it is real gold for it was, so much would have already been stolen.”

He explained that a benefactor left a beautiful drum for the temple and it was housed in “that building there” he pointed. But thieves were constantly cutting away bits and pieces of the leather to make shoes etc that soon the drum was useless.

He pointed out the house of Mother Teresa.  It was very quiet at this time of the morning and the atmosphere was very prayerful. I sat next to an European gentleman who told me that he was moved to tears and he felt like praying as he did when he was a child. I do not frequent churches and I am not a religious man and I have not prayed in years but now I feel like a child again” he confided.

As we came near the end of the tour, we came across some children bathing and one of them waved at the boat and called out “hello monkeys!”

“The children play by my River
As the Holy pray by my River
The seeker spends his day by my River
The Holy spend their lives by my River
The children grow up in the wet of the River
It is the children who learn to want the Giver
The little ones swim with the dead
in the River of their youth
It is the children who know from their Mother,
the Ganga, the truth
‘Learn to whisper in the dying’s ear the name of God’-the
Mother shares this thought with her little hearts
They listen to the Sacred Mother and flow in their youth to the source of life
It is the children by the River’s bank who get life right
Children playing by the River’s waters

As the River’s sons and daughters flow in the form of ash
past their own youthful homes
The Living and the dead- at the Mother’s breast
Neither are ever alone.”
(The River  by Ma Jaya sati Bhagavati)


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