BANARAS -City of God, Heart of India - slide show

A slide show with images from Benares (or Banaras, Kashi or Varanasi). Designed to be viewed on your smartphone or tablet. Click on an image to be directed to the corresponding image file.

"Where the Ganges makes a broad sweep to the North, there lies Banaras, the city which all Hindu´s consider the holiest of holy cities in India. In a tradition which goes further than our western civilisation, the people here live amongst thousands of temples and the ´ghats´, the steps which go down to the river, a feature which has made the city a famous landmark. Bathing in the Ganges, the river that they believe was transported from heaven to earth, is the first deed of the newly arrived pilgrims and the daily ritual of the inhabitants. Banaras is also the last destination of many old and sick people who come to the city to die. For them, cremation and the strewing of their ashes in the river mean the liberation ´muksha´ of their souls from the vicious circle of reincarnation. To live here has become the goal of life for many and this makes the daily rhythm of the city one of resignation and serene stillness, but there is also an atmosphere of the famous savoir-vivre and tolerance, different to other cities in India."


ISBN 90-6831-956-6 BENARES "Stad van Goden Hart van India"
ISBN 81-7010-302-9 BANARAS "Visions of a Living ancient Tradition""

references in the text:
  RS = Robert Schilder
  WC = Winand Callewaert
  DE = Diane Eck
  KS = Kubernath Sukul
  OPS = Om Prakash Sharma

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pfs0998 'BENARES Stad van Goden, Hart van India'


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The best pan, they say, is sold in Banaras. Cancer of the jaw and of the throat is not uncommon in India because of excessive use of pan. WC


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The rickshaw-vala usually does not own his vehicle. He makes short but very intense efforts, taking the passengers to some place and also giving a safe passage across the street! Tourists visiting Banaras in winter do not realize that for at least six months a year even a short walk through Banaras makes you perspire. WC


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pfs1004 'traffic jam near Luxor Road'
In India and in Banaras we witness not only a tremendous increase in the population. People also undergo the benefits and consequences of a fast growing economy. As in many Indian cities, a strong municipality in Banaras will have to decide to keep buses and cars out of the city centre that was originally built for pedestrians. WC


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I always wonder where they are grown and how they get into the city, but huge amounts of flowers are sold everyday. Pilgrims offer them to the Ganges or to a deity in the temple. If you are given a flower or a garland, you should not give it to anyone else. You can only keep it, or put it down somewhere. WC


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In all countries where too much or too little rain will determine whether harvests will be good or not, water is essential. In India water is essential, and therefore sacred. A daily bath is necessary in all hot countries. In India it is a ritual. WC


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pfs1010 '"Widows, bulls, steps and ascetics...
Avoid these and life is pleasant in Banaras"'

Many steps to the river are hundreds of years old.
How many times did someone use them to bath in the light of the rising sun?
Many of them are widows, who have only little more to expect from life.
They came to Kashi to do penance or out of misery, find shelter in the temples and live of alms. RS


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pfs1012 'The barber serves you not only on the occasion of a bereavement, ... WC'


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The Ganga is still an enormous great highway for trade, the entire commerce in ancient times depended on river transport. The river covers the entire lengt,th of India.


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pfs1015 'The ´other´ side of the river Ganga.'
A bier has surfaced on the other side of the river. It is not unlikely that the turtles have finished the corpse. In Semitic religions the corpse is buried and 'preserved' for the day of the last judgment. In hindu tradition it is said that the body is only a temporary dwelling, like clothes one discards at night. Only ignorant people find it difficult to leave that body. Everyone has passed through many bodies, and many are likely to have to come back in other bodies. wc


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If you want to cross the ocean of rebirth you should die and be cremated in Banaras, even if you do not have enough money to pay for the wood. wc


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pfs1017 'Lingam and priest at Ramnagar Palace'
The Lingam is not an idol, or an image of Shiva. It is Shiva Himself. In all sizes, in stone or metal, Shiva is more than thousand times present in Banaras.


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pfs1018 'Gyan Vapi Mosque'
The great Aurangzeb mosque, built on the ruins of the 16th century Vishvesvara Temple. One of the walls of the old temple is still standing.


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pfs1021 'drying dung cakes on the walls of the crematorium to be build at Harischandra ghat'
The cow is sacred because of religious, political and many other reasons. The diluted cowdung smeared over the floor of huts repels insects. The cowdung is gathered by children and women and plastered on the wall and these dried cakes are excellent fuel. In the villages cowdung provides biogas. It is my experience that a chapati prepared on a cowdung fire is very tasty.WC


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In Banaras too there are elite schools and the level is proportionate with the neatness of the uniform. WC


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pfs1023 'map of Panchakroshi road'


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Under the trees on the westbank of the Ganges where the river makes a turn towards the north, ascetics settled during the first millennium before Christ. If you take a bath at this spot you can worship the rising sun at the same time. That is where the city of Banaras was founded.


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pfs1026 'Nepali temple, Nepalese temple'
the Nepalese Temple is a Shiva temple, built in 1841 by Rajendra Veer Vikram Shah, a king of Nepal. The style, with its wood carvings and erotic figures, is typical of Nepal. Temple of Cupid.


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pfs1029 'Panchaganga Ghat'
Near the Panch-ganga ghat ´where the five rivers meet´ the pilgrim worships the Ganges and the tributaries which are symbolic for all the rivers in India. On the full moon night of October hundreds of small lights are lit and fitted in the holes of the tower. WC

Panchaganga Ghat
Built by Raja Man Singh of Amer (1592-1615). According to the Hindu religion, it is built above the joining of the Ganges and the mythical rivers of Yamuna, Sarasvati, Kirana and the Dhutapapa.
Alongside this ghat is a forest of bamboo poles and parasols belonging to the gatya’s and a stone column which can contain more than a thousand lamps.


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pfs1030 'Gate above Panchganga Ghat'


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There is a room for everyone somewhere in Banaras,
depending on your caste and region. WC


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In autumn small lights are tied to the bamboos along the river
as guides to the spirits of the deceased. WC


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pfs1033 'Gyan Vapi Mosque'
Only from this side the wall, which originates from an old Hindu temple, is visible

It is hard to imagine that part of the Sixtine chapel in Rome would be taken down to build a Hindu temple. For more than 400 hundred years this mosque has been right in the heart of Banaras, besides (and on top of?) the Vishvanath temple of Shiva. WC


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pfs1039 'Ghatya´s religious and secular objects'
religious and secular objects: agarlatis, dhup powder, wicks soaked in ghee, sandelwood powder, kumkuma, camphor, japamala, tongue cleaners, lampjes, rudraksha rosaries

Ointments of different kinds and colours are ritually applied to the forehead and the arms. WC


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At dusk the Ganga Aarti ceremony is performed whereby small offerings are given to the Goddess Ganga. An aarti is a devotional ritual using fire and it's common to place a small candle inside a cup made from leaves and flowers and float it down the river. The ritual happens every single day but it still has ...


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pfs1042 'Amrita: water of the Ganges is nectar of immortality'
Terwijl ze enorme koperen potten met Ganges-water op hun schouder naar boven dragen roepen ze Shiva´s naam: "Hara, hara mahadeva" eenmaal binnengekomen in de tempel gieten ze hun kwistige offerandes over de lingam


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pfs1043 'Saddhu'
a not-so-real saddhu, the man was placed here for a recording for the German television..


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pfs1049 'Kedara Ghat'
This bathing place is favoured by the older ladies, mostly widows. At the top is the Bengalese temple devoted to Shiva Kedareshvara, the lord of the Kedar mountains in the Himalayas. The entrance is guarded by two fierce looking black figures. Halfway down the steps a water basin has been hewn out of the stone, it is called Guari Kunda after Shiva’s wife, and the waters will heal three kinds of sickness.

The chaos in the material world is deceptive. It is because of the inner energy in matter that hundreds of thousands take a ritual bath in the river. Halfway between Asi and Dasashvamedha is the Kedar ghat, where the locals like to go especially on Mondays. The Kedar temple on top of the ghat is associated with a sacred spot where Shiva resides in the Himalayas, thus making this place even more sacred. WC


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pfs1051 'New Vishwanath Temple'
Thought of by the great nationalist and founder of the Benares Hindu University, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya and built by the Birla family.
Built in 1966 as a replica of the Vishwanath temple which was destroyed by Aurangzeb. This new temple was built on the order of Madan Mohan Malaviya, a famous nationalist and founder of the Banaras Hindu University. This temple is built based on the theory of the old hinduism, which is free of prejudices of caste, religion and colour. It has one of the tallest sikharas in India - approximately 73 metres.


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pfs1052 'Carana paduka (Chakrapushkarini)'
Life and death, creation and destruction: one experience in Banaras. No pilgrim will forget to visit the sacred pond just above the Manikarnika cremation ground. It is exactly at this spot that Vishnu produced the energy that created the world. With his sweat the pond was filled and when Shiva saw the splendour of creation and danced his earring (Manikarnika) fell into the pond. WC


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pfs1053 'Bhangi'
Why should anybody sweep the steps of the ghats? Everyone knows that every day the Ganges overflows its banks and leaves tons of silt behind. Has she been ordered to do it or has she another motive?RS

Even the 'untouchable' Bhangi's are subdivided in different groups. They take away the garbage and clean the toilets. The 'religious' hierarchy of the different castes divided in numerous sub-castes in India has much to do with the immense variety of people that lived in India or invaded it.WC

Banghi -the cleaners- belong to what is now known as the "scheduled castes". Before the caste system was renounced this group was known as the intouchables. Just as the leather workers, the dhobi wallahs (washerwomen and men) and the dom's, these are the people who take care of the cremation grounds. F

In theory there were 4 main castes. The Brahmana (Brahmin) which included priests and philosophers: Kshatrua -the kings, warriors and aristocrats, the Vaisya who were shopkeepers, merchants and trades people. And the Sidra -farmers, servants, etc. But in reality it is endlessly complicated, as in the Banghi caste which is divided into perhaps a thousand sub castes. DE

The connection which exists between caste and skin colour underlines the idea that this originated in the differentiation between the races of old India. It is also fairly certain that in the India of the Dravidiers a certain amount of untouchableness existed. Maybe here it is worth mentioning that caste rules apply more in South India and is not only apparent between the high and low castes, but also between the members of the lower castes.


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pfs1054 'Museum Sanskrit University'


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pfs1055 'Kedara Ghat'


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pfs1056 'Harischandra Ghat (or Samashan Ghat)'
Some prefer a cremation here, rather then at the more popular
and more expensive Manikarnika ghat. This spot became sacred
because of the penance and truthfulness of king Harischandra. wc

An ancient place of cremation, a traditional place of burning for many communes and families. Here suti stones can be found where widows have burned themselves on the funeral pyres of their dead husbands. This ghat is named after the legendary king Harischandra who was tested by the gods. Gradualy he lost his riches, kingdom, his wife and finally his son, and still he remained on the straight and narrow. Finally he was re-instated by the gods.


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pfs1057 'Naga Panchami'
Naga Panchami, day for worshipping snakes.
These stones appear to be very old.

Snake worship -as can be seen on the stone behind the tree- is found in many cultures, but nowhere perhaps is the worship so conspicuously present in literature and in temple iconography as in India. For more than 3000 years snake worship has been associated with fertility and prosperity, for the Naga's and Nagini's (snake gods and goddesses) bring rains. They live in the underworlds and on the bottom of lakes and rivers. Scholars suggest that snake-worship may have its roots in pre-Vedic India and that the tradition was aptly incorporated in Hindu mythology. wc


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pfs1061 'H.H.Maharaja Vibhuti Narain Singh'
The Kashi Naresh walking in Banaras
after praying in his temple during Navaravtra

"Kashi is where you come to learn, to earn and to trade. Above that, there is not another city in the world where you come to die. Main thing is that it is the city of the good life. With sweets from Kathali gali and lots of vegetables to be merry, fine clothes, pan which gives you red lips and good music. Here you have the best before dying and also after your life you have the best. The dancing girls from Banaras are most famous."

"Banaras is also a famous commercial city; The toga’s from the Romans were made of silk from Banaras also the ivory in the palaces in Persia. Commercial also because of carpets from Mirzapur, which is in Banaras district. Two-third of the export from Utter Pradesh comes from Banaras. Even in this computer-age, it is still a powerful commercial centre."

"For the whole of India it is a powerful educational centre, right to today. For instance Buddhism, because scolars from here were accepted all over the world. We have a famous Muslim University, all religious leaders have been here. Like Kipling said: India is India and West is West. One thing is opposing the other: commercial or material as opposed to educational or spiritual. The gaiety of life as well as spiritualism.
The Ramayana is the bible of India and our Ram Lila is based on Ramayana. Tulsi Das has lived and died here. So what more can I say, you have to get the spirit!"


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pfs1062 'Kashi Naresh'
His Majesty the Maharaja Vibhuti Narain Singh of Banaras has his palace in Ramnagar, on the east side of the river.
Many maharaja's of former British India had a palace or residence in holy Banaras. WC

The Hindu sastras prescribed the duty to govern and protect for Ksatriyas only. Almost all the Indian princes, thousands in number, are Ksatriyas. A significant exception are princes of the former ruling house of Banaras, who are brahmin and were known as ‘dvijaraja’. The royal house was founded by Raja Mansaram in 1738 A.D. Raja Chet Singh bacame famous because of his conflict with Warren Hastings.

Kashi Naresh means: main one, representative of Kashi Vihwanath, incarnation of Shiva, representative of God.


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pfs1063 'Chaumsati Ghat'
For hours you can walk along the Ganges, shuffling over dusty sandstones.
Every minute something special can be seen. WC


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Most people in Banaras are vegetarian, and for many of them the potato is often the only vegetable...WC


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“Het kastenstelsel is in feite niets anders dan apartheid; niets minder schandelijk, met het enige verschil dat het door de hele wereld zonder sancties of boycot aanvaardt wordt” (2/11 ‘90 Rudy Kousbroek NRC)



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Nowhere in the world is there a better and more sacred playground for children than the ghats of Banaras. Everything is allowed, everything is possible. If you wish, you can also sit quietly and listen to ancient wisdom. WC


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pfs1067 'Adi Keshava Ghat'
Adi Keshava Temple (Adi = Original, Keshava = Vishnu) One of the two temples devoted to Vishnu, one of the five most important thirta’s. (Gateway - or Crossing - to the Hereafter, on the Panchatirthi pilgrims route).

This is the place where Vishnu arrived in Kashi, as the envoy of Shiva. Where the Varuna joins the Ganges, the Varuna sangam. Close by are the temples of Sangameshvara (God of the Flowing Together) and Brahmeshbar (the lingam of the four faces).


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pfs1068 'Patnam Mosque'
Woman preparing dung cakes used as fuel,
near Patnam Mosque


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pfs1069 'Lal Khan´s Tomb'
Original place of the palace of Banaras. Stories of precious stones in the tomb? In the early days Kashi was situated much more to the North as it is now. Excavation site, findings are on display in the BHU. No one knows how many times Kashi was destroyed.


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pfs1070 'Dhobi's at Raj ghat'


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pfs1071 'Little boy at a handloom'
However, not everyone has access to schools. At the same time I daresay that a complete ban on child labour brings only more poverty for the family. WC


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pfs1072 'Rowing towards Daseswamedh'
Few tourists make their entry into sacred Banaras with a boatride starting from the Ramnagar bridge near Kashi station. But it is a soothing experience. No crowds, no noise, except for the splashing of the roars and the beating of clothes on the bank, and the occasional bell from a temple. WC


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The ´holy´ Ganges descended on earth touching the hair of Shiva. It takes away sins and other dirt. But it is threatened by nuclear pollution. In the sixties, a team of mountaineers tried to place a spying device on a high peak in the Himalayas to watch China. The nuclear energy for the toy was lost in a glacier. We can only hope that the case holds for a long time! WC


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...and not only your sins are wiped away by the river. The lowcaste dhobi-s or washer men and women succeed in getting your clothes clean, somehow WC


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Several impressive muslim mausolea and mosques are reminders of the grand presence of the Mogols in India (ca. 1550-1700). Muslims are about 12% of the Indian population, 38% of the Banaras population. Because of the silk industry, they are an economically important , but generally poor community. WC


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pfs1082 'Manikarnika in the rain'
But the wood is shared: what remains after one cremation is used for the next one. Watching the cremation I cannot help thinking of the forests in Northern India being cut for a cremation, here or elsewhere.


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The traditional processions in colonial dress and with colonial bands accompanying a marriage party start to be replaced by loudspeakers, equally noisy. WC


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pfs1084 'Nazar: curse on the child. To improve eyesight; to make him look ugly, please don’t say anything. Evil-eye.'


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Upstream from Dashashvamedh ghat where most pilgrims take a bath, the buffaloes too get a rubbing. "Yet the water is very clean", I was assured by a real Banarsi, "the Americans kept it in a bottle for one hundred years and it remained pure". WC


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pfs1086 'Purshotam Pan Wallah'
one of the best and oldest panshops in Varanasi: Luxa Road near the policestation

A label on the pre-packed pan warns that the use can be injurious to health. "No problem", say they addicts, "if you frequently clean your mouth and your tongue". Even in sophisticated families you may be given a pan as a digestive. WC



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pfs1089 'The Lingam is worshipped with great care and devotion and following a precise ritual.'


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pfs1090 'Kashi Labh Mukti Bhavan III'
Some terminally ill elderly are taken to charitable homes such as Mukti Bhavan ("Liberation House"), situated off the city's Nai Sarak . In the effort to secure for them the liberating boon of dying within the precincts of Banaras , their relatives care for them at the bhavan during their final days.

Even the poorest have the opportunity to be in Banaras at the moment of death, or be taken to Banares for cremation. In Banaras Shiva himself whispers a mantra in your ear and that gives you instant liberation of all your sins. What is that mantra? Who can know it? For centuries people have been speculating about this and for some the mantra is ´OM´, for others it is ´Ram Ram´. WC


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pfs1091 'Kashi Labh Mukti Bhavan II'
In 1908 gesticht door Jayadayal Dalmian, een belangrijke koopman. Voor de stervenden die van buiten varanasi komen. Een team devoten herhaalt 24 uur per dag "hare Krishna" ( voor RS 375,-- per maand) Mensen komen hier om te sterven, niet om te genezen. (dus géén medicijnen: een soort euthanasie dus?) Kunnen maximaal 15 dagen blijven. Kleine bijdrage voor licht en eventueel ventilator. Alleen zij die geloven in bevrijding van de ziel uit de cirkel van reïncarnatie mogen blijven. Krijgen om de paar uur wat tulsi-leaves en Ganges-water, het beste medicijn wat er is. Struiken tulsi staan voor de deur.

Tulsi-plant purifies the air; every household is supposed to have it. Tulsi is supposed to give out oxygen instead of carbon; medicinal value.


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pfs1092 'Kashi Labh Mukti Bhavan'
In the House for the dying (Kashi Labh Mukti Bhavan or 'House in Banaras where liberation is obtained') no efforts are made to cure: only help is given to die peacefully.


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pfs1093 'Om Prakash Sharma'


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pfs1094 'Mishra family'
only men are allowed to sing, dance or play for a woman this is not decent so kathak-dancing (a special rhythm with the feet) is done by men dressed up as women.

In the Mishra family, the tradition lingers on that only men are allowed to play the female role in a dance performance. WC


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pfs1095 'Kanhaiya Chitra Mandir Panwallah'


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pfs1104 'piles of wood for cremations and a row of beggars above Manikarnika'

At times more than one hundred corpses a day are cremated at the Manikarnika ghat. An average of 50 kilo of wood is required for a cremation here. WC


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pfs1105 'Dashashvamedha Ghat'
Site of the mystical sacrifice of ten horses. (Dasaswamedha Yagna: medwa = sacificed, das = ten, aswa = horses). Built by Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao. Brahma went to Benares to see the then Raja, Divodas, with the intention to let him sin and thereby lose face. The Raja had offended Shiva by banning a number of gods from the city. As penance Brahma asked the Raja to make a very complicated offering with 27 different, difficult to acquire elements. Not only did the Raja do precisely this, he also multiplied the offerings ten times. Besides this he made a sacrifice of ten horses. For Hindus this place is just as holy as Prayag, where the Ganges receives the Yamuna at Allahabad. As the south side, a white temple devoted to the smallpox Goddess, Sitala.


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pfs1106 'paduka II'

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pfs1109 'Tarakeshvara Temple'
Here Shiva whispers the Taraka Mantra in the ears of the dying to make certain that they find their moksha (liberation) from the circle of reincarnation. This temple is between the Manikarnika and Scindia ghat.

Right above the Manikarnika ghat stands the Tarakeshvara temple, where Shiva whispers the secret mantra in the ear of the deceased. At the same time, however, Shiva as Bhairav makes the persons 'crossing the ocean' undergo a brief moment of intense torture, because the law of karma or retribution for deeds cannot be bypassed. WC


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At the same time flowers, lights and prayers
offered by pilgrims are taken along by the river.


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pfs1113 'Copper plate manufacturing'
Safety and protection are often not heard of in the chemical workshops. WC


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pfs1116 'small stuoas at Sarnath'


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pfs1117 'Mosque of Aurangzeb, Alamgir Mosque'
Generally referred to by the name Beni Madhav Ka Damrera. A Vishnu temple stood here originally, which was built by a Maratha chief in the beginning of the 17thy century. Not long thereafter the temple was destroyed by Emperor Aurengzeb and a mosque was built on the site. The building is a strange mixture of Hindu and Mogul architecture. Mosque of Aurangzeb (1658-1707) It has a 45 meter high minaret (....). The second minaret collapsed in 1949.Only the lower part and the inclosure are of Hindu origin. Above Panchaganga Ghat..


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In Sarnath or Deerpark, a few kilometers away from the Ganges, the Buddha is said to have given his first sermon after enlightenment. Banaras 2500 years ago: that was the place to be if you had a new idea.
Buddhist monks from Tibet, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar come to Sarnath to study and to honour the sacred places. WC


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Silver is beaten till very thin paper is obtained, used for the famous Banaras sweets. Many souvenirs glittering in the shops in the alleys are produced in a traditional way and often against small wages. WC


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For centuries (silk)weaving has been the backbone of the Banaras economy. Was the secret of the cocoon smuggled out of China or imported by the Mogols? WC


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Trees too are worshipped. This tradition started long before the ecological awareness. Trees are symbolic for humans and for the family. A prayer to a tree is a prayer for oneself and for the preservation of the deeprooted family relations. However, the amount of trees being cut in India (also for the millions of cremations) scares me. WC


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pfs1140 'Asi Ghat'
I like to start a walk along the Ganges or a boatride near the charming Asi ghat, where the Asi river enters the Ganges. Every spot, every stone in Banaras has a legend and the Asi river is associated with the fight between goddess Durga and a demon. It is here that she lost her sword hitting the earth. This small river was connected with the Pond of Durga (Durga Kund) near the Durga temple (formerly also known as 'Monkey temple'). How many old people in Banaras remembering the dense forest around this temple when they were young are still alive today?


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Neon lights linked together with a complicated set of wires replace the earlier torches carried by young girls. They provide light for nightly processions, drama performances and all kinds of cultural activities. Especially in the months of October and November, many locals in Banaras are engaged in these activities and many of them sleep more during the day then at night. WC


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The events told in the Ramayan epic are so numerous and full of phantasy that even all the colours of the rainbow do not suffice to express them. Both prinses and demons of the epic are carefully depicted. Women's roles are played by men and boys. WC


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pfs1172 'Ganga ghats drawing'


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pfs1173 'Antargrha Yatra drawing'


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pfs1174 'Nagara Pradaksina drawing'


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pfs1176 'Scindia Ghat'


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pfs1180 'Suttee stone'
Everwhere in India you find the Sati-stones commemorating the cremation of a brave man and an even braver wife. Sati or true faithfulness? Or a heroic solution to the inferior position of a widow? Social security and financial independence of aged people and especially widows may help to solve the problems of couples without children. This may at the same time contribute to the control of the population explosion, as parents may agree to have less children. WC


Benares slide-show
pfs1181 'the story of Buddha at Sarnath'
Paintings and life-size statues in Sarnath tell the story of the Buddha in different styles. WC


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A Ram Lila (dramatic representation of the deeds of Ram) may last for weeks and all the creative powers of a mohalla (community unit) come to life in them. WC


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Samsara literally means 'wandering on' the endless stream of birth - death - rebirth or reincarnation. To live and die in Banaras will free you from this: you will achieve moksha and be at one with Brahman


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A school for muslim girls in a country where boys often get better chances. WC


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A slide show with images from Benares. Designed to be viewed on your smartphone or tablet. Click on an image to be directed to the corresponding image file.
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