Friday, August 26, 2005

Yet another Banarasi fad

Apart from chewing the beetle nut leaves the Banarasi babus are famous for their obsession for bodybuilding as is apparent from the large number of akhadaas in the city. I've already lost count of their numbers! Women are not a part of these akhaadas, by the way . Also getting permission to watch an akhaada in session is not as easy. I had to request one of the guys at the hotel to arrange it for me. It's a must see for everyone who visits Banaras. The first sight is a little repulsive though.
But a little while and I realised that it is quite a fascinating sport.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Music and musicians of Banaras

I have been digging for information on the famous Banaras Gharana of music. Inspite of being student of classical music myself, I had a very general idea about this gharana. Apart from being the world centre for all the spiritual fervor, Banaras is an ancient centre for learning the true essence of the Hindustani Classical music. Artists settled here, evolved a unique style of singing, which is the Banaras Gharana. Banaras Gharana (Vocal) was founded by Pt. Gopal Mishra. The style incorporates several genres like the Drupad, Dhamar, Tarana, Tappa, Thumri, Bajan, etc. Lyrics, 'Sur Prastap' (emphasis on music notes), and converting those 'Sur' into 'Aakar' are some of its other salient features. Some of the world renowned musicians from the Banaras Gharana still believe that it was Banaras that made them and their music!
Ustaad Bismillah Khan is the most famous Banarasi citizen. Born in a small Bihar village in 1917, Ustad Bismillah learned shehnai from his uncle who played in the famous Vishwanath temple. Bismillah Khan is now one of the most respected musicians. Yet his lifestyle has not changed. It retains the old world charm of a Banaras life ... his chief mode of transport is still the cycle-rikshaw!
Pt. Kishan Maharaj is one of the finest tabla players ever, was born on the auspicious day of Sri Krishna Janamashthami in the year 1923, in the holy city of Banaras. He began learning at the tender age of eleven, accompanying the principal artistes of the day.
Girija Devi one of the finest thumri experts of this century was also born in Banaras in 1929, She started music lessons at the age of 5 with the well known singer-sarangi player Pandit Sarju Prasad Misra, and later continued her music training with Pandit Chandra Misra.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Day 8 : Blessed Banaras ...... I got the story!!

Hey!!!! Finally I met someone from the crew. He’s been in living in the same hotel and I had no clue! Anyway, this fella was an interesting one. He claimed he knew there story but if I really wanted the authentic version…. I could speak with er…the director himself. Wowee!! I got Pankuj Parashar’s e-mail and dashed a mail to him immediately. And yessssssss… I got it!
Here’s how it is - :
The cast :
Urmilla Matondkar, Asmit Patel, Naseeruddin Shah, Dimple Kapadia, Raj Babbar, Akash Khurana.
The film is set in the mystique land of Banaras. Shwetambari ( Urmila Matondakar) plays the main protagonist in the film titled “Banaras – A mystic love story”. She is the only child of her rich parents. (Dimple Kapadia and Raj Babbar). A teacher of philosophy and religion, she falls in love with a low cast musician – Soham (Ashmit Patel). She unspools the events of her own life when she looses her beloved. Disillusioned by fear and fragmentation she abandons hope, desire and leave Banaras. Things start looking brighter as she transcends her own attachments and discovers the ultimate freedom. She finally returns to Banaras, the city of Shiva, where 'everything is possible'. Naseerudin Shah, plays the mystical preacher. He knows the secret of life and helps Soham gain enlightenment.
The film is produced by LC Singh. The entire project for him, is like an investment in the city and on a subject he loves the most! The dialogues of this ultimately mystical film are written by Javed Siddiqi.
Most interestingly, since Banaras represents one of the oldest gharanas of hindsutani classical music, songwriter Sameer and music director Himesh Reshammiya have ensured that every single note reflects the purity of the gharana.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Day 7: Khai ke pan banaras wala!!

I was now wondering what to do, since I couldn't mange to meet the chappie who probably had the real story of the film I've heard so many versions about the storyline of the film that now it is almost like an obsession. I have to get hold of someone who knows it all.
Anyway, I couldn't really do much sitting here, so I went out again into the endless winding gali's for my daily dose of the 'notorious' banarsi paan. I forgot to mention earlier but i've been munching on my favorite maghai ever sinceI landed here! (mom - don't panic I've been taking enough care of my oral health.) Incidently I learnt from my regular 'paan wale bhaiya' that the Banarsi pan wasn't grown in Banaras after all! It get's its name after it is treated here to get the distinct pale colour! It seems the maghai is more popular with the locals. Hmmm.... So what's the big hype over a banarsi pan?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Day –6 : Waiting for more ….

Hell! The damn kachoris didn’t agree with me. I’ve been in the room watching TV most of the time. Guess what, I am meeting someone from the film’s crew tomorrow and will get to know more about this mystical film, tittled - “Banaras –A mystic love story”. I’ll get all the facts by tomorrow!!! Will give out all the details soon.
This place has really fascinated me since the day I landed here. Hence I am more than curious to know if the film has really been able to weave the mysticism of the place into the storyline.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Day 5 – Bollywood in Banaras???

The next day I was at Sarnath – the sacred spot where Buddha gave his first sermon. Here I was busy capturing the picturesque surroundings on my video cam when I heard, Ek aur movie shooting hain kya?”

EK aur??? Daid I miss something here?? Apparently it wasn’t a period film or a religious one and neither was it about sadhus and saints. It was a love story, but a rather strange one at that about a young affluent woman and a less privileged musician. That’s all the guide knew but he did mention it stars Urmilla Matondkar and the movie was shot across Banaras and Sarnath.

Hmmmm… Interesting. Before, I knew it, he was gone. Now, that Banaras is so close to my heart I am so looking forward to this mystical creation from apna Bollywood.

A movie buff that I am I have to find out more..….the story, the cast etc. If anybody reads this and knows something about this movie, do let me know!!!!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Day 4: And More Gyan!

My visit to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple or the Golden temple was fascinating. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the deity of the land. It is more popular due to the Gold plating done on its spire. The original temple was destroyed by Aurangzeb. Apparently, he built the Gaynvapi mosque using columns from the original temple.

My next hot spot was the Swami Tulsidas's home. As I entered with a few other tourists, our voices dropped to whispers – don’t ask me why, it just happened!

There actually isn't much to see there – Just a great man’s simple abode. Around the corner is the Tulsi Manas Temple which is dedicated to Lord Rama. Tulsidas is believed to have written the great epic `Shri Ramcharitmanas' and it was indeed intriguing to see the original manuscripts of his work and also his padukas which have magically survived over the centuries.

I headed towards the grand Ramnagar Fort. Its 1700 AD structure and the in-built museum houses some of the finest (and rarest) antiques -from ancient armoury to silk robes, furniture, ivory artifacts and old clocks. It's a place not be missed. The palace has this gigantic clock which shows not only the days, and months, but also unravels the mysteries of the constellations.

Fellas, too much gyan for the day. I am famished by now. Did I mention that I have been hogging like crazy since I landed here? The city's gastronomical variety keeps you wanting for more - All the time! Have you had the kachories…. Try them. Ummmmmmm…. They are the best I have ever had - absolutely lip smacking!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Day-3:The mystical souls

Only today did I finally manage to muster some courage and get back to hunting for more interesting information around the temples. I had no intentions of meeting the sadhu today so I restricted myself to the numerous temples dotting the river banks. However I kept bumping into a sea of saffron clad, unkempt “sadhus”.

So I decided to pick up a few booklets and tourist pamphlets along the way. Apparently, Kashi or Banaras is known to be a divine destination not only for the Hindus but also for the Buddhists and the Jains. It’s been home and meditating grounds for saints and poets preaching different religions.

*Kabir the poor son of a Muslim weaver was initiated by his guru on the steps of the Panchganga ghat.

*Buddha gave his first ever sermon in Sarnath. (12 kms from Banaras). He lived in Sarnath for a few years as a result of which the place was buzzing with religious fervor.

*Tulsi Das penned down the classic epic Shri Ram Charitmanas sitting on the banks of Ganga in Banaras. He lived his entire life in Banaras till his death on the steps of Asighat at the age of 91.

All these great men had so much to give to the mysticity Banaras. I have my doubts if the sadhus now living here make any contribution to the city at all.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Day 2: Aghori and more!!

Alright guys…. I'm clean.

That dip was awesome. I thought it would be cool to gather some more stuff on the ancient ghats. On the way I saw this quirky sadhu chanting his daily prayers. He hadn't combed his hair in ages. I don't even want to comment on his hands and feet! Before I knew it he motioned at me to sit besides him.

For a while he rambled on in Sanskrit. I couldn't make head or tail of any of the prattle. But it certainly sounded nice. So I sat through. After a while he finished and got up to take a dip. He got back dry and then we got talking.

The cool me was adventurous enough to ask him about his entangled locks. I took a back flip when he gave me the funda that he'd been "busy" meditating and following a set routine on these ghats for the past 35 years. Good heavens!! I could find him there anytime any day - that was his address.

Anyway, we got talking more on Banaras, the river, the ghats, the people and lots more. Interestingly, he told me that each ghat has a following of its own.

Dashaswamedh Ghat is one gets to see a myriad of people performing pujas and aartis - all unanimously aimed at pleasing the God. A dip here is said to wash away all your sins of this life. (which by the way – I’ve already done!!)

Manikarnika Ghat or the cremation ground is the ultimate destination for any self respecting Hindu. According to scriptures, this is where a devout Hindu should end his life to get rid of the endless cycle of birth, death and re-birth. Apparently almost 100 bodies reached the ghats everyday!

I dared to ask him about the mysterious aghori sadhus. I had seen this horrible documentary on them on the TV long ago. From what I remember this was the ghat where the aghori sadhus performed rituals with the remains of dead bodies in the middle of the night! Hmmmm…I had no `ghory` intention to drop by at night to see if is was actually true! I asked him if he had seen any of them. And he said he was one!!!!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Day - 2 : The Early Morning Dip

I think I got up a little too early. Everything was really quiet and kinda eerie. I ordered for ‘special chai’, freshened up and headed to the ghats for the mandatory dip. The sight of dawn breaking over the ghats is truly a mesmerizing sight. Poets have eulogized it and the absence of the usual multitudes certainly added to the pleasure.

There were several foreigners clicking away furiously trying to capture as much of the serenity as possible. Standing there, watching the early morning worshippers, I somehow got the feeling I was a step closer to the supreme being. I am serious!! I am not religious but in those few moments something stirred deep within.

I gingerly tested the waters – and waded into the river. It was freezing but then I thought if this really did wash away my sins it was totally worth it ;)

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Day -1 : 1st View of the Ghats

My train journey to the holy destination was pretty uneventful. By the time I settled into my hotel it was early evening. I dumped my stuff and headed out with a friend. I walked past the stalls selling flowers, garlands, diyas, coconut … towards Dhashawamedha ghat. It was a little uncanny and I couldn’t help but wonder what it must have been like a thousand years ago. The first view of the Ganges was magnificent – at dusk the river looked so peaceful glittering with quaint diyas. It was mesmerizing and I sat captivated for almost an hour.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

2000 yrs & still around!!

"Banaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together."
- Mark Twain

I dug out some rather interesting facts. For instance I got to know Benaras is 2000 years old and is one of the oldest surviving cities in the world. Get this - It was already an OLD city when Rome was founded!! Whoa!!! I was hooked. I had to know more.

Restricted on the west bank of Ganges the eternal city attracts soul seekers from around the globe. All this besides the very obvious fact that it is the ultimate destination for any self respecting Hindu.

Kashi, Varanasi or Banaras, call it what you will, the mere mention of Banaras brings to mind the rippling waters of the Ganges, ancient temples, yogis deep in mediation, the ghats, and of course the extreme spiritual fervor. According to Hindu lore the city was created by Lord Shiva – and sure enough a huge number of lingams dot the city. Btw Banaras is also supposed to be the cosmic center of the Universe. What’s more the city also finds a mention in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.

If you know anything else about this city, tell me – I am all eyes ;) I would love to gather as many interesting factoids about this amazing city as I can and I need all the help I can get. If you have been there, done that, nothing like it.