Wednesday, November 30, 2022

My first visit to Kashi - Benares - Varanasi courtesy #MahindraKabiraFestival

 Before last week, when I thought of 'Benares' I could only think of Amitabh Bacchan's song - 'Khaike paan Benares wala', or maybe a more recent reference to the film 'Atrangi Re' which is set in Benares. Also some knowledge of Benarsi Silk sarees. That was about IT! Soon, I got to know that I would be travelling to the city, today known as Varanasi to attend and cover the #MahindraKabiraFestival and I was excited to be in a new place and experience new things!

With absolutely no time to prepare, I packed a few outfits and was warned it would be chilly in the mornings and nights, hence packed a shawl, jacket, woollen poncho and hoodie along with socks (I am born in Mumbai, so my tolerance to cold is very low). My Air India flight from Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj T2 Airport to Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport was a grand start to the grandeur days to come because I had been bumped up to business class! Large plush seats, welcome drink, a maharaja meal and I was thrilled to be pampered.

Upon reaching LBS Airport, we saw hoardings of the festival and there were folks to receive us and take us to our hotel. We were put up at Diamond Hotel, a three-star hotel about 15-20 minutes from the Ghats. I would recommend you stay at a hotel in the Ghats as far as possible as it makes commuting easier and you can walk down and sit by the steps at any time you want. The hotel was otherwise clean and decent. We were tired, and hungry and ordered some room service and got ready for the opening reception. At 5pm it was totally dark outside, winters of the north!

We took a boat ride from Assi Ghat to Guleria Ghat, and these boat rides in themselves are an experience! Seeing each ghat with its lighting, the Manikarnika ghat where at any given point of time there are burning pyres and the new corridor built at the Kashi Vishwanath temple! The opening reception of the #MahindraKabiraFestival started with a beautiful Ganga Aarti performed by 5 pandits in their grand attire. It is a grand aarti that goes on for about half an hour! it is followed by a jugalbandhi performance and amazing delicacies - I was full just of the huge variety of chaats. There also was Malaiyo, but I am not sure of its authenticity as I am informed Malaiyo will melt by noon latest.

Day 2 at Benares kicked off the #MahindraKabiraFestival’s morning, afternoon and evening programmes. I really enjoyed Vidhushi Kamal Shankar on the Shankar Guitar in the morning and she is the First Lady Indian classics slide guitar musician! Post that we got graced by a successful temple visit to Kashi Vishwanath which is one of the 12 jyotirlingas in India. It only inspired me to now visit the rest, like Kedarnath or Rameshwar or Somnath - the energy can really be felt. PM Modi was also there that day and we were told we may not get to go, but we did! The evening music had mind-blowing diverse performances first by SoulE and Ishara Puppet Theatre followed by Aruna Sairam Ji. I and the entire crowd was mesmerised and enchanted both times! Yet another day of meeting some amazing people - Eric, Divya, and Abhishek to name a few!

Day 3 in Varanasi for the #MahindraKabiraFestival started with a serene beautiful sunrise and musical performances amongst which the Maharaj Trio stole the show! They even played jazz of the Sarod! 🤯😳

Followed by breakfast we set off for the panchganga heritage walk where we got further into the city’s history. Ahilyabai Holkar was a key contributor towards the city’s development back in that time. And kings from all across India who wanted to have their place by the river built their palaces at the Ghats, and called their own priests and staff. The bamboo with rope and baskets you see the act as a lighthouse for our ancestors, during Karthik Maas these are brought down, a candle/diya put in and sent back up so that the heavenly souls can navigate their way.

Today the city is further transformed by the government, with the new corridor, better roads etc. Else there used to be a saying: "रांड, सांड, सीढ़ी, सन्यासी। इनसे बचे तो सेवे काशी।।"

Post the walk we got back for lunch where I had a special serving of Thandai. The plan was to go shopping but shit went down and I am glad I was able to get it together for the evening performances!

My favourites from the evening were The Tapi Project and Of course The Raghu Dixit Project. He made people of Varanasi dance to Kannada songs and that must be quite a feat.

With an enriched heart, we returned back to Mumbai the next day. Until next time, Kabir’s Kashi!

1 comment:

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