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BLOG 9 : Varanasi 1984 Part 2.
From the ancient traditions, it was Lord Shiva who is reported to have established this remarkable City on the banks of the Ganges River. He is also credited with having developed Indian classical music and dance forms, which after over 2000 years have marked Varanasi as not only a UNESCO “city of music”, but also India’s classical cultural capital.
It was early November 1984 when my train arrived at the heart of that musical city. The Kartika Purnima, a holy festival celebrated at the full moon in November was about to begin. My accommodation was down by the Ghat enabling me to participate in the activity and rituals along the waterside, as well as quick and easily accessing the halls and centres where the music and dance were being performed.
India by the beginning of the 1980s had not as yet entered its astronomical phase of development with which we can compare it to today.
It was still old India, the roads were small and potholed, the vehicles, be they busses, taxis, bicycles or trucks all could be characterized as dilapidated. The magnificent railway system a living relic of British colonialism The town itself, unchanged since millennia invited me into it’s a maze of alleys and streets. The air carried fragrant clouds of incense, for on almost every corner, a small shrine could be found, the gods in their many manifestations richly endowed with offerings of food and flowers.
From the suburbia of Fish Hoek, Cape Town to this medieval world was similar to doing a backward somersault into another reality. The merchants had organised themselves so that in different areas of the city, the different tradesman wares and services could be discovered. Vegetables and food in one area, metalwork and metal hardware in another area and so on. Each vendor sat in the entrance or window to his shop, communicating intensively with all of the passes by, so that the spectacle was intense, tight, busy and very loud. The silk merchants with floor to ceiling rolls of brightly coloured cloth and hand stitched sarees. The herb and spice traders with their wares piled tastefully in symmetrically exact, geometrical pyramids of turmeric, cardamom, cumin and salt, not only mesmerised my sense of sight but also doped my sense of smell with its cacophony of extraordinary flavours.
The hustle and the bustle of busy street life never lost a moment of its intensity as the hot sun dipped it’s head to the golden horizon.
After 10 at night, only then did the heavy blanket of exhaustion lay upon that thrifty population and people seem to lie down wherever they happen to be to sleep. The pavements became the homes of the many, a blanket nothing finer than a dirty cotton throw, a pillow nothing more than the elbow of a folded arm. The Ghats glowed red in the flickering light of the funeral pyres, wild monkeys still swung screeching from the branches of the Banyan Tree and the Ganges River in its tremendous width of almost a kilometre gurgled and splashed peacefully on those carved granite boulders. My back still absorbing the river banks warmth, the peaceful evening floated high on the distant notes of sitar and tabla while in all its magnificence a full moon rose to dazzle those ancient structures and temples in magic light.