The ‘Holy city’ as we call it -Varanasi entraps a history dating back to the 1800 BC. Devotion and enlightenment glows in the hearts of the locals. Curious travelers from across the world come to experience the folklores that have been rumored for years to witness for themselves to be true or not.
As one of the oldest inhibited cities, my interest grew hotfoot from an early age reading and listening to my father talk about the time he visited this enchanted place. It is believed if you lay the ashes of the deceased in the cremation ghats along the river, the body achieves nirvana and their soul is transported to heaven, helping to escape the realm of re-birth!
I decided to pack my rug sack and headed out to see all of this for myself. From the time I reached the train station to my hostel, every hair on my body tingled with a sense of conflict. As we approached the city situated a few meters away from the Ganga, the narrow roads of the age-old city depicted a striking opposite story. Thousands of tiny shops, food stalls, flower vendors, honking horns, wandering cows, and tittle-tattle of millions of people flooded my vision.
Amidst all this, my hostel owner spotted me and with a blink of an eye, I was walking into colorful ancient arteries, monkeys hanging around electrical wires from the top of buildings mocking my gait, and my nose buds feeling alive for the very first time with a variety of smells hovering from temples and shops around us. The hostel I chose was cheap and thankfully it was not the season, hence not fully occupied. I was put up in a quaint room with a tiny bed stuck against the wall, some paintings of Shiva and mandala art works hung everywhere, and an attached washroom with metallic fences to save me from themonkey wrath. I wasted no time and got changed to explore the city.
With a brief instruction from the owner, I walked straight out of my hostel and headed for the river. The divinity of the city embraces you with a warm feeling. As Mark Twain puts it, Varanasi is “older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” I hired a boat and sailed in the dusk off to witness over 2,300 temples scattered around 88 ghats. As I passed by the infamous Manikarnika ghat, which is a large cremation ground, 10 pyres were burning. I wondered how people here are risen above our pigeonhole of perception and knowledge with a sense of transcending the mind’s prejudices. Ending the night witnessing the most spectacular Aarti carried out facing the Ganga, singing along the chants with the saffron cladded saints, taking the blessing from the lamps lit, all of which made me feel content. These Aarti’s also take place in Haridwar and Rishikesh, each with their unique vibe.
As I was walking back to my hostel, I noticed our terrace from afar. It looked blurry but tinted with warm lights reflecting the wall above it lay a huge water tank. There were no monkeys just on that building, but everywhere else. I quietly walked up the stairs to my room which was near the terrace gate. As I approached the door, I could hear faint chants and muffled breathing. I put my keys back in my pocket and headed straight up peeping through the slight gap of the gate.
What I saw blew my mind – A group of foreigners sat in a huge circle encompassed with white candles, holding hands, and chanting some mantras. The terrace overlooked the red-and-white-candy striped Kedar Ghat with the Shiva Lingam (same asthe Himalayan origin) visible from even such distance. The sky was a blanket of black with clouds of grey adding an eerie vibe to what I was witnessing. In between the circle, lay a protection shield of some sort with salt marking an Om – a sacred syllable considered to be the greatest of all mantras. A woman wearing a saffron cloak held a man’s head lying down. She carefully made wind like movements with her hand placing her fingers on pressured muscle points and he just lay there, eyes shut, a constant smile on the face as if he felt no worldly pain inside of him.
I went ahead and stood behind the circle trying to be as quiet as possible. The man awakes from what felt like a trance and the lady in the center immediately fixated her eyes on me and called me in. I was nervous at first, but at the same moment, felt this urge to try it out. I lay down on the cold cemented floor with my hands on both sides, palms down, and breathing as normally as I can. She took my right arm and placed it on my heart which was now pounding at more than 100 beats per minutes. With a calm voice she started to speak navigating her hands through my entire body, ‘The whole universe is made up of molecules and even something as solid as a wall is vibrating at all times just like us humans. What you are about to experience is called Energy healing which is a holistic practice that keeps our bodies energies in sync and removes any kind of negative energy or blocks. Chakras are the transmitter of seven energy centers of the body. Are you feeling good vibes yet? Your body seems very tense. Please loosen yourself and relax for the next hour.’ The collective chanting and sweeping movements around my body tingled my soul. My mind was an empty vessel for the first few minutes. Every touch of hers made me feel different, more composed, supported, nurtured, and despite shutting my eyes I could see a vision of colors and images of my childhood. What I later learnt and understood in depth about Energy Healing, was happening right there and changing me piece by piece. At the end with a term called ‘Grounding’, she brought me back in my state of consciousness. My eyes adjusted to the light around me,and I saw the sun coming up from behind the Shiva Lingam.
Experiencing so many emotions, I held her in a tight embrace and thanked her for making me anew. When we say something has good vibes or good energy, I now truly know what that means. After this visit, I wonder why I had not come to Varanasi sooner. This journey changed me spiritually, emotionally and opened me up in ways I could not self-discover. It’s a magical mystery tour, and as the Beatles say: “Roll up!”