Tragedy in Varanasi

Varanasi is simply my favorite place on earth. 

The magic of standing on the banks of the Ganges River late at night… being pressed in on by hundreds and thousands of pilgrims, each bringing a small oil lamp down to the holy river…  the noise and crowds and the chill in the night air… the constellation of tiny blinking lights up and down the river… the smoke and smells of fried snacks at the stalls up and down the avenues leading to the ghats… the narrow, oppressive alleyways leading to the Vishwanath Temple, lined with sari stalls and impromptu Ganesha shrines… the friendly people always ready with a cup of chai and directions through the maze of webbed streets…

The thought of my favorite city being tainted once again by today’s violence and tragedy simply hurts my heart… 
And I can’t help but connect today’s bombing to Bush’s visit to South Asia this past week.  An excellent NY Times editorial today points out that this administration’s disastrous foreign policy threatens all of us Americans here at home, as well as citizens of peace-loving countries around the world.  By driving the wedge further between India and Pakistan through dangerous and arbitrary nuclear policies, Bush and Co. continue to foment violence, religious fundamentalism, and anti-Americanism at a level not seen before in India and other countries around the world. 

Going back to my Sanskrit days at Bard College, I thought it appropriate to end with the first few verses of this gorgeous poem in praise of Varanasi, also known as “Kashi,” the Kashipanchakam by Shankara:

The mind, brought to rest in the supreme peace, is
Manikarnika – the best of pilgrimage places.  The river of
knowledge is the pure, primordial Ganga.  I am that Kashi,
the form of one’s own consciousness.

In the place where illusion is created, where the mind
beautifully shines forth all creation is the form of the
supreme self, which is the sole happiness, existence, and
thought.  I am that Kashi, the form of one’s own

The goddess wisdom shines in the five sheaths of each
body and habitation.  The inner self is Shiva, the
omnipresent witness.  I am that Kashi, the form of one’s own

In Kashi indeed shines Kashi, the luminous one which is the
light of all.  By whom Kashi is known, by that one is the true
Kashi attained.

4 Responses to “Tragedy in Varanasi”

  1. Usha Says:

    I loved the way the city of Varanasi was described, after reading this I feel like visiting the Holy city. The sacred poem has touched my heart.

  2. Readers-cafe Says:

    2 more years…….then new election new president. But still kehan Iraq kehan USA and explosions in Varanasi.

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