\u201cYeh Benaras Hai\u201d\nLiterally it means \u201cThis is Banaras\u201d but the tone included pride and an assurance \u2013 a way of saying \u201cDon\u2019t worry \u2013 it\u2019s okay \u2013 this is Banaras \u2013 there is no need to worry\u201d.\nThis is the call I heard 3 or 4 times when the locals sitting around saw me gawking at some sight that I found interesting as I walked through the lanes of Banaras.\nHere are some of the interesting spots at which I managed to stop in my tracks, get out the phone & take some shots\u00a0 of this amazing city:\n\nReminded me of the Bihari salesman I\u2019d met in Okinawa \u2013 he spoke Bhojpuri (a dialect of Hindi) and he spoke Japanese but did not speak English at all! To my unenlightened ignorant mind that had been moulded by the British-Raj legacy this had seemed mysterious!! Of course once I thought about it, I realised that it is the other option \u2013 of having English as an intermediate learning step when neither of his two worlds needed the language \u2013 that would have been completely absurd! Imagine a Frenchman needing to learn Sanskrit so that he could mastr German!??!\nSimilarly to find an advertisement that was crated to appeal to the Japanese and not the Europeans,\u00a0 surprised me.\n\u00a0\n\nRoadside shrines at every corner!\n\u00a0\n\n\u00a0\n\nWe went during the monsoon floods when the mighty Ganga was mightier than it had ever been in the past decade and the river was swollen well above the danger mark. The waters had climbed the ghat steps and gotten into the lanes \u2013 making our feet, ankles and calves very very wet.\nBut I didn\u2019t mind.\nBecause along these wet paths, there were many delightful discoveries waiting.\nSuch as this evening school in which little boys learnt sanskrit shlokas and mantras from their guru!\nMaybe someday I will join them as a student.\n\n**\nThe floor-level windows of most houses along the lanes of Banaras, allow us all to become peeping-toms without much effort. And\u00a0 getting a glimpse of the inner lives of others is always interesting!\nSo in the picture below, a resident conducts his puja with arti inside is home.\nHe is not necesarily a priest \u2013 these are just normal people\u00a0 performing their morning prayers.\n\nA better photo after some photoshop:\n\nHere is a priest in another house:\n\nWhat a contrast to have him entrenched in the traditional ways of life AND using modern technology!\nThe words \u201cYeh Benaras Hai\u201d!!!! echo in my mind\u2026.\n\n**\nThis man runs a little store near a temple. And while we rested there, he generously answered all my inquisitive questions and shared the story of why he had Mehndi on his hands. [The reason for my curiosity is that I had always believed that henna is used only by women.]\n\n\n\n\nThe henna is from the festival Raksha Bandhan when a sister ties a protective band called the Rakhi on the brother\u2019s wrist in order to protect him. [In the days this custom came about the men went to battle and needed diving blessings such as these for protection. Today\u2019s world is slightly different \u2026.].\nSo in Benaras or perhaps all of UP the sisters also put henna on the brother\u2019s hands during this festival! So so cute!!\nAll that I manage is to put a huge large teeka on my cousin brother\u2019s forehead!!\n\n\u00a0\n\u00a0\n\u00a0\n\u00a0\nNext year I shall *try* to add henna to our ritual!\nThis interaction was an eye-opener \u2013 for once again it had been proved that what I do not know about India is like an ocean and what I do know is a microscopic drop.\n**\nThe season of festivals starts with Raksha Bandhan that is in July/ August and then one after the other the weeks are dotted with one festivity or another. So Raksha Bandhan was just over a few days ago \u2013 as evidenced by the man\u2019s fading henna \u2013 and the next festival was just 2 days away \u2013 Janmashtami i.e. Lord Krishna\u2019s birthday. This is celebrated with great excitement in many parts of India, including Benaras.\nNow miniature idols of many of the Gods are kept in the home shrines of Hindus. And there are tiny little clothes for each tiny idol.\u00a0 And on the birthday, one of the things people do, is to decorate the shrine and get brand new clothes for the idol.\nHere they are on sale:\n\nThe Idols\n\n\nThe clothes for the idols\n\n\u00a0\n\nAnd interested buyers.\n\nMy late grandmother used to procure these festive clothes \u2013\u00a0 shiny and decorated with gold trim \u2013 from special markets in Bhuleshwar in Bombay. But for daily wear, the idols were given clothes she made herself with scraps of cloth saved from other sewing projects.\nHere are 3 pieces I stumbled upon in her home-shrine shelf that will now, always remain in the work-in-process state. I have added them to my woven-souls collection of textiles.\n\nTo be slipped on over the head through that little diamond shaped hole. Each is about 1 finger long. \n\nThese are the most precious textile I own as they contain her yog-daan and is infused with her soul.\n**\nBack to some fun.\nIn Bollywood hit films like \u2018Dabang\u2019 and \u2018Omkara\u2019 \u2013 the character of the UP policemen shown is so so adorable.\u00a0 They are uniformed men with strength of character naturally \u2013 but the bestest part of the character is the strong desi flair to their personality \u2013 very earthy & very Indian \u2013 and totally adorable!\nAnd I thought these people existed only in the movies. But they DO exist in real life. Here is the story of a 60 second encounter:\nSo in the market square as I tried to find a cycle-rickshaw to go into some particularly crowded areas, the rickshawwala informed me that they are not allowed to go into those lanes and that I\u2019d have to walk over 50 metres and get another one.\nWhich \u2013 for the \u2018abala naari\u2019 that I am \u2013 was too much to do. [abala naari = helpless woman (a term used to poke fun at ourselves) ].\u00a0 So instead, I decided to ask the police officer sitting there with his BIG gun whether there was some other easier way out.\nThe conversation went as follows:\nMe: So we want to go to XYZ place with the rickshaw\u2026 but there is this barricade \u2026so how should we do it?\nReal Life Dabang Police Officer: Just go right ahead \nMe: But this rickshawla says it\u2019s not allowed\nReal Life Dabang Police Officer: \u201cYahaan ke Rajah Hum hain \u2013 hum keh rahey hain ke allowed hai \u2013 toh allowed hai \u2013 Jayiye aap\u201d = The King of this place is Me \u2013 so if I say it is allowed \u2013 then it means that you are allowed \u2013 you may proceed! \nNow this scene is so straight-out-of-Bollywood that I totally thoroughly loved it!!\nOn the return journey I stopped to take a photo with him (don\u2019t want him to get into trouble so I\u2019ve covered his face). He of course was least bothered with my selfie-taking session and continued his phone call as though I was just some fly in his environment!\nSssoooo Dabang!!\n\nNote: Now the policemen of India have a personality that is totally different and unimaginably unique . They simply have NO parallel elsewhere. It would be as pointless to use the image of the Hollywood policeman to imagine the UP policeman \u2013 as it would be to use the idea of\u00a0 Black Pepper to imagine Wasabi. Completely futile.\nThis 60-second interaction was among the top 8417 highlights of the 3-day trip.\n**\nOn the last morning, before we left \u2013 from my breakfast table at the hotel on the banks of the river, I could hear some hymn-singing accompanied by the clinking of brass manjiras and bells. I abandoned the food and walked out of the hotel to check this out.\nOn the large ledge attached to the hotel building, a group of older men were seated, spread out on a few cloth mats surrounded by worship paraphernalia. They were performing the morning puja of the holy river Ganga. I walked up to them and with a nod, asked permission to join them.\u00a0\u00a0 [I am aware that there is a gender segragation in U.P. and the permission to join them was not something to take for granted.] But they kindly said yes and I went up and sat with them cross-legged on the floor mat. One white-bearded man silently handed me manjiras and I participated in the hymn singing with them. No words exchanged. All 8-9 of us just sat there and sang / hummed. No audience. No selfies. No other people. Just us and the magnificent river before us.\nPerhaps this was the best way to say goodbye to this intense city.\n\u00a0\njm\nSep 2016\n Back to Ganga Diaries\n\u00a0\n\u00a0\n\u00a0\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nSave\nThe post The City of Benaras appeared first on The Art Blog by WOVENSOULS.COM.