Kashi and Prayag Yatra

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The trip was a dream come true. Our travel schedule was –
1. Day 1 Gwalior.
2. Day 2 Jhansi & Orchha.
3. Day 3 Orchha.
4. Day 4 Khajuraho.
5. Day 5 travel to Chitrakoot and stay.
6. Day 6 Chitrakoot and travel to Prayag.
7. Day 7 Prayag +Vindhya Vasini temple + travel to Kashi, Sarnath.
8. Day 8 Varanasi, left for Delhi by 7pm Shiv Ganga express.

This peace covers Allahabad and Varanasi. This piece was first written in 2008 and edited in 2017.

Prayag

We reached Prayag by 5ish but due to a traffic diversion by the time we reached the UP Tourism hotel it was 6.30pm. There were no guests and the place looked dark and dingy. We had to drive about 5-6 kms to the railway station to have dinner since there were no restaurants in sight.

We checked out the next morning at 5.30am and proceeded to Prayag. As soon we got off the car there were agents for boats. The boat ride to Prayag and back was quoted at Rs 800/. We beat them down to Rs 250/ and still paid a bit more. The ghat where we got in is where the Yamuna flows. Water is very deep, clean and cold.

At the point where the Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati meet it becomes very shallow. You can actually get off the boat and stand in the water. For devotees to stand and get into the water, the government has put wooden planks that are tied to steel rods.

Wifey was so happy to take a dip at Prayag. It was a dream come true for her. The whole experience was very purifying and satisfying.

On our return we had some hot and tasty puri aloo ki sabzi all for Rs 10/. We met piligrims from all over India notably Andhra Pradesh, Bengal and Delhi.

Our original plan was to go to Varanasi directly but wife’s parents suggested we go to Vindhya Vasini first. It is about a 2 hours drive from Prayag and is one the sites where tantra still lives.

Pandit Rajmani Tugnait wrote in his book ‘Introduction to Tantra’ Vindhya Vasani, foothills of Vindhya is the abode of the combined forces of Lakshmi, Saraswati & Kali. The temples of these three goddesses form the three corners of a triangle, and the area encompassed by this triangle is like a Yantra. Each temple is associated with a unique form of tantra sadhana. At the corner known as Kalikhoh, Kali is worshipped in a left-hand fashion, Sarasvati is worshipped in a right hand fashion in the spot known as Astabhuja and Lakshmi is worshipped in a way that combines both paths at the temple known as Vindhya Vasani.

Tantric aspirants seeking results of a magical nature seek Kali, seeking retentive power, sharpened intellect and success in fine arts resort to Sarasvati, seeking wealth resort to Lakshmi. The area adjoining Ashtabhuja is where you will find practioners of the forbidden tantra. But if you travel into the mountain towards Gerua Talub & Moltia Talab you will encounter tantrics of a mysterious nature that cannot be put under any category. (recall we met Bhuta Baba here). Although the mountains in the vicinity are rocky you can clearly feel the presence of the living masters as you approach the little monuments built in honor of the adepts who have here taken bhuni samadhi (the practice of voluntarily casting off the body underground) with the determination to undertake a prolonged meditation.

The temple was very crowded but we managed to get Darshan in about an hour. Again had super thali consisting of all dal, sabzi, roti, rice, sweet all for Rs 20/. Wonder why people talk of inflation in metros.

To see pics of Prayag Click here

Kashi

We reached Sarnath by about 2pm. Sarnath is amongst the four holy places associated with the life of Buddha the other three being Lumbini Nepal, BodhGaya Bihar and Kushinagar. After achieving enlightenment at Bodhgaya he gave his first sermon to five companions at Sarnath. In Buddhist literature this is known as Dharma-Chakra-Pravartana i.e. the turning of the wheel of law.

There is a museum there which houses the famous Ashokan Pillar which we could not see since we landed there on a Saturday when it is closed.

As we got off the car met a very pleasant guide Dinesh Bhardwaj. He showed us around well and took us to his village where the famous Banarsi sarees are made. Besides the ancient stupa the Thai, Japanese, Sri Lankan have made temples in their style over here. We started with the Sri Lankan temple. It is called Mula Gandhakuti Vihara was made in 1931, has a gold plated Buddha statue. Architect and engineer was Rai Saheb Hari Chand. Next to that is the Bodh Gaya tree. A branch of the tree was taken from Bodh Gaya and planted here.

The Japanese Buddhist temple has 2 statues. Right hand side is of Gautam Buddha already born while the left hand side is Maitra Buddha who is yet to be born. The Thai temple has a soft standing statue sponsored by the Thai people. There is a Jain temple there of 11th Tirthankara who was born in Sarnath.

The main monument is the Dhamekh Stupa. Stone inscription on site reads ‘According to the inscription dated 1029ad recovered from the site its old name was Dharma Chakra Stupa. It perhaps commemorates the spot where Lord Buddha preached his first sermon.

In search of the relic casket Alexander Cunnigham bored vertical shaft through its center down to the foundation level and at a depth of 91.4 cms he found a slab with an inscription ‘Ye Dharma Hetu Prabhava Hetu’ written in the Bramhi script of 6-7th century ad. Further he traced out a stupa of Mauryan bricks. However, the present diameter of this sold cylindrical tower is 28.5 mtrs at the base and 33.35 mtrs in height. Its total height is 42.60 mtrs including the foundation structure consisting of a circular stone drum upto the height of 11.20 mtrs from the ground above which rises the cylindrical mass of brick work about 6 metres above the base.

Eight niches are provided in eight directions which must have contained images of Buddha. Below them runs a broad course of beautifully carved stones having geometrical designs, swastika, leaf and floral patterns with birds and human figures’. According to tradition we did a Parikrama around the stupa.

After we finished the sight seeing wifey wanted to buy a Banarsi saree so guide Dinesh took us to a co-op society shop just next to museum. Good sarees and reasonably priced. Before buying check that the saree has no holes.

Near the station we checked into the UP Tourism hotel by 5ish. The hotel is an old construction but good clean rooms. Dinner was well cooked. The next morning we left the hotel before sun rise to visit the Kashi Vishwanath mandir. We had early morning darshan and were out by 6.30 am. Even then it was really crowded. The temple is full of heavily guarded policemen. I saw the mosque adjacent to the temple. The platform on which the original temple existed is very much there. The current temple was made by Ahilyabai Holkar in 1870. 2 domes covered with gold were donated by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. In 1983 temple management was taken over by Kashi Naresh Dr Vibhuti Narayan Singh.

At 7am the market was alive as if it were 12 noon in Mumbai. We had puri aloo chai and then proceeded to the ghats. Here again agents quoted high prices for a boat ride Rs 500/. We paid Rs 100/. We people bathing in the Holy Ganga and paying their respects to the Sun God.


Ghats of Kashi

As we got into the boat I took my camera to click all the ghats while Aparna was jotting down the name of every ghat. Every ghat is named after the person or dynasty who made it. They are -
- Prayag – Maharani Pritiya State ghat.
- Dasaswamedh Ghat.
- Ahilyabai Ghat – she was Maharani of Indore.
- Munshi Ghat by Nagpur king.
- Rana Mahal Ghat by Maharana Pratap.
- Darbhanga Ghat by Bihar Maharaja.
- Chousatti Ghat – Chausati Mata Mandir.
- Digpatiya Ghat – Bangladeshi king.
- Pandey Ghat – Calcutta Brahmin.
- Babua Pandey ghat.
- Raha Ghat – Balaji Baji Rao Peshwa 1807ad.
- Narad Ghat – Narad Muni.
- Manasarovar Ghat.
- Kshameshwar Ghat – South Indian.
- Chauki Ghat – police chowki at the time of the British.
- Kedar Ghat – Gauri Kedareshwar Mandir.
- Vijaya Nagar Ghat – Sri Krishna Dev Raya.
- Lalighat – Tahipur ki Rani from West Bengal.
- Harishchandra Ghat – wood and electric cremation.
- Maharaja Chet Singh – Kashmir ka raja.
- We got into the boat at Rajindra Prasad Ghat. The above ghats were on its right. To its left are the following ghats.
- Manmandir ghat - Raja Mansingh of Jaipur.
- Kallu Chandal – Raja Harishchandra.
- Tripura Bhairan Ghat – Tripura king.
- Mira Ghat – Mirabhai bhajan ashram.
- Lalita Ghat – King of Nepal. Has a historical temple as well.
- Jalasen Ghat – King of Gwalior.
- Mani kannika Ghat – cremation of dead bodies.

After seeing all the ghats we took went to the Sankat Vimochan temple Hanumanji. Being a Saturday it was very crowded. By the time we reached the hotel it was 11am. Had lunch at one of the dhabas near the hotel and went to sleep then.

At about 3.30 we left for the ghats again and took a boat ride in the evening till about 5ish. It was very enjoyable. We left with only regret that we could not see the evening aarti. As a place Kashi is to be experienced by walking through its bye lanes, its temples, meeting sadhus and babas. One and half days at the end of a tough trip cannot do justice to this ancient city.

Pandit Rajmani Tugnait wrote in Introduction to Tantra “Kashi is another hub of tantric mystery but walking through the streets of this city you find if you know how to search. Kashi is an excellent destination for those who are genuinely interested in learning from scratch & those who are intellectually well versed in tantric principles & are keen on gaining direct experience. Beginners will find a teacher while the familiar will find the spiritual energy emanating from any of the shrines, which may become a living guide. To such aspirants the divine force comes in some form, human or non-human & such a blessed aspirant knows whether such experiences are genuine or illusory. Problems await the intermediate group, those who have read little but have not done any practice.

There is another reason why knowledge of scriptures is crucial. To those who have read acclaimed tantric texts (e.g. netra tantra, tantraloka, rura yamala, praprancha sara & Sri Vidyarnava) Kashi is a tantric paradise. They can for e.g. walk directly to the shrine of Ganesha, receive his blessings, and then proceed to Kala Bhairava and with his permission enter the city of light (which spiritually speaking is situated at the tip of Shiva’s trident – a city beyond the realm of earth). With clarity & confidence they can walk into the temple complex of Kamaccha and by following the left-hand path of tantra gain experience within a few months, which might take years to gain elsewhere.

A little distance from Kamaccha lies the famous shrine of Krim Kunda belonging to the aughar tradition. Here the flame lit by Baba Kinaram several hundreds years ago is the living teacher and under its guidance you may undertake the practice outlined in Swacchanda Tantra. The result, as promised, is that you will attain the privilege of being guided by Bhairava, the most vibrant form of Shiva. Adepts belonging to this tradition are experts in solar science (surya vijnana).

Once you have gained access to the inner circles of tantrics in any of these places you will discover that the spirit of their city awakens at night”.

Do visit Ramnagar Fort across the Ganga. It is the ancestral home of the Maharaja of Banaras. Maharaja Balwant Singh built this fort-palace in the eighteenth century. The fort is built in red sandstone. The Ramnagar fort has a temple and a museum within the grounds. The temple is dedicated to Ved Vyasa. According to local tradition Ved Vyasa stayed here for a brief period.

Temples I visited during a November 2013 trip are Kashi Vishvanath Temple, Annapurna Mandir (have a meal here), Tailanga Swami Math (must visit, very strong vibrations), Kabir Math in Lahartara, Lahiri Mahasaya's (he was Guru of Guru of Paramhansa Yogananda) home in on Chausathi ghat (must visit. It is usually closed. Find out when the Pandit comes to light a diya), Sankat Mochan and Durga mandir (both nearby and are Siddh Sthals), Lolark Kund (devoted to Surya, must visit), Maha Mrityunjay Mandir, Chausati Temple, Aghori Baba's Ashram, Kala-Bhairava, Vireshwara Shiva, Bindu Madhava, Tila-Bhandeshwara, Kedareshwara (on banks of Ganga, linga of Shiva is svayambhu, self-manifest), temple of Vireshwara or Lord of Heroes near Scindia ghat and Tulsi Manas Mandir.

Situated at the confluence of Ganga and Asi rivers, Assi Ghat is the southernmost Ghat in Varanasi, where pilgrims bathe before paying their homage to Lord Shiva in the form of huge lingam situated under a peepal tree. Assi Ghat also constitutes the southern end of conventional city. It was at the Assi Ghat that Tulsi Das wrote the Ramcharitmanas.

To buy lovely sweets visit Shri Ram Bhandar (Tattehri bazaar), Khirmohan and Tirangi Barfi.

Also see pictures of
1. Kashi
2. Kashi black and white pics
3. Sarnath
4. Dev Deepavali Festival
5. Temples of Kashi
6. People of Kashi
7. Ramnagar Fort