Five dips is all it takes. Just five dips in sacred water and the sins of a lifetime are just washed away. I am on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi, glancing at a millenary Hindu ritual, one of the oldest religions in the world.
This is my first time in India and I am just as fascinated to just experience these rituals as well as learn about the reasons behind them. Hindus have many gods, and not all of them even share the same belief, but the ultimate goal for all is liberation, to reach nirvana. They believe that a person’s soul reincarnates through many births, and nirvana is only reached when they have achieved their best throughout their lifetimes. But future lives can be affected by the way they act in current lives, This means that if you sin, you could come back in a lower caste, maybe even as a bug; this is called Karma. But the act of washing in sacred water makes all bad go away.
There are eighty-seven ghats in the Ganges. Mornings here are busy; with pilgrims coming almost in masses to bathe and pay homage to their ancestors and gods, it feels almost hectic. But beyond the pilgrims, the tourists and the beggars, there are also the locals trying to make a rupee or two from the tourists, selling and offering all kind of trinkets and souvenirs, massages, priest blessings, boat rides, and everything in between.
Among them, Sadhus impersonators above all just sit there waiting for visitors to take a photo or two and bless them in exchange for some money. I did photograph some of them; after all, it was difficult for me know if they were real or not. Still, all of these are interesting characters as they are living a life without material possessions and abandoned their families to come and stay around the Ganges.
But this is a totally different view of what I experienced last night. As I got here for the first time I experienced a feeling that I’d never sensed before. The smells, the sounds, and the sights were overwhelming. You see, Varanasi could be magical and incredible in many ways, perhaps a favorite for many visitors, but I am pretty sure it’s not for the faint-hearted. This city is also a particular place for passing, since dying here offers Moksha, the ultimate liberation from the cycles of birth and death, making Varanasi the radical soul of the Hindu world. It is here that one of the most intimate rituals are performed all day long; in public sight cremations take place twenty-four seven as part of the passage ceremony. Witnessing the pyres and flames spitting out smoke and ash at night is something surreal and difficult to describe. My first night in and impressions of the main cremation place, the Manikarnika Ghat, was mind-blowing.
But night is also a time of joy and celebration, as a group of priests or pandits gather every night in the Dashashwamedh Ghat to perform “Agni Pooja”, or the worship of fire, which is mostly known as the Ganga Aarti. The event is wonderful to experience, as the priests perform various stunts with different brass lamps while chanting mantras in the presence of a large crowd. I particularly enjoyed it and returned twice.
But beyond the Ganges, the rituals and festivities there is also a city, and Varanasi, also called “City of Light” or Benaras, with its over four-thousand-year history, is one the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities. Mark Twain once said, “Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together!” So true… the maze of alleys and passages west of the banks of the river are also unique and they truly resemble a time of the past. Some of them are so narrow that only one person can walk at a time, and it is easy to get lost as you try to find your way back to the Ganges. I enjoyed strolling around this part and photographing the locals, the doorways, and the merchants.
The holiest city of all amazed me. I’d wanted to visit here for years, but as much as I read and looked at photos from other people it still took me by surprise. I guess it is almost impossible to experience this place unless you visit, and this is certainly a place that every traveler needs to experience at least once in their lifetime.
This was also my first time traveling with the new Fuji X-T2 bodies. So, all of these photos were made with the X-T2 and my personal “holy trinity” – the XF10-24mm F4, the XF16-55mm F2.8 and the XF50-140mm F2.8.
More photos from my India trip are coming soon, so as always, feel free to comment.
All photos are available for prints and licensing – just click on them for more information, and if you like my work don’t forget to follow my Instagram stream.