We reached Varanasi about 4 hours after we left Allahabad. The only problem was the traffic the moment we entered the city.
I guess we entered the city limits at around 7pm, and got to Godowlia (the area where we were to stay) only at around 9pm. It didn’t help matters that the area had been shut down to large vehicles due to preparations for Mahasivarathri.
So the only option left to us was to park at the closest point possible, and take a cycle rickshaw over to the hotel. This gave another problem: we didnt know where the hotel was, and there were too many hotels around for the rickshaw guy to know!!! The final result was that we got MIL to sit in the rickshaw with the luggage, while Hubby, FIL and I walked alongside. The rickshaw driver was also asked to walk, rather than ride the cycle.
Finally we spied the hotel in the distance. Hotel Athithi Satkar was definitely one of the better hotels we’d seen in some time. Though, because of the sheer demand for rooms, they struggled with our booking, but they were still accommodating. We hadn’t made any payment in advance for our rooms. We had enquired about it, but the hotel had assured us that our rooms were booked, no advance required. The advantage of this hotel is that it was about a kilometer away from the temple and the Ganga ghats.
At the final minute, they however changed that to a 3-bed room, and put in an extra bed for the fourth person. The idea was that they could use the 2 double-rooms to accommodate 2 more couple, while as we were one family, we could adjust within one itself. We weren’t very happy about it, but for lack of choice, we agreed. When we saw our room however, we were impressed! It was spacious, clean and also had an a/c at that price range. The placement of the fourth bed didn’t take away anything from the spaciousness of the room.. much. The biggest advantage however was the cost. In all, the 3-bed room with extra bed cost us lesser than 2 double-bed rooms would have cost us!
The next question was that of dinner. There was an in-house restaurant, but we weren’t too keen on room service. So we all trooped outside to check out the offerings nearby. Due to the sheen number of people who visit from the Southern states, a small place outside made dosas and idlis. Further up, there we some sweet shops that served hot mild, thick cream (malai), lassi and other milk based sweets. Next to it was a shop that was serving hot samosas and jalebis straight from the hot pan outside the shop.
After a lovely light dinner of samosas and milk layered with thick cream, we called it a night.
The next morning we started a little slow at about 7am. We wanted to have darshan of Lord Vishwanath and Goddess Visalakshi before we ate anything. We were happily walking down the road, but almost 50 mts for the hotel, we found a set of barricades on the left of the road, and a queue of people already standing there. When we enquired, we found that this was the line for the darshan. We quickly joined in, and began to wait.
The line progressed right upto the point where the road splits up to the various ghats, and then it finally turned around and made its way halfway back, and then turned into another road. I’m not really sure what was the distance we covered, but it certainly took us 7 hours to get to the entrance. WHile policemen kept patrolling intermittently, they still couldn’t prevent all interlopers from trying to join the line in between. Mostly the others in the line managed to push the interlopers away, but not always were successful.
Another lovely thing we noticed along the way were volunteers who offered cool water to the people in the queue to help them beat the heat. At some points large jugs were set on a stand for people to drink from. As noon approached, people kept walking up and down the line with jugs in hand asking the devotees to have water.
At Gate 4, where we reached the entrance of the temple, we found another line coming in from the opposite direction that was then joined into the one we were in. Passing through the stringent security set up at the entrance, we entered the premises to find a large mosque. It had been built by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb during an attempt to destroy the temple. The temple itself was however, renovated by Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore in 1780.
The queue for darshan again got slipt into 2 lines and we were lucky to join this one. When I say lucky, it is because this particular line led straight to the idol of Goddess Annapurna Devi, while people in the other line did not get a chance for this darshan.
The Goddess is an embodiment of nourishment. The name is derived from “anna’ meaning food and “purna” meaning full in Sanskrit. The story of Goddess Annapurna Devi beings with a philosophical discussion between Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Shiva talks about everything being maya or illusion. He goes on to state that even food among material possessions can be considered as maya. This angers Parvati, who disappears to prove that without food, nothing is possible. This leads to the world becoming barren without any seasons, and the start of a sever drought. The goddess, unable to bear the suffering of the people, came to Kasi where she began to distribute food. Shiva then comes with his bowl for alms, and accepts that without food, the aatma or soul cannot achieve moksha or salvation. The Goddess becomes happy, and feeds Shiva herself. She has since been a part of this city, and millions of people attest to the fact that no one goes hungry in this city!
After having darshan of the Goddess, we moved towards Lord Vishwanath. Here it became a struggle to find our footing on the slippery marble floor, but we manage to keep each other upright. At the moment of darshan, we were able to offer flowers together as a family. But in the rush we forgot to offer water as an abhishekam to the Lord.
After visiting all the other smaller temples in the complex, among which were temples to Ganesh and Vishnu among others, we made our way outside through a side gate towards the temple of Goddess Visalakshi, an incarnation of the Mother Goddess. The temple was located a little distance away, and could be reached through small, winding lanes. However, there were not many people who knew or worshipped the Goddess much in Kasi. This was quite surprising given that this was a Shakthi Peetha, one of the 51 spread across the Indian subcontinent.
On completing our darshan of the Goddess we slowly made our way out to the main road, and slowly made our way to the cross-roads near our hotel. here we stopped and had a refreshing lunch at a small vegetarian restaurant. It was already 3pm, and we had spent the last 8hours out in the sun.
A bit about Sakthi Peethas:
The history of the Sakthi Peethas can be found in Hindu mythology. Goddess Sati was the daughter of Daksha Prajapati, one of the sons of Lord Bramha (part of the holy Triumverate of Bramha, Vishnu and Shiva), and one of the founders of mankind. She fell in love with Shiva, and wanted to marry him. However, Daksha was unhappy with Shiva as a son-in-law as he was considered a roaming ascetic with no material possessions and keeping the company of ghosts and ghouls. However, unable to deny his daughter, he gave Sati in marriage to Shiva. As time passed, Daksha organized a massive yagna or sacrifice to which he invited all and sundry, gods, sages and people alike. But he did not invite his daughter and son-in-law. Sati, however, hearing about it, insisted on attending the yagna. Shiva tried to dissuade her, but finally relents and lets her go. Sati believed that, as a daughter of the house, he father would not deny her the right to attend and would also accord her the respects she deserved. However, on reaching the venue, Sati found herself being insulted and Shiva being relived and mocked. Unable to bear any more insults, she immolated herself on the sacrificial pyre. Shiva, unable to bear his grief and anger, cut off Daksha’s head. He later replaced the head with that os a goat and restored him to life on the best of Daksha’s wife. He then picked-up the immolated body of Sati and roamed through the universe dancing the Tandav or Dance of Destruction. Unable to bear the destruction being caused by Shiva, Lord Vishnu used his sudarshan chakra and cut up the body of Sati, bringing the tandav to an end. The places where the body parts of Sati fell are revered as Sakthi Peethas.
- The Maha-Kumbh Yatra – Allahabad-Varanasi-Lucknow trip – Prologue (weekendholidays.wordpress.com)
- The Maha-Kumbh (2013) Yatra – Allahabad (weekendholidays.wordpress.com)