Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Varanasi: City on the Trident of Shiva

It was well past midnight when I got down from the train, at last, at Varanasi station. The train was eight hours late just to bring us from Allahabad to Varanasi. General compartment of the train was packed with pilgrims and their baggages so no place to sit or move around, just on feet all through. It was a special day for bathing and a huge crowd flocked to Allahabad to take a dip. The boarders were just a fraction of the folk who decided to return home that night.

Where to go at this late hour? All the telephone numbers I had with me just kept ringing with no one to attend them. Luckily the second class waiting room appeared to be a nice place to spend the night sitting there. It had a cafeteria too and I filled up my stomach with a steaming "masala dosa" quickly. I decided to leave the station at 5 O'clock in the morning and expected the darkness to start fading by then.

When it was just a few minutes left for 5 in the morning, I looked through the windows of the rest room and in my eagerness to be at the ghats of Varanasi I took the bright light of the floods outside as the cracking of the dawn. But I was soon put to reality as I was out looking for a rickshaw to take me to Dashashwamedh ghat. And then began the journey which I can't forget for my life. It was pitch-black with thick fog and save the area of the railway station there was no street light. One could not see just a few paces away and I could not make out if I am passing through a jungle or a residential place. Only a few illuminated windows assured me that there were buildings on both sides of the street. The rickshaw-puller was driving quite fast. I could not feel the cold in excitement; did I take a wrong decision? No one could save us if somebody attacked us, no one could even know what had happened before it was pretty late in the morning.

It was only after a twenty or twenty-five minutes ride that I first heard human voices, a group of devotees singing the praise of God Shiva. We passed them shortly after and I was assured that we were heading towards the right direction. After a few more minutes the rickshaw-puller brought me near a tea-shop, "We have reached the ghat, Sir".
"Where is it?"
"Just a few paces away from this place. You see the pilgrims are coming for bathing."

True he was; these pilgrims seemed to be the ones returning home from Allahabad, at least some of them. The tea-shop was also full with customers. I paid the rickshaw-puller and followed the pilgrims towards the Dashashwamedh ghat. During that dark hours the place appeared like a dreamland. There was no light except a neon lamp high above, but the light could not penetrate thick fog. The place was crowded with pilgrims and priests, shadowy human figures. Oil lamps were burning under the umbrellas and sometimes sudden burst of light from hand-held torches. People were moving hastily, may be to ward off cold. I was seated by the steps watching the activities and enjoying the place. The bells in the nearby temples started chiming by then.

I was waiting for the morning light. I had to arrange for a safe place to stay and keep my luggage, then I could come down to the ghat again to shoot in the fog...

And afterward it was all a usual story for a newcomer in Varanasi.

PS: To see more photographs on Varanasi please visit my web-album.

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Muharram this year and other titbits...

The January was a particularly eventful month. There were lots of events to photograph and there were lots of good and bad in my own life. Well life can never be without events. But some of them I shall like to remember always. I met Michal and Ilona for the first time at Kolkata, and we spent lots of time shooting together, eating, chatting or simply passing away time together. Thank you Michal and Ilona!! I met Anamitra also for the first time on the day I left for Allahabad. And yes I went to Allahabad to shoot at Magh Mela and on my way back home stayed at Varanasi for two days.

This year I actually wanted to visit Sagar island during Sagar Mela. Previously it was planned that I, Jonathan, Michal and Ilona, all four will start for Sagar on 12 January. And I met Jonathan again after an year at Kolkata. But unfortunately the plan couldn't be realized and I couldn't go to Sagar. Later my luck took me to Allahabad instead.

8 January was Muharram this year. It was a grand festival among the Muslims of the city that spans through two days: 7 and 8 January this year. We went through the streets of Kolkata to capture the mood of the celebration. I made the slideshow below with the photographs that I took.

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