Myths take a totally different form in Kasi. They merge their identity with factual accounts in such a manner that they can’t be separated and autopsied, as can be and is done in case of the myths of Greece, say. There is an additional layer of complexity added when folk beliefs seep into myths and the result is something strange and strong, and beautiful. The image seen above is of the famous (locally) Gauri Kund of the very famous Kedar Ghat (nationally). The people of the ghat tell stories, with the confidence that comes only when one is 100% sure of the veracity of their story, of the origin of the kund. I do remember, faintly, probably my grandmother mentioned the facts to me. It’s a part of the famous Puranic story of Shiv’s tandav with Sati on his shoulders and Vishnu coming to save the world etc.
For those who may have forgotten, here’s an outline:
Sati went to her father Daksh Prajapati’s yajna despite her husband Shiv’s forbidding it. When she could not tolerate her husband’s insult at her father’s place, she jumped into the fire of the yajna. When Shiv came to know of this he was so angry that he took his wife’s body on his shoulders and started his tandav. He was so sad, at the same time that he could not observe how the whole world was being destroyed due to his tandav. Vishnu, as usual, came to the rescue. He took his chakra sudarshan and sent it to cut Sati’s body in small parts. Wherever her body parts fell, that place became sacred by association. The famous Manikarnika received her ear (lobes or piece I forgot). One of the parts fell in the Gauri Kund also. Thus it is sacred.
The kund is not very deep. Neither is it always full of water. Post monsoon flood inundates it for months. After the flooded Gangaji’s water recedes, the kund is full of mud that dries to become alluvial soil. The soil from the kund is doubly holy. People used to make clay diyas of the same when I was a little boy. In the image below there’s a chhatri at the right hand corner. The kund’s periphery starts after it. The temple in the background is the famous Kedar Temple.
Kedar Temple takes its name from the famous tirth in Uttara Khand, Kedar Nath. There’s a nearly circular zone with Kedar Temple at its centre known as Kedar khand. Moksha was guaranteed to those who died in the khanda. Although, it is guaranteed to those who die in Kasi/Varanasi anyway. My grandparents used to say that even in Kedar khand, the most auspicious zone is within which the sound of the huge bells of Kedar temple can be heard. From our ancestral house one could hear the sound of the bells, at least, more than a decade ago.
The chhatris have a very popular and conspicuous presence on the ghats of Kasi. They are not at all ornamental. Their practical use becomes very clear once the sun is overhead and the scorching sunrays become unbearable. There’s one person who has the right to conduct poojas and ceremonies under a chhatri. The right is inherited. In the image above there’s a pooja underway. The small white triangle at the left sids, just after the shade of the middle chhatri, is one end of the kund. The steps behind the chhatri lead to Gangaji. People consider the zone of the river making a kind of rectangle with the end of the stone steps of Kedar Ghat as its base a very sacred area. From Assi to Dashaswamedh, Kedar Ghat is second only to Dashashwamedh Ghat in popularity (foot falls) and sanctity. That too, because Dashashwamedh Ghat is the ghat that serves Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
From the gali outside Kedar Ghat can only be approached through its temple. To do so, one has to leave one’s footwear out. Moving forward from where the gali begins in the image above, one reaches the entrance to the temple. The point from where the image given above was taken is close to Chowki Gha (We’ll talk about it later). The narrow gali that runs parallel to Gangaji from Kedar Ghat to Chowki Ghat is so full of life at all times of the day that it can be watched with profit and delight throughout the day (from 6 or 7 in the morning to 10 at night). The rush hours come twice: from 8 to 10 in the morning and from 6 to 9 at night.
The main lane of Kedar Ghat begins at Bapuli Bari that can be seen in the background in the image above, just behind the trees and in front of its centre there’s a stone wall with Lali Ghat painted in two languages. Bapuli Bari is special for two reasons: it’s the house of Nepu Chacha (my father’s old friend), and it’s the place where Paramhansa Ramakrishna’s paduka rests.
The main lane ends at the Post Office (Kshemeshwar Ghat), i.e. it spans Lali Ghat,Vijaya Nagaram Ghat, Kedar Ghat, Chowki Ghat and Kshemeshwar Ghat. There are Saree Shops, Paan Shops, General Stores, Shops that sell various ingredients for different types of Hindu karm kand, Sweet Shops, and around Chaowki Ghat around ten street vendors of vegetables and fruits.
Imarti bhaiya’s family holds a monopoly in fruits. He is the eldest brother and sits at the shop at Chowki Ghat.
When one ascends the stairs in the image above and passes by the Naag Temple beneath the tree (I strongly suspect it’s Neem, but can’t recall now), a newly sprung up guest house (I tend to actively forget the names of such abominations), a tea shop, ascend a very short flight of stairs, turn right and pass a couple of shops more, one finally reaches the ever smiling Imarti Bhaiya. Nowadays one may also meet his grown up son there. There are two more fruit shops run by the same family right at the entrance of Kedar Temple.
The gentleman in the image above is Imarti Bhaiya’s younger brother Lakshmi Bhaiya. Beside his shop is another shop: Mahesh Bhaiya’s shop. Although Mahesh Bhaiya has passed away, I can’t call it by any other name. It’s run by his wife and sons now. As very new and welcome development, that I saw only the last time I was there, there’s a coconut shop run by a long time employee of the family: Nakhdu Bhaiya.