In a digression from the initial flow of ideas, the life of the people living around ghats, in the galis, must also be given full importance. How can one know any part of Kasi without knowing Kasi-wasis and their life? No attempt at any essentialization is being made here, only some generalizations in order to understand life in a very small area of Kasi more conveniently.
The central opening between the two white houses in the image above is the entrance to a densely populated gali. The gali in the image is roughly at the centre of Oudh Garbi mohalla of Sonarpura locality in Varanasi. Oudh Garbi is a set of galis lined by mostly residential buildings. Its boundaries are marked by the Harishchandra Ghat Road, Hanuman Ghat Road, the main road between Harishchandra Ghat Crossing and Shivala Crossing, and the lane that joins Shivala Crossing with Shivala Ghat.
Riding down the Harishchandra Ghat Road towards Harishchandra Ghat, the second cremation ghat of Varanasi, one sees galis on both the sides of the road. The galis on the right hand side lead one into Oudh Garbi. The first gali begins from between Somnath uncle’s house and Ravi’s front temple house. The second gali is between Munna/Raju Bhaiya’s house and the other, door less side of Ravi’s house. The third gali is between Pramod’s sand etc. shop and the potter’s house. The last gali of the locality is between the Municipality waste site and I-don’t-know-whose house. In between there are two more galis (I don’t remember their details clearly because I seldom used them). At the other end, there are only four main galis. The gali in which I grew up is the second gali to the right on Harishchandra Ghat Road.
When one climbs up the stairs of Karnatak State Ghat and walks straight inwards, crossing the Tamil rich Hanuman Ghat and the predominantly Chhipi Tola, one reaches Oudh Garbi. After passing through the first two galis, one reaches the central temple of my neighbourhood: Sheetla Mata Temple.
Sheetla Mata Temple is at the intersection of the second left gali on Harishchandra Ghat Road and the gali joining Hanuman Ghat area with Prasad X-Ray. It’s not a temple as the word generally suggests. It’s actually an idol cemented on the wall on Kailash/Laka Chacha’s house. Around that idol there’s a boundary and in front of it a small iron gate painted red. On a specific auspicious day the whole neighbourhood contributes to celebrate, probably the Navami. The central or patron family is the one on whose wall the temple finds place.
I remember, in my childhood, how my grandparents used to mention Lallu Goyla (a broken form of Gwala or cow herd). The house with Sheetla Mata Temple is his. His sons are the new owners because he passed away a couple of decades ago. In fact, I don’t remember having met him even once. His wife was my grandmother’s exact contemporary. So were Ajju’s, Rakesh Bhaiya’s and Amitabh’s (not Mr Bacchan) grandmothers. They used to go to Gangaji, for darshan to Kedar and Hanuman temples and also used to organize keertans in their houses in turns. They also used to go to Hanuman Temple and Sadhu Bela for evening keertans occasionally. I used to accompany my granny. I remember these places because I used to enjoy those evenings. We’ll talk about the Hanuman Temple on Hanuman ghat in the next blog.