Rhythms of Kasi Ghats: Permanent and Temporary

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The sun is rising from behind Gangaji, and the people have also started rising. The boats have waited on the ghats the whole night. They’ll do the same the next day, and the day after that. The owner must have some kind of rights to the use of space. The activities on ghats, of the Banarsis and of pilgrims and travellers have different rhythms.

The Banarsi has a permanent kind of cycle of activities, attuned to the change of seasons, put into action after prolonged testing on the spot. The pilgrim or traveller, first time or one who’s been here before, does not have to enter the native rhythm. He will only have to accommodate the city’s rhythm for a very short time. He may survive even without doing that, because the circles of lives of the regular and the floating populations of Kasi intersect but never overlap fully.

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The points of intersection are many. They go to take a dip in the holy Gangaji the first thing in the morning. The two images between which these lines are sandwiched show the points of intersection as the people: locals in the image above and pilgrims in the one below, have come to the ghats for their customary and essential dip in the river.

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The areas where their rhythms don’t tally are many too. The person who lives permanently in Kasi has to earn his daily bread. Therefore, for an average adult modern male, his rhythm of life is determined by his profession. This holds true for many modern working women too, but they have an additional charge: they are home makers at the same time. The older and younger people of Kasi are the ones who get full opportunity to enjoy it, especially the traditional older people. They live in muhallas and enjoy the security of knowing the whole locality by name and face, and being known by everyone. More about that later.

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The boats in the image above carry mostly the pilgrims and travellers. It’s around eight in the morning and the only Banarsis on board are rowing or navigating the boats. The place is Dashaswamedh Ghat.

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The boat in this image is carrying only pilgrims, all from the southern states of India. The place is between Kedar and Pandey Ghats somewhere. The time is around eight in the morning. The locals get prepared for their work-day ahead. They can’t afford to spare time for a boat ride.

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Empty gazing and sitting on the ghats is one thing that’s generally done by the regular and local visitors of ghats, both in mornings and evenings. The image above was taken in the morning. The evenings are even more crowded on the ghats, more so in seasons other than winter. This may never be the case with the pilgrims and travellers. Alas! For they can’t have the fill of Kasi all the year round.

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The people in this image belong to the place. There’s a small tea stall near Narad Ghat just after the base of the pillar and the big stone slab on which these people are sitting. It’s a common morning sight. They have come there for their daily morning tea and maybe a couple of biscuits or toast. This is another occasional point of intersection. The pilgrims and travellers too come to the same stalls for the same purpose. Kasi ghats and areas around have their own favourite tea stalls. They have their permanent patrons who come their daily. And then there are the occasional visitors, while they are in Kasi.

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There are both native and floating populations in this image. This where the newly raised spectacle of Ganga Arti is staged daily in the evening. The value and novelty of the spectacle is for the floating population and for those who don’t visit the ghats every day. For those who belong to the ghats, it’s an everyday occurrence.

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