Kasi is a city that has been popularly known as belonging to widows, bulls, steps and the renunciate. Quite antithetically, then, one sees Kasi actually belonging to the crowd. It’s not a recent phenomenon. History has seen and known the city for its crowds. How then, does it attract the sanyasi who chooses to come here, like his lord Shivji, from his Himalayan abode? The city never wakes up, because one needs to sleep before it wakes up. Actually, Kasi never sleeps. Anybody who has reached Cantt. Railway Station late at night or in the early hours of the morning knows what I mean. As for the inner zone of various khandas, the worship must end late and begin very early the next day. So, a devotee has to wake up at around four in the morning, whereas, many go home by twelve. Thus, the city never sleeps.
In a city that never sleeps, people can always be found in varying concentrations at various places at various times. When one knows those present around, its company. Otherwise, it’s crowd (Reminds me of Benedict Anderson. Any resemblance is unintended and totally accidental!) Yet, less than ten people around isn’t the acceptable volume to be designated as crowd in Kasi. Thus in the images above, taken at around eight in the morning, what we see is not a crowd at all. The images below have something that may eventually (it does, every day) grow into a respectable crowd. This snap was taken beside the entrance of the famous Sheetla Temple.
The area that is visible in the images above is the most visited space on the riverfront: Dashashwamedh Ghat. It’s the most visited for various reasons. The much celebrated recently invented format of the spectacle called Ganga Aarti has made it popular in no small way (and it’s very photogenic too) in the recent years. The galis and ghats overflow with people, many of them sporadically, some of them for a long part of the day.
There are some times on many ghats and places, and few ghats and places at many times, one has high probability of finding either total undisturbed and uninterrupted solitude or something close to it for a long time.
The two side images above are the two sides of the ghatscape, as seen from Chet Singh Ghat in the middle. It is from my personal experience, that too, from nearly a decade back, that I can say that this region provides opportunity and space for solitude for a long part of the day. One strong reason behind the general absence of crowd is there being no celebrated temple around. I have spent many hours in this zone, especially at around twelve in the afternoon and then, around five in the evening.
The two images above are of Vijay Nagram Ghat. In the image to the left a couple of daily visitors can be seen occupying their customary space on the steps of the ghat. The image to the right highlights the space that is used especially in the evenings for people who come here to spend some time in solitude. This place is very special because it provides a very noisy sort of space for the seekers of solitude, and they accept it with thanks. Every step is occupied in the evening, yet there are some who just sit there, don’t look at any person in particular, try to never interact with any one (even non-verbally), keep gazing at the ghatscape and the horizon.
Although the din disturbs at times, but practice makes a man (seen no women on these steps in the evening) perfect, and one learns being alone amidst a throbbing crowd too. The soothing presence of Gangaji definitely helps. It works in the case of Kedar and Chowki Ghats too.
The image to the left above is of Kedar Ghat and that to the right is of Chowki Ghat. The stone steps between the chhatris and Gangaji remained unoccupied once (I don’t know the situation today) for a large part of the day barring the morning and evening rush hours. Yes, ghats and galis have their rush hours too. The image below is the front stone terrace of Lali Ghat.
Its a very secluded space as crowd generally does not come here. Its being close to Harishchandra Ghat gives it some sort of immunity from the crowd of the common Banarsi, Indian pilgrims and travellers. Although foreign travellers make it a point to visit the Manikarnika and Harishchandra Ghats for their essential snaps of a Hindu cremation at its various stages.
[I mention it because I don’t fully understand the attraction these funerals have for them. Rather I don’t understand that which I don’t have, neither do I think “we” have. Indians generally stay away from funerals until it becomes essential. I don’t think they’d go to Europe or the US and request a special guided tour of a complete stranger’s funeral proceedings. This is some kind of cultural difference I think. Those who know more about the funereal inclination of Indians vis a vis the Westerners, in India or abroad may please comment.]