The Bridged Houses in the Galis of Kasi

As I had mentioned in one of the previous posts, this post is about the unique bridged houses of the galis of Kasi. Before we launch into the details, I must acknowledge the debt of my friends and fellow Kasiphiles: Rishi (Mr. Rishi Vohra: the Museologist Banarsi, and lover of good life) and Atma (Dr. Atma Prakash Singh: the master of  photography and Dr. of Ancient Indian History), for taking and sending me the photographs of these bridged houses that I had been pestering them about. As I have been doing photo-posts on Kasi of late, this post would not have been possible without their support. I must also thank my Kasiphile and Kasilogist Amol Mama for sharing his knowledge of Kasi’s bridged houses with me. In fact, it is he who “knows” about Kasi, in addition to having seen and experienced it. He has an amazing store of information: both facts and legends related to Kasi, and has his own way of telling the stories that I have been happily listening to, since I was a child. I have only seen and experienced my city. I am a laggard in the knowledge department.

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(Photo: Dr. A. P. Singh and Mr. R. Vohra)

There are many galis in Kasi that have a bridge spanning across the gali to join two houses on two sides. I call them the bridged houses, provisionally of course, suggest a better name and I’ll use it. In the image above, one can see the structure that I had mentioned in one of my previous posts. The place from where the snap was taken is the terminal of the gali that meets the main gali parallel to Gangaji near Pandey Ghat, right after Narad Ghat. One may also see the ruins of a (once) magnificent Bengali house in the background. But that’s the stuff for another post later. I could only make guesses about the origin and use of such bridges between the two houses, until I asked my uncle (Amol Mama).

He told me that he had seen the original papers of his uncle’s house in Devnathpura. In the papers he had seen it clearly mentioned that there used to be seven houses, four on one side and three facing those four, under single ownership. There is a bridge that joins the two sides of the property. With the passage of time, the property changed hands and the number of owners increased. Today, the bridge in his uncle’s house is only ornamental.

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(Photo: Dr. A. P. Singh and Mr. R. Vohra)

The bridge in the image directly above looks quite healthy and functional. One may see iron grilled windows and a cement wall that stand in contrast to the old stone walls whitewashed without any use of cement, and simple wooden windows of the traditional old houses. The windows and walls of the house to the left in the same image provide a sharp and clear contrast. The bridge, and the houses have definitely been repaired, just like the house to the right, and the old shape and look of the traditional gali house have been altered nearly beyond recognition.

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(Photo: Dr. A. P. Singh and Mr. R. Vohra)

Now look at the bridge in this image. It’s an original with no later alterations in the outer structure visible. The more than a century old walls are solid stone whitewashed. A wooden frame of sturdy wood (don’t have much knowledge of the timber) painted black with coal tar is once again traditional Banarsi. The curved line coming on the stone wall just over the base of the bridge had been there since the beginning. Only the grille of the windows is a definitely recent addition. The stone window-overhang is quite typical Banarsi feature.

I must confess that I’d never been inside such a bridge or even inside a house having it. So, I can’t tell how it looks or feels from the inside. For those who live in these houses joined by the bridge, it must be an everyday experience. They may even have stopped feeling the wonder of the place they call home. In fact, many of us have lost feeling that wonder. What is the one apt word for it? Please post it in comment if you know the word. The old rootlessness versus rootedness debate has its natural parallel in the loss or not of the wonder of the place called home.

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(Photos: Dr. A. P. Singh and Mr. R. Vohra)

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