(Photo: Dr. A.P. Singh)
This post is about the “other” of Kasi: Ramnagar. For a non-boat rowing/going Banarsi like me, there are very few occasions on which he visits the city that lies on the bank of Gangaji opposite to Kasi. My knowledge of that side across the river (o paar) is limited because for my own reasons I don’t cross the river on boats. I had been there a couple of times, crosing the river on the bridge near Samne Ghat. Dr. Singh sent me a snap of the entrance to the palace of the erstwhile rulers of Banaras (Only Mahadev is the King of Kasi, the mortals rule on his behalf). So, let’s begin with the palace.
Change, as it pervades the air, has not left the palace untouched. No, I’m not speaking of modernization. I am more concerned with the Disneyfication of the world. Compare the colour of the upper and lower halves of the entrance in the image. The palace that I had known since around 1991 had always had ochre walls that went with the colour of the building material and that of the buildings nearby. This new palace is not the one I had known. The very colour declares that it has been a policy decision to convert the colour that was set by tradition of the soil into the colour now set by the popular pastel shades. It may also be an indicator of internal changes to come later. let’s return to o paar then.
As the sun starts peeping from behind the veil of darkness, the first thing one sees from where the sun rises, sitting on the ghats of kasi, is o paar. At night the colour of the area exactly facing the ghatscape is different shades of black. With the rising sun, thin lines of grey appear on the horizon. After a little while, when shapes become clearer, a wide sandy bank and a line of trees at a distance can be discerned. Boats start appearing on the river with their tourists and pilgrims.
Most of the boats remain close to Kasi side of the river, but some of them go to the opposite bank. There are few regulars in the boats who feel good responding to the call of nature o paar.As for many others, I never could guess what they found there. My independent visits had been either walking with Arup mama or cycling with Biplab generally, or later, with Upendra. My later bicycle visits were for the jalebi that one gets in Ramnagar in the morning. On all the occasions we had crossed the river through the pontoon bridge, i.e. never in the monsoon season. I have seen the Palace and its museum. I had specially liked the old cars section and a couple of old paintings of different festivals on the river. What I never visited, as we used to be pressed for time, was the temple of Ved Vyas.
It is said that those who die in Kasi get liberation from the cycles of life and death. It is also said that those who die on the opposite bank get another birth in the form of a donkey. As far as the re-birth as a donkey is concerned, the same thing is said about Maghar. Kabir Das, the iconoclast, decided to die in Maghar and left Kasi at the end of his life. He did it to challenge what he thought was obviously a lie because for him, moksha must be earned and not be given by default. The result was the opening of a question that has not been answered conclusively. So, what comes after death separates Kasi from Ramnagar. It is also said that Ved Vyas got some kind of curse to stay away from Kasi and he went to Ramnagar and lived there. He is worshipped in the city as its patron saint. Thus, Kabir and Vyas, in their own ways, did challenge the othering of Ramnagar in their own way.
Both the cities have stood facing each other for centuries. Their fates made one shine brighter than the other. The exact factors and the dynamics of discrimination will be interesting to know.