Kasi has earned a name for itself as the centre of learning through ages. It has been known in history as the place where pandits of various streams of knowledge came from all over India, and world too, in order to test and add to their store of knowledge. They used to study, think, philosophize and propagate their faith or interpretation in Kasi. Time has changed things a lot. Kasi does not hold the position it once had. Although Kasi is the seat of five modern universities, it does not hold supremacy in the field of knowledge: neither in the world nor in India. Gone are the golden olden days of Kasi’s intellectual ascendance.
Old habits die hard. The old habit of shastrarth has taken many modern forms in the city that rests on Shivji’s trident. But then, people do the same in many other parts of the world at places called adda. I have heard that Kolkata has a very strong adda culture. In Kasi there’s an adda in nearly every locality I know. People assemble there at a specific point of time and spend time together. What I find unique about the addas of Kasi is their established status and their social impact and reach.
There may be many who find solitude even in a busy metro or office. I’m definitely not one of them. I found solitude only in Kasi. Rather, I expected, looked for and trained myself like the Pavlovian dog to find solitude at certain spots around Gangaji in Kasi. So, it was on the ghatscape on Kasi that I found solitude. Solitude is not valuable solely in itself. Its value lies in its utilization. I utilized my part of it in introspection. It began with no action, only thinking deeply and long about the very thought process. Then came the stage of thinking about things outside my self. There were places conducive for such kind of activity.
Places like Chet Singh and Karnatak State Ghats facilitated the thinking process at certain times of the day: times that came after or before the heavy traffic of people who came for Ganga Snan. Of course, these ghats have their share of crowd at certain times of the day, but they are not known to have a heavy inflow of people at any time or season. Karnatak State Ghat does attract pilgrims and people who come to the nearby Harishchandra Ghat. It is crowded for a long stretch of time twice every day. Chet Singh Ghat it must be mentioned, is not popular amongst the members of the floating population of Kasi. Those who come there are generally few, and all locals. Therefore it is an ideal place for the seekers of solitude. The chabutras to the left and right side of the iron gates of the huge door in the image to the left above are ideal for thinking, especially in summer afternoons when nobody comes there for hours and there is an airy shade for hours at hours after twelve.
The reason behind the absence of crowd on this ghat may be the ghats around or the neighbourhood. Prabhu Ghat is a dhobi ghat and is also used by anglers, generally from the neighbourhood, especially around Panchkot Ghat, that has a high density of Muslims. It is a curious fact about Kasi ghats, also marked and recorded by kasilogists in their records of the city, that they are in a neglected and bad state in localities with high density of Muslims. Why? Of course Gangaji is not maiya for them but they do enjoy the ghatscape as much and in as many ways as any other Banarsi. They do play canvas ball cricket on the ghats and bathe and swim in the river. They call it simply darya and not Ganga Maiya or Gangaji.
The Vijay Nagram-Kedar Ghat complex also provides its moments of solitude, but very occasionally. It’s mainly important for the kind of opportunities it provides for shastrartha. People from the neighbourhood come here in the evening to sit and chat. There are regulars who have conversations upon very deep and important issues at times. Their range is very wide and they can rise and fall to any levels during the argumentation. They are emotionally involved with either the topic or with their victory. In this, unknown to them, they fall in the long tradition of the Banarsis who have been famous for their argumentation powers and their need to win at all costs.