I have covered many ghats and few galis of Kasi in my posts and uploaded images of many temples, big and small, but I have mentioned only one mosque purely by itself. The images above are of that magnificent structure on Panchganga Ghat: Aurangzeb’s Mosque, popularly known as Beni Madho ka Dharhara.
(Photo: Dr. A. P. Singh)
Gyan Vapi Mosque is another mosque mentioned in these posts, but that was because of its importance both historically and for the Hindus of Kasi and the world. I have lived in Kasi nearly throughout my life. Yet, I have not experienced a huge part of it. There are many different Kasis in Kasi itself based on the way different communities perceive and treat their city. These different perceptions and treatments of the city by its own dwellers may be because of the socio-religious matrix in which they are brought up.It’s the very process of their socialization that dooms them to spend their lives in their well defined different spheres.
The Hindus look at the city with a sense of sacred. It’s the beloved place of Mahadev and is a major place of pilgrimage on the banks of Gangaji. For them, the city is Shiv and Ganga combined. Be they devout and practicing or not, Hindus will never look at Kasi as just a city, dissociated with its holy aspect. That’s why Kasi and Gangaji are both holy for them (although they may shamelessly pollute both). It is said that the Muslims, at least theoretically, can never look at the city with the sense of awe that its holiness warrants. The reason behind it is that Kasi can never be holy for them. A very neat way to classify: isn’t it? Neat, yes. But it’s far from comprehensive and correct.
There are two reasons behind the incorrectness of the bigoted-Muslim-in-Kasi stereotype (I’ll come to the other side of the coin too). One, the stereotype hides the fact that there have been many Muslims, Banarsi and outsiders, who have looked at the city with a sense of awe and have loved the city as their own. Two, the stereotype presumes that religion is the strongest force in deciding one’s affinities. Before going any further, let’s have a look at an English translation of Ghalib’s thoughts on Kasi:
May Heaven keep the grandeur of Benaras
Arbour of this meadow of joy;
For oft returning souls -their journey’s end.
In this weary Temple land of the world,
Safe from the whirlwind of Time,
Benaras is forever Spring.
Where autumn turns into the touch of sandal
On fair foreheads,
Spring tide wears the sacred thread of flower waves,
And the splash of twilight is the crimson mark
of Kashi’s dust on heaven’s brow.
The Kaaba of Hind;
This conch blowers dell;
Its icons and idols are made of the Light,
That once flashed on Mount Sinai.
These radiant idolations naids,
Set the pious Brahmins afire, when their faces glow
Like moving lamps..on the Ganges banks.
Morning and Moonrise,
My lady Kashi,
Picks up the Ganga mirror
To see her gracious beauty,
Glimmer and shine.
Said I one night to a pristine seer
(who knew the secrets of whirling time)
‘Sir, you will perceive
That goodness and faith, fidelity and love
Have all departed from the sorry land.
Father and son are at each other’s throat;
Brother fights brother.
Unity and federation are undermined.
Despite these ominous signs
Why has doomsday not come?
Why does the Last trumpet not sound?
Who holds the reigns of the final catastrophe?’
The hoary old man of lucent ken
Pointed towards Kashi and gently smiled.
‘The Architect’, he said, is fond of this edifice
Because of which there is colour in life.
He would not like it to perish and fall.’
Hearing this, the pride of Benaras soared to an eminence, untouched by the
wings of thought.
(qtd. from http://www.asimrafiqui.com/blog/forever-spring-ghalibs-benares/, taken from Pawan Varma’s Ghalib: The Man And His Times)
And then, there was Nazeer Banarsi. I was young when I heard his name for the first time during the riots and curfews of 1990’s. Look at the irony of the situation: I had heard the name of the poet who wrote on love and of his city in the context of violence, fear and hatred. His house was somewhere at Madanpura. He had permanently associated his identity with his place of origin, melding religion with territoriality. It was not a practice unique to him. There are many poets, Hindu and Muslim, who add the name of their place after their proper name. This practice, when seen in a Muslim, challenges a stereotype: the stereotype of Muslim devotion raised to the level of bigotry. Allama Iqbal was against any kind of identity of a Muslim other than that of a member of the umma:
In Taza Khudaon Mein Bara Sub Se Watan Hai
Jo Pairhan Iss Ka Hai, Woh Mazhab Ka Kafan Hai
Ye But Ke Tarashida-e-Tehzeeb-e-Nawi Hai
Country, is the biggest among these new gods!
What is its shirt is the shroud of Deen (Religion)
This idol which is the product of the new civilization
Is the plunderer of the structure of the Holy Prophet’s Deen (Religion)
Theoretically speaking, the purity of religion does not permit any adulteration with nationalism or territoriality. Had the stereotype been true, it must have gone unchallenged. People like Ghalib and Nazeer Banarsi prove these stereotypes wrong by challenging them effectively. Their names are being taken here because they are well known and not because they are unique.