Ochre in Varanasi

Ochre is one of the most popular Banarsi colours. It appears everywhere: on the walls of religious and secular buildings, on ghats, on clothes worn by the sadhus, even on objects one is not generally accustomed to see in ochre.


An old house at Shivala, Varanasi

One possible explanation of the phenomenon that I can think of is that Varanasi, unlike most of the other cities of the world, has its origin in impulses that lean away from what may be called secular. Ochre is the colour of other-worldliness in India, and Kashi is said to be balanced on the tip of Shivji’s trident, i.e. out of the earth despite being in it. It is but natural that ochre dominates the cityscape and the ghatscape.


Fruit shop by a mutt, Chowki Ghat, Varanasi

There are many small and big temples in this city of temples and their colour is ochre. Other colours and orientations mingle with ochre in a commonly shared space. Secular and religious are not so much separated in Varanasi as in the world beyond its boundaries. I remember my surprise at seeing, for the first time, temples whose gates would remain closed for most part of the day and would open only during regular services. In Varanasi only the sanctum would be closed, that too for a pre-defined and announced number of hours.


Chowki Ghat, Varanasi

Temples, mutts, ghats and other religious spaces are not secluded. The secular has entry there, and vice-versa. Pilgrims and tourists arrive in large numbers in the city during the season, i.e. from March to September. Travel agents and hotel owners ensure that their sightseeing and pilgrimage are managed efficiently. Hanuman Ghat is popular amongst the South Indian pilgrims: hence the high concentration of the related service providers in the area. With many Sumos and Ambassadors of the travel agencies there also stands an ochre car.

the ochre car fan the ochre car glass the ochre car

A car near Hanuman Ghat, Varanasi

My guess is that the car belongs to a nearby mutt.

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