Yoga at the Ghats of Varanasi

Once upon a time, not a very long time ago, for fifty years is not a long time in a city that has remained alive for over three thousand years, the ghats on River Ganga used to be places for people to start their day at. Young and old men of all ages would perform the Hindu squats and push ups, followed by exercise with clubs. Time changed and gyms became the assigned place for such activities.


Time changed again. Yoga came to the ghats in an organized way. It began a couple of years ago and it began at only one ghat in Varanasi. Not strangely for the city of Varanasi, this life-giving activity still takes place just beside Harishchandra Ghat, the one ghat where the last rites are performed and cremation takes place. It begins with the beginning of the day. No need to wear a watch here to reach in time. Just follow the rhythm of nature and wake up with the waking sun.

Colourful plastic mats are spread in neat geometrically aligned rows and columns and young students of a nearby Sanskrit college take their position, handwritten mantra sheets in their hands. The seniors and gurus sit at the head of the staircase. Among them sits the yoga guru too. Everybody follows the step by step instructions of the yoga guru as he takes them through the asanas of the day in easy to understand language.


It happens in Varanasi, day after day, until the river rises in the months of monsoon. Then the space is engulfed by the river and probably the yoga class takes place indoor until the water recedes and the steps of the ghat are cleaned.


Shree Santosh Kapooria II

sss kapooria gym

They tried to kill Shree Santosh Kapooria in 1971, and succeeded in taking his physical form away from us. They could not do anything to the ideal form of Shree Kapooria, and its power over the minds of those who had seen him in their time or those who heard about him from others. There’s a gym in his locality that bears his name, and a Durga Puja Club too. More important than them is his only memorial in the minds of the students of his university and his contemporaries, those who belonged to his generation, and then, those who heard his story.


Shree Chandrashekhar Azaad was Kapooriaji’s idol. The image above does bear a resemblance with the popular image of Azaad, with one exception: his fingers aren’t at his mustaches. All riyazis who go to akharas worship Hanumanji. They, and others who worship the god of power, actually invoke that power with an eye on the eventual identification. The anecdotes I have read and heard about Kapooriaji confirm that he was a regular riyazi and worshiper of the font of power: Hanumanji.

He used to exercise regularly. 1000 dands (Hindoo Push Ups) and 1000 baithaks (Hindoo Squats) used to be in his routine after jogging. He was a judoka, boxer and wrestler. Behind his efforts that went into his riyaz was his realization that one must have a strong and healthy body in order to serve their society and nation well. “Healthy body, strong limbs, face plain, pink albeit” was his mantra. He used to give that mantra to the youth of his family and neighbourhood and to his student friends and followers. He would inspire them by his own example and urge them to quit their bad habits and cultivate their body and mind. He was 5’7″ and weighed between 95-100 kg. His body was muscular and strong and reflexes sharp.

He is remembered for his physical strength, and for his intellectual and moral strengths too. He had completed his M Pharma and was elected the President of the Student Union of Banaras Hindu University. A booklet on him mentions very clearly that he had developed many formulas that would be beneficial to the masses. Yet, as he was not interested in using the knowledge he had for petty profit, he did not get the patents. The papers in which he had recorded his findings were stolen from his room after his death.

Kapooriaji was totally against the powerful political parties and anti-student and anti-social elements controlling the Student’s Union of his university. He knew that a strong Union pure of corruption and contamination would always think of and work for the welfare of he thousands of students of the university. So, he wanted that his university had no involvement of students in dirty politics and he worked for it too.

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Ram Navami in Kashi – 2

Today is Ram Navami. When I looked at my previous post about the same festival I found out that it was on 19 April last year. I had done a very short post on Ram Navami back then. A post that concerned mainly with me, the festival and the famous Ram Bank of Varanasi. There were no pictures in that post.

It’s a gazetted holiday today. What the official calendar proposes, the private sector disposes. So, I’m at work today. Festivals are backgrounded once a person is uprooted. When I talked to another uprooted person (Remember the kashidrohi?) he too did not have the idea of today’s festival on the first bench in his mind. I told him about it being Ram Navami and about a temple that has a bank in it. That piqued his interest and he wanted to know some more. So, we talked about Ram Ramapati Bank.

Ram Bank, Varanasi. Entrance

Entrance to Ram Ramapati Bank, Kashi

For a person who has never been to the temple, it’s nearly impossible to locate it. One, because within the dense network of galis in  even a Banarsi of another locality may lose his way and even google map is not a big help in there, and two, because it does not look like a temple from the outside. It is inside a house and is managed by the members of a family. If one knows what to look for and where, this temple-cum-bank can be reached very easily because it’s very close to the world famous Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple. As one enters Vishwanath Gali from Dashashwamedh Road and walks for a few paces, one reaches the famous (locally) Kunju Sao‘s shop.

 kunju sao1kunju sao sweets

Just opposite to that shop runs the gali that leads one to the temple with a bank. One has to walk for a couple of minutes before one reaches a bridge house. The bridge spans the gali. A couple of houses after crossing the bridge there’s an opening to the left and a flight of stairs leading to the temple.

ram abank gali bridge house close up

I googled the name of the bank and reached its website:

The website has the following information about the origin of the bank:

“Ram Ramapati Bank was established 83 years ago by Shri 108 Baba Swaminath’s disciple Sri Baba Sattram Das in 1926 (samvat 1983)” (Translation mine).

The bank accepts deposits in the form of hand written pages filled with the name of Shri Ram, or Lord Rama, the hero of the epic Ramayan. The first deposit is of His name written 125000 times with the ink and on the page provided by the bank, following the terms and conditions laid down by the bank. The believers from all over the world have reported benefits arising thereof.

The hindustantimes website provides the following information about the bank:

The family members work in other professions and contribute their own money to keep the bank running. …The bank even provides free-of-cost paper bundles and a pen to its account holder for writing Lord Ram’s name.


The address of the bank, as given on its website, is:

The Manager

Ram Ramapati Bank

D 5 /35, Tripura Bhairavi

Dashashwamedh, Varanasi  221001

Contact No. (0542) 2392488

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Gurudham Temple, Varanasi

DSC02633 gurudham entrance inside

Who are these gentlemen posing in front of an ancient looking building? And what is that building? They are Vivek and Ganesh. No, they are not my old friends or acquaintances. I met them for the first time when I went visiting that place. That brings us to the second question: what is that building? They had told me, those gentlemen, that one could google “Gurudham” and obtain information regarding the same. So, I googled it. They had mentioned the name of Mrinalini Bangroo as the brain behind the project, and there were a couple of pages providing information on her too. The gentlemen in the images above had already told me that their organization was behind similar work in Udaipur and Jaipur.

  gurudham ramp 2

Google took me to pages on The Times of India ( website and Jnana Pravaha website from where I found some information on the temple. Raja Jai Narayan Ghoshal had it constructed c.1814. There’s a huge compound of a secondary school bearing his name at Ramapura in Varanasi. He was a philanthropist, and with will and means to leave his name behind him, after him. So we remember the Raja at the completion of two hundred years from the year of the temple’s construction because of what he left behind for the Banarsis.

gurudham ramp

The first time somebody had mentioned the temple in my presence was a couple of years ago. Professor Mahapatra had called it unique; the only one of its kind, as far as its being the abode of guru is concerned. I had thought of going to the place myself, but couldn’t. Then my friend Dr. A. P. Singh sent me a couple of photographs that gave a fair view of the complex and I could postpone actually visiting it. In my penultimate trip to my city I could manage to reach the temple, but the gates were closed. Finally, in my last trip, when I was passing through the street facing the temple, I saw the gates open and some construction activities going on.


How could I miss such a chance? Although I had some official sort of work to do, I went in and there I met Vivek. He is from Delhi-NCR, just like the firm he represents. He was happy to know that I cared for the temple and was interested in what they were doing to save it. I was happy to know that finally, at least one heritage structure of Varanasi will not go to ruins. Wait. Let’s not conclude so fast. I was happy about the positivity of the very thought that the flow of destructive change could be, will be, stopped at least in one instance in my city. I was happy to see the application part of urballaghology, and to find a possible cure to my urballaghophobia: victory over change at last.

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Some well meaning persons had tried their hands at the repair work in the compound earlier too. The traces can be seen, alas! even today. Look at the incongruity of the bricks and cementing material of the original temple wall and that of the brick and cement used to repair later in the image to the left above. A similar incongruity can be seen betweeb the whole entrance sealed with brick and cement and the doorway with blue wooden doors in the image to the right. Vivek had told me that lakheria bricks were used in the original construction, and gara, a mixture of slacked lime, jaggery and surkhi, was used to bind the bricks together.

lime and water tubs gurudham surkhi and sand heaps, gurudham temple reconstruction

Surkhi (burnt bricks powder) and coarse sand can be seen in heaps in the image below to the right. To the left can be seen water and slacked lime tubs. Sand and surkhi are converted into a gluey gruel when mixed in the lime solution. I was also shown jaggery and urad daal soaked in water inside a low-ceiling room of the compound. They are added to the mixture to make the whole cementing material hold the bricks strongly. I personally know of several neighbourhoods that are over a century old with houses constructed of the same material. The temple complex itself is two centuries old. So, the construction made with this material lasts really very long for sure.

lakheria vs other bricks

There is an added advantage when brick and gara are used in construction, especially in areas with climate like that of Varanasi: it acts as an insulator against the extremes of the temperature, especially  in summer. It binds not only brick but also stone very well. The proof is in the centuries old houses of Varanasi. Stone is a central structural component of the houses in Varanasi. How can one imagine Varanasi without those stately stone gateways, arches, jharokhas, corbels and parapets?

ruined roof

So, they are using the material that was used in the original construction, or, when it’s not possible, as is the case of lakheria bricks, they are using something that at least looks like the original, instead of the prominent patchy eyesores plastered on the same building everywhere. The old and rotten wooden lintels will be replaced with new ones, as is the standard practice in such buildings. Stone components of the temple are a different matter. The colour of older stone and that of the new slabs may not be the same, as is seen in many other cases in the same city. That makes the new work appear patchy. Still, I hope they get this element right too.

gurudham naubat khana

The one thing that they can never reclaim from the jaws of time is the old expanse and grandeur of the compound and its buildings that has been engulfed and converted into a petrol pump and a big jewellery shop. I was informed that people have built houses and shops on the land of the temple’s compound. The old naubat khana gates have now been sealed with bricks etc. because the area right behind it has been converted into Aishwarya.


On the side facing the naubat khana gates is an Indian Oil petrol pump (there are two more in the vicinity, one by Barhar Kothi and the other opposite what used to be Gunjan Talkies once).


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Badhar Kothi, Varanasi


Twice in my previous visit to my city was I asked not to take pictures: once at Tulsi Ghat and then in Badhar Kothi. No, I was not wearing or carrying anything that made me be foregrounded: nothing but a small hand-held camera. Still, it was better than the prohibition on entry into Panchkot compound that I had to face the visit before the last one. I could enter the compound and take a couple of snaps of the temple. Or, probably, it was because I had clicked before they could realize that I was photographing the compound in which they have their shops etc.

badhar kothi  temple

So, I could not take detailed photographs of the temple and the compound inside. I had always feared that change would engulf the old and valuable sites of my city. Well, my primary concern was change at the material level. I had not thought much about the same at socio-intellectual level. The prohibition culture towards which I had indicated in one of my posts about Banaras Hindu University has spread to the interiors of the city.



badhar kothi  entrance

badhar kothi 1

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The Painted Ghatscape of Varanasi

Prinsep Dasaswamedh

Dashaswamedh Ghat (From James Prinsep’s Benares Illustrated)

James Prinsep had come to Banaras in the nineteenth century. He was drawn towards the ghatscape of Kasi like many other Europeans who had come to the city before him, and many others who later became like him, in liking the ghatscape and then painting or sketching it. The sketch above was made nearly two centuries ago and the tall houses in the centre can be seen dominating that section of the ghatscape even today.


Other than the house in the centre, the ghatscape near Munshi/Ahilyabai Ghat has changed a lot. The same is true about the ghatscape near Panchganga Ghat. The two images below are of the same ghatscape, albeit made a couple of centuries apart.


Towards Panchganga Ghat (From James Prinsep’s Benares Illustrated)


Towards Darbhanga Ghat (Landscape from a contemporary artist of Banaras)

painter dg4

Towards Panchganga Ghat (Landscape from a contemporary artist of Banaras)

They sell those painted ghatscapes right on the steps of ghats. It’s a comparatively recent phenomenon: the appearance of the painted ghatscapes stalls there. Some of the paintings and sketches are anonymous and many are signed. They look similar, at least to a pair of untrained eyes like mine, and similarly attractive. There’s something about the city, and specially about the ghatscape that makes it look beautiful even on the snaps taken by a photographer only by virtue of having a camera. So, it naturally looks beautiful on those sketches and paintings: both masterly and mediocre.

painter dg1 painter dg2 painter dg3

Looking at the Ghatscape for Sale at Darbhanga Ghat

I had seen one name appearing frequently on the sketches on this trip of mine. I was also curious to know about those who capture the beauty of my ghats on the canvass. So, I stopped by one such stall one afternoon and started communicating with the person selling them. He called himself Vikrant, a student of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Banaras Hindu University. He also assented to pose by his paintings for my camera.

vikrant painter vikrant paintings

Vikrant Selling his Paintings near Munshi Ghat

There was another shop selling the paintings , this time at Kshemeshwar Ghat near Mansarovar Ghat. The person running the shop told me that he was not the artist, but was only the seller. He sits there the whole day, so he must be earning his bread through the shop. I have seen another person making and preparing such sketches at Chet Singh Ghat. I have not spent enough time at Assi or Dasashwamedh ghats in my recent trips but I believe that the same business must be thriving there too. Earlier they used to sell such things in the shops that catered generally to the demands of foreigners only. Even today, as Vikrant had told me, they don’t aim at Indian buyers.

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Another Shop Selling Painted Ghatscape at Kshemeshwar Ghat

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Koochbehar Kali Badi, Varanasi


I turn towards my ghats and Kali Badi whenever I return to my city. Where else would I go? These are amongst the very few places that still stand against the current of change, although, for how long, I don’t know. So, I return to the reassuring island of a place (that Kali Badi is) surrounded by the raging sea of change, probably in search of some peace. The last time I had gone there, an acquaintance of mine, the son of an employee of Kali Badi, had told me that eighteen crore rupees had arrived in the reconstruction fund of the compound. He had also expressed his suspicion that the people in-charge, as usual, would not let most of the amount be spent on the actual work of reconstruction. It’s a pattern: the arrival of money in some fund and then its vanishing from there without its actually being utilized for the purpose. We specialize in such kind of work. Many have become rich siphoning such funds.


The old timers tell stories of the beauty and majesty of the building in the images above and below.












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The Changed Face of Varanasi


Over two decades ago there used to be a very huge slope of red bricks where the stone steps and the base of the red building stand in the picture above. How do I remember it? I had once climbed up the slope and had then found it impossible to slide or climb it down. Why? Plain old acrophobia. No, it was and is not vertigo. I don’t feel any physiological dizziness etc. I simply feel very very uneasy at heights and my instinct for self-preservation goes overtime in yelling at me. How did I come down then? Don’t remember.


So, I came down the slope. Ergo, there was one in the first place! Now, that slope gave way to the newer structures above. They are not bad. They are simply new and different from the older one. What’s more, the Hanuman Temple above the ghat, the temple where my grandmother used to take me for darshans and kirtans, is also not there anymore. They are constructing a concrete temple in place of the old stone one.


My urballaghophobia is not just skin deep. It has some links with my internal self and the continuously running strain of thanatophobia ever present there. Any bulwark against change doubles as the same against the ravages of time, and finally, death. Change in the old order, shape, state or feel of the things is indicative of the end of life. In death we unite as it is the end of all living things. From death to change: the shift is not metaphorical but symbolic in my case. The fear of change, then, is natural in all sentient mortals (and I think I’m both!).


So, the new, and at present ugly, temple at a changed ghat was a shocking and sad sight the first time. In all the following visits, it remained sad only. Why change something so closely associated to my life, and that of many others? But, do those others have time to respond to or even think about the change?

Math near Lali Ghat

The huge math between Lali Ghat and Vijaynagram Ghat is a real eyesore. In its present form it’s not more than a decade old.



Darbhanga Ghat Lift


Rani Ghat building

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Gauri Kund Revisited


This is my second post on Gauri Kund. It seems I will keep coming back for more. The first post with the key words Gauri Kund and Kedareshwar had received some confused and, in the beginning confusing, heavy traffic just after the Uttaranchal Kedar Temple tragedy. It then sank back to its habitual seclusion. The images of the kund show the quadrangular stone steps leading to the bottom of the kund. That was a long time after the flooded Gangaji had receded. The images of the kund in this post are different because it’s still full of the water of Gangaji left behind.

Why do I keep coming back here? Because the Kedar-Vijaynagram Ghat area of the riverfront happens to be the place where I was introduced to the ghats and temples of Kasi. My grandparents, like many other religious people of Kedar khand, used to go for their daily dip in Gangaji, followed by a darshan in the temple that has lent its name to Kedar Ghat. My grandfather would then proceed to Baba Vishwanath’s temple but my grandmother usually returned after her darshan at Kedarji.


The image above shows the entrance of the famous temple from the side of the ghats. I remember how I loathed walking bare feet on the wet, slippery and partly filthy stretches of galis and streets for the various visits to Vishwanath Temple. So, although my grandparents used to leave their slippers at home, I used to wear them at least up to Kedar Temple. My grandparents had acquaintances at Karpatriji’s Math and at a couple of shops at the main entrance to Kedarnath Temple. I’d open my slippers at one of those places and then enter the long corridor (Bum Bhola) leading to Vijaynagram Ghat.


After taking an occasional dip in Gangaji I’d then climb the endless series of stone steps leading to the riverside entrance of the temple. There are numerous smaller shrines and shivlings on the steps, in the left and right corners. My grandmother and other devotees would offer Gangajal, bael leaves and flowers to the various manifestations of Baba.



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