Ganga-Maa and the endless sea of colours

… you wake up before dawn …

you make your way through the city, strolling through the narrow meandering streets with a yearning so big…. your footsteps leave their traces in the eternal cobblestones of the holy city. You carefully step to a rickety old, fragile boat and the aged boatman casts off… The oars glide in the waters of the holy river-old as time itself. Marigolds, hibiscus, and small clay lanterns -pilgrimage of the faithful- swirl lightly in the water, shining.

you await patiently for the morning wonder to unfold…

…  and then, as if having waited for the audience to settle reverently in their assigned positions, the sun-god reveals himself triumphantly over the horizon. As his long arms spread out to the firmament, an almost audible sigh rises from the concentrated thousands of pilgrims, sadhus, men and women, who are waiting patiently on the river’s bank.The sounds of the temples’ bells fill the pink dawn. The still solemn mumbling of the sadhus now rises to one voice, a crescendo of unparalleled piety and joy. It is dawn at Benares …  it is light in the city of light.

Later, sitting mesmerized, charmed, you wonder if anything else has ever, so deeply touched your soul….

Ganges, for the westerners perhaps the most polluted river on the planet, for a Hindu though, is the personification of the goddess Ganga, who facilitates the deliverance from the cycle of life, death and rebirth. The holy river constitutes the central artery that traverses the entire body of Hinduism.

Pilgrimage to Ganga-Maa (Ganga-mother, goddess, giver of life, cleanser of sin, eternal womb) is an aspiration, a dream for Hindus. Αccording to their tradition, if the ashes of the dead are released in the Ganges´ waters, the dead will avoid the several stages of reincarnation, become pure energy and reach nirvana. It is the place where they pray, they wash, they gather holy water and they farewell their loved ones, hoping that the soul of the deceased will be cleansed.

Varanasi is a kaleidoscope of colours, sounds, smells and feelings. It is a magical place that may scare some travellers with its strong contradictions. The intoxicating scents of the spices mix with odours of dust, dirt and death. A colourful painting, a medley of senses and emotions…

Every small alley may hide a surprise, cows in the middle of the roads, bicycles and tuk-tuks in full speed, an absolute traffic chaos. People, become one with animals, but also corpses. Among the people stand the “untouchables” – the lowest caste of all, the ones you supposedly cannot even touch. They care for the family, prepare the dead and the fire. You can see them lying next to dead bodies, sleeping, waiting for the time of cremation to come.
On the river banks, next to the incineration areas, the Sadhus or otherwise “holy people” fill the air with their chanting; they are usually naked, their bodies covered with the ashes of the dead. And when you reach the ghats -platforms on the river banks, it’s like entering a different reality, another universe… Something compels you to keep looking, to keep shooting. There, life meets death in a perpetual circle. On top of them, temples, hotels and crematories form a fascinating image. Everything is more intense here. Dust, funerary fires, smoke, flames that illuminate the landscape. A blend of joy and mourning…

Some of those who have lived the experience, say that this smell never leaves your skin  … what I know for sure is that it forever lingers in your mind …