India Dreaming
Accounts of previous tours to India by Sundaram



Part Eleven: Durga Puja, Continued


Bathing in the Ganga at sunrise in Varanasai, then sitting on the bank for meditation as the sun ascends above the holy river, must surely be the quintessential India experience! How many saints, sadhus & devotees of God have done just that over the millenia? Ganga Maiya ki Jai! Hara Hara Mahadev!


All day long the Durga murtis at the temporary shrines throughout the city are being worshipped. Toward evening we see processions coming from everywhere, or so it seems: a truck carrying the deities followed by a parade of dancing, chanting devotees, drunk on the love of the Holy Mother, Durga Devi. All will converge on the ghats. Knowing that to approach the ghats in the evening would be nearly impossible, it was suggested that we hire a boat from downstream & come up to Dasaswamedh Ghat, where we could watch the festivities from the river. Splendid idea! We caught our boat at the Ramnagar Bridge & headed upstream just as the sun was setting. We saw a few "Durgas" already coming out in their boats & being pushed over & submerged back into
the Stream of Life.


As we were nearing the main bathing ghats where the celebrations would be centered, we once again passed Manikarnika Ghat, the old, traditional cremation ground. This time we pulled right in to the shore, & in the dark, watched the crackling bodies burning at close range. What an experience! No wonder sadhus like to meditate in the burning ghats: it brings one face to face with his or her own mortality, stimulating the desire to rise above the pull of delusion & to realize the immortal Self.


By the time we reached Dasaswamedh Ghat, the Durga Puja celebrations were in full swing. Thousands upon thousands of people were packed into the ghats as far up as one could see. It looked like the pictures you may have seen of devotees waiting to bathe at the Kumbha Mela on Mauna Amavasya (the main bathing festival)! While many Durga darbars were being energetically worshipped with drumming, chanting, dancing, blowing of conches & waving of arati flames, the elaborate nightly worship of Ganga Ma, Herself, the Ganga Arati, was being celebrated concurrently, the priests movements choreographed to precision.


We watched the fever-pitched festivities for quite some time, seeing boats with their Durgas pull out into the widening expanse of the great river to immerse their Goddesses. The devotees & pujaris become so attached to their particular image of Ma Durga that they grieve deeply when She has to go back to the river, having defeated the forces of darkness once again for another year. Knowing that Durgas would continue arriving from various parts of the city throughout the night, & that these scenes would be repeated till near dawn the next day, we decided to go back to our hotel for the night. For us the next day held the promise of a pilgrimage to the home & shrine of our dear Paramparamgurudev, Sri Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahasaya, affectionately known here
as "Lahiri Baba."


Taking our bicycle rickshaws the next morning we arrived at the Bengalatola section of Varanasi, near the central bazaar & Kashi Viswanath Temple, the holy center of the city. Walking down the narrow lane we arrived at the home of Lahiri Mahasaya only to find a group of snake charmers outside his front door. Their two cobras were large, healthy-looking snakes, hoods fully extended, swaying to and fro. We were unable to go into the house itself, and had to be content to sit outside, meditating with the cobras as best we could! Shivani made friends with a few ladies who lived directly across the lane from the Lahiri home. They offered to help her to get her sari on better, thus the term
"re-dressing the situation!"


We discovered that Banamali Lahiri, one of the two great, great grandsons of Lahiri Mahasaya, who lived in the house, had recently passed away. The future status of the house has yet to be determined. The city government, apparently, would like to maintain it as a shrine, but certain things need to be worked out. We will follow the situation. It would be wonderful for devotees to have access to the home & parlor room which holds such a unique place in the history of our SRF/YSS work, not to mention the holy vibrations of the great master, himself.



Part 12: Kashi Vishwanath & The Buddha