BANARAS

27 JULY 2002: BANARAS

From The
Crossing Project
:

“The city of Banaras, like
Jerusalem and Mecca, is one of the world’s most celebrated pilgrimage sites,
and has been acknowledged as a center of learning for over 2000 years.
As a physical place, Banaras lies on the banks of the river Ganges. As
a psychical place, the city derives its sacredness from the intimate association
with Lord Shiva(one of the main deities of the Hindu trinity). It is believed


that Shiva lives in Banaras
through his invisible form to liberate humankind from ignorance.


    Banaras
has over 2000 temples, big and small, dedicated to Lord Shiva and to other
deities. The skyline along the riverbank is market by high spires of temples.
According to a myth, Lord Shiva performed severe austerities to sanctify
Banaras, and considers Banaras his earthly home.

    In the
imagination of the people of Banaras, Shiva is visualised as an ash-smeared
yogi who is meditating in the cremation grounds and eternally bestowing
grace and liberation on his devotees.


    The interface
between the city and the river are the long flights of stone steps called
Ghats. There are over a hundred ghats in the city, and the ghats hum with
ritual and festive activity all year round.


    From
dawn to dusk, thousands of worshippers come down to the river to perform
ablutions, and through ritual and prayer, invoke the healing powers of
the Ganges. The rituals invoke all the sense perceptions -sight, sound,
touch, smell and taste – and invoke all the elements. People propitiate
the Ganges river, the river of healing, by floating lamps and offerings.


    Some
of the most important rituals to the dying ad the dead. The ghats provide
the places of cremation. The burning embers of the cremation pyers alongside
the riverbank provide people with a powerful symbol of the integral relation
between life and death. Death in the Indian imagination is considered as
a crossing over from one state into another; and the fear of death is considered
to be an irrational fear. Once the body disintegrates, the ashes are immersed
into the Ganges. The final immersion into the womb of the Ganges symbolises
a new creation out of the waters of life.


    For 2000
years, Banaras flourished as a living center for learning. The Buddha,
Adi Sankara, (founder of the philosophy of Neo-dulaism), and Mahavira(founer
of Jainism), pondered life’s fundamental questions.


    Atop
the ghats, in the pavilions, gurus continue to transmit to students the
living experience of self-realization. Besides the religious significance,
Banaras is the home of classical music, dance and textile traditions. Banaras
artists have developed distinctive genres of artistic expression. The sounds
of the drummers and dancer’s bells provide an aural backdrop to Banaras.

    The ghats
present an incredible “multimedia” theater of activity. Together, the river
Ganges, the temple spire-lined the skyline,


the pavilions of learning,
pilgrims performing rituals, and the fires of the cremation provide a multimedia,
living stage in which the pilgrim experiences transformation. These elements
make the ghats an excellent domain for multimedia applications in learning.


    The pilgrim
is he center of the transformation, and the ghats ad its activities provide
the ” periphery”. Banaras’s ghats and its activities provide the spatial
periphery; the myths and metaphysics of Shiva provide the psychical periphery.


    Together,
the spatial and the psychical settings allow the pilgrim to “cross-over”
into the space of transformation.

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About Jay Babcock

I am an independent writer and editor based in Tucson, Arizona. In 2022: I publish a weeklyish email newsletter called LANDLINE = https://jaybabcock.substack.com Previously: I co-founded and edited Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curated the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages, Grand Royal and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was somehow listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. From 2010 to 2021, I lived in rural wilderness in Joshua Tree, Ca., where I practiced with Buddhist teacher Ruth Denison and was involved in various pro-ecology and social justice activist activities.