How's my Luck now?

Reflections, views and descriptions during my stay at IIM Lucknow from July 2004 to March 2006

Location: India

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

ek yaatraa - III

Day 1: Varanasi, 28 Dec. 2004, Tuesday

The Kashi Vishwanath and Annapurna temples

The boatman took us up the steep steps and then along a long and narrow alley to a shop selling offerings to be offered in the temple. Here we took off our footwear and were introduced to one of that (in)famous breed of people - the 'panda' (this species of 'panda' is far from endangered, unlike the red panda :) ). This man was elderly and resembled Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi a lot - both in appearance and clothing. We really were forced into taking him for a guide and also forced into purchasing two sets of offerings for two temples. This was turning out to be an expensive affair.
There were big crowds in those narrow alleys and we were made to hurry inside the temple since it was closing time (at 11.30am - surprising). Along the alley were people selling dhatura sap in earthen tumblers for offering on the ling, which we did not buy. We rushed into the sanctum sanctorum where we had to struggle in the crowd to come face to face with the jyotirling of Shiv. Hurriedly, we offered the bilipatra and flowers on the ling and came out of the garbhagruh. Even so, we had to be careful as the floor was slippery with people offering milk.
Inside the garbhagruh were security-men regulating (jostling, really) people in and out. One of the persons resisted the security-man, who was provoked and they came to blows - right there beside the ling. So much for maintaining the sanctity of the place.

Well, we moved directly opposite to the Annapurna temple, where again we were rushed into offering the second basket of offerings before being led out. The panda then led us out of the place, but before that, showed us the gold-plated top of the Vishwanath temple.
He took us through a cave-like passage, where my parents were made to offer sinduur to the forehead of the statue of the Goddess five times each (again, with some monetary offering). From here, we came out and the panda showed us the old residential quarters of sadhu-s, and then the site of the old Kashi Vishwanath temple, where now stood a mosque. This was the allegedly disputed site over which some politicians and other people with no better work to do were going to raise a ruckus, a la Ayodhya. So there was tight security all over with watchtowers and barricades.

Next up, we all three made two pradakshiNaa-s of a certain circular place of worship. Then we were made to repeat certain Sanskrut shloka-s and Hindi sentences to the effect that 'may our pilgrimage to Kashi be fruitful in terms of our wishes and familial well-being'. The man sitting there was not happy with the amount we offered and asked for more, saying that we had come all the way to Kashi and should give more. For once, we stood firm.

Then, we visited the old temple, where the actual Vishwanath svayambhuu ling resides, below ground level. At one time, this ling used to be washed with the waters of the Ganga when in spate. Here, we were made to buy another prasad, which we were supposed to keep only within the family, and not distribute to others.
We were finally led out of the complex back into the alleys. We had lost more than a thousand rupees inside an hour in buying offerings, remunerating the panda and keeping our belongings for safekeeping.

Ritualism is not for me, neither did my parents like any of this. Why should I be constrained to worship in a particular way? Why should I be made to pay through my nose to have a darshan of Shiv? The accusing eye which rests upon you if you do not shell out more money is disturbing - as if we are committing a crime. The blessedness one should ideally feel on visiting nothing less than a jyotirling was reduced a lot because of this kind of quasi-extortionist behaviour.



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