Sunday, February 19, 2006

Makara Sankranti

Greetings from Kashi,

It has been more than a month since I have been living at the Ganga Mahal (Mahal=palace) which is still owned by the Maharaja of Benares. Being the Lord of the manor of such stately quarters is an honour for me (considering that I was a gypsy king this halloween!), but it is no
coincidence that it houses World Literacy of Canada's India office, a space that exudes love and light. It is from this homebase that I have extended my reach and traversed the boundaries of my time in this space called Varanasi.

Last week was Makara Sankranti. January 14th predicts the movement of the sun northwards into Makara (zodiac sign:Capricorn). It is an auspicious time to bathe in the holy waters of the Ganges on this day and thousands of people arrive at sacred sites for these cleansing and purification rituals that have been performed for thousands of years. Hoards of people
gather prior to this auspicious day, lining the ghats (steps leading down to the river) and sleep on temporary mats, gunny sacks or plane cold stones, to collect handfuls of rice and lentils that the pilgrim bathers distribute after their holy ablutions. The rice and lentils are made into
a 'kichari' (kitch-ed-i) which is the speciality of the day. This year Makara Sankranti coincided with the full moon (after 57 years), which made it all the more cosmically profound. On this great day under the auspices of a bright and hot sun, I made my way through teeming crowds
of erstwhile bathers with an intense fervor to leave behind their transitory woes in the self purifying veins of our earth that empty themselves in the vast oceans of our blue planet. Ofcourse, I had to participate in such undertakings and I took a boat out to the middle of
the river (the cleanest part) made the boatman strategically place the boat that I might face the sun, and dived right into the icy waters of Ganga who still retains traces of her glacial origins in the Himalayas.(River Ganga is considered a goddess, if you were wondering).

Well that's it for this episode of a beautiful weekend, that I will continue to share in subsequent letters. Also, Varanasi is also called Kashi, and Benares...names that have been used for this ancient city through the ages.

Love and light,


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