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Tu Banja Gali Banaras Ki...

8 mins. read

Published in the Saturday Navbharat Times on 17 February, 2024

It was akin to a cloud; dreamy, soft, and effervescent. As soon as I took a spoonful, it dissolved in my mouth, bursting with flavor, its sweet deliciousness entirely satisfying and awakening my senses. The air was cool, yet the sun shone brightly as we strolled towards the city square, passing stalls displaying rows and rows of mud kulhads topped with this dreamy white foam and a few strands of saffron. I simply had to pause and taste this heavenly dish, our guide explained it was called Malaiyo. In the city of Gods, this surely had to be the food of the gods, I mused. Nestled amidst Varanasi's bustling lanes and vibrant ghats lies Malaiyo, a culinary delight embodying the city's rich cultural heritage. Made from milk, sugar, and saffron, this ethereal sweetmeat is whipped to perfection, offering a light, airy consistency that melts in the mouth. Traditionally prepared during the cool winter months, Malaiyo's meticulous crafting requires skillful technique and patience, with slow cooking and continuous stirring ensuring its unparalleled creamy richness. Infused with saffron, it exudes a subtle aroma and golden hue, elevating its flavor profile. Malaiyo is not merely dessert; it's a reflection of Varanasi's culinary legacy, inviting all to savor its magic amidst the city's spiritual and cultural ambiance.

I have had the good fortune to visit Varanasi a few times now. We all know Varanasi as the holy land, the land of temples, the ultimate pilgrimage spot and they say that just residing in Varanasi is sufficient to attain Nirvana or salvation! Varanasi, or Benaras, (also known as Kashi) is one of the oldest living cities in the world. Mark Twain, the English author and literature, who was enthralled by the legend and sanctity of Benaras, once wrote: “Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together”. And in spite of all that today Varanasi is looking brand new thanks to the newly constructed Kashi Vishwanath Corridor which has transformed the city and now connects the Kashi Vishwanath temple to the ghats along the river Ganga. I happened to visit Kashi before the corridor was built and cannot wait to go back there and experience it all over again.

I am often asked this question that if I'm not religious, still I should visit Varanasi? What will I do there? For me, Varanasi is first and foremost a center for spiritual discovery. On my first visit there, of course, I wanted to see some of the main temples from over 2000 temples that Kashi is famous for, but what stood out was the spirituality here. It's almost like you can feel it in the air. I experienced this feeling time and again on every visit to Varanasi. After all, despite so many temples here, the most famous Aarti is the one where we are praying to Mother Nature! Ganga Aarti is not merely a visual spectacle but a deeply spiritual ceremony. It is an expression of reverence to the sacred river Ganges, believed to cleanse sins and bestow spiritual purification. It is a magnificent visual spectacle and it is really unique to witness the grandeur of the Arati from the boat looking at the Dashashwamedh Ghat where it is held. As I lit my Diya and released it into the water praying for everyone's well-being, I noticed how focused the priests carrying the lamps of the Ganga Arati were. Their dedication, the chanting of the mantras created an aura of spirituality which is unparalleled.

The next morning I just had to go back to the ghats and I couldn't have enough of the boat ride on the Ganges last evening and soon I found myself on the boat again. Starting just before sunrise, I set off to experience the most magical sunrise on the Ganges as the sun rays transformed the sky and the river into shades of pink and orange as the migratory birds flew over the boat. There was a serene and peaceful quality of the morning which was unparalleled. On Veena World's tours, you can experience the serenity of the Varanasi mornings at the famous Assi Ghat. As with everything else in Varanasi, the Assi Ghat has a very interesting mythological tale associated with it, that is, Goddess Durga after slaughtering the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha, threw her sword (Khadga) away to a place, which resulted in the origin of the river Assi, on whose banks this ghat is situated. Assi ghat is also home to a program Subah e Benaras where the morning Aarti is offered to the river Ganges.

Along with the Assi Ghat, the main ghats in Varanasi are the Dashashwamedh Ghat - a ghat Lord Brahma (the Creator) built for Lord Shiva (the Destroyer) and performed a yajna by offering a sacrifice of ten horses. This ghat is arguably the most spectacular and is home to the vibrant evening Ganga Aarti. Manikarnika ghat, Bajirao Peshwa ghat are also popular and it was noteworthy that many of the ghats were rebuilt by the Marathas in the 18th century.

This city Known by many names, Benaras, Kashi, Varanasi has attracted many people from far and wide through the ages. Varanasi is often referred to as Kashi due to its historical and mythological significance in Hinduism. The name "Kashi" is derived from the Sanskrit word "Kas," which means to shine or to illuminate. This name signifies the city's status as a beacon of spiritual enlightenment and knowledge. Varanasi was always a center for learning and my next stop was BHU or Benaras Hindu University, the biggest University in Asia. Ayurveda is said to be originated at Varanasi and Maharshi Patanjali, the preceptor of Ayurveda and Yoga, was also affiliated with Varanasi, the holy city. Varanasi is also famous for its trade and commerce, especially for the finest silks and gold and silver brocades, since the early days. And that was precisely my next stop as I visited the weavers crafting beautiful Benaras brocade and silk sarees.

I also visited the Kashi Vishwanath temple, the Kal Bhairav temple, the temple of Goddess Durga and many other temples. But what I didn't realize is that Varanasi is also a foodie's delight offering a delicious culinary journey from morning to night, with Puri bhaji, samosa, kachori, chaat and so much more!

The next day I found myself in Sarnath, the place where Buddha preached his first sermon after enlightenment, Just 10 km away from Varanasi, Sarnath has been a symbol of Hindu renaissance. Knowledge, philosophy, culture, devotion to Gods, Indian arts and crafts have all flourished here for centuries. Also a pilgrimage place for Jains, Varanasi is believed to be the birthplace of Parsvanath, the twenty-third Tirthankar. Vaishnavism and Shaivism have co-existed in Varanasi. That evening as I sat on Dashashwamedh ghat with a hot steaming frothy cup of coffee in my hand, I was convinced that Varanasi had something for everyone.

Recently, I heard a beautiful Hindi song where the lyricist Shakeel Azmi has compared a young man’s love with Varanasi and I think the words just capture the essence of Varanasi so beautifully! The song goes:

“Tu banja gali Benaras ki

Main shaam talak bhatkoon tujhmein

Teri baatein chatpati chaat si hain

Teri aankhein Ganga ghaat si hain

Main ghaat kinare so jaaun

Phir subah subah jagoon tujhmein”

The song in itself is like a tourist's guide to Varanasi! I can't wait to go back there; when will you?

February 16, 2024


Sunila Patil
Sunila Patil

Sunila Patil, the founder and Chief Product Officer at Veena World, holds a master's degree in physiotherapy. She proudly served as India's first and only Aussie Specialist Ambassador, bringing her extensive expertise to the realm of travel. With a remarkable journey, she has explored all seven continents, including Antarctica, spanning over 80 countries. Here's sharing the best moments from her extensive travels. Through her insightful writing, she gives readers a fascinating look into her experiences.

More Blogs by Sunila Patil

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