Live life. Rasiks enjoying evening music at Chhota-nagpur garden, love this impromptu dance by a Rajasthani singer.

All photos and words by Bharat S Tiwari 

This article was first published in The DIALogue, New Delhi Airport Magazine.
Banaras is an ancient city, but then there are many. So, what makes the city such a big charmer, that tourists from across the globe and India come to this city and fall in love with it? Maybe its Banarsis, the ever-calm people of Banaras. Or is it the holiness of The Ganges. Or the ghats? when you see them, sitting in a boat, one after the other…their magnificence is huge, at times one feels as if watching a movie — projected on 180 degrees of horizon.

Contemporary Hindi poet, Kedarnath Singh in his famous poem ‘Banaras’ writes.

     किसी अलक्षित सूर्य को
     देता हुआ अर्घ्‍य
     शताब्दियों से इसी तरह
     गंगा के जल में
     अपनी एक टाँग पर खड़ा है यह शहर
     अपनी दूसरी टाँग से
     बिलकुल बेखबर!

     Offering water to
     A detoured Sun
     For centuries
     Standing in the waters of the Ganga
     On his one leg 
     Is this town
     Completely unaware of
     His other leg. 

A king’s courtyard. The raja of Darbhanga had a most beautiful palace ghat for him, after restoration, it has been turned into a kingly heritage hotel.

Man behind, in front. Mahindra group is doing a lot to promote India’s art and culture, Kabira in Banaras is one of their initiatives. The head of cultural outreach Jay Shah welcomes the delegates, while Teamwork Arts’ MD Sanjoy Roy’s smile shows, how much he enjoys organizing cultural events all across the globe.

Mahindra Kabira Festival, a music event organized my Teamwork Arts, in Banaras. This festival made Kabir and music lovers enjoy Kabir songs, stories and talks. Facing Ganga, you are sitting at Darbhanga ghat at Brij Rama Palace — it was the ghat-palace of king of Darbhanga, now a posh heritage hotel — the Sun is rising from behind the stage where Rashmi Agarwal or Harpreet Singh are singing songs attributed to Kabir. You start wondering, ‘what is it about Banaras, why am I getting attached to it…?’ and the tea in that earthen pot you are holding in your hands, is getting cold. You enjoy Ankit Chadha’s dastangoi, as he recreates Kabir-era with his dastangoi, the old art of story-telling.

Many worlds. Devotees are taking an early morning bath in the Ganga, a stage is set for Kabira singers, music lovers enjoying it all with subah ki chai.

Early winter Sun is shining and wearing your sunglasses standing at Darbhanga Ghat, under the shadows of  'BrijRama Palace' –   you listen Abha Dalmia’s experience with Banaras and it’s weavers, and how she has been trying to save the art of making of Banarsi Sari. There were walks which will take you to places, Kabir would’ve worked on his loom weaving fabric and telling people —
‘Bura Jo Dekhan Main Chala, 
            Bura Naa Milya Koye
Jo Munn Khoja Apnaa,  
          To Mujhse Bura Naa Koye’
Socialite Bina Ramani was there, among scores of other music lovers from Delhi

While one walks in those ancient ‘Banaras ki gali’ one can see the India, where people from various religions, various casts, various profession are not various but are one. And you look at those old houses in those narrow serpentine alleys, while the guide is telling the group, ‘the front door lintel is low and is marked on the floor by a stone step. One has to step over the doorstep, and bow his head down.

Singer in trance. Shuba Mudgal’s voice matched the aura and calmness of Kashi.

While you are going to ‘Assi-ghat’, it could be your third or tenth boat ride in Ganga, but your eyes had yet not had enough of ghat-viewing, you are seeing the ghats moving away and coming in, your vision, and the brain, mesmerized, signals you — is it a movie on celluloid?

Shiva’s Kashi. While Mahindra Kabira Festival is inaugurated in attic of Darbhanga Palace (now Brij Rama Palace), you can watchh evening Ganga Arti performed at Dashashwamedh Ghat and feel the vastness of Kashi.

Man behind women-love Banarsi Sari. A weaver sitting at his loom, weaving a sari. Mahindra-Kabira festival delegates saw it all on one of the walks of Banaras.

Bindu Malini.

Music lovers from the capital: Mrs and Mr Rajiv Gupta.

Everyone, from poorest to richest, lover to student, Hindu to Muslim, believer to atheist, is there at Assi-ghat, enjoying Banaras. Sitting in the quite Chhota-Nagpur bagicha, you enjoy over a glass of Banarsi ThandaiBindumalini’s most amazing voice as she sings with her partner Vedanth Bharadwaj. Shubha Mudgal’s rich voice is making you feel Kabir.
Shiv-Singer. Kailash Kher, a Shiva devotee, with His two-headed drum ‘Damaru’. Kher said, ‘I can perform here, at Assi ghat, all night. His voice doing full justice to the enthusiasm of an over-charged crowd of more than 20,000 people.

MaatiBaani. Banaras loved the performance by Kartik Shah and Nirali Kartik.

Next evening you find your place, on the stairs of the ghat, sitting in the third row, bending on a bolster, you get-up as the Ganga aarti is performed, raising your hands up in the air, like every Banarsi, you feel and say ‘Har Har Mahadev!’. Thousands and thousands of music lovers are there to listen Kailash Kher but you don’t feel claustrophobic…Shiva, the lord of Kashi and ‘Sankar suvan Kesari Nandan’ His manifestation, remover of obstaclesSankat-Mochan’ Hanuman keeps ‘everything’ under Their control.

Viewing the Ghats is captivating. Hundreds of boats ferry people, from across the world, along the Ganga, for mesmerizing view of the succession of ghat.

Memories from India. Delegates of Kabira festival, from India and abroad, can’t get enough of the cocktail of geet, ghat, gods and Ganga.

Ghats are more than ghat, they also show the architecture of various Indian kingly states.

Gods tilt to mix religions. Tilted Shiva temple ‘Kashi Karvat’ at Scindia ghat…Alamgir mosque above Panchganga ghat. Ganga-Jamuni culture is at its best in Banaras, with a mix of 29% Muslims with 70% Hindus.

Har Har Mahadev! A chant that unites an entire city. People of the city, immediately raise both their hands, chanting ‘Har har mahadev’ to express joy in something, praising Shiva, and creating a sober and joyful atmosphere.

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