Varanasi: Its ancient, sacred fabric is being shredded day by day. The last straw on the city’s over-burdened back could be just a heartbeat away. Varanasi Tourism is synonymous with Varanasi pilgrimage, as Banaras/Varanasi/Kashi is the first name to come to mind whenever a Hindu pilgrimage is considered.
Banaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together,” wrote Mark Twain. Twain’s Banaras or Today’s Varanasi on the banks of the Ganga is central to Hindu religion and culture. Several mythological tales glorify the holiness of this ancient city. One tale tells the story of how Lord Shiva and Parvati created Varanasi when mother earth herself came into existence.
More than 37 lakh visitors pour into the city (population 31 lakh) every year to pray in its nine major temples along the 84 prominent Ghats on the river bank, to cremate and immerse the ashes of their departed ones in the sacred waters of the Ganga, to spend time hearing the chanting of sacred hymns in one of the 20 main ashrams, or just to roam around its 13 famous ancient lanes or visit the weavers who make the famous Banaras silk saris.
History and heritage is no match against the tourist influx into the 49 sq.km-city. Chaotic traffic, pollution, piles of rotting garbage and the stink of human and animal waste is what greet visitors at today’s Varanasi With just 10-12 hours of power supply daily, the city is literally groaning under the weight of the demands made by its over 65 lakh visitors and residents.
“The ancient, sacred fabric of Varanasi is being ruined,” says an anguished Batuk Prasad Shastri, General Secretary of the Kashi Vidwat Parishad, a body is the fragrance of flowers at the Ghats which have been captured by goond. Now they stink. Pilgrimage has become just a formality here,” he said.
A tour of the city leaves one’s eyes watery and throat choking because of the high pollution levels. Even the sacred Ganga is not spared. Its waters are unable to cope with the 289 million litres of domestic sewage and other effluents like the remains of pyres being dumped into it. Pollution levels at some points are 2 lakh times the permissible limit.
Odds & Ends
Varanasi is the oldest living city in the world. Puranic tales describe the Apsaras, Gandharvas and kinnars as living here and making the city a major center for classical music. The Banaras Gharana is one of the country’s oldest musical traditions.
- Hindus believe that one who dies in Varanasi would attain salvation and freedom from the cycle of birth and rebirth.
- A special variety of mango in Varanasi in much sought after.
- Varanasi is also the most ancient seat of education in India (Sara Vidya ki Rajdhani).
- Varanasi has produced some of Hindi’s most famous writers and poets like Tulsi Das and Prem Chand.
Veer Bhadra Mishra, who has been associated with the clean Ganga campaign since 1982, said, “The GAP (Ganga Action Plan) has been a complete failure because it never a complete failure because it never took local requirements to clean the Ganga into consideration.” Regional tourist officer Dinesh Kumar Complains that efforts to overcome some of the problems are stoutly opposed by locals. For instance, the tourism department tried to drive out stray bulls and cows from the city, but locals vehemently opposed. Varanasi was one of the 62 cities under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNURM), but the plan did not help. Another city Development Plan chalked out five years ago, too, met the same fate.
Said Vimala Poddar, MD of Gyan Vihar, a renowned cultural and social organization of Varanasi: “People call the Ganga, Ma but they do not hesitate to spit in her waters.”
We are like this only, unfortunately.