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Blessed Banaras: A City Close To My Heart

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Ganga Aarti
A scene of Ganga Aarti. Picture credit-TripAdvisor.com

The city of Varanasi, colloquially called Banaras, is one of the oldest living cities in the world. Situated on the banks of the sacred river Ganges, the city is considered holier than anything. It’s a place of sizable religious importance in Hinduism, Buddhism, and to some extent, Jainism. Scores of Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims from across the globe arrive in Varanasi throughout the year for aesthetic and religious purposes.

Regardless of the massive information on social media, heavily loaded Wikipedia pages to a series of the intellectual thesis available on the internet on the holy city, lucid information in common language was still missing, which I have tried bringing it up here.

Life And Traditions

#Launglata:A famous Sweet of Varanasi. Picture Credit-gramho.com
Launglata: A famous Sweet of Varanasi. Picture Credit-gramho.com

The prominent places of attraction and worship are the revered Ghats on the banks of the river Ganga, the Ancient Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Sankatmochan Temple, Sarnath and many more (often the city is called the land of temples). A day in Varanasi starts as early as the sun rises in the morning with the celebration of the city as “Subehe Banaras”.

It starts with people enjoying kachori sabzi, launglata (a sweet), tea in mud cups, and continues day long with people enjoying tamatar chaat, lassi, Bengali sweets, chewing paan, and so on. The energy level in the morning is on a different level. It often seems like the river Ganga, the old walls and the narrow lanes of Varanasi wait eagerly for the morning to arrive.

The food of Varanasi, particularly street food, is a living example of diversity and richness. The city has probably one of the richest street foods and munches in the region.

Art And Education

Banaras is a known center of various art, education and cultural prosperity. The famous Banaras Hindu University (BHU) founded by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, Sampurnanand Sanskrit University, Central Hindu School and Besant Theosophical School established by Annie Besant are located in the heart of the city.

The city has a living tradition since ancient times for various forms of classical music like Banarasi Thumri, Dadra, Chaiti, Sargam and many more. The two renowned Bharat Ratnas, Shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan and the great Sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, are from Banaras.

Banaras has one of the finest handloom industries, known for its finely-woven Banarasi saris that are worn across the globe.

#Banaras Hindu University. Picture credit-iitbhulife.wordpress.com
Banaras Hindu University. Picture credit- iitbhulife.wordpress.com

A Childhood To Remember

Having spent my entire childhood in Varanasi, all I can express is that the city has provided me with life learning experiences, emotions and memories. From riding bicycles in the narrow lanes of Varanasi, swimming in the Ganga, kite flying, learning the art of bargain from shrewd vendors and shop owners to trying different sweets and roadside eatables at every corner of the city. These life experiences have instilled a great sense of belonging with the culture and the place. By growing up in Banaras, one is also introduced to the idea of harmony and tolerance between different communities.

#The National Emblem of India at Sarnath.Picture Credit- pinterest.com
The National Emblem of India at Sarnath. Picture Credit- pinterest.com

There is a famous religious place for Buddhists in Banaras, Sarnath, where the Dhamekh Stupa is situated. It’s here that Lord Buddha preached for the first time after gaining enlightenment. As I can remember, Sarnath was just another hangout place where I could go and roam in the park and feed deers. Its historical, national and cultural significance was better known to me when I moved to Delhi and learnt more about Buddha and his teachings.

Throughout my life, like many other students from Varanasi, I take a sense of pride in the fact that the great national emblem (Ashoka Pillar) is taken from this place. Inscribed on it are the golden lines “Satyameva Jayate” which means truth alone triumphs, taken from the Mundka Upanishads. Like many others, I try my best to imbibe the teachings and values learnt from the city.

Being called a Banarasi is a bewildering experience at first, but later, it becomes a satisfying and accomplishing experience.

Remembrance, Serenity And Not Vibrancy

At last, Banaras is neither a city of dreams like Mumbai or Delhi nor a city of buzzing businesses and posh localities. The city will never be measured by its industrial indicators or the number of malls and showrooms it has, but by the cultural significance, its values of devotion and religious importance, its magnetic essence, its hundreds of years old tradition, its food and its heritage.

A more honest description was given in 1897 by American writer Mark Twain: Banaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.

Featured image: Flickr/Vincent Dugast
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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