Sunday, Nov 27, 2022
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Poetry

Banaras: Of Naga Sadhus, Dust and Sacred Dance

Three poems about a city that dwells in all who dwell in it. Here, even the present is ancient and Ganga becomes an everyday myth. Once the abode of the gods, it’s a city that washes away from people’s sins. 

Scenes from Varanasi
Scenes from Varanasi AP Photos

Three poems about a city that dwells in all who dwell in it. Here, even the present is ancient and Ganga becomes an everyday myth. Once the abode of the gods, it’s a city that washes away people’s sins. 

Behrupiya

A man emerges from the waters,
leaving his entirety
as if to Ganga.
There is no loincloth to cover his shame,
or the lack of it —
He sits then on the ghats,
master of all he surveys —
Truth and lies merge,
minute by minute,
he becomes God
and his incarnate.

*Behrupiya: A performer, who changes his identity throughout his performance.

Manikarnika

Manikarnika sits pretty,
surrounded by flowers,
chants, and the dead.
A visitor asks,
Where is Benaras,
take me there —

There’s someone burning again —
Yonder in Manikarnika, Benaras burns every day,
the cry of yet another, already on its way.
The curse keeps its promise,
one by one, they all burn.
First man, then flesh,
and then man’s history
of falsity. 

People become bone collectors here —
lies strewn like ash across the Ganga.
Dust settles soon,
on dust
while Manikarnika sings ‘Hare Ram Hare Ram',
all night long.

Ganga

I met Ganga today —
still, amazing,
complex and terrifying.
Hidden in gentle laps,
a Shiva, a Krishna, a Kal Bhairav.

Somewhere there is a sacred dance,
Shiva and his linga grow on us.
Ganga becomes an everyday myth —
On other days,
a strange political crux
overshadowed by living heroes.
An inexplicable water.

(Maitreyee B Chowdhury is a poet and writer. She has four books to her credit, including ‘Where Even The Present Is Ancient: Benaras’. She is editor of ‘The Bangalore Review’, a literary journal.)

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